The long-languishing former Grumman manufacturing plant that the U.S. Navy gave to Riverhead Town’s Industrial Development Agency in 1998 could soon be in the hands of ultralight aircraft manufacturer Luminati Aerospace, which purchased the 16-acre former Skydive Long Island portion of the property in 2015.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said Luminati has offered $40 million in cash to buy 600 acres of developable land and surrounding 1,700 acres of grasslands at the property, now known as the Enterprise Park at Calverton, or EPCAL. The Riverhead Town Board voted Tuesday afternoon to allow the supervisor sign a letter of intent to sell the property to Luminati.
Mr. Walter said Luminat Aerospace has agreed to provide a $500,000 deposit, while the town spends the next 30 days negotiating a contract, and the following 90 days will be on due diligence. If the town does not close on the property at the end of that time frame, which he estimated would be in mid-August, Luminati would forfeit their deposit.
“We’re not interested in adding extensions. If this is real, town residents are going to know in 90 days,” said Mr. Walter at Tuesday’s town board meeting. “If it’s not real, we’re going to move on to the next purchaser.”
Luminati Aerospace CEO Daniel Preston told the town board when his firm purchased the initial 16 acres in the fall of 2015 that he has put together a “dream team of engineers and university professors to build next generation solar aircraft.”
Mr. Preston was the prior chief of Atair Aerospace, a firm that designed military parachutes, which he sold for $22 million in 2009.
Mr. Walter said Tuesday that, if the property is sold and put on the tax rolls, the buyer will likely pay $1.6 million in taxes while the land is undeveloped, a figure that will only rise as the company begins to build. He added that, by selling the grasslands on the property, the town will save $100,000 per year on implementing its management plan for the protected space. He added that, if Luminati buys the two runways at the site as part of the sale, it will save the town “several million dollars” in costs to repave the runways.
Members of a group called Coalition Against EPCAL Housing have begun rallying this week to ask the town board to eliminate accessory housing as a potential use of the property, a use that is allowed in the town’s planned development zoning for the property.
In an online petition that had garnered 20 signatures as of Tuesday evening, the group said “the newly adopted zoning allows construction of housing at EPCAL, units that could be built in support of a “principal use.” The broad, murky definition of “principal use” permits an uncapped number of homes to be constructed at the EPCAL site. These homes will increase property taxes.”
Laura Jens-Smith of Laurel, who is running for Town Supervisor against Mr. Walter on the Democratic ticket this fall, held a press conference last Monday, March 27 also calling for the town to not allow housing at the site.
She also called on the supervisor to make his vetting process for potential purchasers at EPCAL more public than in the past.
“Are we getting the best value Why are these deals really in the hands of just one man?” she asked. “Maybe it’s not the time for large-scale industrial development to come to Riverhead. We should be leasing it, not selling it.”
She added that Mr. Walter is “always looking for a sale at EPCAL to close a budget gap.”
“You can put just about anything here, but all good ideas are not well-funded,” she said.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, Ms. Jens-Smith asked the board to remove the housing use from the property.
“Our focus is doing the 90 day due diligence to get them across the finish line,” answered Mr. Walter.
“I didn’t vote for residential,” added Councilwoman Jodi Giglio.
Mr. Walter said that, if the sale comes to fruition, he hopes to use the money to pay off the town’s massive debt from the failed excavation of the town’s Youngs Avenue landfill, a $52 million project, and to roll back two years of tax increases.
As of 2015, the town owed $29 million in principal on its debt to close the landfill, which is slated to be paid off in 2023.
“The sale of this just puts us to where we were before Supervisor Cardinale excavated the landfill,” said Mr. Walter. “Nobody is going to go out there and spend this money.”
Mr. Walter said the town had also received an offer of $45 million for the EPCAL property from Suffolk County Industrial, LLC but he said that proposed deal had “a lot of contingencies” and the firm’s attorneys stopped communicating with the town about 12 weeks ago.
“I’m wishing Luminati the best. We’re just starting the process,” said Ms. Giglio at Tuesday’s vote. “The runways are being restricted. Core pine barrens are not being sold. The bicycle path is on course.”
Ms. Giglio said the board is welcoming questions from the public, which can be sent to the town clerk’s office and will be forwarded to the town board.
“Ask the questions that need to be asked to make sure your concerns are heard,” she said.
Mr. Walter added that the town board will also hold a public hearing on the sale.
In a March 28 press release from the town, Mr. Preston, of Luminati Aerospace, said his firm plans to bring 2,000 jobs to Long Island by 2022.
“Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined reintroducing the aviation and defense industry back to EPCAL to this extent,” said Mr. Walter. “The Luminati deal will recreate Long Island’s glorious past with the defense and aviation industries.”