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Civics unite in opposition to housing at EPCAL

Several environmental and civic organizations in Riverhead Town have teamed up to oppose the inclusion of housing as a permitted use at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

The newly formed Citizens Against EPCAL Housing comprises members of the Greater Calverton Civic Association, Group for the East End, Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, North Fork Environmental Council and the Greater Jamesport Civic Association. It’s being led by Rex Farr, longtime president of the Greater Calverton Civic Association.

He said in an interview that he only recently became aware that housing had been included as a permitted use under EPCAL zoning created last fall, despite the fact that public hearings were held on the matter.

“I was shocked, because I was under the impression that the deed from the Navy used the phrase ‘economic generator’ when it gave that land to the town nearly 20 years ago,” Mr. Farr said. “Housing is anything but an economic generator.”

He said he’d spoken to others who were also unaware that EPCAL zoning permits housing and decided to put the coalition together now because it’s an election year, which would put more pressure on officials running for election.

“It doesn’t make sense to put housing there,” said Phil Barbato, president of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition. “We never envisioned that there would be housing there in the first place. It was given to the town to provide an economic generator and housing is a net loss for government … It costs more to provide services like schools and infrastructure than you get back in taxes.”

Mr. Barbato said EPCAL zoning also doesn’t put a cap on the number of housing units that could be permitted if a special permit was granted.

“Instead of building our economy, [Riverhead Supervisor] Sean Walter’s ill-conceived plan to build homes at EPCAL is hazardous to the health of our hamlet,” Mr. Farr said in a press release announcing the new group.

Asked for comment on that release, Mr. Walter said it was a “very silly press release and they are going to look even sillier when Thursday comes around.”

He said there will be a major announcement Thursday regarding a prospective land purchase at EPCAL, although he has not identified the purchaser.

“EPCAL was given to the town for economic development and, by golly, that is exactly what I as supervisor have set out to do,” Mr. Walter said. “We need to recreate what we had when Grumman was here. Very silly press release indeed. Rex should trust me, as should the residents.”

The zoning the Town Board approved for EPCAL is called the Planned Development District and permits a “limited number” of attached residential housing units located on the same lot and in support of a principal use in three zones near the western runway at EPCAL.

The attached housing requires at least 10 acres and the number of units is limited to 300, although an applicant can apply for a special permit for a principal use with more than 300 units, according to the zoning.

An applicant seeking a special permit must “demonstrate that the residential units are an essential and integral component of such principal use, i.e. a science research or development facility or the like,” the zoning states.

The zoning also permits retail, personal service or restaurant uses at EPCAL, so long as they support permitted principal uses or other supportive uses at EPCAL.

Principal uses at EPCAL are described as “all uses that promote economic development” in the zoning, which gives examples such as industrial, institutional, educational, manufacturing and other uses.

The residential and retail components of EPCAL zoning both encountered opposition at public hearings and other venues, but Mr. Walter has insisted that the zoning will not allow a residential housing development or a retail development to be located there on its own, as they must be supporting a business use.

“EPCAL was supposed to create new jobs, tax base and prosperity for Riverhead, but the risky Supervisor Walter plan to develop homes there will instead raise our school taxes by millions of dollars,” Mr. Farr said in the release.

He said the Committee Against EPCAL Housing is planning a mass rally, petition drive, website and a series of events where residents can offer their support in the campaign to stop housing at EPCAL.

“Once again, it will be up to the people of Riverhead to lead,” Mr. Farr said. “We’ve defeated bad projects before and we will do it again. We won’t allow Town Hall to destroy our quality of life.”

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