Just before our recent town election, deep public anger over the EPCAL debacle was mollified when the IDA rejected Calverton Aviation and Technology’s application and the Town Board quickly pulled out of the deal. Voters rewarded the Republicans with a convincing win, even though the crew that won by killing the deal did much to create it.
Fine. They say that politics is a blood sport. But does the arena have to be quite this empty?
We have been reading that CAT might sue, is going to sue, etc. CAT/Triple Five also recently treated us to a singularly mediocre marketing piece decrying the great opportunity Riverhead missed by passing on CAT’s cash out at our expense. With hundreds of millions of dollars potentially at stake, CAT’s resources, and CAT’s history of litigation — why haven’t they sued?
My guess is that CAT/Triple Five has not sued because there is no need for them to do so. We are now on the cusp of a proposed rezoning of EPCAL directed at assuring no airport, and that’s good. But it still leaves CAT with much of what it wanted. That is, 10 million square feet of mixed-use development, which the proposed rezoning does not touch. Instead, when rezoned, the broadest use for that site that the English language can construct will still be permitted. Whoever controls EPCAL will still have the legal right to do virtually anything on it (except, now, a cargo jetport) that promotes economic development. Leaving thousands of residents on the EPCAL bubble naked, and our community at risk of having the equivalent (in square footage) of 13 and ½ more Tanger malls in it and potentially 60,000-plus new vehicle trips per day rolling through it — while writing Riverhead’s legacy as a dumping ground for massive overdevelopment into the books for the next 40 years.
Sound familiar? It should. It is the heart of the CAT/EPCAL debacle all over again.
Here is how I read the tea leaves. Hubbard and crew never had any intention of walking away from CAT’s original $40 million price tag for EPCAL’s 1,600 acres. They need it to plug the budget. Before Nov. 7, cashing in that ticket became an unexpected problem. It might have lost them the election. Now that they have won — it’s time.
So the town will marginally rezone EPCAL. CAT will continue threatening a lawsuit for public consumption (and maybe even filing one to give the town cover) while simultaneously entering into a new contract with Hubbard for (perhaps) a little more than $40 million in a way that allows our political leadership to say they “avoided” expensive litigation. Without, by the way, subjecting CAT to a public bidding process that would almost certainly establish a far larger price tag for the EPCAL site than CAT wants to pay.
Then we can all listen to Hubbard and crew declare victory for the town. Which will, in fact, be a massive defeat for Riverhead and, I suspect, eventually for them. Because the decline in the quality of our lives and the values of our homes from thousands new vehicle trips per day and 13 and ½ more Tanger malls will cost us much more for much longer than the benefit of CAT’s money plugging the annual budget. Once. And we will have forever lost an asset likely worth hundreds of millions for a contrived fire sale price of $40 million.
Someday, this town will wake up and really not like what it sees. But by the time it does, the things about Riverhead that we cherish will be a distant memory, and we will be powerless to change it.
Andrew Leven was a Democratic candidate for Riverhead Town Board in the 2023 election.
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