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Featured Letter: Five covenants for EPCAL

As each member of the Town Board considers whether the Ghermezian family-controlled Calverton Aviation & Technology is qualified and eligible to buy 1,640 acres of land at EPCAL, due diligence and fiduciary responsibilities require the Board to take steps that correct failings and omissions in the contract approved by its predecessor in December 2017.

To protect the interests of the people of Riverhead covenants must be incorporated in the final contract of sale that are binding on the new owners and their “successors in interest.” Such covenants permanently “run with the land,” irrespective of who owns it. Deeds that formalize future sales would be obliged by law to repeat these same covenants.

The five covenants we recommend are:

1. The use of the property be limited to aviation industry related manufacturing;

2. Commercial aviation or airport operations, not directly connected with aviation-related manufacturing, be prohibited;

3. Casino gambling, games of chance, wagering, and sports betting in any form be prohibited;

4. All residential housing, including supportive housing, be prohibited; and

5. Land deemed undevelopable by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation at the time of sale be excluded from the contract (approximately 1,000 acres)

All five covenants reflect views already expressed by members of the Board.

However, there is disagreement about whether the Board still has the power to revise the contract. The attorneys handling the EPCAL sale have said that the document is immutable. They believe it cannot be modified even though no deposit or other payment has been made to the town by the proposed purchaser, CAT.

The record of the final Dec. 19, 2017 meeting of the former Town Board suggests this legal opinion is incorrect and doubles down on their badly written contract. Former Board member John Dunleavy stated during the debate, and still believes, that after the Q&E process is completed, the contract can be modified by the Board (as took place after previous Q&E processes). As recorded in the approved minutes, he said, “All we’re doing is giving it a hearing date … They can get rid of this contract in 30 days. This is not a sealed thing. Anybody who thinks it is is wrong.”

Mr. Dunleavy was the sponsor of the resolution and his vote was required for passage. His interpretation was not challenged by Supervisor Sean Walter or by the town attorney.

If the Board’s hands are truly tied, its alternative is to request the Ghermezians to accept a separate agreement for restrictive covenants in the deed. Their response can and should be considered when the Board decides whether they have the “integrity and responsibility” to be deemed “qualified and eligible.”

Mr. Farr coordinates the Coalition Against EPCAL Housing and was president of the Calverton Civic Association for 18 years. Mr. McAuliff heads a non-governmental organization, the Fund for Reconciliation and Development.