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Drone company hopes to ‘slow down’ approval of EPCAL plan

Daniel Preston and George Hochbrueckner

Luminati Aerospace wants to “slow down” the approval process for the Enterprise Park at Calverton’s subdivision plan since the company is interested in using the property’s abandoned western runway.

Daniel Preston, CEO of Luminati Aerospace, and former local Congressman George Hochbrueckner, who helped Riverhead obtain the 2,900-acre former Grumman property from the federal government and has lobbied for its development since, addressed the Suffolk County Planning Commission during its meeting on Wednesday and asked for help.

Last month, Luminati Aerospace finalized a deal to move into Skydive Long Island’s facility at EPCAL and plans to make, test and sell high-tech unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones. The company is currently hiring, according to its website, and Mr. Preston said during a Riverhead Town Board meeting last month that the business is expected to create 40 jobs locally.

In June, the commission approved Riverhead Town’s zoning plans for redeveloping EPCAL, which was created prior Luminati Aerospace moving there. Currently, the town is in the process of submitting a subdivision to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for review. That document was also drafted prior to the Luminati Aerospace deal.

[Related story: Lawyers to Planning Board: Please approve our EPCAL map]

While the town owns the land, the DEC controls its usage and is required to approve the subdivision, Mr. Hochbrueckner explained.

However, the plan has remained in limbo for quite some time. The Planning Board gave a “conceptual approval” to the subdivision in May to permit the DEC to take a look at it, though a final Planning Board approval will still be needed. The DEC, however, has not held a public hearing on the plan — whether that’s because of a holdup there or because the town simply hasn’t handed in the plan remains unclear.

Town Board members, meanwhile, have been optimistic about developing the land. This public desire to see EPCAL developed — which, during an election year, was said by most if not all candidates for Town Board and Supervisor — brought Mr. Hochbrueckner to the planning commission.

“We need to slow the process down so we can work out a better site plan to bring to the DEC for final approval with that site plan allowing for the best possible usage of the facility,” he said.

There are two runways located at EPCAL. One is a 10,000-foot runway located at the former Skydive Long Island property, which Luminati now occupies.

A second runway is abandoned and located at the western portion of the EPCAL property. Mr. Hochbrueckner said Luminati Aerospace is interested in using that 7,000-foot runway, too, but the proposed site plan includes the DEC’s desire to place dirt over it. Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter has said in the past that the DEC is no longer considering the town to plant grass on the western runway, and the town has even considered putting solar panels on the runway.

But since the plan still has not been approved, Luminati wants to make future usage for it clear.

“Now we have a new direction to take the site plan,” Mr. Hochbrueckner said after the meeting. “We’ll be looking for changes in the site plan in order to accommodate a better future that will come from an organized aerospace community.”

Since the commission has jurisdiction to review site plans within 500 feet of state or county roads, Mr. Hochbrueckner asked if the commission could assist Luminati Aerospace in having the site plan revised.

Although he described his relationship with Mr. Walter as good and said his company is in discussions with the town over the site plan changes, Mr. Preston said he fears those concerns have been put on the back burner.

“[Mr. Walter] has been extremely welcoming and very instrumental in getting us to come here,” Mr. Preston said. “That being said, we’ve seemed to be thrusted into the middle of an election year.”

“We’re just asking everyone to slow down the process and look at it with a clean eye,” he added.

Planning Commission chairperson David Calone thanked Mr. Preston for choosing to open his business in Suffolk County.

“Turning back to soil on the western runway is a big sacrifice from a regional perspective,” Mr. Calone said. “At the time, there was no Luminati to say, ‘We could make use of that.’ But here you are. To my knowledge, we’re not so far along with the development plan that they can’t be rethought.”

After the meeting, Mr. Preston and Mr. Hochbrueckner said they’ll work with the supervisor on the site plan changes.

Mr. Walter said on Thursday morning that Mr. Preston and Hochbrueckner’s trip to the meeting was a “wasted trip,” since the town is already working with the company to accommodate its plans for the western runway.

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Photo: From left, Daniel Preston, CEO of Luminati Aerospace, and former local Congressman George Hochbrueckner addressing the Suffolk County Planning Commission on Wednesday. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)