Suffolk County Planning Commission approves EPCAL zoning

Riverhead Planning administrator Jeff Murphree address the Suffolk County Planning Commission Wednesday in Hauppauge.
Riverhead Town planning administrator Jeff Murphree addressed the Suffolk County Planning Commission Wednesday in Hauppauge. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

The Suffolk County Planning Commission has approved Riverhead Town’s zoning plans for redeveloping the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

During its monthly meeting Wednesday in Hauppauge, the commission unanimously approved the town’s proposed zoning for EPCAL, including the two most controversial components of the plan: 300 units of residential development and up to 500,000-square feet of retail use.

The commission also expressed support for extending the existing rail spur at EPCAL.

Riverhead Town planning administrator said the residential and retail uses will complement the EPCAL plan’s main components, including:  7 million-square feet of industrial uses or research and development; 3 million-square feet of office space, and 750,00- square feet of medical offices.

“We don’t want half or even three-quarters of the employees leaving for lunch at the same time,” he said about the need for retail uses like delis at EPCAL. “That will put a huge demand on local roads.”

The town anticipates having as many as 25,000 employees at EPCAL, he said, adding there’s also a need for housing.

“Some of our proposed development is going to be for research and development purposes,” he said. “You see it at Brookhaven National Laboratory. They have visiting professors and researchers come and they need a place to stay.”

Many local residents and some Town Board members have criticized the residential and retail plans and have said they fear the residential uses will impact the school district. There also has been concern that allowing retail there will create strip malls, or an extension of Route 58-type development.

While the commission’s decisions are technically just recommendations, the five-member Town Board will need to have four votes instead of the normal three to
overrule a county planning commission recommendation.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, who did not attend the planning commission meeting, has said neither the retail nor residential uses can be developed as stand-alone uses and must be in conjunction with the proposed primary uses at EPCAL.

Carl Gabrielsen, Riverhead’s representative on the commission and the brother of Riverhead Town Councilman George Gabrielsen, supported the proposed zoning.

“It’s going to be great for jobs,” he said. “It’s just a win for everyone.”

He also said he believes the town should plan for extending the rail spur at EPCAL.

The spur, which branches off the LIRR’s track down Connecticut Avenue into EPCAL, was restored with the aid of about $5.5 million in federal and state grant money in 2011. So far, it serves only one business in EPCAL.

Town officials have discussed extending it toward other businesses in the center of EPCAL, but say they will need additional financial help to do so.

The planning commission added a line to its resolution approving the zoning to voice support for expanding the rail spur.

“The proposed Planned Development Zoning district is the result of extensive study and outreach to numerous regulatory agencies and departments, as well as the public at large,” the commission wrote in its resolution of approval for the zoning.

The commission also urged the town to continue coordinating with state and county agencies on issues like wetland protection, traffic and getting approval for a new sewage treatment plant at EPCAL.

The commission reviews site plans and zone change proposals within 500 feet of state or county roads, municipal boundaries and estuaries.

In October, the commission voted in favor of the town’s proposed 49-lot subdivision of the 2,913 acres it owns at EPCAL, of which just under 600 acres are proposed for development. The subdivision is needed for the town to sell individual lots at EPCAL, which the town has owned since 1998, but remains largely undeveloped.

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