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Town Board unanimously votes to move forward with revised plan to sell EPCAL land

The Riverhead Town Board unanimously voted Thursday to move ahead with a proposal aimed at expediting the sale of 1,643 acres at the Enterprise Park at Calverton to Calverton Aviation & Technology for $40 million.

The vote came despite numerous calls from civic leaders to hold off so the public had more time to review the plan.

“I’m here to simply remind you that EPCAL Watch is going to be watching,” said Rex Farr, the coordinator of EPCAL Watch, prior to the vote.

“We are still standing after five years of bad behavior and stupidity,” he said. “We are going to monitor very closely the actions that you are about to vote on.”

He and other speakers criticized the board’s decision to hold Thursday’s meeting at 9:30 a.m., rather than at night when more people can attend.

Mr. Farr said EPCAL Watch represents “at least a dozen environmental groups from local to national, from the Pine Barrens to the Audubon Society.”

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said the town held a three-hour public forum on March 8 where people had the opportunity to ask questions and receive information about the deal from town officials. It was held at night. 

Ms. Aguiar said residents had two chances to comment on the sale Thursday, one at the Town Board meeting and the other at the Community Development Agency meeting. People also had a chance to ask questions and make comments at the March 16 board meeting.

The vote on the IDA resolution was originally planned for Feb. 15, then was moved to March 16 and then to March 24, when all of the board members would be available.  

Phil Barbato, the president of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, said “this is a long and complicated new version (of the deal) and appears to have all the weaknesses of current version or more.”

He said the proposal has no deadlines there were enforceable, and has nothing to prevent subleasing by CAT.

“There’s nothing to prevent CAT from selling the entire 1,643 acres the day after they get the title,” he said. “There’s no doubt CAT will seek every tax break available and probably get it. Where will the tax revenue come from?”

The Town Board voted 3-2 in November 2018 to sell 1,643 acres to CAT for $40 million, in accordance with a Letter of Agreement between the CAT and the town.

Councilman Tim Hubbard is the only current board member remaining from then. He voted in favor of the letter of agreement. 

However, the town has yet to close on the deal, in part because of difficulty getting approvals from the state that would allow the town to subdivide the property. 

The proposal approved Thursday calls for a joint application with CAT, the town and the Town Industrial Development Agency, in which the town would transfer all of the land it owns at EPCAL — about 2,100 acres — to the town IDA. 

Under what’s known as a “lease and project” agreement between the town and CAT, the 1,643 acres would be leased to CAT until a sale can be finalized.

The 2018 agreement requires CAT to spend at least $1 million on infrastructure improvements within two years of taking the property, and to build at least one million square feet of construction, to be completed within five years from the date of approval. 

CAT has also agreed to provide lighting to the EPCAL ball fields so they can be used at night. That part of the agreement didn’t give a specific cost. 

Former Councilwoman Barbara Blass said “the Letter of Agreement states that in the event the IDA fails to issue an authorizing resolution, the seller shall have the right to has the right to declare the Agreement of Sale null and void anytime thereafter.” 

She added, “I’m wondering, why you would agree with such wishy-washy language instead of terminating the deal by resolution immediately?”

The proposed deal also says that CAT “has expressed a willingness to agree to assume pursuit of the subdivision.”

Ms. Blass said that also is wishy-washy language. 

“Are they or are they not going to pursue the eight-lot subdivision?’ she asked. 

The agreement also says that CAT “will be preserving and maintaining 1,000-plus acres it is acquiring,” Ms. Blass said. She asked if CAT would be maintaining those acres prior to acquisition and what mechanism will be used to maintain those acres in perpetuity.

The resolution approved Thursday states that “so long as such 1,000+ acres of undeveloped land shall be be subject to the restrictions set forth in the Lease and Project Agreement,” the public access to that land “shall be subject to restrictions.”

Ms. Blass said the town is the co-applicant on this project which should have full transparency. 

Deputy Town Attorney Annemarie Prudenti said her understanding is that the IDA will hold a public hearing. 

Chris Kent, a former Town councilman who is representing CAT as an attorney, was present for the meeting Thursday but did not comment. He said afterward that CAT would be issuing a press release.