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Town board sending more questions on EPCAL purchase

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio met with principals of Triple Five Group, without other board members present, about their plan to purchase and build out more than 1,600 acres of town-owned land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton in Manhattan on March 13 without any other board members present. 

At the Town Board work session Thursday morning, Ms. Giglio asked to review with the board what she had discussed at the private meeting.

Triple Five formed a joint venture known as Calverton Aviation & Technology, proposing to buy that land for $40 million.

Angela DeVito of South Jamesport, a former Democratic candidate for supervisor, suggested at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting that Ms. Giglio recuse herself in the wake of the four-hour meeting she  had with Triple Five.

Ms. Giglio said she will “absolutely not” recuse herself from voting on whether the Triple Five is “qualified and eligible” to purchased the EPCAL land.

“It’s very disappointing and very sad for me to see Councilwoman Jodi Giglio doing this in the dark,” Ms. DeVito said. “We’ll never know what questions were asked.”

She said the private session should have been recorded and that Ms. Giglio’s notes from the meeting should be made public.

On Thursday,  Ms. Giglio said she had questions for Daniel Preston, CEO of Luminati, including what college he attended, but he was not present at the Manhattan meeting.  Former Riverhead Town Community Development Agency director Chris Kempner, who now works for Brookhaven Town, accompanied Ms. Giglio.

Ms. Giglio said she  also asked Triple Five about large-scale industrial projects they’ve built and about the community benefit at EPCAL, because the land they intend to purchase is adjacent to a town-owned park. The principals said they’d make certain improvements, such as ballfield lighting and turf.

They also talked about downtown Riverhead, as CAT hopes employees could live there and take a shuttle to EPCAL, Ms. Giglio said. There is also interest in creating a STEM school on site to train youth in breaking into the aerospace industry, she said.

Ms. Giglio said there was no bad intent in her setting up the meeting. She said she preferred a public “across-the-table” discussion with the group over the format of the recent qualified and eligible hearings, which she said allows only a “stunted presentation” by CAT.

A qualified and eligible hearing is the proper legal forum to vet an applicant, Councilwoman Catherine Kent said.

“A closed meeting is not transparency,” she said.

Ms. Kent said she was glad Ms. Giglio brought up the questions she did, but that she was “shocked and appalled at the arrogance of a council member going in and having a private meeting.”

Councilman Tim Hubbard said he thought the private meeting was proper, adding, “I don’t think there was a shred of malice in her mind.”

Ms. Giglio was doing her due diligence, he said. The entire process is a learning experience for the Town Board on the “largest project that will ever be on the Town Board,” he said. He also said he appreciated the the qualified and eligible process opened up communication with people in town.

“And in hindsight, I agree,” Ms. Giglio said, later adding, “I don’t think it was a mistake, but the perception was definitely something I hadn’t expected.”

Councilman Jim Wooten said although he though the meeting was in “poor taste,” he said he did not think there was a legal issue with it.

Stuart Bienenstock, Triple Five’s director of business development, and James Lima, CAT’s economic consultant, who were present at work session, joined in the discussion.

Mr. Bienenstock said the magnitude of the project has not been taken for granted by CAT.

CAT’s initial interaction with the Town Board during an early January snowstorm was meant to start a healthy dialogue. He noted there were no open meetings laws violated in that meeting, but public perception of it “almost shut the door” on doing so.

“This project has a target on it’s back because of who initially started this project,” he said. “The point is, we are looking to be a partner and we are interested in actually being as transparent as we possible can be. That lack of a one-on-one interaction with the Town Board makes it very difficult for us to really explain to you who we are and give you the information that you really need because we don’t necessarily feel like we have a partnership here and that’s really what we’re trying to achieve.”

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the town was trying to understand CAT by submitting more questions to get comprehensive answers.

“We’re trying to do that through these questions,” she said. “Our charge here is what’s good for Riverhead.”

Mr. Hubbard said the first qualified and eligible hearing yielded vague answers and that while the second was better, he hopes CAT can give “solid, solid” answers. He agreed that a work session-style discussion is more productive, direct and upfront. The supervisor said if an additional qualified and eligible hearing is scheduled, it could be set up that way.

“We as a board and residents of town need to hear a little more,” he said.

Riverhead Town will keep the public comment period on the potential sale of EPCAL land, which was set to closed April 6, open indefinitely while board members submit additional questions and receive answers from CAT.

The supervisor said there were questions she felt were not answered sufficiently at the second qualified and eligible hearing. The Town Board will submit questions by April 13 and give CAT time to answer.

Triple Five will be asked to meet with the Town Board and a closing date can be set for public comments, Ms. Jens-Smith said. It’s unclear at this point if that will happen at a work session or another qualified and eligible hearing.

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Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the date of the meeting Ms. Gilgio met with Triple Five. It has been updated to mention the correct date, Tuesday, March 13.