The Riverhead Town Board voted 3-2 Tuesday evening to hold a public hearing January 17 on whether a new partnership known as Calverton Aviation & Technology LLC, a joint venture to be formed by Luminati Aerospace and Triple Five Ventures Co., is a qualified and eligible sponsor for the purchase and development of nearly 1,700 acres at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.
Triple Five Ventures Co. LLC, owned by the Ghermezian family, are builders of numerous large shopping centers throughout the country, but the zoning at EPCAL does not permit retail development.
Luminati Aerospace, a company that makes components for high altitude drones that currently owns 16 acres at EPCAL, was granted the right in 2015 to a controlling use of the runway at the property, which had been a Grumman manufacturing plant. The U.S. Navy gave the property to Riverhead Town for economic development in 1998.
When the original deal for Luminati to buy most of EPCAL was first proposed in April of this year, Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said Facebook was one of Luminati’s financial backers, but Luminati never made clear whether that was the case and Mr. Walter said later that Facebook was no longer involved in the deal. In April, Mr. Walter said he expected a $500,000 deposit and a signed contract from Luminati within 30 days, but that still has not happened.
In mid-summer, Luminati announced that John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of United Refining Energy Corp, which owns the Northville terminal, was partnering with them on the project, but Mr. Catsimatidis will not be a part of the deal as now proposed.
Town Supervisor Sean Walter has been a big backer of Luminati’s role at EPCAL over the past two years, but Mr. Walter was not re-elected in November and the qualified and eligible hearing wouldn’t be held until after he leaves office Dec. 31.
Incoming Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, long a critic of the proposed deal, said in an interview earlier this week she believes the hearing should be held so the board can quickly make a decision.
“Hopefully, this will all flesh out in the qualified and eligible hearing,” she said.
Mr. Walter and Councilmen Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy voted to go ahead with the hearing, while Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilman Tim Hubbard voted against it.
Members of the community who showed up for the town board’s last meeting of the year Dec. 19 were furious that current town board was planning to push through to the qualified and eligible hearing in the final days of Mr. Walter’s administration.
Larry Simms of South Jamesport came to the town board meeting with a five-page prepared statement, but, after Mr. Walter only allowed him five minutes to speak, he passed his statements on to several other people, who continued to read them into the record for him.
Mr. Simms accused Mr. Walter of keeping the town board in the dark on numerous aspects of the proposal.
He said a letter drafted by the town attorney two months ago giving Luminati 30 days to reach an agreement was never sent out, and Mr. Walter did not inform the town board that it wasn’t sent.
He added that Mr. Walter had secretly told the town’s real estate broker, Cushman & Wakefield, to not bring any other offers for the land at EPCAL to the town board, despite the fact that the town has not yet signed a contract with Luminati.
Luminati’s new partnership with Triple Five Ventures was made public just days before the Dec. 19 vote, and Mr. Simms said there is very little information about that partnership available to the public.
“My understanding is that you haven’t even met representatives of the firm, and they’ve put nothing in writing with regard to their plans for the property,” he said. “The only thing you have is vague, oral assurances— passed from unknown persons at the firm, to their attorneys, to your attorneys, and on to you—that these megamall developers have no interest in pursuing retail at EPCAL.”
Mr. Simms then passed his comments to Angela DeVito, who ran for supervisor against Mr. Walter in 2013.
Mr. Simms’ comments pointed out that in a much maligned indoor ski mountain development proposed by Riverhead Resorts under former Town Supervisor Phil Cardinale’s administration, which was later nixed, at least netted the town Riverhead Resorts’ $8 million deposit when the contract was cancelled.
“EPCAL has been off the market for nearly a year and the town doesn’t have a nickel to show for it,” she read. “The ski mountain may have deserved ridicule, but that administration at least required cash up front.”
After reading from Mr. Simms’ letter, Ms. DeVito told Mr. Walter she had been planning to thank the supervisor for his service to the town, but decided against it because of “your continued arrogance and your behavior as an ass.”
Joan Zaleski of Aquebogue said she’s “here to protest what you plan to do.”
“I object to you representing me as far as the sale of this property is concerned,” she said, adding that she heard Mr. Walter advise Ms. Jens-Smith on election night to not tell the town board what she’s doing.
Phil Barbato of Aquebogue said he believes the sale price, at $20,000 per acre, seems quite low. He added that he’s unconvinced that land preserved at the site will not be developed in the future, especially if a major national developer attempts to push Riverhead.
“We don’t know who these folks are,” he said.
Former East End Congressman George Hochbrueckner, who drafted the federal law that allowed the Navy to give the EPCAL land to Riverhead, said he had twisted former Senator John Glenn’s arm to get him to agree to give the property to Riverhead, in an attempt to reimburse the town for the jobs lost when Grumman left town. He said the town should hear Luminati out.
“Please work together and don’t blow this opportunity,” he said.
The public hearing will be held at town hall on Jan. 17 at 7 p.m.