Photo: Denise Civiletti

Tensions rose and tempers flared at Tuesday’s town board meeting when Riverhead resident and civic activist John McAuliff questioned board members about the maps and drawings obtained last month by Jamesport resident and former councilwoman Barbara Blass through a Freedom of Information Law request to the State DEC.

McAuliff expressed concern that the maps might depict a cargo airport. He asked if board members thought that was “within the realm of possibility.”

“Absolutely yes, absolutely yes,” Councilman Tim Hubbard answered. “A passenger airport no, a cargo port yes — there is a possibility of that,” he said.

Hubbard accused McAuliff and “members of your group” of playing partisan politics and spreading false information.

“To throw this out there and muck everything up again and try to — you portray things to the public that aren’t correct and you like to put your spin on it and your spin on it just creates more questions for everybody when they should be focusing on the econonomic generator,” Hubbard told him. “The potential of an economic generator that this sale of this property has should be first and foremost on every citizen — every resident’s mind in the Town of Riverhead. That’s what that property was intended for. That’s what that property is gonna be used for,” he said.

“That piece of paper submitted to the DEC is worth exactly value of that piece of paper in your hand,” Hubbard told McAuliff.

The councilman took umbrage at the criticism he said was leveled at the Republican majority by members of the EPCAL Watch group of which McAuliff is a member.

“So I really wish that if you continue coming up to the microphone, that you speak the truth and not try to cloud things up for the public. Every time somebody is saying things that aren’t true, it clouds things up,” he said.

“I can’t wait for the day this property is developed and that this property has jobs so my kids and grandkids don’t have to flee the Long Island area, so they can afford to have a job and work and stay on the island. That’s what I’m adamant about. That’s what I voted for,” Hubbard said.

“I put in the zoning ‘no passenger aircraft,’” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said. “This was all discussed at public hearings.”

Councilman James Wooten told McAuliff the issue “goes back way before you. I don’t remember you when we were talking this 10 years ago,” Wooten said.

“You should do some research,” the councilman told him.

The Calverton Enterprise Park site lies within the Planned Development (PD) Zoning Use District (Article LXIII of Chapter 301 “Zoning and Land Development” of the town code.) The PD Zoning Use District was adopted by the town board in August 2016. The PD Zoning Use District implements the reuse and revitalization plan for EPCAL, adopted by the town board on Aug. 2, 2016.

The PD zoning allows “all uses that promote economic development.” It prohibits retail, personal service and restaurant uses (unless supportive of other commercial uses). The PD zoning also prohibits “garbage disposal dumps, landfills, incinerators or transfer stations; gas stations and gas manufacture from coal, coke, or petroleum; petroleum and/or kerosene distillations or refining and storage facilities, sand, gravel, mineral quarrying and mining; motor vehicle, boat, and equipment dismantling, wrecking, and compacting; and outdoor sale or storage of motor vehicles.”

It does not prohibit airports.

In an interview after the meeting, Giglio said she meant she put “no passenger airports” in the contract of sale. The contract between the town and Calverton Aviation and Technology excludes “commercial passenger airport” from the “intended development plan for the site.” It does not mention cargo airports.

“A cargo port is not permitted in the zoning unless its accessory to what they’re manufacturing there,” Giglio said during the meeting. The restriction she referred to is found in the Planned Industrial Park Zoning Use District (Article XXXIX of Chapter 301) which applied to the vacant land being sold to CAT prior to the adoption of the PD Zoning Use District in 2016. Most of the 10,000-foot runway, which is the active runway on the site, lies within the Planned Industrial Park Zoning Use District, which is still in place in the 491-acre “industrial core” sold to developer Jan Burman in 2001.

A separate article of the zoning code (Article XLV “Supplementary Use Regulations”) says that airport facilities shall not be established in any district except by special permit of the town code.)

“How soon are we going to find out from the Ghermeizans what they have in mind — specifically whether a cargo-port could potentially be built there?” McAuliff asked from the podium.

“What was presented at the qualified and eligible [hearing] was obviously not the same picture shown to the DEC,” Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith answered. “I’m not going to speculate what it is they’re doing there. What I do know is they need to come in and address the board as to what their plans are there.”

Jens-Smith said the town’s legal counsel “about a week ago” wrote to Calverton Aviation and Technology’s lawyer and asked for a presentation to the board. “We’ve yet to hear back from them,” she said, adding she is “optimistically hopeful that they will be coming in within the next week or two to present their plans.”

Giglio told McAuliff “it’s just pictures on a piece of paper.” She said the drawings represent the full potential buildout “based on the environmental review that the town did.” It can’t be “segregated review under SEQRA,” Giglio said, referring to the State Environmental Quality Review Act. “It has to be examined all at once,” she said. “Ten million square feet is the full buildout.”

Hubbard told McAuliff to “sit back, don’t say half truths, don’t say things publicly that you’re not sure about or you just heard from somebody or it’s rumor. That’s what creates the issues here,” he said.

