Editorial: Drug research center at EPCAL deserves ZBA approval

Calverton EPCAL sign
MICHAEL WHITE FILE PHOTO | One of two signs marking the EPCAL entrance along Route 25 in Calverton.

Political science students, take note: Once again, the Zoning Board of Appeals will rule this week on an application of long-term importance to Riverhead and the surrounding areas. Town Board members regularly get lots of visibility, but it’s worth reminding readers and residents that Thursday night’s decision on plans for a 34-acre substance abuse research campus will truly shape the future of the Enterprise Park at Calverton. The ZBA should support the application.

The people behind Calverton Addiction Research Center: New York, as the project is called, want to create a research and education center on land at EPCAL, a valuable service for which the need is dire. So much so that CARE:NY received $1 million in grant funding from the state Economic Development Council.

The proposed facility’s founder, attorney and supporters have said the campus will provide a place to test and research treatment methods in an effort to better understand addiction and combat it with a more comprehensive medical approach.

While critics raise the specter of more than 100 addicted subjects on campus at a time, their stays there would be temporary, not permanent.

The town’s Planned Industrial Park zone in which the project would be built was created not long after the town was deeded the land by the U.S. Navy to “encourage industrial and office development in a comprehensively planned and designed environment.” One of the permitted uses there, “research and testing laboratories,” seems in line with what’s in store from CARE:NY. Granted, it’s probably not exactly the kind of research or testing the town had in mind 15 years ago when the zone was created — pharmaceuticals were likely the aim, and this project doesn’t conjure up a laboratory in the traditional sense. The ZBA will be putting its focus on whether an accessory treatment center is a permitted use. It’s hard to argue that this type of research can be done without treating patients on campus.

With research and development among the main goals of developing land at EPCAL, the CARE:NY application has at least earned a ZBA green light to move forward. Important questions remain, but let’s leave those for the Planning Board and building department to consider.