Trying again to get EPCAL legislation passed in Albany

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Former congressman George Hochbrueckner addressing the Riverhead Town Board in October.
TIM GANNON PHOTO | George Hochbrueckner addressing the Riverhead Town Board in October.

State legislation needed to create a special commission to fast-track development proposals at Riverhead Town’s Enterprise Park at Calverton was re-introduced in both the state Senate and Assembly last week, officials said.

The bill last year was approved in the Senate but never even came up for a vote in the Assembly.

Supervisor Sean Walter, who has touted the proposed commission as a key to redeveloping the former Grumman site now referred to as EPCAL, said he’s heading up to Albany the week of Feb. 25 to meet with some key Assembly members.

“Congressman Hochbrueckner is my new strategy,” Mr. Walter said of Assembly efforts this go-around. “Last year I went as far as a Republican supervisor for the Town of Riverhead could go, and congressman Hochbruecker is the next step.”

Former congressman George Hochbrueckner, a Democrat who lived in Coram when he held New York’s First Congressional seat in the mid-1990s, was recently hired by the town as a lobbyist on EPCAL issues, since he was the congressman who wrote the legislation that got EPCAL turned over to the town for economic development once the Grumman Corporation left.

In addition to being a congressman, Mr. Hochbrueckner, who now lives in Laurel, served as a state assemblyman before he ran for Congress.

The bill proposed last week is exactly the same as the one submitted last year, according to Drew Biondo, an aide to state Senator Ken Lavalle (R-Port Jefferson), who is again sponsoring the bill in the Senate.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), is again the main sponsor in the Assembly, with Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) and Assemblyman Ed Henesssey (D-Medford) as co-sponsors.

The bill is based on legislation used in Devens, Mass, in that is seeks to get all of the players involved in processing development applications at EPCAL in the room at the same time, so that projects aren’t stalled by having to go from one level of government to another.

If approved, it would establish a seven-member commission comprising five Town Board members, along with one member each appointed by the governor and the county executive. There also would be two non-voting, ex-officio members who would come from civic or environmental groups.

Mr. Walter said that he and deputy supervisor Jill Lewis, deputy town attorney Annmarie Prudenti and community development agency director Chris Kempner are also heading upstate with him. They have even registered as state lobbyists for the upcoming trip to Albany, he said.

Mr, Walter said Ms. Prudenti suggested this.

“I personally don’t think the town supervisor has to register as a lobbyist to speak with state representatives,” he said.

Last year, Mr. Walter said there were some officials in the Assembly who wanted the bill to be redrafted to help their own districts, and others who feared it would set a bad precedent in their districts.

“I think it just ran out of time in the Assembly,” Mr. Biondo said.

The commission, which would also have a paid executive director, would be similar to the state Pine Barrens Commission, in that an overall plan for the area in question is developed first, and development applications that comply with that plan can be approved quickly.

The town would retain zoning power, but any plan that is submitted and deemed a complete application must be acted on by the commission within 90 days, or it is automatically approved, according to the proposed legislation.

If the bill fails again, Mr. Walter said that assuming he is re-elected in November, he probably would resubmit it for a third try the next year.

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