(Updated— 9:45 a.m.) After a month-long delay, a resolution hiring a new law firm to advise the town on the status of its contract with Calverton Aviation and Technology will be back on the agenda next week.
The board will take up two resolutions at a special meeting of the Riverhead Community Development Agency May 22.
One resolution would appoint the Garden City-based law firm of Stagg, Terenzi, Confusione & Wasnik. The other would appoint Lazer, Aptheker, Rosella & Yedid of Melville.
Both were among three firms vetted by town attorney Robert Kozakiewicz at the request of Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith.
Jens-Smith called a special board meeting April 25 to take up a resolution hiring Stagg, Terenzi, but only Councilwoman Catherine Kent supported it. Councilman Tim Hubbard said the whole board should have an opportunity to interview the prospective law firms. Councilwoman Jodi Giglio argued that the firm’s selection was “political patronage” because it had made campaign contributions to Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone and the Babylon Town Democratic Committee. Councilman James Wooten said he would not support hiring any new law firm to review the contract, calling it a waste of money.
Since that time, the board has interviewed four law firms, including the two to be considered next week.
The resolution to appoint the Melville firm of Lazer, Aptheker was added to the agenda this morning at the request of Councilman Tim Hubbard. Hubbard said this morning he had changed his mind about supporting the appointment of the Stagg, Terenzi law firm.
Under the controversial contract with Calverton Aviation and Technology, approved by the former town board on Dec. 19, 2017, the CDA is selling 1,644 acres of vacant industrial land at the former Grumman site in Calverton for $40 million. The sale includes the site’s two runways.
Under state Urban Renewal Law, the contract was subject to a finding by the CDA board — the members of the town board comprise the governing body of the CDA — that the purchaser is “qualified and eligible” to purchase and develop the site in accordance with the town’s adopted urban renewal plan for the site.
In a 3-2 vote on Nov. 7, with Jens-Smith and Kent opposed, the board found Calverton Aviation and Technology “qualified and eligible.”
The purchaser, a Delaware limited liability company formed on Dec. 13 2017 — six days before the outgoing town board approved the contract of sale to CAT — is a joint venture of Luminati Aerospace and Triple Five Group.
The contract derived from a letter of intent signed in April 2017 by Luminati Aerospace and the CDA. Prior to the letter of intent with Luminati, the town had been negotiating with two other developers to sell about 600 acres of the site for about the same amount of money. The inclusion of an additional 1,000 acres — which town officials say are not developable because of environmentally sensitive areas — has been a source of controversy in the community.
The contract’s “intended development plan” and the “qualified and eligible” record both put Luminati Aerospace at the center of CAT’s plans for the development of the site.
Questions about Luminati’s capabilities to fulfill expectations arose during the “qualified and eligible” process, but those concerns escalated this year after the disclosure of a $12.5 million lawsuit brought against Luminati by one of its biggest financial backers, Hexcel Corporation as well as an eviction action brought by the owner of the Plant Six premises that Luminati leased in 2016. Luminati surrendered the Plant Six premises and did not appear in court to contest Hexcel’s request for a seizure order covering Luminati’s manufacturing equipment in Calverton.
Luminati cofounder and CEO Daniel Preston has also made public statements that he has moved his operations upstate to the City of Little Falls in Herkimer County.
Luminati’s mounting legal troubles and apparent financial stress, together with Preston’s statements that he was moving his business operations off Long Island, left some board members wondering what impact, if any, these things have on the town’s contract with Calverton Aviation & Technology and the board’s previous decision that CAT was “qualified and eligible. A majority of the board agreed to seek new outside counsel for advice.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect the addition by the town supervisor of a second resolution to the agenda of next week’s CDA meeting.
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