It’s hard to believe, but we are still grounded at Calverton.
In September 1998, the U.S. Navy’s sprawling Calverton property where Grumman built its F-14 Tomcats years earlier was officially turned over to the Town of Riverhead for the specific purpose of economic redevelopment.
Today, it is not only still waiting for takeoff, but it will likely pass the 20-year mark without a shovel in the ground. The town is now locked in what promises to be lengthy and expensive litigation with the developer who signed a deal with Riverhead to build a complex of buildings for uses ranging from cutting edge technology to manufacturing.
Riverhead Town Hall has made the decision to pull the plug on that agreement. The town maintained the original 2018 purchase agreement with Triple Five’s Calverton Aviation Technology gave the town board the authority to declare the original contract null and void based on the town’s Industrial Development Authority, denying the developer tax benefits. When the IDA did just that, the town board cancelled their agreement.
CAT’s lawyers have since filed litigation that uses some of the harshest language the Long Island development community has seen in a long time. Consider: “After fraudulently inducing CAT to allow the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency (RIDA) to determine CAT’s continued financial qualification to develop (Calverton), Riverhead and CDA improperly influenced RIDA to falsely find that CAT lacked such qualifications–notwithstanding CAT’s offer to pay the $40 million purchaser price in cash.”
The complaint further alleges that “Riverhead officials’ words and actions celebrated the scheme to evade the Riverhead’s contractual obligations to CAT.”
While that simmers in what will be a long trip to the courthouse, just in case the development community thought there might be other opportunities to invest in the town, the Riverhead Town Board, and its supervisor, Tim Hubbard, recently passed a six-month moratorium on all industrial development in Calverton. Their action chooses to ignore a recommendation by the Suffolk County Planning Commission staff that the moratorium just be limited to three months.
One can only conclude that Riverhead Town simply has no use for job-creating investments. It stands in stark contrast to those town planners who originally told reporters when the property was being transferred that they envisioned a “mix of commercial, industrial and tourist-related recreational uses. Such a complex would have broad economic implications for eastern Long Island.”
And Suffolk County was quick to concur at the time. ‘’Redevelopment is a tremendous opportunity for the Town of Riverhead, the entire East End and the county,’’ is how George Gatta, deputy county executive for economic development, was quoted in the media.
Instead, the consecutive series of “failures to launch” at Calverton has revealed how politics has thoroughly subdued effective public policy governing economic development in Riverhead. When the CAT application became a community lightning rod for a cargo jet port development option that would never have been approved, the town could have easily defused the issue by having the developer publicly sign a covenant and restriction prohibiting such a possibility. Instead, the issue was allowed to fester and metastasized into a campaign issue.
Riverhead’s latest supervisor will need to determine whether he has any interest in convincing the development community of investment opportunities within his township. Already during his first 100 days, there is sufficient evidence to suggest there is little interest in the town pursuing projects that would create 21st century economic opportunities. However, one thing is clear: Riverhead is welcoming a growth industry for litigators.
Michael J. Polimeni is president and CEO of Polimeni International, a Garden City-based real estate commercial development, construction and management company.