Giglio: Polo grounds group set to make new EPCAL proposal

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO |  Jorge Neuss along with his son, German, explain the group’s polo complex vision to Councilman John Dunleavy last year.

An Argentina-based group that previously offered to build a polo complex at the Enterprise Park at Calverton will make a new proposal this week to purchase a smaller portion of the land for polo grounds, Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said Saturday.

But Supervisor Sean Walter said he hadn’t heard the group was planning to make a new pitch, and said the current state Department of Environmental Conservation’s regulations would prevent the polo grounds from being developed.

Jorge Neuss and his son, German, of International Polo Organization are preparing a different proposal to present during a meeting later this week, Ms. Giglio said in an interview.

The new plan, she said, would develop 450 acres of the EPCAL property and would not include an up to 400-house development that drew criticism from some town officials when the two first pitched a plan.

“From what I’ve been told verbally, they can live without the housing,” Ms. Giglio said, adding that any transient housing on the property would be for the jockeys, owners and horses.

The polo group was first brought to speak to some Town Board members last April by the town’s longtime realtor at EPCAL, Jack O’Connor.

“This is major league polo,” Mr. O’Connor said at the time.

The latest offer for the EPCAL property, a $32.5 million deal for 783 acres, was made public in December 2011.

Ms. Giglio said the Argentine group is discussing building an indoor field to play matches on, and would allow the town to use the fields in the winter.

“That would all be on the tax rolls,” she said. “They’re saying they would not be seeking any exemptions under the agriculture [laws].”

Ms. Giglio said polo group representatives “reached out to me on numerous occasions,” and said they would be ready to close on a deal within six months.

“I want to see it on paper before I can actually take it to the board, but I think it fits in with the character of Riverhead,” she said. “I think it would be great for our wineries, it would be great for our catering facilities, it would be great for our hotels.”

Town Councilman James Wooten said he heard Ms. Giglio discussing the project Saturday at the opening of a nature preserve in town, but was unfamiliar with the details of the proposal.

“I think they’re still at the table and I think they want to put another proposal together for us,” Mr. Wooten said. “Nothing’s official and there’s nothing in writing but I’m certainly anxious to see if it’s viable and if they’re still interested because I think it’s a great use of the property.”

Last December, a marketing and zoning study commissioned by the town found that polo grounds at the site “is consistent with the region’s agricultural tourism base and could offer some synergistic possibilities with regional farms and vineyards” adding the project “could help to expand tourism traffic from the Hamptons and other areas of Long Island.”

The study also noted that polo grounds are likely to create less jobs and less tax revenue than proposed industrial uses for the property.

Mr. Walter insisted he Saturday that he’s been in “constant communication” with the polo group and had heard nothing about a new proposal in the works.

“That’s putting the cart before the horse,” he said. “The way the DEC has laid out the subdivision of EPCAL, [the polo proposal] would be absolutely precluded.”

Efforts to subdivide the land has run into resistance from DEC officials, Mr. Walter said, adding that the town was recently passed over for a state grant that would have funded sewage treatment upgrades at EPCAL, which are required before the town can sell land.

“The real issue with the DECs position is they’ve identified 750 acres to develop but they’re all disjointed,” he said. “Out of the 750 you’re lucky if you can develop 500 acres … basically the DEC wants to protect every blade of grass on the place.”

Aside from issues with the DEC, Mr. Walter told the News-Review Friday that he believes failed efforts in the past to develop the land has some in state government skeptical of the town’s latest proposals.

Mr. Walter is planning meetings with U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, he said, as well as Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) to discuss gaining federal support to get the EPCAL development plans moving.

Until the DEC is on board, any proposed polo grounds will be unlikely to move forward, Mr. Walter said.

“Unless we’re successful with the DEC, the polo is really never going to happen … unless we get the area we want subdivided subdivided,” he said.

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