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Walter: Proposed EPCAL addiction center must wait two more years

Peconic Care Calverton

If representatives of a proposed Calverton addiction treatment center and research site expected smooth sailing through their site plan public hearing Tuesday night, Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter was quick to set them straight.

“It’s going to be a little painful on your side I think,” Mr. Walter said during the Town Board hearing for Peconic Care. Then he dropped the news: The town lacks the water and sewage capacity to support the project at the Enterprise Park at Calverton and it will take at least two years until the utilities catch up.

“If I can’t give you water for two years, and I’m telling you I can’t … you’re not going to be able to start this until the water is available,” Mr. Walter said.

During a nearly hour-long public hearing Tuesday night, Mr. Walter and representatives of Peconic Care quarreled over whether the plan would need a “positive declaration” under New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act.

Under SEQRA, developers of the 134,000 square foot, 40-acre campus — which was first proposed in 2013 and has already gone through zoning board scrutiny — would need to complete a detailed study, something their attorney, Vincent Messina, didn’t feel was necessary.

At the hearing, Mr. Messina and others, including a representative from the Northwell Health hospital coalition, all praised the development as providing 100 “good-paying jobs” for Riverhead Town while also serving as a hub for research into addiction.

Jeffrey Kraut, executive vice president for strategy and analytics at Northwell Health, called addiction an “epidemic.” Mr. Kraut said the campus would be a voluntary treatment center for those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. Clients could also participate in studies at the center to help “personalize care and treatment to make it more effective and prevent recidivism.”

“This facility provides a unique opportunity for us to do that,” Mr. Kraut said, adding that an auditorium on site would be used as a gathering space for “national thought leaders” on the subject of addiction.

According to Peconic Care representatives, the center would be built on about 20 percent of the roughly 60 acre parcel just west of the runway now being used by the aerospace company Luminati. While as much as one million square feet of development could fit on the site, the smaller campus would “tremendously diminish” impacts of development, Mr. Messina said.

The campus would feature a large research building, space for wellness and fitness, an arts and music “barn” for clients as well as lodging for their 30 to 90 day stays in treatment. Roger Smith of BBS, the architect working on the project, said the six buildings on site have a matching shingle style already approved by the town’s Architectural Review Board.

“That starts to give us the sense of tranquility,” Mr. Smith said. But that line had Mr. Walter snickering. The town supervisor said the Federal Aviation Administration had advised the town that a barbed wire fence must surround the property.

“It’s going to look like a jail because you’re going to have to be completely walled off,” Mr. Walter said. He also said the nearby Luminati runway wouldn’t be calming either.

“I can’t think of a less tranquil spot than that 10,000 foot runway in Riverhead,” he added. Mr. Walter said the developers would need to conduct an environmental study to investigate how Luminati’s noise would affect their use, saying the town didn’t want to hear future complaints from the center’s clients or employees about the noise.

But Mr. Messina sharply pushed back, saying it was not Peconic Care’s responsibility to account for Luminati’s noise.

“It’s not our noise, supervisor,” he said. “With all due respect, the noise that they throw off … it’s going to be what it’s going to be. They don’t get to dictate how we use our property because they make too much noise.”

Mr. Walter replied by saying he’s “not opposed” to the center, but doesn’t see how it’ll be feasible near the runway. Mr. Walter also said the town’s water district was already stressed to capacity and wouldn’t be able to handle an increased load. The developers would need to thread a water line through the nearby U.S. Navy property to hook up to a “backdoor” water line instead.

When one representative asked whether this would speed up Mr. Walter’s original estimate of two years to have water access, the supervisor said it would be no faster.

Mr. Walter also took issue with undeveloped land on the site, noting that while some of the space was promised as development-free forever, other land was not covenanted. In addition, the town’s sewer capacity was already too maxed out to support the development, he said, though a plant upgrade sometime two years from now may accommodate them.

“I think you’re getting [positive declaration] and I think I’m giving you a really big head start,” Mr. Walter said.

Mr. Messina protested that Mr. Walter’s concerns could be addressed by engineers and wouldn’t need to go through the lengthy SEQRA process. Mr. Walter decided to keep the public hearing open for comment while the town waited for Peconic Care’s response to his concerns, something Mr. Messina also felt was unnecessary.

One resident spoke during the public hearing to voice opposition to the project. Craig Dahlgren of River Road said he wanted to make sure truck traffic that motors past his house daily would not increase due to the development.

“I think I’d rather hear Luminati’s jets landing … than have more traffic on the roads,” he said. Mr. Dahlgren also raised concerns about the type of people who would be receiving treatment at the care center.

“The people that are going to be in this place are not going to be in the right state of mind,” he said, noting that the program is voluntary and that clients could leave at any time. “Where does that put them? In my neighborhood.”

Mr. Walter promised to schedule a continued public hearing in the next two months to give the developers an update.

“I give you my word, in the next 30 to 60 days, we will have a clear path as to where to go,” he said. Moments later, as Mr. Messina argued further, Mr. Walter wondered aloud if the public comment period should be held open for 90 days instead.

Ultimately, the hearing was left open for 60 days, with Mr. Walter saying a faster response could be possible if the developers quickly provide answers to the town’s planning staff.