Just three months after their dream of establishing a model airplane club at the Enterprise Park at Calverton took flight, the Riverhead Air Force RC Club will be forced to find a new home.
At a Town Board meeting last Tuesday, officials approved a resolution to terminate a parks and recreation rental agreement with the club, citing alterations made without town approval to the town’s field at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Calverton.
They had originally issued the facility rental permit April 1.
According to the Town Board resolution, changes and alterations have been made to the fields, which are slated for future soccer and lacrosse fields. Those changes include the installation of orange mesh safety fencing and signage indicating that the property was for use by model airplane club members only.
The town terminated the agreement on the basis that the alterations made are “permanent in nature,” and serve only a private use. Deputy town attorney Anne Marie Prudenti said in an interview Friday that attempting to keep members of the public out of the fields directly violates the Public Trust Doctrine.
Vince Juliano of Rocky Point, who first brought the idea to the Town Board’s attention last August, said in an interview last week that club members began mowing the grass with their own equipment and sought to level out portions of the field in order to create a runway area for takeoff and landing.
Mr. Juliano said that when they began using the field this spring, the grass was waist high. “You can’t land on that,” he said. “It will wreck your landing gear.” He said benches and tables in the field are used to prep the model airplanes for takeoff and perform to tuneups.
In addition to the unauthorized site improvements, town officials said the club had also been advertising events, including a “fall air show with food trucks and music,” “club cookouts and picnics” and an “official dedication by town representatives” online and in their newsletters without town knowledge or approval, according to the resolution passed.
Ms. Prudenti said the rental agreement was not intended for what ended up happening at the site. “This was really much longer in duration than we’ve ever used a rental permit for and we don’t allow improvements and alterations to our facilities under those rental permits,” she explained. “It was morphing into something that far exceeded what would be contemplated in a rental permit. It’s not what the Town Board had in mind.”
Mr. Juliano, who is 91, said that since the club formed last August, approximately 50 members had joined When he pitched the idea to the Town Board in 2018, he noted that the lack of available fields to fly the model airplanes — coupled with Federal Aviation Administration restrictions and the need for insurance — has led to a decline in the pastime.
At the time, Mr. Juliano told Town Board that he’d like to hold flying events to bring in visitors and generate interest in the hobby and he pledged to cover any costs associated with using the land.
Mr. Juliano said he was “blindsided” by the Town Board decision, but understood why it was necessary.
He expressed gratitude to the board and to parks and recreation superintendent Ray Coyne, who tried to help the club find a location. “They went out of their way to help us and the announcement was a big disappointment,” Mr. Juliano said.
Ms. Prudenti pointed out that a flying field for model airplanes exists at a Brookhaven Town-owned park in North Bellport that has asphalt runways and parking access near the flying field, though Mr. Juliano said that field is so popular that there’s a club waiting list.
“It requires a piece of property where they can create the improvements that they need,” Ms. Prudenti said. “Right now we just don’t have a site for them.”
Mr. Juliano, a lifelong aviation enthusiast, isn’t planning to give up. “I feel like I promised so much and delivered so little,” he wrote in a newsletter to club members earlier this month.
He said the club now hopes to find a new location, perhaps a farm field they could pay to rent for flying purposes.
One of his most recently constructed models was a 1937 Grumman F3f-2, a plane he first saw on the cover of a magazine as a 10-year-old.
“I would have loved to have flown it here,” he said.