Authors Posts by Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr
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John Jay LaValle in Harborfront Park. Photo by Kyle Barr

The cold race for Port Jefferson village mayor just turned hot as a new contender has stepped up to bat, one whose face has appeared large in politics, even on the national stage.

John Jay LaValle, the now retired chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee and village resident said he will be running for mayor of Port Jefferson.

“We need a fresh set of eyes to see how we can assist, revitalize and rejuvenate the Village of Port Jefferson,” LaValle said in an exclusive interview with TBR News Media. 

LaValle announced he is running alongside known villagers Tom Meehan, the principal of Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, and Tracy Stapleton, a local attorney and secretary on the Port Jefferson Free Library board of trustees.

The veteran of politics and local government said he is running mainly to bring back business to the village, which he said was vacating Port Jeff at an alarming rate. He pointed to the multiple empty storefronts both uptown and downtown, and to specific businesses that recently closed their doors, such as Kimi Japanese Restaurant at the end of 2018. He also cites a lack of foot traffic and the seasonal nature of many of the local businesses, which create uneven amounts of patronage throughout the year. On the other hand, he pointed to villages such as Patchogue, which after years of revitalization work has become a booming hub of small businesses, restaurants and bars.

“It’s not about politics, it’s about the village of Port Jefferson.”

— John Jay Lavalle

“The morale in the village needs a bit of a boost,” he said. “You need to encourage the property owners. You can create in government a lot of incentives, expedite applications, rewrite the code to relax certain tax provisions that might be constrictive and restrictive, that’s a simple thing.”

Though he knows Port Jeff as a whole would largely reject the idea of creating a large bar scene, LaValle said he would look to attract young professionals to live and work inside the village, along with expediting the process for businesses to take root in the village and change the village code if necessary.

“If I move my office into the village, I have my employees, myself and my clients who are going to go to lunch every day,” he said. “My clients who are going to see me are going to stop off at different stores. Maybe it creates foot traffic.”

LaValle first held elected office when he was a Town of Brookhaven councilman in 1996. In 2000, he was elected as town supervisor as the youngest man elected to the position. After leaving as town head in 2005, he later became the chairman of the county Republican committee and was a delegate for President Donald Trump (R) in New York’s 1st District during the 2016 Republican National Convention and acted as media surrogate for him on the campaign trail. After the election in November 2018, where LaValle aided U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) into another term, the now ex-chairman said he wanted to get the Republican candidate for Suffolk County executive, the county Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R), settled before he left his countywide position.

LaValle said it was a good question why he would move from a position of sometimes national focus to one in small local government, but he explained it came down to him having a need to take charge when he sees an issue.

LaValle stepped down from the head of the Republican committee March 18, and he said he wants to avoid partisan politics at the head this hyperlocal elected position. He said people he knew personally have asked him to run for the position before, but he did not consider it seriously until after the congressional election in 2018, knowing he was likely on his way out.

“It’s not about politics, it’s about the village of Port Jefferson,” he said.

Election day is June 18. Five-time mayor Margot Garant told TBR News Media she plans to seek re-election. Trustee Larry LaPointe has already announced he will not seek re-election, though petitions seeking re-election still have to be filed by all candidates. Trustee Stan Loucks’ seat is also up for election. Come June 18, whichever two candidates get the highest number of votes will receive the trustee seats. 

Two community members announce their runs alongside LaValle

Running alongside John Jay LaValle are Tracy Stapleton and Tom Meehan for the trustee positions, both who have deep ties to area functions. Stapleton is on the library board of trustees, has worked on the prom committee and is a member of the village zoning board as well.

Tracy Stapleton

The trustee candidate said she is especially interested in making the process easier to bring businesses into the village.

“There’s a lot of empty storefronts, and I would like to see if I can make it easier to bring more people in, get the stores rented,” Stapleton said. “The process seems to be hard to get people in there, they’re finding it hard to get people in.”

“We like our quaint little village.”

— Tracy Stapleton

She also said she would look at parking enforcement, specifically saying current attention to parking is an issue which she has seen with the Port Jeff free library, which she said loses visitors to Comsewogue.

She added she has spoken with LaValle and believes she can work with him, having agreed that more needs to be done to bring businesses into the community. She would also like to look at more beautification projects within the village, whether its creating additional flower beds or putting fresh coats of paint on old structures.

“We like our quaint little village,” she said. “We like that you can walk around. I like everything the village does, especially in the summer. We just need to make it easier.”

Thomas Meehan

Meehan said he and his family are embedded in the village, having graduated from Port Jefferson High School and having his mother, and two of his sons as homeowners within it. Along with being the principal of Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, he is also an elected commissioner of the Port Jefferson Fire District.

He said he has considered running for village office for several years, and after having conversations with LaValle, said he thought now would be the best time to run

“I don’t do anything without making plans,” he said. “I’ve been involved in a lot of aspects in the community. I’ve always had in the back of my mind someday I’d run for office.”

Along with Stapleton and LaValle, he is also concerned about the loss of business in downtown. He added he is also concerned with certain commercial developments, specifically the tax breaks given to the Shipyard apartment complex along West Broadway.

Principal Tom Meehan is all smiles with returning students on the first day of school. File photo

He promised to add his voice to problems such as downtown flooding and erosion along east beach and the Port Jefferson Country Club. He also has his reservations about the proposed apartment and retail space at the Cappy’s Carpets location

“We can’t put all the burden on the backs of the residents,” he said. “It seems not much thought is put into a lot of what we’re doing. I’m not pleased with some of the endeavors we’ve taken in the past several years.”

The elementary school principal added he would do what he could to reign in some of the village constables, who he said have been too proactive in placing tickets on residents’ cars. 

