Three Riverhead Town Board members said Friday they won’t support the Luminati Aerospace sale unless changes are made.
The Town Board had planned to move forward with the $40 million sale of town-owned land at Enterprise Park at Calverton to support Luminati’s plan for building “unmanned aerial vehicles” that can beam wireless internet back to earth.
Luminati, which purchased the former SkyDive Long Island building at Enterprise Park in 2015, has also been renting space at the former Grumman Plant 6 building since last year. Luminati is now seeking to buy most of the remaining acreage that Riverhead Town owns at EPCAL, including both runways, approximately 600 acres that is considered to be suitable for development at the site, and another 1,000 or so acres that officials say cannot be developed for environmental reasons.
In interviews with Town Board members Friday, Councilman Tim Hubbard, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilman John Dunleavy all said they won’t vote for the contract of sale unless changes are made. Supervisor Sean Walter declined to address the issue Friday. Councilman Jim Wooten didn’t return a message seeking comment for this story. Officials from Luminati could not immediately be reached for a response.
This is the latest development in the town’s approval process for Luminati. Mr. Walter confirmed last week that Facebook is no longer a financial backer of the project.
On Thursday, RiverheadLOCAL reported that the former SkyDive Long Island building, which is owned by Luminati, and the former Plant 6 building are lacking proper town permits and that a stop-work order was issued to the Plant 6 building that’s owned by a company called Laoudis of Calverton, which rents part of it to Luminati and other businesses.
Laoudis was issued the stop-work order Dec. 12, according to town documents the News-Review received through a Freedom of Information request.
Luminati and the company’s CEO, Daniel Preston, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Friday at the Plant 6 building, which was attended by town officials.
Mr. Hubbard, Ms. Giglio and Mr. Dunleavy said Friday they weren’t aware of the building violations.
“If I was, I wouldn’t have gone,” Mr. Dunleavy said about the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Ms. Giglio said she “definitely would not have gone” if she knew about the alleged violations.
Mr. Walter told RiverheadLOCAL he knew of the violations of work being done without permits or certificates of occupancy (CO).
At the former SkyDive Long Island building, the town issued an “order to remedy” in Aug. 2016 for lacking a CO and violations were observed in Sept. 2016 that included using extension cords instead of permanent wiring and other electrical issues, town records show.
“With other people, if there’s no certificate of occupancy, we won’t even talk to them,” Mr. Dunleavy said. “We’d tell them to get your house in order, and then we’ll talk to you. But this guy [Mr. Preston] gets away with murder.”
Asked if he’d vote in favor the Luminati sale, Mr. Hubbard, who did not attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony, responded, “Absolutely not.”
Mr. Hubbard added that all of the building violations need to be remedied before the sale goes forward. In addition, Mr. Hubbard said the zoning should be changed to deter housing and he wants more transparency in the deal.
“We need to know who the backers are or we’ll never be for it,” Mr. Hubbard said. “They have to produce that.”
He said he might not even vote to schedule a “qualified and eligible sponsor” hearing, which requires the buyer to disclose its financial wherewithal and its ability to perform whatever project it plans, unless the violations are fixed. The hearing is required to sell land that’s included in an Urban Renewal area, such as EPCAL.
Mr. Walter told the News-Review earlier in the week that “at least one other financial backer has stepped up” to join the Luminati project. However, he would not name it.
The supervisor has previously stated that the non-developable land the town is selling to Luminati is actually a financial drag on the town since it must maintain it and mow the grass, which he said costs more than $100,000 per year.
Ms. Giglio said she’s submitted a list of items she will require in order to get her vote for the sale.
Like Mr. Hubbard, Ms. Giglio wants housing eliminated from the zoning and financial backers of the project identified. In addition, she would like to see a “right of first refusal” included in the deal, which would allow the town to receive the land back for the same price if Luminati seeks to sell within the first year of owning the land.
Ms. Giglio and Mr. Hubbard also wants the town to be reimbursed for the cost of the non-developable land.
Mr. Walter has said the housing included in the EPCAL zoning is in support of industrial uses at the property, and would not allow a large residential subdivision. The EPCAL zoning allows up to 300 residential units that are “supportive” to the principal uses such as industrial, manufacturing and other uses that “promote economic development,” according to the zoning.
An applicant can apply for a special permit to have more than 300 residential units so long as it is on at least 10 acres and is an “essential and integral component” of a principal use.
Mr. Dunleavy said that in order to get his vote, “they’d have to eliminate the housing and I want to see the money.”
File photo credit: Krysten Massa