More studies for proposed Calverton addiction treatment center?

Sean Walter

The Riverhead Town Board agrees that a proposed addiction treatment and research facility is a noble cause. But what members can’t seem to agree on is whether it belongs at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

With nearly six years having passed since the 30-acre Peconic Care facility was first proposed, the project has hit yet another hurdle, with the Town Board undecided on whether it needs a more comprehensive review.

During a Town Board meeting Thursday, Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman Tim Hubbard said they’re in favor of additional environmental reviews for the project.

Mr. Walter said he believes the facility proposed on empty land near EPCAL’s east airstrip currently used by Luminati Aerospace isn’t a good location. Peconic Care representatives have said the company plans to employ about 100 people and care for as many as 80 patients.

“I think this project is way too complicated for the location that’s been suggested,” Mr. Walter said.

He said noise from the airstrip — which he suggested might feature rocket testing in the future — would disturb patients at the volunteer research center.

Peconic Care project attorney Christopher Kent responded to the supervisor’s concerns and said the town shouldn’t concern itself with whether their clients would be bothered by the noise, adding that a patient’s stay would be less than 90 days.

“If it’s a failed use, that’s our problem, not the town’s,” he said. However, town planning staff said the state environmental review process could allow the town to force Peconic Care to study the effects of the noise coming from the Luminati property, even though they can’t control it.

Mr. Hubbard, meanwhile, said his chief concern was the effect the project would have on the appeal of the EPCAL property for its long-discussed sale. For years, the town has tried to sell the EPCAL land, a former Grumman facility which the federal government gave to the town for economic development in 1998. In September, Mr. Walter announced the town had reached a tentative deal to sell nearly 630 acres for about $45 million.

Mr. Hubbard said he fears the Peconic Care research facility might alter property values and throw a wrench in the land deal.

“I totally agree we need this facility; I just don’t think it’s in the right location,” Mr. Hubbard said. “The town is my problem and in the big scope, EPCAL is huge. I’m not looking to support something that would reduce the price of the sale of EPCAL.”

Mr. Walter agreed, saying the project would set a precedent for the area that would make it more difficult to bring industrial jobs like aerospace engineering back to the property. Mr. Walter suggested the Peconic Care team look elsewhere to build the facility.

“If we don’t look at the future of EPCAL, you may hamstring us,” he said to the Peconic Care team. “This will chart the course for EPCAL.”

Mr. Walter claimed that Luminati had voiced disapproval of the project. The company couldn’t immediately comment after the meeting on the proposal.

Peconic Care founder Andrew Drazan said his team has invested countless hours of time and money to make the proposal fit in Riverhead Town. He noted the group also submitted a new site plan at the town’s request and has already gone through a public hearing.

“All the plans had to be changed,” he said. “We’ve gone through a tremendous amount to get this built here … I still feel it’s perfect for us.”

While Mr. Walter and Mr. Hubbard said they’re in favor of more studies for the project, Councilman John Dunleavy said he felt the project was a worthy cause to address a growing addiction epidemic.

“We should be leading in Suffolk County on these facilities,” he said.

Mr. Dunleavy claimed the town was “getting ahead of itself” by asking questions about how noise at a neighboring aerospace company would affect the proposal’s viability. He said he couldn’t remember any other environmental proceedings requiring a developer to study other businesses’ activities.

The apparent deal to sell the land that Mr. Hubbard was concerned about could fall through, just as many other proposals for the land had, Mr. Dunleavy added.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she’s concerned about how space on the property would be used and allowing temporary housing on the site. However, she did not express support for more reviews through the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

Councilman James Wooten said Thursday he’s undecided.

“In the scheme of things, [the proposal] is benign,” he said.

Mr. Walter suggested the Peconic Care team speak to Luminati about the project and said he may change his mind if they can get a letter of support from the aerospace company.

After the meeting, Mr. Drazan said his team had already addressed many of the Town Board’s concerns in “hundreds of hundreds of pages” of previous studies. He said he was still committed to bringing the project to fruition.

“We’re not giving in,” he said. “I feel determined we’re still going to get it done.”

Without a majority consensus on whether to require more studies, the Town Board put the decision to require additional studies on hold.

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Photo: Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, right, speaks to representatives from Peconic Care at a Town Board meeting Thursday. (Credit: Paul Squire)