Ever since Grumman closed its F-14 manufacturing facilities at Calverton in the 1990s, Riverhead has tried to develop EPCAL, now the town’s 2,300 acre site.
Missteps in the EPCAL epic have been legendary:
* Leading to fights with environmentalists over saving habitat for rare short-eared owls and tiger salamanders.
* And to disputes over storing hundreds of storm damaged cars on runways.
Despite all this, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and his board persisted in commissioning a vastly improved vision that balances development and conservation, an approach that will be the subject of public hearings this week.
The first thing the town’s consultants got right is where to develop and where not to develop. Plans would limit development to about 600 acres, preserving the environmentally sensitive land.
Another big environmental plus: The town will spend $23 million to upgrade EPCAL’s sewage treatment plant, thanks to $6.5 million in state grants. Consequently, what’s developed will not further contaminate the Peconic estuary with nitrogen.
Another plus, the town will use special zoning to tell developers what to build, rather than inviting a smorgasbord of proposals. And this plan addresses real estate realities, encouraging a mix of uses, including workforce housing and some retailing.
Still, some questions remain about safeguarding environmentally sensitive land from what will be developed nearby. The town should also consider seeking a master developer.
Despite past missteps and unresolved issues lying ahead, Riverhead finally has a plan that just might work.