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Triple Five, faced with losing IDA benefits, scraps aviation plans at former Dowling site

Triple Five Aviation Industries LLC has opted out of a Brookhaven Town Industrial Development Agency redevelopment project for the former Dowling School of Aviation in Shirley, saying it was having difficulty finding tenants for the site. 

Triple Five Aviation Industries is a subsidiary of the company that is in contract to pay $40 million to buy 1,643-acres of land in Calverton from Riverhead Town. 

Brookhaven IDA members could have found Triple Five in default of their July 6, 2018, agreement, but gave them the option to withdraw by last Thursday, which they did, according to Chris Kent, the attorney for Triple Five.

He said Triple Five intends to submit a new plan for the property.

Triple Five purchased the 105-acre site for $14 million from a bankruptcy trustee in 2018, after Dowling College had filed for bankruptcy. 

At the time of that purchase, Triple Five said the Shirley site would not compete with their plans for aviation and technology uses in Calverton. “This is something that complements what we’re doing in Calverton, and it’s something that will enhance our vision and overall strategy,” Stuart Bienenstock, Triple Five’s director of business development, said at the time. He said Triple Five wanted to get started on the Shirley project while it awaited approvals for the purchase of the Calverton property.

The Dowling property was previously owned by Brookhaven Town, so it wasn’t on the tax rolls before Triple 5 Aviation Industries purchased it. The group had agreed to a 13-year Payment in Lieu of Taxes plan with the Brookhaven IDA, Mr. Kent said in an interview. Under the terms of that agreement, Triple Five paid $368,747 in property taxes for 2019-20; $367,122 for 2020-21; and $383,644 for 2021-22.

Under the PILOT, it was slated to pay $935,320 for 2031-32, when the agreement was set to expire. After that, it would pay full property taxes

Since the group has opted out of continuing with the project, however, it will begin paying taxes now based on the property’s full assessed value. 

The IDA also gives partial abatements on mortgage recording tax and on materials used in construction of the project, but Mr. Kent said they didn’t buy any materials. 

Mr. Kent said there had been initial interest in the property, but it faced two major hurdles: One was the COVID-19 pandemic and the other was the property’s zoning. Mr. Kent said the zoning allows an academic campus with accessory dormitories and recreational uses. 

“COVID-19 had a devastating impact on plans to lease the facility,” Mr. Kent said. 

He said a proposal has been put forth by Community Housing Innovation, a nonprofit that wants to use the dormitories at the site as an accessory use to a proposed workforce training program meant to address the need for skilled employees. 

“If and when there’s a real project, come back,” said William Weir, the IDA’s attorney. 

The Dowling project “doesn’t affect Calverton,” Mr. Kent said when asked about the potential impact the Shirley project could have on Triple Five’s plans in Riverhead Town. “It’s a completely different project,” he said.

Riverhead Town has been in dispute with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Suffolk County Water Authority over the issue of providing public water to the Enterprise Park at Calverton, as well as to some residents in Manorville and Calverton.

The town says the Riverhead Water District should supply water to those areas, while the DEC and water authority believe the SCWA should do so. 

The town’s lawsuit seeks to annul a Nov. 19, 2020, notice of incomplete application from the DEC, as well as a Feb. 12, 2021, correspondence with respect to the town’s application for a subdivision permit required under the state’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act, which limits development along the Peconic River.

The DEC said the town’s application will not be deemed complete unless the town agrees to designate SCWA as the provider of public water for the proposed EPCAL subdivision, rather than the Riverhead Water District.

Town officials say they cannot approve the sale of land at EPCAL to Calverton Aviation & Technology — of which Triple Five is a majority owner— without an approved subdivision.