Former councilwoman and longtime planning board member Barbara Blass read from her nine-page letter criticizing the EPCAL subdivision at the May 2 planning board public hearing. Image: Video screenshot/Town of Riverhead

Former longtime planning board member and former town councilwoman Barbara Blass last night delivered a harsh critique of the town’s application to subdivide its remaining land in the Calverton Enterprise Park as well as the town planners’ review of the application.

Blass, who served more than 19 years on the planning board — six of those as its chairperson before her election to the town board in 2001— said at a public hearing last night the planning department’s file is so incomplete the board cannot take action on the application. It lacks basic and crucial information and documents, she said.

Blass said she submitted a Freedom of Information Law request on April 8 and learned that there is no amended application, no amended environmental assessment form, no planning staff report and no engineering report for the eight-lot subdivision currently before the planning board.

“It’s highly unusual for any subdivision, minor or major, simple or complex, to proceed without any technical review and recommendations by staff and the board’s professional consultants,” Blass said, reading from a nine-page letter she submitted to the planning board yesterday.

“Whatever the public may have learned in another forum about the dynamics surrounding this property, it’s the planning record that will memorialize the rationale behind this subdivision,” she said.

The town is seeking to amend an already-pending 50-lot subdivision application filed in November 2016 and to gain approval instead of an eight-lot subdivision of the 2,170 town-owned acres at the former Grumman site. The new subdivision would create the three lots comprising 1,643.8 acres being sold to Calverton Aviation and Technology pursuant to a November 2018 contract of sale. The planning board last night held a public hearing on the eight-lot subdivision map.

Blass said the property was the subject of extensive review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act when the town board was updating its various planning documents for the site several years ago, as it prepared to rezone the property and subdivide it into 50 lots.

“There was no eight-lot map analyzed as an alternative scenario in the prior SEQRA review,” Blass said. “There is no nexus, no connection between these two maps, except the agreement of sale and the prior SEQRA record.”

The planning board is required to analyze the new application’s consistency with the prior SEQRA record. It tasked environmental consultant Jeffrey Seeman with preparing the consistency analysis.

The town’s attorney for the subdivision, Riverhead lawyer Frank Isler, who has represented the town throughout the process of selling the EPCAL site, said the town is merely looking to “erase some of the lines” on the 50-lot map.

“All we’ve done is remove lots, really,” Isler told the planning board at its March 21 meeting. That’s why the board can handle the new application as a revision of the prior application, Isler told the board.

Blass said the planning board’s proposed findings statement does not, as recommended by its consistency analysis, incorporate by reference mitigating measures in the original findings statement designed to protect sensitive habitats and species.

“How do you accept and adopt this consistency analysis and not implement its recommendations?” Blass asked.

The eight-lot subdivision map doesn’t show critical habitat areas that were depicted on the 50-lot map or the boundaries of the state’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act protected area. Those areas were illustrated on the 50-lot map as a result of the prior SEQRA review, Blass said.

“Sensitive environmental habitats and identified mitigation cannot and should not get erased the way lot lines can,” she said.

“The defined habitat protection areas on the 50-lot map were based on where the development was placed,” Isler responded. “Habitat protection areas will depend on where the development is going to go,” he said last night. “There will be protection because its requrired by the GEIS [generic environmental impact statement],” Isler said.

But Blass noted the final GEIS said, “In the event the proposed subdivision is modified from that contained in the FSGEIS, the town would ensure that such modifications would be equally protective of sensitive environmental features on the EPCAL property.”​

The town board’s findings statement clearly states that, of the 2,107 acres, 593 would be available for development ​and approximately 1,514 acres would be preserved or protected, Blass said.

“There is​ a breakdown of the preserved areas into acreage of woodlands, grasslands, wetlands, and wetland buffer areas, et cetera,” Blass said.

“As a ​condition in the lead agency’s findings, and to insure that this modified map is equally protective, these conditions should be carried over​to this map and onto final map,” Blass said. “Omitting this critical baseline information misrepresents existing conditions,”​she said.

“Your actions would be inconsistent with the SEQRA record and the lead agency’s adopted findings statement. An involved agency’s actions which are inconsistent with the lead agency’s findings may jeopardize your action entirely,” Blass warned.

She also said that under state law, the eight-lot subdivision is a Type I action under the State Environmental Quality Review Act and is subject to coordinated review.

“According to SEQRA, section 617.4(b)(4), ‘the application, sale, lease, annexation or other transfer of 100 or more contiguous acres of land by state or local agencies,’ constitutes a Type I action,” Blass said.

“This is a new action, and it’s going to require additional SEQRA [review] by the lead agency,” Blass told planning board members. “However, even if you were considering this a continuation of the prior application, the applicant should have at minimum submitted a revised EAF [environmental assessment form] attached to the original, and re-circulated to all involved agencies as ​the sale of this property was never addressed in the prior SEQRA review,” she said.

Isler said a SEQRA finding on the sale of the property was made by the town board when it authorized the contract of sale in November.

Isler also said he does not dispute that the new subdivision map is a Type I action under SEQRA.

If you have a Type I or unlisted action following a GEIS review, no further SEQRA review is necessary if it conforms to GEIS, he said.

That’s where the consistency analysis the planning board required comes into play.

Seeman, the author of the consistency analysis report, recommended that the planning board issue an independent findings statement for the eight-lot subdivision application.

“As an involved agency, the planning board’s findings statement should as may be appropriate, be as specific as possible and utilize the SEQRA history and statements provided in the lead agency’s findings statement,” Seeman wrote. “This will provide a more defensible findings statement, support the planning board’s future actions and decisions regarding the application, and avoid misinterpretations generated by a more generic findings statement.”

Jamesport resident Phil Barbato, cofounder of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition and a member of the EPCAL Watch group, echoed the former planning board chairwoman’s comments.

“It is a new action,” he said, “and there is a development plan that will require a new environmental analysis. CAT’s economic benefit analysis on page 23 says there will be baseline construction of 2 million square feet and it will create 2,879 jobs. The idea that this is just changing some lines on a map is incorrect,” Barbato said.

Barbato also criticized the town’s plan to allow development yield from Lot No. 8 — the smallest of the three lots being sold to CAT, which Isler said was created because of the location of the town’s bike path.

“Almost all of Lot 8 is in a habitat protection area, so the idea that you can transfer yield from something you can’t build on to begin with boggles the mind,” Barbato said. “You can’t build on it, so how can you transfer yield from it?”

Isler said the current application is “really just putting lines on a map” so the town can convey the property to the buyer. The subdivision creates “a blank slate” and the future development of the site will be subject to review by many different involved agencies when the development is actually proposed, Isler said.

“This map doesn’t present a development plan,” Isler said.

He also argued that the habitat protection areas need not be designated on this map because the town doesn’t know where the buyer will seek to place development on the site. That will be required by the State DEC when the development application is filed.

“You can’t do that now,” he said. “It makes no sense to do that in a vacuum,” Isler said.

Habitat protection areas should be defined by where the critical habitat is, not by where development is occurring, Blass responded.

The public hearing record was left open for 10 days to allow for the submission of written comments.

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