EPCAL plan gets OK from county planners, despite concerns

Members of the Suffolk County Planning Commission at this week's meeting. (Credit: Tim Gannon)
Members of the Suffolk County Planning Commission at this week’s meeting. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Despite calls to deny it from two environmental organizations, Riverhead Town’s proposed 50-lot subdivision and reuse plan for the Enterprise Park at Calverton took a step forward Wednesday, as the Suffolk County Planning Commission gave its approval to the project, with some recommendations.

The EPCAL subdivision is required before the town can start selling individual lots on the 2,400 acre property.

Town officials are banking on income from land sales and leases (though they have said no subdivision would be necessary in order to secure the lease) at EPCAL to balance its budget in 2015 and future years.

The commission’s review was needed because the town-owned land is located on a state road, and while the approval is only a recommendation, the Town Board would need a super majority vote of four board members to overturn the county recommendation, had it rejected the subdivision.

The approval came despite a call to reject it from Richard Amper, the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, and Bob LeLuca, president of the Group for the East End. Both expressed disapproval of the project last month in Riverhead Town Hall. However their disapproval on Wednesday wasn’t necessarily against the plan itself, but the fact that the plan may change after it is approved by the commission.

“It’s important that this be denied until we know what it is that you’re approving,” Mr. Amper said. He and Mr. DeLuca both said the plan still needs to go through other environmental review process and that the planning commission won’t know what they are approving if they vote now, since the plan could change.

“Whatever map you’re reviewing may not be the map the town approves,” Mr. DeLuca said, indicating that the subdivision has not been approved by the town Planning Board yet. “A denial today still allows you to review this map when the planning board is finished with it. Then you’ll all be reviewing the same thing.”

Adrienne Esposito, the commission’s vice chair, raised a similar point. She is Executive Director of the nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment and is currently a Democratic candidate for state Senate.

Town planning and building administrator Jeff Murphree said the law requires that the town bring the plan to the commission when it meets the commission’s criteria to do so.

(Credit: Andrew Lepre, file)

“If we had to bring it to you at the end of the process, then the horse is out of the barn, so to speak,” he said. “We’re looking for your input. To do that at the end of the process undermines public comment.”

County planners ultimately gave their approval to the subdivision, but said the town plan could be required to come back the planning commission if there are substantial changes in the future.

The approval passed, 8-2, according to Riverhead’s representative on the commission, Carl Gabrielsen. Ms. Esposito and Glynis Berry, a Riverhead resident who is an at-large member, both opposed it.

The county planners’ approval included eight recommendations, none of which the town is bound to follow.

For instance, the commission suggested not allowing temporary curb cuts on Route 25 from each of the individual lots sold along Route 25 during construction, and to use the three main access points ultimately proposed for Route 25 in the plan.

It also recommended the creation of a open space buffer strip along Route 25 that would avoid disrupting the existing biking and walking trail there during construction.

In addition, it recommended extending the existing rail spur to the north part of the property, something town officials say they hope to do.

“I think it went very well,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said of the vote. “I’ve told Dick Amper and Bob DeLuca that there are certain things that will change in the subdivision that may make them a little happier.”

Mr. Walter said the town would like to have the individual curb cuts for the lots on Route 25 until the town has the money to build the roads ultimately planned for EPCAL. The town plans to build an interior road parallel to Route 25 that would connect to the existing entrance at the traffic light on that road. The town also plans access roads by the town park and by the Grumman Memorial.

“I think there were several good recommendations that came out of the commission and I’m glad to see that they acknowledged the town’s efforts to develop this property,” said Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who also attended the meeting.

The Town Board closed the public comment on the reuse plan and environmental impact study but extended the comment period  for the state Department of Environmental Conservation on those plans.

The Town Planning Board Thursday closed its public comment period on the reuse plan but left open the comment period the subdivision application.

Caption: Aerial photo, Andrew Lepre.

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