Town Board OK’s $450K ‘new deal’ for EPCAL
Riverhead officials hope to change the fortunes of the town’s languishing Enterprise Park at Calverton by defining eight distinct planning tasks for determining how to market the property effectively, Supervisor Sean Walter announced at a much-anticipated press conference last Thursday.
The cost of each task will be capped, he said, with the absolute maximum the town would pay for the “comprehensive re-use initiative” totaling $448,000.
Mr. Walter and other town, state and county officials who attended the press event outside Town Hall agreed the price would be worth it. They say the town’s failure to do the right kinds of planning in the past is one reason the park — commonly referred to as EPCAL — has failed to generate many jobs or much tax revenue.
The Town Board is expected to hire the land planning firm Vanasse, Hangen Brustlin Inc. (VHB) to update several key EPCAL studies. The move was approved by a 4-1 vote at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.
SEE EDITORIAL: BOARD SHOULD BAIL ON EPCAL PLAN
Councilman John Dunleavy voted against the measure, insisting that similar studies have already been conducting. He also said that, with the economy down, it was a bad time to spend taxpayer money.
The goal is to have all zoning and development guidelines in place so developers will know what they can and cannot build at the EPCAL site, which was transferred from the U.S. Navy to Riverhead Town in the mid-1990s for $1. The federal government said at the time that the land should be used for economic development to replace jobs that were lost when Grumman stopped making naval aircraft there.
Mr. Walter envisions a scenario in which projects that meet all the criteria can be approved within 75 days.
Community Development Agency funds will pay for the studies, he said, including revenue the town has received from land sales or contracts for land sales at EPCAL.
The eight tasks to be performed by VHB include assembling and evaluating existing data (the cost capped at $29,000); examining existing case studies elsewhere where redevelopment has worked (capped at $9,000); a marketing analysis (to be subcontracted by VHB, capped at $20,000); modification of the property’s zoning and reuse plan (capped at $70,000); a generic environmental impact study, to include studies of wildlife, among other things (capped at $160,000); and a traffic impact study (capped at $65,000).
The town probably will not attempt to market the property again until all studies are done and the proposed uses for the land are known, Mr. Walter said, although he added that the town doesn’t really market it now, and doesn’t even have a website for EPCAL.
“EPCAL is no longer going to be the place where bad ideas come to rest,” Mr. Walter said.
In the past, the town has entertained proposals at EPCAL calling for an indoor ski mountain, polo fields, carnivals and movie studios — “but nothing has ever come to fruition,” he continued. “Everybody with a dollar and a dream comes to EPCAL.”
The town has so far seen about $25 million in revenue from EPCAL but has never invested more than $50,000 in promoting commercial development of the site. It has spent nearly $1 million on new ballfields, which have yet to open, Mr. Walter said.
Because the town has not subdivided the property, it cannot legally sell lots at EPCAL, he said. Likewise, the town has never done a comprehensive wildlife study of the 2,900-acre property, something the state Department of Environmental Conservation has required, the supervisor said. The state DEC and Riverhead Town have butted heads for years about jurisdiction over proposed development at the Calverton site.
The 1,000 acres of land zoned for recreational uses at EPCAL also hasn’t been good for commercial development either, the supervisor said.
“We have been advocating this approach for several years,” said Peter Scully, regional director of the state DEC, who attended the press conference.
Mr. Scully said he had written former supervisor Phil Cardinale in 2005 and had advocated the more inclusive planning approach then.
“Business owners need to know that they can build what they need to build and can get a permit in a defined set of time,” Mr. Walter said. “I spent 12 months trying to get a defense contractor to come to EPCAL, but they left because they needed to have a shovel in the ground within six months.”
Because VHB will provide what are considered professional services, the job is not subject to competitive bidding. VHB has said the studies will take about two years to complete.
“This is one of the most important and responsible decisions ever made in the history of EPCAL,” Riverhead Councilman George Gabrielsen said, adding that the cost of the project will be small compared to the benefit of developing the property properly.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said that in two years, when the studies are done, the town will be in a position to market EPCAL again.
“Right now, the economy is sluggish,” she said, explaining that the down real estate market is not the time to undergo such a lengthy process.
At the press conference, Mr. Walter briefly discussed his plan to establish a regulatory agency at EPCAL comprising town, state and county officials.
Although he had referred to it in the past as an “authority,” he said he did not want to cede control to the state. Instead, he envisioned an agency where all the levels of government that have regulatory authority would be represented. He added that the town should have a majority vote on such a board.
The supervisor briefly discussed his hope that EPCAL could play a role in the “regional innovation cluster” uniting Brookhaven National Lab, Stony Brook University and Cold Spring Harbor Lab to create Long Island jobs.
“There is a reason why we are the worst state in the union to do business in,” said freshman state Assemblyman Dan LoSquadro (R-Shoreham). “We have created an unbelievably highly politicized regulatory environment in which business cannot operate. They are stuck in a quagmire of countless levels of government holding them up for time immemorial.”
He said the state needs to partner with towns on projects like EPCAL in order to make the state competitive again.