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[IMGCAP(1)]RIVERHEAD, NY-How many hoops must be jumped through to get to the end of a $1.5-billion project? A lot, according to attorney Don Secunda of Weber Law Group LLP, who takes GlobeSt.com on a behind the scenes look at the Riverhead project, one of Long Island’s largest developments. “Behind every deal, whether it is a large-scale development or small acquisition, there are number of things to consider before reaching the closing gate,” explains Secunda. “An important aspect to consider is the need for those behind the scenes who know the playing field.”

Secunda, the legal counsel behind Riverhead Resorts LLC‘s proposed 4.8 million gross sf of upscale hotels, condos and resorts project on 755 acres on the East End of Long Island, tells GlobeSt.com that it isn’t as easy as just creating a concept and then developing it. “The project will take four development phases over 10 years,” Secunda says. “It will be at least two years from now before a shovel goes into the ground.”

[IMGCAP(2)]More than a year was consumed in negotiating the contract with the Town of Riverhead and getting through the required hearings, Secunda explains. “My client, John Niven, spent years ruminating over the details of his ambitious project and deciding who might constitute his ‘dream team’ of professionals which could actualize the concept.” Niven, the chairman of Baldragon Homes Ltd., a builder of luxury homes in Scotland, had built more than his share of large residential developments, according to Secunda, however, this would be his first foray “across the Pond” for business.

“His vision of the project was of a magnitude that would make any experienced builder in New York flinch,” Secunda says. Niven decided that the first thing to do was to find a good law firm. The firm would need to have attorneys who knew the playing field of development work on both the legal and business sides of the fence, Secunda explains, adding that “the attorneys would be his eyes and ears in this country. They would need to know the correct people in government and in the real estate community who paralleled those he dealt with at home.”

Weber Law Group was recommended by the broker for the Town of Riverhead, Jack O’Connor of Newmark Knight Frank. “Brokers have always been a good source of referrals for law firms, particularly for those lawyers who are deal makers as opposed to deal breakers,” Secunda says. “As legal counsel, we helped identify the key professionals in various disciplines and negotiated their contracts.” Legal council and the developers are only a few of the players involved. The Riverhead team consists of Leisure Entertainment Development and Operations International Inc., to define and validate the project and to operate it upon completion; HOK and HOK Sport, to be architects of record; San Francisco-based EDAW, to perform site planning duties; Cameron Engineering, for all engineering including spearheading environmental impact studies; and Rubenstein Associates, for public relations.

Secunda explains that the team’s first task was to analyze the zoning to see if the project was feasible; the zoning is Planned Recreational Park. “All of the proposed uses are as-of-right.”

Secunda says that the only glitch is that the mountain which would house the indoor ski facility was planned to be 500 feet above grade. Zoning allows 75 feet, and 500 feet or taller presents an FAA issue as a hazard to air traffic. “We dropped the height to 350 feet, which also is more palatable to the local community. Understand that from the outside, the mountain would be just that: an integrated piece of the landscape with terraced plantings so as to not intrude on the vistas.”

Secunda says that all of the resort is contained inside, which means that there are a lot of coverage issues to deal with. “Our concept is to build the structures in the other seven resorts lower than allowed and to transfer the air rights to the mountain. Either we will seek a variance or the zoning ordinance will be re-written to allow for transferable air rights. This is still a pending issue. We are working with the planning department to obtain the result that benefits the town and the project.”

These are only a few of the many issues that surround a project of this size, and it is only one of the many developments on the boards here that will play a key role in the advancement of Long Island’s economy. Another development that will add to the island’s fiscal soundness includes the $2-billion mixed-use project being proposed by the Lighthouse Development Group in Nassau County.

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