“We as a board will have the final say,” Hubbard said. “This is why I’m comfortable with the situation we are in now and I’m comfortable in saying that I believe they are going to do the right thing — provide technology aviation-type jobs where people can afford to live and stay here on Long Island,” he said.

“Until the information comes from this town board from a tangible piece of paper we have in our hands, with questions that we have about their development plan — and not some cartoon drawing that was submitted for habitat and got FOILed through DEC from the civic group,” Councilman James Wooten said. “It didn’t come out of government.”

Wooten called the plans obtained from the DEC through the FOIL request “some cockamamie thing.”

Wooten traded barbs with Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who said the board should demand that the buyer come forward and present its plans to the town.

“There’s a lot of talk around town about something that was never generated by those who make those decisions,” Wooten said. “To me it’s all — it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s not worth talking about,” he said.

“I think we should be thinking about the mass and the size of this project,” Kent said. “Yes we want it to be an economic generator but our quality of life matters, too,” she said.

“I’m going to say one thing,” Wooten replied. “And I try to keep my mouth shut because right now we’re working on hyperbole. We’re talking about articles that — it’s ridiculous. The entire article was way premature,” he said. “This whole discussion is ridiculous if you ask me because we haven’t been presented with anything. We cannot comment on stuff that is — maybe, could be, what if. Who cares? Until they come here with their plans and we can see it and then have discussions about it then, we’ll make our decision and then the public can have their say,” Wooten said.

“But to say, ‘oh I saw a picture with 10 million square feet…I personally don’t think that’ll ever happen — never in my lifetime. The infrastructure on the island can’t handle it,” Wooten said.

“We’re taking about conjecture at best,” he said. “I ”can’t comment on what if …and what about if this happens or what about that happens,” he said. “No, let them come here like we’ve asked them to and present what they’re going to put together and then we’ll have something real to talk about, but I’m not gonna sit here and talk about what ifs.”

“But you have to have parameters —” McAuliff interjected.

“That was set with the zoning,” Wooten told him. “You’ve been asleep at the wheel. The zoning went into place. It already has parameters, already has parameters. Zoning has been approved.”

Giglio noted that the buyer doesn’t have any application filed with the town yet — or the health department, or the state.

“Until an application is submitted after they’ve done their — which we heard from their counsel, who’s in the audience, that they’re working with different entities that may be coming here and bringing projects here — they don’t want to disclose who those entities are at this time until they’ve got signed leases and contracts for those businesses and those entities to come to the town,” Giglio said. “Once that is all in place then they will be coming to us and I’m sure it will be in line with what they presented to us at the Q&E — or we have a problem. And that’s what our outside counsel is looking at now. What are our parameters as town board members as to what they presented at the Q&E and what their application will look like when they come in.”

“We as the board will always have the final say,” Hubbard said. “That needs to be remembered. We will always have the final say. If they come in with something that’s inappropriate, or that the majority of this town does not want, we can evaluate it, we always have the final say.”

Wooten repeated his assertion that the discussion was “ridiculous.” Referring, apparently, to the article published by RiverheadLOCAL on June 24, he said, “The article was ridiculous. It stirs the pot. Stop reading that junk,” he told McAuliff.

“Let me just say Mr. McAuliff and any resident has the right to come and speak here. That’s their right,” Kent said.

“Who said they couldn’t?” Wooten shot back.

“Well—” Kent said.

“Well what?”

“There’s a little bit of an attitude towards someone coming and asking questions which I think—”

“It gets frustrating,” Wooten said.

“Residents are allowed to do that — express their opinion,” Kent said. “We should be seeing a development plan and I want to see it ASAP. I mean we’ve been asking a long time and we’ve seen nothing so far… As board members we could be watchdogs of the town and we should be monitoring the progress of this. I’m not willing to accept ‘oh, that’s full buildout but they are not going to do that. That’s not enough for me and frankly, I think that’s sort of naive,” Kent told Wooten.

“It’s not naive. We’ve got nothing to—”

“And that’s what got us such a weak contract in the first place,” Kent said.

“Well that’s your opinion,” Wooten replied, repeating that he does not like “hypotheticals.”

Wading River Civic Association president Sid Bail went to the podium to say he thought some of McAuliff’s comments were “on the money.”

Bail said if a cargo port becomes “the main focus” of the development, the town “should look very hard at what a cargo port would really be like.”

“I don’t think anybody here is looking for that,” Hubbard said.

“No but the ramifications if it becomes a cargo port — it would have implications, some beneficial, some not so beneficial for the quality of life,” Bail answered.

“I don’t think we should be in the dark as to what the plans are for EPCAL,” Jens-Smith said.

“Right now we are,” Wooten said.

“I think that is the concern and that’s why we’d like to hear back,” Jens-Smith said.

“I’d like to thank the local papers for —”

“Stirring it up,” Wooten interrupted.

“Stirring it up but some good might come out of this,” Bail replied. “There seems to be a consensus that you’ve got to get CAT in here.”

Attorney Chris Kent, who represents Calverton Aviation and Technology was in the audience but did not address the board.

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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.