Critics: CAT draft ‘looks like an airport’ at EPCAL

A Calverton Habitat Review document submitted by Calverton Aviation & Technology to the state Department of Environmental Conservation shows 10 new buildings along the two runways at the Enterprise Park at Calverton. Together, the buildings represent 10 million square feet of development. 

The 19-page document was acquired by former Riverhead councilwoman Barbara Blass, who has been critical of the EPCAL development process, through a Freedom of Information Act request. It was then given to Denise Civiletti and published Tuesday on riverheadlocal.com.

“Based on what they submitted to the DEC, it looks like an airport,” said Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith. “I’m not sure if that’s their full buildout or if that’s what they intend to build. I’m not sure what any of this is.”

She said the town has asked Calverton Aviation & Technology to appear before the Town Board at a work session to further explain its intentions.

Both the DEC and CAT, say those drawings are only a draft and that there has been no formal applications have been filed by either entity. A spokesperson for CAT, a joint venture between Triple Five Group — which owns 75% percent of the company — and Luminati Aerospace, said the company has no plans for a passenger airport.

In addition, the three Republicans on the Town Board, who voted last November to approve CAT’s qualified and eligible sponsor status, say this doesn’t change their view of the project and they still support it.

CAT told the Town Board in May that it planned to move forward with the proposed purchase and redevelopment of 1,643 acres of town-owned land at EPCAL for $40 million.

The next step in the process is for the Riverhead Planning Board to formally subdivide the five lots it will continue to own from the three it plans to sell CAT.

The maps and renderings included in the Calverton Habitat Review, dated April 4, 2019, show restricted areas at EPCAL wetlands, areas restricted due to habitat, environmental setback boundaries, a subdivision map, a proposed development plan and Federal Aviation Administration design guidelines.

The proposed development plan is what has raised eyebrows.

“If you look at the plans, [they appear] to be plans for a very large airport,” said Sid Bail, longtime president of the Wading River Civic Association. “This isn’t what the public was led to believe at public hearings. And if these aren’t development plans, they appear to be development plans, because the documents are labeled ‘development plans.’ It’s troubling.”

Mr. Bail feels this could change the opinion of voters in the upcoming election. “I can’t imagine there won’t be consequences,” he said.

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said, “This is typical of the way this property has been handled for 20 years. Nobody knows what’s proposed.”

He added: “I’ve dealt with land use for the past 25 years and there is nothing that compares to the consistent incompetence of the redevelopment of the Calverton property.”

Mr. Amper said he expected a more moderate use of EPCAL, and now “it looks like they are trying to turn it into Queens.”

“This draft is one of many proposed development plans that CAT commissions when conducting its due diligence on developable properties,” Amy Herbold, CAT’s director of development, said in an email. “When CAT finalizes the initial development plan, it will present the concept at a Town Board work session prior to formally submitting the plan to DEC. Until that time, anything you may see or hear is a work in progress.”

The state DEC said in an email that it “received the Calverton Habitat Review document at an informal pre-application meeting between DEC staff — environmental permits and the divisions of water and natural resources — and representatives from the Triple Five Group to discuss general jurisdictional concerns about this proposed project. The document was not part of any formal application. DEC has not conducted any reviews relating to the Calverton Habitat Review document.”

In separate interviews, Republican Town Board members explained their support for the project.

Councilman Tim Hubbard said the Calverton Habitat Review “shows that they are moving in the proper direction and shows that they are doing what they said they were going to do. They are trying to get an idea as to what plans can be developed and what plans can’t.”

The subdivision map the town is preparing for EPCAL originally had 50 lots, most of them along Route 25. Since CAT entered the picture in 2018, the subdivision has been redone so there are only eight lots, three of which are being sold to CAT, and the proposed development is being moved closer to the runways.

“It cannot be a runway,” Mr. Hubbard said. “Can it be a cargo port? Yes, it certainly can.”

“I think it makes sense,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said. “They are going to be doing aerospace and building drones and aircraft. I think it’s a good idea to build around the runway.”

Both Mr. Hubbard and Ms. Giglio said measures will be taken by the DEC to protect wildlife habitats.

“I’ve been pushing this pretty steady since day one,” Councilman Jim Wooten said. “I want this property sold and I want it in private hands.”

He said it’s “way too early” to start criticizing the plans when no development plans have been formally submitted yet.

“Find out what they want to do and then we can scrutinize it and tweak it,” Mr. Wooten said.

“Our analysis and development proposals will conform to the obligations provided in the purchase agreement and prescribed by zoning and adopted findings, all of which prohibit commercial airport uses,” Ms. Herbold said.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent said “it looks like their intent is to build a cargo airport in Calverton.” The size and scope of the project looks massive, she added.

“From the beginning, we didn’t know enough about their plans,” she said. “Why others on the board didn’t share the same misgivings is beyond explanation to me.”

Shortly after the town’s 3-2 party-line vote to declare CAT “qualified and eligible” in November 2018, CAT issued a press release saying “the site is zoned to accommodate 9.8 million square feet of development.”

It continued: “Over the next decade, CAT intends to leverage several billions of dollars of private investment to transform this significant asset into a world-class aerospace technology, innovation and high-tech manufacturing hub.”

CAT’s intended development plan in its contract with the town calls for them to spend $1 million on maintenance of the runways and other aviation features at EPCAL within two years of taking ownership of the property, and calls for CAT to build out 1 million square feet of commercial and industrial space at EPCAL within 18 to 24 months of obtaining the necessary approvals for the work. CAT’s contract with the town also specifically prohibits the development of passenger airline service or residential uses at EPCAL.

The one-page intended development plan included in the contract with the town states that “primary emphasis shall be on the development of aviation, technology and supportive uses and uses permitted by the Planned Development District zoning.

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