Photo: Denise Civiletti

This week’s “qualified and eligible sponsor” hearing for the master developers of Riverhead’s transit-oriented development project downtown reminded us how broken the town’s process is and how willing town officials are to neglect their duties to taxpayers — even when those duties are spelled out in their own rules.

Similar to Calverton Aviation and Technology’s “qualified and eligible” hearing with the purchase of town-owned land at the Calverton Enterprise Park in 2018, the firms that were the subject of Tuesday’s hearing did not supply certified financial statements proving their financial standing. They also did not submit other documents like a business plan or economic analysis of the project, financial commitments of participating lenders, or proposed security for the project. 

See documents submitted by the applicants below.

Mind you, these documents are required for any proposed purchaser in a no-bid sale of town-owned land in an urban renewal area — according to the very rules and procedures the Town Board itself has adopted. 

The worst part of it all: town officials seem totally content with this. Even though Supervisor Yvette Aguiar read aloud — verbatim — the board’s adopted rules for finding an entity “qualified and eligible,” not once during the hearing were the missing requirements acknowledged. We’ll never really know why — or if town officials ever even asked for these important documents.

Time and again, disregard of the Q&E rules and of the board’s responsibility to protect taxpayers persist — first with EPCAL, and now with the parking lot between Railroad Avenue and Court Street the town plans to sell for the development.

You’d think Riverhead would have learned its lesson with CAT. Officials chose not to require financial statements — in violation of the board’s own rules — on the strength of parent company Triple Five’s reputed wealth — and a letter from the company’s accountants stating it had the resources to buy the property and develop it as required by the contract of sale. 

Afterward, the massive business conglomerate’s latest major venture, the multi-billion dollar American Dream mega-mall in New Jersey, ran into serious trouble, apparently putting Triple Five’s existing mega-malls in Minnesota and Alberta, Canada at risk. Did that trouble compromise the company’s ability to fulfill its obligations to Riverhead at EPCAL?

There’s no reason to assume RXR or Georgica Green Ventures, the joint master developers for the TOD site, have any financial shortcomings the town should be worried about. But assuming that they don’t is neglect of the board’s fiduciary duty to taxpayers.

That’s exactly what the “qualified and eligible” process is for, after all — to make sure appearances and promises match reality. And the Town Board is neglecting its responsibilities by accepting less than what’s required by its own rules. 

This land deal and proposed transit-oriented development has the potential to revitalize the town’s most blighted area. The developers of such an important project deserve a closer look and should bear the burden of proving they have the power to help transform the town. 

The Town Board must request that RXR/GGV supply the required documents before members vote to find them “qualified and eligible” and authorize the master developer agreement — a vote that, by the way, is on the agenda for Tuesday’s regular meeting. 

The board will also soon face another qualified and eligible hearing on the master developer of one of the most anticipated projects in Riverhead: the new Town Square. Will that be more of the same?

The rules are in place for good reason: to support with facts and data a finding that a developer chosen for an urban renewal project on town-owned land actually is “qualified and eligible.” 

How do you just ignore or bypass rules established to protect the town and its taxpayers? That’s not good government. It smacks of cronyism. Riverhead taxpayers deserve better.

RXR/GGV Qualified & Eligible Documents (Final 09.26.22) by RiverheadLOCAL on Scribd

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