Better late than never.
More than a year after obtaining preliminary subdivision approval from the town planning board, Riverhead has referred its eight-lot subdivision application for the EPCAL site to the Suffolk County Planning Commission.
Typically, the referral to the county planning commission would have been made before the town planning board had already granted preliminary approval for the subdivision.
The timing is unusual. But so is the subdivision.
After all, it’s not every day that one town entity — the town’s community development agency — seeks approval from another town entity — the town planning board — to subdivide a town-owned property, all while the town is in a $40 million contract to sell most of that property to an affiliate of international conglomerate Triple Five Group.
The current subdivision map for the former Grumman site is the second one advanced by the town. A previous map, which was being reviewed by the planning board when it was abandoned by the town board in favor of the current configuration in 2017, sought to divide the town’s 2,324-acre tract there into 50 lots.
Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said after reviewing the entire EPCAL file – “all 24 years of history” – she saw the town had never referred the eight-lot subdivision map to the county planning commission.
“I knew that had to be done, for several reasons,” Aguiar said today. Among them, she said, the site is considered an airport. “And you can’t do anything near an airport without going to the county planning commission,” she said.
Aguiar said as soon as she realized the oversight last Monday, she directed the town planning director to prepare a referral and to get it to the county planning commission by Thursday, the cut-off date to get the application on the planning commission’s Aug. 5 meeting agenda.
“We have to make sure we follow all municipal protocols,” Aguiar said. “That’s mandatory, not optional.”
The town’s planning department and the town’s special counsel advised the planning board it could rely on previous environmental review done by the town in connection with the 50-lot subdivision the town had pursued from 2013 to 2017. At the time, the town board completed an environmental impact statement and a findings statement for the original subdivision and a new zoning code for the EPCAL site.
In 2016, the town board referred the prior map to the planning board for review and approval. The planning board held a public hearing on the plan in January 2017, but never acted on the application because shortly thereafter, the town board entered into a letter of intent with Luminati Aerospace to sell 1,644 acres of its remaining land at the site, including the two runways.
After signing a contract of sale with Luminati’s successor in interest, Calverton Aviation Technology, the town prepared a new subdivision map to create eight lots instead of 50, including three large lots totaling 1,644 acres to be sold to the buyer, as required by the purchaser in the contract of sale.
The Riverhead Planning Board moved forward on the new subdivision map by hiring an environmental planner to complete an analysis comparing the new map with the original 50-lot map and the town’s adopted findings statement to determine if there were any changes that would result in significant adverse environmental impacts.
“All we’re doing is erasing lines,” special counsel Frank Isler told the planning board a meeting in March 2019. “We’re not reconfiguring anything.”
At a May 2019 public hearing, Jamesport resident Barbara Blass urged the planning board to treat the eight-lot subdivision as a new action and require a new application, a new Environmental Assessment Form and circulation of the proposed action to involved agencies under SEQRA – including the Suffolk County Planning Commission.
Blass, a former town councilwoman 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 the planning board’s file was so incomplete it could not act on the application. The file lacked basic and crucial information and documents, she told the board. She said she learned though a Freedom of Information Law request that there and was no amended application, no amended environmental assessment form, no planning staff report and no engineering report for the eight-lot subdivision.
On June 20 last year, the planning board granted its preliminary approval anyway. Before voting, planning board member Dick O’Dea asked town building and planning administrator Jefferson Murphree if the eight-lot application had to go to the county planning commission.
“No,” Murphree replied. “The 50-lot was and they had no conditions, only comments. Through the eight lots, we’ve addressed each of those comments,” he told board members, “and those are enumerated and addressed in the resolution.”
The planning board voted unanimously to grant preliminary approval (4-0, with member Joseph Baier absent).
“We rely on planning staff to determine how it’s referred to involved agencies and follow up with that,” Planning Board Chairman Stan Carey said in a phone interview Thursday.
Blass, speaking Friday on behalf of the EPCAL Watch coalition, which opposes the property’s sale to CAT, said the town’s “slipshod, skip-the-details handing of the EPCAL subdivision reflects poorly on Riverhead.”
EPCAL Watch has spoken out about “irregularities in the processing of this application from the beginning,” Blass said. “It brings into question the advice the town has been receiving on EPCAL all along. The additional investment in staff time and money needed to to correct the errors and deficiencies in this application over this past year has been costly.”
We need your help.
Now more than ever, the survival of quality local journalism depends on your support. Our community faces unprecedented economic disruption, and the future of many small businesses are under threat, including our own. It takes time and resources to provide this service. We are a small family-owned operation, and we will do everything in our power to keep it going. But today more than ever before, we will depend on your support to continue. Support RiverheadLOCAL today. You rely on us to stay informed and we depend on you to make our work possible.