Riverhead Town Board split on allowing housing at EPCAL

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | A rail spur was recently extended to reach into the Enterprise Park in Calverton, which was once a massive naval weapons plant where Grumman assembled F-14 fighter jets.

Should housing be allowed at the town’s Enterprise Park at Calverton?

While the 3,000-acre property was given to Riverhead specifically for “economic development” in 1998, many of the proposals the town has received for the land includes some form of housing, and now a marketing study commissioned by the town also recommends some residential uses at EPCAL, in conjunction with commercial and industrial uses.

But three of the five Town Board members said this week that they’re not in favor of housing at EPCAL — or at least not thrilled about it — despite the recommendations.

RKG Associates of New Hampshire last week completed a town-commissioned marketing study of EPCAL, which is the former site of a naval weapons plant where the Grumman company assembled F-14 fighter jets.

The Town Board is expected to formally accept the marketing study at the board’s meeting Tuesday.

“Based on population and household projects, demand for housing in Riverhead over the next decade could range between 1,000 and 1,500 units, depending on prevailing vacancy rates,” the study states. “Some of this housing could be readily supported at the EPCAL site as part of a mixed use, planned-unit development that would include a mix of business and/or services uses along with the residential.”

The study says the amount of acreage available for industrial development at EPCAL is probably more that can be absorbed in a 20- to 30-year time period, which is why it recommends mixed-use development that supplements industrial uses with commercial or retail uses and workforce housing. It also suggests assisted living as a permitted use.

Supervisor Sean Walter and councilmembers Jodi Giglio and George Gabrielsen all said in interviews this week that they do not support housing at EPCAL.

Councilmen Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy both said they do not oppose housing at EPCAL.

Earlier this year, a deal to sell 300 acres of light industrial land at EPCAL to Rechler Equity Partners for $18 million fell through because Rechler insisted on having a residential component to their project and the town wouldn’t agree to allow that.

“I think we should study housing at EPCAL, but in the end, I’m not a big proponent of it,” Mr. Walter said.

He said there’s no harm in studying it, though.

“Who knows what’s going to come along in the future in terms of proposals,” Mr. Walter continued. “I’m not going to preclude anything at EPCAL.”

Mr. Gabrielsen said he would only consider residential uses at EPCAL as a last resort, if no other proposals came forth. Ms. Giglio said she doesn’t think residential uses belong at EPCAL.

Mr. Dunleavy disagrees.

“I’ve always though that we needed some residential uses in EPCAL,” he said . “I support a mixed use. You have to have housing, along with commercial and industrial uses, for the people working there. It would be affordable workforce housing,”

He said allowing the housing for workers on the site is important for attracting the industrial uses the towns wants there.

“We shouldn’t be overwhelmed with residential uses, it should be proportionate to have what is there,” he said. “Maybe one-third housing and two-thirds commercial and industrial.”

“I’m not opposed to a mixed use if that’s the only way to make it viable,” Mr. Wooten said. “We’re seeing from up-island that industrial alone is not going to work. But as long as the residential use is part of a bigger overall plan, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to it.”

Mr. Walter said he would support EPCAL as a site for assisted living projects.

He said that overall, he is happy with the marketing study, but he said, “we don’t have to follow 100 percent of the recommendations.”

“If something comes along, housing-wise, that the board loves and the residents rally around, we’re not going to throw it away,” he said.

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