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Petitioners urge town to not include environmentally sensitive acres in EPCAL sale

10/17/2019 8:06 AM |

Almost 1,300 signatures have been gathered in an online poll urging the Riverhead Town Board not to include 1,050 acres of environmentally sensitive land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton in a sale to Calverton Aviation & Technology.

In addition to the signatures, 16 environmental or civic organizations also have signed on to the petition, according to Christine Hawkins of Calverton, who started the effort and was one of several speakers on the topic at Wednesday night’s four-hour Riverhead Town Board meeting.

The 1,050 acres were not included in the town’s original plans to sell the property for $40 million, as town officials said at the time that only about 600 acres of land at EPCAL were developable.

But when then-supervisor Sean Walter announced plans to sell the EPCAL land to Luminati Aerospace in 2017, it included the 1,050 acres and the 600 developable acres for the same $40 million.

“We can all agree on welcoming meaningful job development within an appropriate scope that still allows for quality of life on Long Island and the East End,” the petition reads. “However, we are joining together to make it known that we are against the inclusion of approximately 1,050 acres within the current, potential sale at EPCAL.”

New York State’s 2016 Open Space Conservation Plan also calls for the preservation of 800 acres of “Calverton Grasslands,” including 565 acres at EPCAL, “comprising the largest contiguous grassland habitat on Long Island, and one of the most significant in the state.”

Calverton Aviation & Technology, which is under contract to buy the 1,643 acres of land from the town for $40 million, is scheduled to meet with the Town Board in a public work session at 10 a.m. today (Thursday, Oct. 17) to discuss their progress.

To date, it’s not clear what CAT’s plans for the property are.

The sale cannot be completed unless an 8-lot subdivision — separating the three lots CAT seeks to purchase from the 8 acres the town will keep. The subdivision requires town Planning Board approval, but also approvals from the state and county.

However, when the town planned to sell the land initially, it was proposing a 50-lot subdivision, but now is only proposing eight mostly large lots, three of which would be sold.

A letter signed by the Greater Calverton Civic Association, Wading River Civic Association, Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition and Greater Jamesport Civic Association questions the legality of that change and of the town’s review of the proposal.

“We have watched the recent subdivision process mystified by the amount of unanswered questions,” said Tocqui Terchun, the president of the Greater Calverton Civic Association.

Ms. Terchun said the town is engaged in a “segmented” review of the subdivision, which is in violation of state environmental regulations that require plans for the entire property to be studied at once.

“This means you are trying to break a project up into different component parts so that the magnitude of individual impacts, as well as cumulative impacts, is not made part of the review,” Ms. Terchun said Wednesday. “It’s our contention that, because you are now doing the subdivision to facilitate a specific development proposal, you are required by law to do a supplemental [State Environmental Quality Review Act] review on the potential impacts of the totality of the action.”

She said the town must do a full review of the plans because the subdivision is adopted.

Earlier this year, Frank Isler, the outside counsel hired by the town to review the EPCAL subdivision, said the full impacts of whatever development takes plan cannot be reviewed until an actual plan is submitted, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation cannot determine how much development can take place at the site until an actual project is submitted.

“You are purposely restricting our knowledge of the probable development of the property and its impact by deferring the review, and therefore, our ability to know if we are being harmed by these actions,” Ms. Terchun said.

She added that it should be easy to do the supplemental review because there is already a conceptual development plan that CAT submitted to the DEC earlier this year, showing 10 million square feet of development along the runways at EPCAL.

That plan was not made public until former councilwoman Barbara Blass discovered it.

“Now that it is election time, we want you to know that we plan to hold everyone accountable,” Ms. Terchun said. “Tonight, we urge all voters to stand with us and demand the Town Board do the right thing.”

“We are not going to stand by while being sold out,” she said.

The Town Board last year declared CAT to be a “qualified and eligible sponsor” to buy the EPCAL land and development.

The vote, however, was split along party lines, with the board’s three Republicans in favor and its two Democrats, including Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, opposed.

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