The East End is breathtaking and precious, a heritage to be passed on to other generations.
For years we have heard about the potential economic boon that can occur at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, and for years we have been disappointed. Many believe EPCAL has been stymied in a battle of the tree-huggers vs. the bulldozer crowd. We have lacked an acceptable development map that balances protection of the environment with intelligent and contextual development and, as our town spends down its financial reserves, Riverhead desperately needs the tax revenue and jobs that EP-CAL can bring. Stalemate has cost Riverhead dearly.
Three months ago, in an attempt to get past the rhetoric and finger-pointing at EPCAL, a self-appointed group of concerned citizens came together to have a discussion and seek a solution to the impasse. Our committee consisted of myself, a planner and architect by training; Richard Amper, the dean of Long Island environmental leaders; Ray Pickersgill, the Riverhead Business Improvement District president and a member of the Suffolk County Downtown Business Advisory Committee; and Anthony Coates, who has written and spoken out on EPCAL issues for more than a decade. Mr. Amper worked separately with Bob DeLuca, Group for the East End president, and Kevin McDonald, land preservation director for The Nature Conservancy, to determine the areas of EPCAL that were required by law to be preserved to protect water and habitat. The environmentalists focused strictly on environmental concerns, reserving judgment on development matters.
Our crew served as volunteers; we didn’t cost taxpayers a dime. We had two simple objectives: protect vital environmental areas and balance this with a plan for intelligent development. We want to see our town do well, by its reputation and economic well-being.
Our committee sought to accomplish the following goals:
First, we wanted to try to hammer out a consensus between the environmental and business communities as to where and how much development could take place at EPCAL. Second, we wanted to get past politics to put forward a plan that could break the logjam at EPCAL; a plan that would be accepted by all parties and one that would actually be adopted. The challenge at EPCAL has always been to create a template that New York State can sign onto. For a long time we have talked about every cockamamie scheme that was presented for Calverton, but the little known fact of the matter is this: Even if a developer had the money and were ready to close, Riverhead could not convey the property because the state Department of Environmental Conservation has yet to adopt an approved development map.
The DEC seeks a balanced plan, one the environmental community can live with; a plan that allows Riverhead to develop as much of EPCAL as it can. One need only look to Washington, D.C., the land of sequester and the fiscal cliff, to see that when government can’t agree on a course of action, the people suffer. With that as a backdrop, like the old cliché, we decided to lock ourselves in a room and not come out until we had a plan. We each came with differing points of view but we were resolute to find a solution. After a few months of meetings, give and take, passionate pleas, research, study and compromise, I am proud to say we have offered an “Environment Lives with Business” plan.
Our kitchen-table study group has offered a development map that would give Riverhead well over 600 acres of prime acres it can develop. Our plan is right in line with what Riverhead has been seeking from the DEC. The land is easily accessible to roadways and has roads linking development areas, making them accessible and highly desirable. The Town of Riverhead, the developer, gets what it wants. On the other side of the transaction, for the environmentalists, our plan sets aside key acreage that will remain forever green. We wish to preserve the most sensitive tracts of land, we strive to keep harmony with nature, we satisfy the environmental community. It would seem environmental peace is within our grasp. Our work group offered its plan last Tuesday.
Some have said our map is similar to the one the Riverhead has been shopping to New York State. We see it this way. Riverhead commissioned an expensive study, they brought in their experts and authorities, they held hearings and work sessions and ultimately they offered a plan. Our small group came together old-style, we rolled up our sleeves, commandeered a small table at the Riverhead Project restaurant and for 12 weekends we set out maps and went to work. At the end of our toil we offered a plan. If Riverhead’s plan is very similar to ours and our plan looks like theirs, that’s fantastic. What could be better than two groups with perhaps differing methods and agendas, meeting separately and independently, with the people’s best interest at heart, essentially coming up with the same conclusion? The people of Riverhead, the politicians, the environmentalists and the business community all agree. This is a rare moment. Let’s seize the moment and finish the job. We have submitted our work product to Riverhead and to New York State. Riverhead is in constant communication with the DEC. The very able Senator Ken LaValle is playing a key role to keep all parties working to a sensible conclusion.
We all have busy lives, so sometimes a great story unfolds around us and we hardly even notice. This is an exciting moment in the story that has been EPCAL. All the significant constituencies — our government, the town, the state, the environmentalists, the business people and the community — seem to be on the same page on how to develop EPCAL. It seems like we can finally put the exclamation point on EPCAL and move ahead. We like to think we helped nudge the process forward. Let’s fi nish the job quickly while the peace holds and we all agree.
Mr. Freeman is the founding principal of Geoffrey Freeman Architects and has an office in Manhattan and a Riverhead home. He has a master’s degree from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.