Riverhead Town planning EPCAL study

Now that both long anticipated sales of town land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton are dead deals, Riverhead Town Board members are prepared to spend “a few hundred thousand” dollars to hire a consultant to do an updated plan and marketing analysis for the park.

The town has received a proposal from land planning firm Vanasse, Hangen Brustlin Inc. (VHB) to develop a subdivision plan for the town-owned land at EPCAL, recommend new zoning for the property and conduct an environmental study, Supervisor Sean Walter said.

“All the bird data, all the salamander data … all of that is going to be combined into one study,” he said. The state had been requiring a wildlife study of EPCAL in conjunction with a proposed subdivision of the property to prepare it for the now-dead Riverhead Resorts and Rechler Equity Partners purchases, which both fell through last year.

A different firm will be hired to do a market analysis of what types of businesses are seeking sites that might be available at the park, Mr. Walter said.

He said the whole process is expected to take about two years, depending on how well the town can work with the state and county.

“We wasted years with wild proposals here and there,” Councilman George Gabrielsen said. “We want to start over from square one and do it right.”

VHB was involved in a successful reuse plan for a former military base in Devens, Mass., which board members visited last week. EPCAL is also a former military property but, unlike Ft. Devens, it has not become a thriving industrial center. Riverhead officials are hoping to replicate some of that project’s success here. VHB also is involved in a reuse plan for the Shoreham nuclear plant property.

Mr. Walter wouldn’t disclose the cost of VHB’s services, although during the Devens trip, before the proposal was submitted, he estimated that it would be at least $500,000. On Tuesday, he said it would probably be less than that. Representatives from VHB are expected to meet with town officials in executive session Thursday, and the board could call a special meeting to hire the firm this week, Mr. Walter said.

“It may be an investment initially of a few hundred thousand dollars, but I think, eventually, this will be a billion-dollar buildout, so it’s something we have to do,” Mr. Gabrielsen said at last Thursday’s work session, where the proposal was discussed.
Mr. Walter called it “an investment in our future.”

Before the previous land deals fell through, the town had been hoping to sell 755 acres at EPCAL to Riverhead Resorts for $108 million and 300 acres to Rechler Equity Partners for $18 million. Riverhead Resorts was planning to create eight resorts, including one with an indoor ski mountain, while Rechler proposed a high-tech industrial park. The town pulled the plug on

Resorts when it failed to make payments required under the contract. Rechler canceled its deal when the town wouldn’t allow it to include residential and retail components in its plan.

The town needed to subdivide the EPCAL property to break out these parcels before it could legally sell them.

Now, officials are thinking of breaking EPCAL into smaller lots and subdividing the property even before any proposals for development are made.

“In this economy, the smaller lots are certainly more affordable for larger companies to come and invest, rather than the 755-acre tract of land,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said.

Mr. Walter said the town had never put any money into the EPCAL property. The money it received from the $17 million sale of 500 acres to developer Jan Burman in 2001, and the deposit of about $8 million it received from Riverhead Resorts, should have gone back into the property, he added, but prior administrations used it to offset taxes and to pay off debt on the landfill instead. The town never got any money from Rechler.

Mr. Walter said he envisioned creating lots of 30 to 50 acres and then selling the subdivision map to developers. The town would not build the roads, he said.

“We have to put some money into this property,” Ms. Giglio said. “We got it for nothing, and we’ve collected money and spent it. We need to start investing in making what we have more valuable instead of letting the years pass by.”

“It means we’re going to have to raise taxes,” Councilman John Dunleavy said.

“We will not raise taxes with this,” Mr. Walter shot back.

“We’re not putting this on the backs of taxpayers,” the supervisor said, indicating that Community Development Agency money obtained from land sales at EPCAL would be tapped.

Board members have expressed interest in ceding some control over land use permits at EPCAL to a state authority that would encompass all town, county and state review of projects at EPCAL under one agency. Mr. Walter said development at EPCAL has been hampered by layers of bureaucracy.

At Devens, the former military base was spread over four small towns and a state-appointed authority was created to regulate redevelopment of the fort property. The authority has 12 members, all appointed by the governor, half of whom were recommended by the towns.

It would be up to New York State to create a similar authority at EPCAL.

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