EPCAL studies calling for mixed uses — but no casino or racetrack
Mixed use developments including housing and commercial uses should be sought for the Enterprise Park at Calverton, or EPCAL, according to a draft marketing study of the former Grumman property commissioned by the Riverhead Town Board.
And the bulk of the 300 acres that the town at one time intended to sell to Rechler Equity Partners for a hi-tech industrial park should instead remain open space, according to the draft of a separate study of the zoning at EPCAL, also commissioned by the town.
Both studies were discussed at Thursday’s Town Board work session.
The marketing study is being done by RKG Associates of New Hamshire, and Craig Seymour, a managing pricipal of that company, gave a presentation of his final draft to the Town Board. Meanwhile, Terri Elkowitz and Ken Schwartz of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. of Massachusetts, VHB, gave the board an update on its study of the zoning and uses at EPCAL.
“Mixed use development is where the world is going today,” Mr. Seymour told the board. “There’s a demand for housing.”
The town has in the past opposed any efforts to include housing at EPCAL, despite the fact that most of the proposals they have received include some form of housing.
Last year, Melville-based Rechler Equity Partners, which was planning to buy 300 acres of light industrial land abutting the eastern runway at EPCAL, sought to change its proposal to include a housing and retail component, but the Town Board rejected the plan. Rechler later withdrew from an $18 million contract to buy the property from the town.
The RKG report read that “there is a relatively low demand anticipated for office and industrial space over the next three to five years,” and that allowing the development of commercial or retail uses at EPCAL would provide a “compatible business support structure for the freight village concept” that has been proposed there.
The report goes on to state, “Since the EPCAL property was transferred to the town for the primary intent of promoting economic development, it is recommended that residential uses comprise no more than one third of any planned unit development project.”
It also suggests the housing should be workforce housing.
The U.S. Navy deeded the property to the town for $1 in 1998, with the condition that it be used for economic development.
The RKG study favors concepts such as rail-supported industrial expansion, or a freight village, as has been proposed there by developer Jan Burman. It also recommends agri-business, food processing, warehousing and distribution uses, as well as high-tech businesses, research parks and “green” businesses. Mixed use developments, including office uses, services, retail uses and residential components, also were recommended as being something the market can support.
The marketing study said an air cargo use or an airport would not work at EPCAL.
“An airport is not economically feasible at this location,” Mr Seymour said. “The town would have to spend millions and millions of dollars to develop it.”
Also not recommended is a casino. Mr. Seymour said the groups looking to develop casinos, such as the Shinnecock Nation, want to be closer to New York City.
The study did not recommend development of a professional auto racing track, saying that the roads leading to EPCAL are insufficient to support a major race track, and that development of a regional race track would compete with Riverhead Raceway and result in one of them going out of business.
It did, however, recommend what it terms “private motor sports venues.” These, it said, are facilities designed “to allow owners of high performance vehicles to operate their cars in a safe, controlled environment.” These venues often operate in a manner similar to a country club, Mr. Seymour said, where members pay an initiation fee as well as monthly or yearly fees.
The study also said that indoor kart racing is a growing market, and specifically mentioned F1 Boston as an example. F1 has sought to build a kart racing facility on Edwards Avenue in Calverton.
The marketing study lists a polo and equestrian complex as a specialty use that should be considered. It specifically refers to the International Polo Organization proposal received earlier this year, in which the polo group sought to buy 783 acres on the western half of EPCAL for $32.5 million to build a polo complex with up to 400 residential units.
A majority of the Town Board said it wanted to wait for the EPCAL study to be complete before considering any proposals.
“The proposed polo project is consistent with the region’s agricultural tourism base and could offer some synergistic possibilities with regional farms and vineyards,” the study says. “Further, the project could help to expand tourism traffic from the Hamptons and other areas of Long Island.”
It notes, however, that polo is likely to create less jobs and less tax revenue than industrial uses.
Specialized recreational uses, such as soccer and lacrosse fields, were not considered good uses of the land, in the study.
“Recreational fields are costly and don’t make money,” Mr. Seymour said. “They need to be subsidized.”
As for the zoning, VHB showed two proposed plans.
The “preferred option” calls for leaving most of the land on the eastern portion of the property as open space. This includes the bulk of the 300 acres the town rezoned to light industrial use and was planning to sell to Rechler Equity Partners until that deal fell apart.
“There are some constraints that can be overcome, but some, you can fight forever,” Ms. Elkowitz said. She specified the requirements to protect tiger salamanders and short-eared owls on the property, and its required grassland habitat.
“We recommend it is all habitat,” Ms. Elkowitz said. “If you argue it, you’re not going to get much further than you have in the last 20 years.”
Supervisor Sean Walter said afterward that the proposed zoning would concentrate all of the open space in this one area, while allowing more of the rest of the property to be developed.
He said this needs approval from the state Pine Barrens commission, which currently requires 35 percent of each property on the EPCAL site to remain open.
“This makes more sense, to have it all in one area” Mr. Walter said.
He added that he believed that if the town had continued to mow the lawn after it acquired the EPCAL property, the grassland condition that attracted the owls probably never would have occurred, and the town wouldn’t have been required by the state to set aside land for the short-eared owl.
The preferred option shows four zones, all on the western part of the property, where development would occur. It also proposes shortening the 10,000 foot runway on the eastern part of the property to about 7,000 feet in order to create more land to develop.
The 7,000 foot runway on the west, which is no longer used for aviation, would be developed.
The four zones include a 160-acre limited development zone, called Zone 1, that would be just east of ball fields recently built by the town, and would front Route 25. It would allow residential development and a limited business park.
Zone 2, just east of that, would also front Route 25 and would consist of 238 acres. It would allow residential uses, business uses, light industrial uses and distribution uses.
Zone 3 would be located on 192 acres that front Grumman Boulevard — also known as River Road — and would be just west of the existing industrial park. It would allow light industrial and distribution uses, along with sport related uses and active recreation.
Zone 4 would be located on 181 acres just west of Zone 3 and would allow residential uses, a business park and recreation and sports uses.
“This is creating a zoning district that is going to allow a whole mix of uses so that you can respond to market demand, because sitting here now, there may be uses that don’t exist today that will 20 years from now,” Ms. Elkowitz said.
VHB said they wanted the zoning to be “flexible.”
In addition to the “preferred plan,” VHB also produced an alternate plan that would substitute the polo and equestrian use where zones 3 and 4 are located in the preferred plan.
“We do think this is something that has merit,” Mr. Schwartz said of the polo plan. “It has uses than can co-exist with one another.”
Ms. Elkowitz said he’s confident the study can be completed in its original two-year time frame, so long as there is no public opposition.