EPCAL Plan Gets an Earful from Riverhead Residents

Riverhead is planning to subdivide a portion of the former Grumman property in Calverton.
Riverhead is planning to subdivide a portion of the former Grumman property in Calverton.

It seemed there was something to hate for everybody when Riverhead Town unleashed its plan to subdivide the Enterprise Park at Calverton at the former Grumman plant for public comment Wednesday night.

Environmentalists weren’t crazy about the development. Industrialists were unhappy with the mere notion that people could be living within the subdivision. Neighbors to the south of the property were concerned about an increase in traffic in their quiet neighborhoods. People concerned about the town’s finances saw the tax-free development as a mistake for a town already deeply mired in debt.

And even former Congressman George Hochbrueckner, who wrote the federal legislation in which the U.S. Navy gave the land to Riverhead Town, thought the plan was moving in the wrong direction.

But Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said he “heard no unsurmountable obstacles” in the issues raised by everyone who spoke at Wednesday’s nearly two-hour hearing.

Five hundred acres at the industrial core of the 2,900-acre site of the former Grumman plant were sold to developer Jan Burman in 2001. The subdivision plan would divide the remaining property into 50 lots, 42 of which would be redeveloped with a mix of uses, incluing retail, industrial, residential, recreational, energy park and utility projects.

The property would be placed in a special zoning district known as a planned development district in order to accomodate the different uses.

Four hundred fifty-eight acres of the property would remain as grasslands and 138 acres of grasslands are expected to be created as habitat for the short-eared owl, northern harrier and upland sandpiper.

The potential residential use of the property seemed most offensive to people who spoke Wednesday.

Riverhead Building Supply owner Edgar Goodale, who recently built a large warehouse in the industrial core of the EPCAL property, said his company’s headquarters has already “been chased from residential communities” several times.

“It’s an industrial park. It should be an industrial park,” he said. “If my peers in the business saw that I was opposed to residential development, they might have me committed, but industrial and residential don’t mix.

Mr. Goodale added that when businesses come to Riverhead to discuss plans to expand here with the town, “they could not run away fast enough.”

Laurie Downs was downright angry “at a lot fo things going on,” she told the town board. She derided the plan to allow residential development of EPCAL, and pointed out that the Riley Avenue Elementary School, attended by kids who live in Calverton, is already full of students and she believes it will need to be expanded, especially if EPCAL includes housing.

She added that the town’s proposal to take a bridge loan against the sale of lots at EPCAL in order to balance the budget couldn’t be paid off in the two years necessary. The board voted later that night to not take the bridge loan.

“All those years of bickering was uncalled for,” she said. “You should have done some governing.”

Greg Fischer, a frequent candidate for political office in Riverhead who’s now running for New York State Comptroller with the “Rent is 2 Damn High” party, didn’t like housing at EPCAL either.

“Mixing residential and light industrial is toxic,” he said. “It just doesn’t pan out.”

He added thatt the town’s “supply side economic theory of ‘if we build it, they will come'” is not wise, and urged the board to find a way to market the property to a specific industry.

John Ehlers, who did the original survey of the property, said the town can’t sell the lots before they put in roads, water and a sewer.

“If the bridge loan fails, we have a disaster here,” he said.

Robert Boehm, who lives on River Road just south of the property, said he believes the roads to the south of the property can’t handle the weight of traffic en route to EPCAL.

Mr. Hochbrueckner, the former congressman, said he would like the town to wait to hear whether LIPA approves a project to put 20 megawatts of solar panels on the property’s 7,000-foot abandoned runway, as proposed by the Virginia company Heliosage Energy.

He said the town could spend millions of dollars tearing up the asphalt on the runway and planting grass that doesn’t grow, or could “make $5 to $8 million over the next 20 years” by leasing the runway to Heliosage. He offered his consulting services to the town, free of charge, in order to facilitate solar panels there.

“Even on the environmental side, this makes sense,” he said. “This may be your last and only opportunity on the runway.”

Anthony Coates of Riverhead, who ran for a seat on the town board last year, said the town had an opportunity for three ways to make money from EPCAL: collecting taxes, selling the land, and providing jobs for people.

Because the lots will not be taxed, he said, “one leg of the stool is gone.”

He added that EPCAL now “has all the amenities of Gilligan’s Island,” while land at the nearby Calverton Links, in turnkey condition, goes for $28,000 an acre.

“What is the board projecting acres are going to sell for at EPCAL?” he asked.

He added that if the property is developed as housing, it will not be providing jobs for people who live in Riverhead, and many large employers who might set up shop there would import their work force.

“Go back to the drawing board,” he said. “The land that sent men to the moon can be developed better than that.”

Aquebogue resident and attorney Ron Hariri said he didn’t hear anyone say anything nice about the plan.

“You’ve taken the town to the brink of bankruptcy,” he told the town board. “Listen to what’s been so pursuesively articulated here tonight. Hold your horses. Step back and give this the thought it deserves.”

Gordan Howard, a Sierra Club member and frequent user of the bike path at Calverton, was more blunt with his words. He didn’t want to see any development at EPCAL.

“People like you are destroying the entire planet,” he told the town board.

If you missed the fireworks Wednesday, you can still tell Riverhead’s planning board how you feel about the EPCAL subdivision at a public hearing tonight at 7 p.m.

 

 

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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