Request for retail and homes at EPCAL lands with a thud

There doesn’t seem to be any support on the Riverhead Town Board for Rechler Equity Partners’ proposal to add housing and retail to its proposed industrial park at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

“I think he has a heavy lift to get this mixed-use proposal past the Town Board,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said.

Rechler is under contract with the town to buy 300 acres of land at EPCAL, the former site of a Northrop Grumman naval weapons plant, for $18 million. The company originally went to contract in 2007 to buy that same land for $35 million, but convinced the Town Board to lower the price to $18 million in 2009, citing the economic downturn.

Rechler was seeking to coordinate the building of a high-tech industrial park on the 300 acres, where the town created a new light industrial zone several years ago. They planned to phase in the development over 10 years.

But Rechler recently asked board members for changes in what’s permitted by current zoning to allow them to mix more than 900 apartments and retail space with light industrial uses.

In addition to a change in the uses permitted in the light industrial zone, some officials say the board may also need to issue a new request for proposals, or RFP, because the different uses being considered could potentially increase the property’s sales price.

Rechler was chosen in 2007 through an RFP that landed three companies in a bidding war to buy the land, which the Navy had deeded to the town in 1996.

Mr. Walter and Town Board members George Gabrielsen, Jim Wooten and Jodi Giglio all said in interviews that they oppose allowing housing there, while Councilman John Dunleavy said he’s not opposed to a mixed use that includes housing, but he is opposed to allowing that much housing.

“I don’t think that the housing fits into the vision in the re-use plan for Grumman,” Mr. Walter said. “That was supposed to be industrial jobs. I think the problem is that this sort of mixed use will make it more difficult for industrial uses that we may want to put at Grumman.”

Mr. Walter said he’s “not a fan” of retail at EPCAL.

Ms. Giglio also felt that housing at EPCAL would lead to potential conflicts with aviation uses there. But she said she would support retail along Route 25 if it also included an IMAX theater.

She said the land at EPCAL was given to the town for industrial development to replace the jobs lost when the Grumman Corporation ceased operations in 1994.

“Great idea, wrong location,” Mr. Gabrielsen said of the mixed-use proposal. “I’m totally against it. That was never the intent of EPCAL.”

Mr. Wooten also said EPCAL was supposed to be a regional economic stimulator that would create jobs, industry and tax base.

“Mixed use is a big buzzword and it’s what they’re doing all over Long Island, but mixed use in EPCAL?” he said. “That’s not what the property is supposed to be for.”

Mr. Walter also said he didn’t think the town could issue a new RFP for the site while it is still under contract with Rechler Equity Partners.

Mr. Gabrielsen, who opposed dropping the price to $18 million, said he would prefer that Rechler just left and ended its contract with the town, so the town could seek other buyers for the land.

Gregg Rechler was asked by the News-Review several weeks ago about potential changes to the EPCAL site as he was leaving a Town Board executive session at which the changes were discussed.

He said only that they were seeking different uses to make the project more attractive in light of the economy, but he would not say what those changes were.

The Rechler group also has a lease with Suffolk County to develop an industrial park at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton.

[email protected]

Looking to comment on this article? Send us a letter to the editor instead.