Push is on in Albany for state EPCAL commission

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | EPCAL's north gate on Route 25 in Calverton.

The state authority Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter is looking to set up to streamline development applications at the Calverton Enterprise Park will likely still require applications to go through public hearings. The commission would also likely have its own staff, which would be funded by application fees.

But it won’t likely ever happen without the state providing some money toward redeveloping the EPCAL site.

Those were some of the observations made by Mr. Walter and other town officials who traveled to Albany Wednesday to plant the first seeds in the possible creation of such an authority, a move that would require state legislation.

Mr. Walter, deputy town attorney Ann Marie Prudenti and an adviser to Mr. Walter, Anthony Coates, made the trip.

The town is proposing a commission comprised of five Town Board members, two appointees from the governor’s office, two appointees from the county executive’s office and two non-voting members who would likely be members of local civic or environmental groups, Mr. Walter said.

The idea behind the authority/commission comes from a similar body that was set up in Devens, Ma., where four of the five Town Board members visited in January of 2011. Devins is a former military base, like the former Grumman site that became EPCAL, and it was redeveloped into a successful industrial park.

The officials from Devens told town officials that a key to that redevelopment was the establishment of an authority, called Mass Development, consisting of officials from various levels of government, so that applications would not need to go before various government levels separately.

The idea being championed by Mr. Walter is to coordinate the permit process in order to streamline applications by allowing developers to know upfront what they nee. And, if they comply with the requirements that would be established through a reuse study the town is undergoing, the projects could be fast-tracked.

Town officials have long complained that projects at EPCAL get tied up in red tape from the state and county governments.

“The ultimate goal will be that the commission will have the authority to make a decision within 75 days from the date a fully compliant application is made,” Mr. Walter said at Thursday’s Town Board work session, where the Albany trip was discussed for the first time publicly.

Massachusetts also authorized a $200 million bond to cover infrastructure improvements associated with the redevelopment of Fort Devens.

New York State has not provided infrastructure funding at EPCAL, although the land at EPCAL was giving to the town at no cost, whereas Mass Development had to purchase the land.

“This will never ever happen without the state taking a very active role in it because the town does not have the financial ability to do it,” Mr. Walter said.

He said that estimates from H2M engineers, the town’s sewer consultants, say it will cost between $30 million and $50 million alone just to install the proper sewer district infrastructure at EPCAL, and $14 million for the roads.

Mr. Walter said they met with three general counsel attorneys from the state Legislature, along with state Senator Ken LaValle, assemblymen Dan LoSquadro, Robert Sweeney, Steve Englebright, who are all from Suffolk County, and others.

Ms. Prudenti said the state attorneys recommended that applications before the proposed commission still be subject to public hearings and that the proceedings of the commission be subject to the requirements of the state Open Meetings Law.

“They wanted to make sure the review process was not being violated or shortcut,” Mr. Coates explained to the Town Board Thursday..

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio had some concerns with that, saying that even if plans are deemed to comply with the parameters of the commission, they would still have to have a public hearing.

“That sounds like double effort for the same result,” she said.

“So what you’re saying is that if something fits the reuse plan, it’s still subject to public hearings and comments and possible changes?” Councilman Jim Wooten asked.

Mr. Walter and Ms. Prudenti said this requirement was strongly recommended by the Legislature attorneys they spoke with.

“It simply provides opportunity for members of the public to weigh in if they had a concern with an application,” Ms. Prudenti said.

Mr. Walter said the proposed commission would work like the state Pine Barrens Commission, which reviews projects to ensure they meet the requirements of the Pine Barrens law.

Mr. Coates said the proposal is still “embryonic,” and in its early stages.

“I think the board is looking for something that streamlines the process, gives a predictability to the process and stops the kind of false-start development that’s taking place at EPCAL thus far,” he said.

Mr. Walter said the initial reaction was positive and that the next step will be to meet with representatives of the State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Governor’s office.

Councilman George Gabrielsen said that with jobs leaving New York State, it’s in the state’s best interest to try to help bring development to EPCAL.

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