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Former congressman urges town to move forward with EPCAL plan

George Hochbrueckner at EPCAL hearing

The former congressman who initiated efforts to turn over Enterprise Park at Calverton to Riverhead Town in the early 1990s is now urging town officials to move forward with the latest subdivision plan for the property.

George Hochbrueckner, who served as the East End’s congressman from 1987 to 1995, addressed the Planning Board during a public hearing last Thursday to discuss the 50-lot industrial subdivision application. He explained why he supports the proposal and said he believes the town shouldn’t get “hung up” on issues like housing and infrastructure costs.

“This is too important for the town,” he said. “We put too much time into it over the years. It’s a great gift to us from the federal government. Don’t miss the big picture.”

[Year in Business 2016: An eventful year at EPCAL]

According to the current zoning, the town’s reuse plan for EPCAL allows up to 300 residential units and up to 500,000 square feet of retail uses that are “in support” of the primary uses there, such as industrial development.

Planning Board member Ed Densieski said he opposes both the zoning and the proposed subdivision because they permit residential uses. During the hearing, several residents also said they oppose residential units at EPCAL. Craig Dahl of Calverton and Laura Jens-Smith of Laurel both said they believe allowing housing at the site would be a detriment to efforts to develop the property commercially.

A letter from the Greater Calverton Civic Association also stated its opposition to the housing component.

Frank Isler, the outside attorney hired by the town to work on the EPCAL plans, said the proposed housing could only be used by employees of businesses at EPCAL and could not, according to zoning, consist of stand-alone houses — something that would be controlled by placing an “evergreen letter of credit” on the property.

Mr. Isler said the zoning that allows the housing has already been approved and isn’t relevant to the subdivision, which was the subject of the hearing.

While Mr. Hochbrueckner said allowing residences at EPCAL “was not my view of economic development when I promoted that legislation,” he said he believes “that’s for the town to work out.”

Residents also questioned infrastructure plans for the property.

Kevin Walsh — a consulting engineer with VHB, the firm the town hired to do the subdivision and zoning at EPCAL — said that installing infrastructure such as roads, streetlights, sewer and water connections would cost between $14 million and $15 million. He noted these figures are preliminary estimates that could change.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter recently estimated the cost of infrastructure at EPCAL at closer to $50 million.

When Mr. Densieski asked who would cover those costs if a developer bought just one lot, Mr. Isler said the developer is responsible for them. But the town is seeking to sell large blocks of lots — or even the entire property — to a single developer, in which case that developer would pay for all infrastructure.

In 2001, the town sold about 500 acres to developer Jan Burman for $17 million and 42 acres to Island Water Park for $714,000 in 2003.

In September, Mr. Walter announced the Town Board had reached a tentative agreement to sell about 633 acres at EPCAL to Suffolk County Industrial LLC for $72,000 per acre, or about $45 million total.

The Planning Board closed last Thursday’s public hearing and is expected to vote on the subdivision application at a future meeting after it reviews the plan.

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Photo: George Hochbrueckner addresses the Planning Board during last Thursday’s EPCAL hearing. (Credit: Tim Gannon)