The Coalition Against EPCAL Housing is considering legal action if necessary should the Riverhead Town Board approve the sale of the town-owned vacant land to Calverton Aviation and Technology, the group’s coordinator said yesterday.
The coalition, comprising civic and environmental organizations active in the town, says the applicant’s refusal to make full financial disclosure to the town prevents the town board from finding Calverton Aviation and Technology “qualified and eligible” to buy and develop the site.
Triple Five Group, the principal owner and controlling partner in Calverton Aviation and Technology has declined to provide the audited financial statements requested by the town board.
“Triple Five Group represented at the hearing that as a privately held company, Triple Five Group does not have publicly available financial statements,” the company wrote in a response to the town’s last round of questions and requests for production of documents.
Triple Five said a letter it provided from accounting firm Grant Thornton of Edmonton, Alberta — where Triple Five is headquartered — stating that “Triple Five Group has a minimum of $40 million dollars available for the project” and demonstration of its ability to access borrowed capital for the development, should be enough for the town’s decision.
Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said in an interview yesterday afternoon that Triple Five declined to make the requested disclosure even on a confidential basis to an accounting firm to be hired by the town.
Deputy Supervisor Tim Hubbard, considered to be a swing vote on the pending deal, said in an interview yesterday afternoon he believes Triple Five’s financial disclosure “for the most part” was sufficient.
He said the town sought the kind of information made public by publicly traded companies and Triple Five Group, as a privately held company doesn’t make that kind of information public.
“I think what they didn’t answer they can’t,” Hubbard said.
“I’m satisfied they have the finances to complete the deal — that they have it or have access to it,” Hubbard said. “I am satisfied with the financial disclosure.”
The town board, which last week closed the record of the public hearing mandated by state law to determine whether the prospective purchaser is a “qualified and eligible sponsor,” may now vote on that decision.
If the board finds CAT “qualified and eligible,” the town will be required to execute a contract of sale approved by the previous town board late last year, effectively tying the hands of the incoming board on the terms of the deal.
The Coalition Against EPCAL Housing convened a press conference yesterday morning on the lawn outside Riverhead Town Hall to decry the proposed $40 million land deal.
Calverton Civic Association president Rex Farr, who serves as the coalition’s coordinator said the contract of sale is “nothing less than a horror show” and against the town’s interests.
Among other things, Farr said, the “no strings attached” contract of sale not only leaves the door open for future residential development but also for the possibility of commercial aviation at the site — something that was in play years ago when there was talk of using the former Grumman manufacturing site for a cargo jetport.
“We suspect but cannot prove that the various federal agencies connected to aviation have respected the Navy Department’s purpose in granting ownership to this town, but all bets are off after the town disposes of the property to a private entity,” Farr said. “That is when we can expect that the prospects for an airport at EPCAL will resurrect and all local zoning restrictions will wash away.”
“This is the biggest deal in Riverhead’s history since Robert Moses put in the expressway,” Farr said.
Though coalition members yesterday said they believe the vote would come at next week’s board meeting, both the town supervisor and deputy supervisor said in phone interviews after the press conference that no vote is yet scheduled and likely will not be.
“While the hearing is closed, we still need time, as far as I’m concerned, to digest the information and for our attorneys to give us their opinion and for our financial resources to give us their opinion,” Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said.
“I’m not going to look to vote on it until we get a result back from the ethics committee,” Deputy Supervisor Tim Hubbard said yesterday, referring to a complaint to the ethics committee made by the Coalition Against EPCAL Housing against Councilwoman Jodi Giglio. The coalition’s complaint concerns a March 12 private meeting she took with the applicants in NYC during the pendency of the “qualified and eligible” hearing.
“It’s only fair to wait for the ethics committee to come back with a decision,” Hubbard said.
Jens-Smith said yesterday the ethics committee has met to consider the complaint but has not yet issued any decision.
Hubbard defended the councilwoman. “I know people are concerned about it
but I don’t think she did anything wrong. Legally she did not. There was no law broken or violated,” Hubbard said. “It’s not something that should make her recuse herself.”
The coalition yesterday renewed its call for Giglio’s recusal.
Coalition member John McAuliff criticized the town board for closing the public hearing on the qualifications of the applicant on May 4, within five days of the applicant’s final submission of documents being posted on the town website. That left little opportunity for the public to review and comment on the additional documents and responses submitted, he said.
The vote to close the hearing was split 3-2 along party lines, with Democrats Jens-Smith and Councilwoman Katherine Kent opposed. Republican council members James Wooten, Giglio and Hubbard voted to close the hearing and move the process forward.
Wooten has said he’d like to see the vote taken as soon as posible.
Coalition members yesterday said they believe the town board is required to act within 10 days of closing the hearing. There is no such statutory requirement. A letter of intent executed by the town and Luminati Aerospace last April contains a “binding provision” that requires the town to execute the contract of sale within 10 days of finding the purchaser “qualified and eligible.” It does not set a deadline for making the “qualified and eligible” determination.
Both Jens-Smith and Hubbard said they knew of no such deadline.
“I think if there was one our attorneys would have told us so,” Hubbard said.
The board is scheduled to meet with the town’s lawyers in the deal on Thursday, Jens-Smith said.
By Denise Civiletti