Snag may hold up YMCA plan for EPCAL

Back in October, the Riverhead Town Board approved a resolution in support of establishing a YMCA at the Enterprise Park in Calverton, changing direction because of red tape over an earlier plan that would have put a new YMCA near Stotzky Park.

But now an official from YMCA of Long Island says the EPCAL site won’t work because there’s no sewer district connection there.

Fritz Trinklein, the director of strategic planning for YMCA of Long Island, said that when he got the news from the Suffolk County health department, then-town attorney Dawn Thomas told him to give her 30 days and she’d get the county to allow the YMCA to be built there.

But that was about 90 days ago, and nothing has happened, he said.

“There has been no further resolution and now Dawn has left her post,” Mr. Trinklein said. Ms. Thomas left Town Hall recently to take another job.

Mr. Trinklein said Peconic YMCA has now raised almost the entire $8 million it needs to build the YMCA facility from private contributions. He said the YMCA of Long Island remained committed to the project, but added, “That’s where the clock is ticking. It’s amazing they haven’t given up.”

The proposed facility would include an Olympic-size indoor swimming pool, a strength training center, fitness rooms, child care and baby-sitting rooms, community center meeting rooms and locker rooms, Mr. Trinklein said.

Supervisor Sean Walter said he doubted the county would hold up the project. “I don’t think that’s accurate,” he said of Mr. Trinklein’s assertion. “He hasn’t asked the right people the right questions.”

Mr. Walter and Councilman George Gabrielsen, who has handled negotiations with the YMCA, both said that while the county will require a connection to a sewer system for all development at EPCAL, it also will grant a five-year temporary permit to allow cesspools.

The town is being required to upgrade its Calverton sewer district, at a cost of about $2 million, but it is hoping for a five-year waiver, which Mr. Gabrielsen said could be extended even further with the county’s permission.

“I think [County Executive] Steve Levy and [Chief Deputy County Executive] Chris Kent could easily walk us through the process,” Mr. Walter said. “They don’t even have to wait for the land to be subdivided; they could lease it for 99 years. You can’t just call a staffer at the health department; you have to talk to the people in higher positions.”

Peconic YMCA, a local group headed by Joe Van de Wetering of Baiting Hollow, has been trying to build a YMCA in Riverhead for more than 10 years, but has yet to settle on a location. Three of the group’s proposed locations were planned in conjunction with development projects that met with community opposition.

Mr. Trinklein said Peconic YMCA believed it can raise the approximately $8 million needed to build the facility, but they have been looking for a municipality or developer to give them the land they need.

About two years ago, it appeared that Peconic YMCA had finally found a spot that had widespread support, when the county agreed to allow them to build on a 7.2-acre property that the county had bought under its Greenways program in 2003. The original plan was for Riverhead Town to build and manage new athletic fields on that county land. The county planned to lease a site to Peconic YMCA for 40 years.

But Peconic YMCA later said that because the land was county owned, there were problems, including building regulations that apply to municipalities but not to private developers, such as the prevailing wage requirement.

“It would have taken too long to build and been too expensive,” Mr. Trinklein said. “It would have cost an additional $2 million to build on that site.”

So in response, Peconic YMCA proposed an alternative plan in which it would acquire 6.9 acres of town-owned land currently used for soccer fields at Stotzky Park and build the YMCA there. New soccer fields would be laid out on the county parcel.

That proposal met with opposition from a majority of Town Board members, who said it would be an “alienation” of parkland, so would require an act of the state Legislature to approve.

Mr. Trinklein argued that the land, while used as a park, is actually owned by the Riverhead Water District. But Mr. Walter said the town attorney ruled that because it was used as a park, selling it would still constitute alienation of parkland.

So in October of last year, the Town Board passed a resolution urging support for the EPCAL location.

Peconic YMCA had in prior years opposed building a site at EPCAL, saying it wasn’t in the center of the town and was closer to Brookhaven Town. However, it agreed to go along with if the Stotzky Park site wasn’t available.

“It was my understanding that they were happy with the EPCAL site,” Mr. Walter said.

The supervisor said he felt that EPCAL is a better location anyway.

“The population base in the west end of the town is much larger and the site is easily accessible from the rest of the town,” he said. “Personally, I think it’s a wonderful location.”

Mr. Gabrielsen said Peconic YMCA could use an “aggressive busing plan” to bring kids from Riverhead schools to the EPCAL site, much as the Southampton Youth Association in North Sea does with Southampton school kids.

The proposed site is about eight acres and is just east of the new ball fields the town built at EPCAL, he said.

“It could tie in with the town park,” he said.

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