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Former congressman, who got Grumman site given to Riverhead for a buck, urges town to move forward with subdivision

Former congressman George Hochbrueckner, hired by the town last year as a lobbyist for the development of EPCAL, roundly criticized the town's plans at hearings before the town board and planning board this week. (Photos: Denise Civiletti)
Former congressman George Hochbreuckner last night urged the Riverhead planning board to approve the town's EPCAL subdivision map.File photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Town got the ball a little closer to the goal line last night.

The planning board concluded its public hearing on the town’s proposed subdivision map — which the town’s planning consultant last night described as “a map that’s been through the meat grinder” with state and county regulators. The record of the hearing will remain open 10 days for written comments.

The 50-lot subdivision affects the remaining town-owned 2,324 acres of land at the Calverton Enterprise Park. These are vacant lands surrounding the 491-acre “industrial core” of the former Grumman site — including all existing buildings — sold by the town to developer Jan Burman for $17 million in 2001. The town kept ownership of the site’s two runways, one of which is currently active.

The town board in August — following the completion of a generic supplemental environmental impact statement, an updated urban renewal plan and a new marketing study — adopted new zoning for the site. The town had originally zoned much of the site for recreational and entertainment uses pursuant to a reuse plan it adopted in 1996. The zoning adopted last year — the Planned Development District — allows as of right “all uses that promote economic development” and limited “supportive uses,” including retail, personal service or restaurant uses “specifically designed to support permitted principal or other supportive uses within the EPCAL property.”

The new code also allows up to 300 attached residential housing units to support the principal commercial or industrial uses on the site.

And that’s a sticking point for at least two planning board members.

Planning board member Ed Densieski railed against the plan's inclusion of residential uses.
“I am absolutely opposed to the subdivision map and the zoning that was adopted,” planning board member Ed Densieski said last night. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Planning board member Ed Densieski, a former councilman and longtime advocate of aviation and motorsports uses at EPCAL, said last night he would not support the subdivision plan because the town has allowed residential uses in the code.

“We were given the property for regional economic development,” Densieski said. “I don’t think housing adds to that and it’s a tax negative,” he said.

“I am absolutely opposed to the subdivision map and the zoning that was adopted,” Densieski said.

Board member George Nunnaro said he agreed with Densieski.

Calverton Civic Association also spoke out against housing at the site, citing traffic and school impacts.

Frank Isler, Riverhead Town’s special counsel, reminded planning board members that the subject of the hearing was the subdivision map, not the zoning code.

“The zoning is in place. It has been adopted by the town board. It is beyond the scope of the subdivision review. We have to comply with the zoning as adopted,” Isler said.

“This board has no authority over the zoning,” planning board chairman Stan Carey said.

“That’s correct,” Isler told him.

Former congressman George Hochbreuckner, a onetime Grumman flight engineer who represented the First Congressional District in 1994 when Grumman announced it was moving off Long Island, took the podium to beseech the board to approve the subdivision despite concerns about residential uses at the site.

Hochbreuckner authored the legislation that transferred the 2,900-acre site from the Navy to the town and fought for its passage. The site was deeded to the town in 1998. Riverhead Town hired Hochbreucker in 2013 to lobby the State Department of Environmental Conservation to support the town’s plans.

“Please don’t get hung up over 300 homes,” Hochbreuckner told the planning board.

“It’s a good plan notwithstanding the concerns you have over housing, but please don’t let that mess this up. Potentially you have several buyers out there who are willing to put in over $40 million to buy this property,” Hochbreuckner said.

“Aviation and aerospace will be reborn on Long Island. It’s being re-birthed right now. This is a very important thing you’re doing tonight,” he said.

“So I appeal to you — please support this. It’s too important and too long in coming and the town needs it — the taxpayers need it. Don’t ruin this fantastic opportunity.”

Luminati Aerospace chief pilot Rob Lutz, left and cofounder Daniel Preston, with the company’s half-scale ultralight aircraft, before Lutz took it on a brief flight as a crowd of cheering onlookers watched at the Calverton Enterprise Park June 10. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Luminati Aerospace bought a site within the park from Skydive Long Island for $3.4 million in 2015.

Luminati is developing next-generation, solar-electric UAVs pursuant to a contract with “a Fortune 250 company” that’s funding the research and development project, according to Luminati founder Daniel Preston. Preston is an aeronautical engineer and entrepreneur who founded Atair Aerospace, which designed parachutes for the military.

Luminati is already moving into a larger facility at EPCAL. Its aim, according to Preston, is to develop ultralight UAVs capable of cruising earth’s stratosphere perpetually. The R&D project is designed to develop aircraft that will bring internet connectivity to remote regions of the globe, but Preston says the aircraft’s military applications are obvious. He told RiverheadLOCAL last year he plans to seek defense contracts for the aircraft Luminati will build at EPCAL — effectively returning the defense aerospace industry to Calverton.

Town officials have been negotiating with two prospective buyers officials say are interested in buying the entire subdivision map — more than 600 acres of developable land — for more than $40 million. At least one of them is interested in aeronautics at the site, Supervisor Sean Walter said yesterday.

Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.