Recap: Board supports EPCAL plan, talks farmer’s market, RR station & firehouse

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Hall on Howell Avenue.

The Town Board voted unanimously Thursday to support proposed state legislation that would create a 7-person commission to oversee development project approvals at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

The resolution was described by town officials as a “home rule message supporting [the] legislation.”

Supervisor Sean Walter met with top economic development and DEC officials in Albany and state lawmakers Wednesday and was told — among other things — a home rule resolution would have to be approved in order to get the legislation passed before the legislative session ends in two weeks.

The legislation would create an EPCAL revitalization district over which the commission would have oversight.

“They really were very, very encouraging,” Mr. Walter said. “It was good, the governor’s office is really on task her with trying to stimulate economic growth in the region and state. I got the sense they were supporting this. Hopefully the governor in the next two weeks will be able to help us.

“We have two weeks to get this passed.”

The commission plan, long championed by Mr. Walter, is designed to help fast track development proposals at the town-owned former Grumman property, which has languished for the past decade.

Mr. Walter said the town will be pursuing a $6 million grant to get the ball rolling on an estimated $45 million in infrastructure improvements, including roads and sewers, at the undeveloped property.

“The cost of the sewer infrastructure we believe would be $30 million,” Mr. Walter said. “If we get the $6 million from the state that would allow us to go and look for more [money].”

All board members voted in favor of the home rule resolution, with Ms. Giglio saying she had reservations about an EPCAL commission having the ability to bond out for millions of dollars without the requirement that proceeds from land deals be in place to pay debt.

“This project is not for the faint of heart,” Mr. Gabrielsen said during a discussion on potential risk to the town. “If you believe in this you just got to move forward and then keep on moving.”

“I think this is a good step,” Ms. Giglio said before voting in favor, “and I commend the supervisor and I’m glad we have the state’s ears.”

Mr. Walter said he’s confident the bill would be approved in the Senate, but the real push was to get it out of Assembly committee.

If created, the commission would comprise the five Town Board members, a governor appointee and a county executive appointee. There would also be two non-voting members, which Mr. Walter said would likely come from the environmental community.

The legislation also calls for a paid executive director.

After the special meeting, the board met for a public work session.

Downtown Business Improvement District management association president Ray Pickersgill pitched a plan to the board to rent out tents for a market along the riverfront each weekend during the warmer months for arts, crafts and farm products.

“We’re thinking it would be a great addition to the town,” Mr. Pickersgill said. “We want to do it once a week, on a Saturday or a Sunday. It won’t cost us to do it. We’re going to charge about $25 per booth and that will pay for the advertising. Our only costs.”

He also promised that the market wouldn’t block other people, such as fishermen, from using the riverfront.

The board expressed support for the project.

Board members also spoke of possible uses for the vacant 2nd Street firehouse property, which the town acquired in a land swap with the Riverhead Fire District.

Councilman John Dunleavy said he favored an arts studio/apartment living project similar to Artspace Patchogue. Councilman James Wooten said the Suffolk County Historical Society expressed interest in using the building for exhibit and office space.

Mr. Walter convinced the board it would be prudent to first seek grant money to possibly study parking needs for the downtown area before committing to anything, as the property could potentially be used for more parking.

Mr. Walter also revealed Thursday he had discussion with MTA board president Helena Williams about the town and MTA collaborating on a request for proposals (RFP) in order to find a business that might want to operate out of the vacant Riverhead station.

A Dunkin’ Donuts was given by board members Thursday as a business that could flourish there.

He also said Ms. Williams hinted at some bigger plans regarding bringing smaller, “scoot” trains to the North Fork, something MTA officials had said they were working on in response to complaints about lack of railroad services in the region.

Mr. Walter also said a portable toilet would be installed at the station to help prevent people from urinating on the vacant building.

Read more in the June 14 News-Review newspaper.

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