A piece of legislation seeking to clarify the role of the panel charged with reviewing leases for Suffolk County’s Gabreski Airport appears to be muddying the water when it comes to the new business and technology park that will eventually be built there.
Last week, the Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved a bill introduced by Legislator Jay Schneiderman that codifies the responsibilities of the Gabreski Airport Conservation and Assessment Panel, which was created by former County Executive Steve Levy after he dismantled its predecessor, the Airport Lease Screening Committee. The main difference between the two committees is that the original had the authority to approve or reject applications to lease land at the airport, while the current panel can only make recommendations to the County Legislature, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and the Suffolk County Council on Environmental Quality.
The updated version of the newer board, which will still be called the Gabreski Airport Conservation and Assessment Panel, or ACAP, will retain most of its established responsibilities, according to the legislation, though the number of people sitting on it will increase from seven to eight, leaving open the possibility for tie votes. The members of the new panel, who are expected to be named later this year, also will serve three-year terms; current members do not have term limits. Also, three of its members will be appointed by Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, Westhampton Beach Village Mayor Conrad Teller and Quogue Village Mayor Peter Sartorius, Mr. Schneiderman said.
A separate board, known as the Gabreski Airport Community Advisory Board, whose members provide the county with general recommendations about the airport, will not be affected by the change.
An apparent sticking point with the legislation is whether or not the new committee will be allowed to review and offer recommendations on leases that are awarded to the tenants of the proposed Hamptons Business and Technology Park. That facility, for which ground is supposed to be broken this fall, will be anchored by a three-story, 145-room hotel but also will feature eight other buildings that are expected to one day house an assortment of research and development companies. In 2009, Rechler Equity Partners in Melville inked a 40-year lease with Suffolk County to rent the nearly 50-acre property that is near the airport’s main entrance on Old Riverhead Road.
On Friday, Mr. Schneiderman of Montauk said developers Gregg and Mitchell Rechler can sublease the buildings, once they are built, without input from the panel.
“In general, no, those leases will not come before ACAP,” Mr. Schneiderman said, noting that a press release issued by his office announcing the new panel incorrectly suggested that members would be reviewing those applications. “It was not designed to change anything in that regard,” he continued. “The Rechlers can lease at their own discretion—the town and county approved the types of uses that are okay [at the technology park].”
But at least one panel member, who hopes to be appointed to the updated board, said he is under the impression that ACAP will still be charged with reviewing all proposed leases at the airport—including subleases that the Rechlers want to ink with their future tenants.
Jamie Siegel of Quogue, who has sat on ACAP since its inception in 2006, said this week that panel members reviewed the Rechlers’ lease with the county before it was approved in 2009. He added that, if reappointed to the new eight-member panel, he would expect to be asked to also review tenant leases for the business and technology complex.
“There are strict guidelines that were set up in the master plan for the APDD [Airport Planned Development District] that established what can go into the park, and I believe that Southampton Town has a keen eye on zoning issues,” Mr. Siegel wrote in an email.
“ACAP would have had a chance to review the subleases as it was part of the executive order that gave us life,” he continued, later adding, “The panel, as it was previously made up, was set to review all leases at Gabreski, including the Rechler leases.”
But Beecher Halsey, the chairman of ACAP since its founding, explained that subleases, such as individual hangar leases, are not currently reviewed by the panel, and therefore it would not be asked to review the Rechler subleases. He also pointed out that the airport master plan controls what can open at the technology park.
Mr. Halsey noted that the Rechlers might not have been as eager to sign their lease if the county had such tight oversight on potential lessees. “I don’t think the project would be attractive to a developer if they didn’t have control of their tenants,” he said.