Work underway on Westhampton Beach industrial park

Westhampton Beach, Gabreski, Riverhead Town
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Steve Levy and officials in Westhampton Friday.

Suffolk County officials on Friday announced that $1.8 million in infrastructure for a new industrial park planned at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach is completed.
The park is being leased to Rechler Equity Partners, the same Long Island-based developer that had sought to build an industrial park at Riverhead Town’s Enterprise Park at Calverton. That deal fell apart earlier this year.

Both County Executive Steve Levy and Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said they don’t see the Westhampton project hurting Riverhead’s attempts to develop its own industrial hub at the EPCAL property.

“I don’t think that they are mutually exclusive at all,” Mr. Levy said Friday. “In fact they might be able to be complementary. One difference is that this one is happening much quicker. EPCAL is now going backwards, where they are going to have to start from scratch. So it’s going to be a long time before you see a shovel in the ground over there. Here we are hoping that by next year we are going to see some major activity.”

Riverhead had a deal to sell about 300 acres of industrially-zoned land at the former Grumman naval plant property to Rechler for $18 million but Rechler pulled out of the deal earlier this year after town officials wouldn’t agree to allow some residential and  retail uses to be included in the project, which was originally pitched to be just a hi-tech industrial park.

Riverhead has since put all development plans at EPCAL on hold and is now undertaking a comprehensive study of the property that will examine zoning, land uses, market conditions. The study will also include an environmental impact and wildlife assessment of the entire property, parts of which is home to protected tiger salamanders and is visited seasonally by migratory short-eared owls.

The hope is that the town is eventually going to have a system in place that is modeled on the former Fort Devens, Mass., where projects that comply with zoning are fast-tracked and will get a decision on their application within 75 days. Mr. Walter is seeking state permission to create a regional permitting agency that will have input from state, county and town officials, so that applicants can find out everything they need to do in one stop.

The study is expected to take about two years, officials say.

Rechler had originally offered $35 million, but convinced the prior Town Board to lower the price due to the economy. The planned high-tech industrial park was supposed to be built in phases over 10 years.

The development group was selected to develop the county park in Westhampton through a request, coming from proposals, which was issued after it went into contract with Riverhead. Unlike the Riverhead plan, Rechler would lease, not buy, property at Gabreski.

Gregg Rechler, managing partner, said the company will spent about $100 million at the Westhampton project.

“This is going to be a 40-year lease and the county will receive $40 million in rental payments over that time,” Mr. Levy said.
The county also asked Rechler to make film production part of the development, he said.

“I’m really keen on trying to make to East End of Long Island a hub for media,” Mr. Levy said. “We don’t know if it’s going to pan out. We are going to give them a chance to make it happen and if it doesn’t, we’ll have to let the market do its thing.”

Mr. Levy said he expects the Westhampton site to create “anywhere from 600 to 700 high-paying … career-oriented jobs.”

“They’re going to be various jobs in industries related to high tech, film production, biotech and many other green technologies,” he said.

He stressed that eventually, he envisions the relationship between Gabreski and EPCAL being “symbiotic,” rather than competitive.

“We should be looking together, so that they feed off of each other,” Mr. Levy said.

Mr. Walter didn’t attend the Rechler press conference Friday but said in an interview later that he doesn’t view the Rechler project as competition for EPCAL.

“I think we’re better situated than they but I wish them the best of luck,” Mr. Walter said. “EPCAL is better situated for industrial uses and I think the permitting that we’re working on is going to work much better. But I think there’s enough of the pie to go around.”

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