Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who as recently as last month was opposed to even moving forward with the “qualified and eligible” hearing on the prospective purchaser of the town’s remaining vacant land at the Calverton Enterprise Park, is now expressing support for the deal.
Giglio said she spent “about four hours” with representatives of Calverton Aviation and Technology [CAT], the prospective purchaser of the site, in New York City on Monday, March 12.
In an interview Tuesday, Giglio said she came away from the meeting with Triple Five chairman Nader Ghermezian, Stuart Bienenstock and others believing that the company has “the experience and the wherewithal” to develop the site as an aviation technology center.
“I had 10 pages of notes from their presentation” during the opening session of the qualified and eligible sponsor hearing Feb. 27, Giglio said. “I had so many questions about their proposal. I was there for four hours.”
The NYC meeting took place the day before the scheduled second session of the Q&E hearing, which had been adjourned to March 13 at the conclusion of a marathon session Feb. 27. (The March 13 session had to be adjourned due to Tuesday’s nor’easter and is now set for Monday, March 19.)
Giglio said the NYC meeting took place at the invitation of Nader Ghermezian. He extended the invitation to her following a presentation she attended on Wednesday evening, March 7 hosted by the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce at the Riverhead Residence Inn. Billed as a “business to business” presentation, attendance was limited by the chamber to members of that organization and a handful of other business groups. The chamber live-streamed presentation on its Facebook page.
“I was very impressed by the people they brought forward. But I pointed out Luminati also brought a lot of great people, but that all deteriorated,” she said Tuesday. “I wanted to know if they had LOIs [letters of intent] with people who will come to the site,” she said.
“They were very forthcoming and very anxious to get the information to us, very anxious to get started,” Giglio said.
In a second interview later on Tuesday, Giglio said she had been chastised by the supervisor, fellow council members and the town’s lawyers for taking the private meeting with Triple Five/CAT.
“I was told I should not have gone because things I might say could hurt the town’s position,” Giglio said. “I don’t agree. I am doing my due diligence.”
Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith was critical of Giglio “acting on her own in doing this.”
“We’re in the middle of the hearing. All questions should be asked and answered in public. They asked us to provide our questions in advance of the second session and we said no,” Jens-Smith said.
“I just don’t think it’s good government. I don’t think it’s good leadership,” Jens-Smith said of Giglio’s action.
“What is wrong with getting your questions answered?” Giglio asked. “It’s your due diligence. I’m doing my job. I’m not just reading newspaper articles off Google.” She said her meeting with them was “more productive than a public hearing.”
Jens-Smith said Thursday CAT had not submitted answers to the public’s questions by the March 9 deadline set by the board on Feb. 27. She said requests for documentation such as the CAT operating agreement have been made through the town’s attorneys, but no submission has been received.
Bienenstock of Triple Five said in an email yesterday CAT requested “a continuance because there was insufficient time to respond.”
Answers to the questions posed by the public at the Feb. 27 session of the hearing were provided to the town yesterday afternoon, Deputy Supervisor Tim Hubbard said this morning.
Hubbard said that as he gets more specific information from Triple Five, he’s feeling more comfortable about their ability to develop the site in a way that’s consistent with the intention of the federal government when it conveyed the property to the Town of Riverhead after Northrop Grumman left town. He said he is more favorable toward it knowing that the development is not pinned on the future success of Luminati Aerospace, whose founder and CEO Daniel Preston has “a lot of inconsistencies in his background.”
Hubbard agreed that Giglio’s meeting this week was ill-advised. “I know she believes she’s just doing her due diligence and I don’t blame her for that. But it’s not a wise thing to do when you’re in the middle of a Q&E hearing,” Hubbard said. “It could give them ammunition should there be litigation against us down the road.”
Both Giglio and Hubbard voted against approving the proposed contract of sale with Calverton Aviation and Technology. The vote was taken at the last town board meeting of 2017 — the last meeting for former supervisor Sean Walter and former councilman John Dunleavy. Both voted in favor of approving the $40 million sale agreement. They were joined by Councilman James Wooten.
The contract is subject to a finding that CAT, a joint venture between Triple Five Realty-I and Luminati Aerospace, is a qualified and eligible sponsor — a finding required by state law to sell or lease land in an urban renewal zone, such as the Enterprise Park at Calverton.
Hubbard said he’s interested in hearing from the public about this proposal and asked residents to call or write to him to let them know how they feel. Hubbard’s contact information is on the town website.
Giglio said she wants to see the CAT operating agreement before making a final decision.
“My fear is that there’s a different plan in the works — that the town board is going to reject them because there’s another plan int he works nobody knows about,” Giglio said.
Weber Law Group, attorneys for the solar energy company sPower say their client wants to make an offer for the site. They filed a lawsuit seeking to block the town from proceeding with the Q&E process. They subsequently withdrew the action.
At a public meeting in January, Jens-Smith told the lawyers the town would not even discuss another offer while the Q&E process and the proposed contract of sale, are still pending.
Correction: This story has been amended to correct the date of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce presentation by CAT. It was March 7 not Feb. 7.