Calverton Manor Developer Heads To Court: 'We're Done'

Town board holds off on vote slated for Thursday on the project; developer said he's done waiting.

After a vote slated to be held at Tuesday's town board meeting on the Calverton Manor project was put off once again, the developer said he is headed to court.

Last Thursday, the town board met with developer Charles Mancini and Hauppauge-based attorney John Wagner to discuss since a first application was made in 2001.

The current project plan consists of 40 residential apartment units and stores, as well as open space, on property located on the northeasterly corner of Manor Lane and Route 25, across from Splish Splash.

Mancini said at the time that if the board could not come to agreement over a proposed stipulation, he would instruct to head to court for a scheduled Dec. 5 date.

"It's been the same kick-the-ball down the road for the last four years," Mancini said Tuesday in a phone interview after the town board meeting.

At the meeting, Councilman George Gabrielsen said he had agreed to hold off on the vote out of respect for Councilwoman Jodi Giglio's need to consider the matter further. He said the vote would take place at the next town board meeting in two weeks, and it was his hope that Mancini and Wagner could hold off a bit longer.

"If Jodi said she wasn't prepared to vote -- she has had the proposed stipulation agreement in front of her for the last six months," Mancini said. "Obviously, she hasn't taken the time to read it."

Asked if he would consider waiting two weeks, Mancini said, "We're not interested. We've been holding off for three years. We're finished. We'll go to court and let the courts decide. We think we have a good case."

Mancini added that he believes the delay was politically motivated. "They're all posturing. They're very disingenuous."

At the meeting, Councilman John Dunleavy said the resolution was pulled off the agenda, even though he argued against the move. Dunleavy believes the stipulation as proposed was agreeable to all, and said the location, near a traffic light, was a good one for the project. In addition, Dunleavy said he was happy with the scaled back plan and with the amount of open space proposed. 

Mancini said when Councilman Jim Wooten asked why, if he had commenced litigation, he was still sitting down with the board, Mancini responded that no developer likes to litigate and will try to avoid a court battle if possible.

"We thought we were dealing in good faith," Mancini said. "We were misinformed."

Now that the matter will be handled in the courts, Mancini said, "It will end up costing the town a lot of money."

Mancini said he will instruct counsel to go to court Wednesday and tell the court what has transpired; a court decision will be rendered in two to three months.

Last week, Wagner outlined the history of the stalled project: According to Wagner, the application got stalled with the town's adoption of the comprehensive plan in 2003 and zoning for the master plan in 2004. The application had been filed in 2001, and, according to Wagner, his client was assured in a letter that rezoning of the agricultural areas surrounding the parcel, which is located on the northeasterly corner of Manor Lane and Route 25, across from Splish Splash in Calverton, would not affect the application. All site plan fees were paid, he added.

Giglio said she would like to see copies of that letter, which Wagner said stated the project would be approved before the adoption of the comprehensive plan.

"In spite of the assurances we were given the application was put on the back burner -- and the heat was turned off," Wagner said.

Over the years, Wagner said, five lawsuits have been filed against Riverhead Town regarding the project.

But, Wagner said, he and Mancini agreed to sit down with the board in the hopes of coming to a compromise and reaching a settlement.

With a Dec. 5 court date looming, Mancini said, "We've been trying to settle this case in good faith for five years. If we don't settle prior to Dec. 5, I will instruct counsel that I want to go to trial."

The attorney said he believes there are "compelling facts. We believe we are entitled to build our project."

Wagner said he and his client were presenting a stipulation to the board. "In the nature of a settlement, nobody gets what they want entirely but they get something," he said.

To that end, the new project has been modified from utilizing 41.7 acres to 20.79 acres -- less than 50 percent of what was originally proposed.

The rest of the 50 percent of the parcel would be open space on the northerly portion of the parcel, a benefit to the town and community.

The total building footprint would be modified from 176,000 square feet to 98,900 square feet, a "substantial pullback in the interest of settling this," Wagner said.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said the new plan was supported by the Long Island Builders Institute.

Mancini discussed other projects, including a mixed-use center his firm is developing in Manorville with Peconic Bay Medical Center, that are embraced by the community.

Wagner said the stipulation has very specific ceilings regarding maxiumum square footage, footprint, and maximum number of residential units. In addition, due to concenrs raised by the community that the project would be a "big box" project or strip mall, the redesign is now campus style, with clustered buildings and courtyards.

"There has been a lot of thought and effort going into this, in response to the town's concerns," he said.

Of the 40 residential units, four will be affordable, Mancini said.

Although Councilman Jim Wooten said he still had questions to discuss with legal counsel, Walter, along with Councilmen Gabrielsen, Dunleavy, and Giglio all said they were ready to move forward with the project.

Gabrielsen said he liked the idea that the project was cut in half, with open space to the north. Giglio said she is a proponent of property rights.

"I don't like stall tactics and delays to prevent development," she said. "Especially when there was no moratorium in place. I think it's fair to settle."

The board agreed to vote at Tuesday's town board meeting; the resolution was ultimately taken off the agenda. Mancini said even if the proposal had met with town board approval, the plan still would need to go before the planning board.



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