“That’s how they subsidize the constables,” he said.

While he said he is largely on the same page as Stapleton and LaValle when it comes to business in Port Jeff, he said he wants to remain autonomous in his decisions.

“I’m very independent,” he said. “I can work with whoever, but I make my own decisions.” 

While he plans to finish out the remaining years of his term as fire commissioner, he is still considering what he would do as elementary school principal should he win as village trustee. 

“I said I’d be here five years — I’ve been here eight, after I’ve already retired” he said. “If I’m elected, I’ll have to look at my role here.”

Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249, dedicates much of his time to helping veterans and his local community. File photo

County and state officials plan on embarking on a statewide campaign to advocate for the restoration of funds for a veterans peer support program some have called vital. 

At a press conference March 15 Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) alongside state Sen. John Brooks (D-Massapequa) urged the state Legislature to restore funding for the Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Project, after the proposed executive budget of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included no funding for the project.  

“It is our profound duty to serve our veterans both at home and abroad,” Bellone said. “Often times when our veterans return home they carry scars with them. The Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Project has a proven track record of assisting our veterans regain their lives and I urge Albany to reverse course immediately and fund this vital program.”

The project, which is overseen by Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency and Suffolk County United Veterans, aims to serve veterans, active duty members, reserve and National Guard troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other adjustment conditions. One of the program goals is to provide peer-to-peer support and counseling to veterans who are facing challenges transitioning back to civilian life, along with offering a safe, supportive space for veterans to interact with one another. 

Brooks, chairman of the state’s Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs, spoke on the challenges many veterans face when they come home and the good the program does. 

“These are heroes helping heroes,” the state senator said. “This is a program that enables veterans with knowledge and understanding of issues like PTSD, traumatic brain injury, depression and substance abuse to meet with and counsel veterans who are suffering from one, or several, of these afflictions as a result of their service to our country.”

The senator stressed the urgent need for this program and others like it. 

The program is named after Pfc. Joseph Dwyer, a Mount Sinai resident and U.S. Army combat medic who had served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. After returning home and struggling with PTSD, Dwyer succumbed to his condition in 2008. Last year, 23 counties across the state received $3.735 million in project funding.   

Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point, knows the program works and echoed Senator Brooks’ sentiments that programs like the Dwyer project are necessary and vital for veterans. 

“It’s veterans to veterans,” he said. “Mental health is an important issue.”

Cognitore said on a grassroot level the program works, and he was disappointed about the proposed funding cuts. 

“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue — it’s a bipartisan one,” he said. “We are all in the foxhole.”       

As chair for the VFW Department of New York Legislative Committee and a member of the VFW National Legislative Committee, Cognitore was in Albany lobbying earlier this month with other veterans groups urging lawmakers to restore full funds for the program. This year Suffolk County only received a $185,000 share of the money in the state budget.  

Previously, when the project had its full funds there were plans on expanding the program further into New York state, in addition to the already 23 participating counties. Similarly, two years ago, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) introduced legislation to expand the Dwyer program to the national level.  

Cognitore mentioned if he had another chance to speak with Cuomo and other lawmakers he would tell them not to slash the budget of a program without due diligence and background research. 

“It’d be one thing if this program wasn’t working but that’s not the case here — it works,” he said. “Put yourself in our boots, come visit us and see how the program runs.” 

Cognitore hopes lawmakers in Albany reverse course and restore funds to the program. He said they are fortunate to have county and state officials on their side who are committed to helping veterans. 

Bellone plans on traveling to the Hudson Valley and Western New York over the course of the next few weeks to build a coalition of state and local officials on the issue of restoring funding. 

Beginning in 2012, more than 10,000 veterans have participated in the Joseph P. Dwyer program countywide. Suffolk County is home to the largest veterans population in New York state.

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A photo of the Schooner Halie & Matthew on the ocean. Photo from Schooner Halie Matthew Facebook

Once upon a time, throughout the 19th century, if one looked down into Port Jefferson Harbor, one could see the tall masts of sailing ships rising high above the surrounding buildings, in a place once called Drowned Meadow. 

Nowadays, the harbor is home to many small vessels, but a new, 118-foot schooner could soon dwarf them if plans to bring in a handcrafted ship built in Maine come to fruition.

Captain George “Butch” Harris, the owner of the Halie & Matthew, a 118-foot-long, gaff-rigged, fiberglass ship, is currently in talks with the Village of Port Jefferson over establishing the harbor as its residence. The village board voted to allow Mayor Margot Garant to try and set up an agreement with the ship’s owner.

If an agreement is reached, the schooner would be moored along the dock in front of Harborfront Park, on the other side of Stony Brook University’s Seawolf research vessel.

“We’ve been looking for a long time to have a schooner call us home,” Garant said during a March 18 board meeting.

According to a draft proposal given to Port Jefferson by Maine Windjammers Inc., the ship would be used free for the village and Port Jefferson Harbor Education and Arts Conservancy as a promotional platform. The village would agree to promote the Halie & Matthew as the village’s “home schooner,” to pay for electric, water and dock maintenance and guarantee exclusive space at the dock for four years.

The conservancy set up a Tall Ship Committee more than a year ago in an effort to get a sizable ship into Port Jefferson Harbor. Harris said he comes from a family of shipbuilders, his father owning a boat shop that he worked in as a kid. He started work on the Halie & Matthew in 2001 and finished in 2006. Since then the ship has sailed as far south as Florida and as far north as Canada. 

Jason Rose, a member of the committee, is breathless with excitement over the prospect of a tall ship sitting in the harbor. Himself an avid sailor, he is currently working with The Boat Place in Port Jeff to revitalize his own 42-foot schooner, the Elizabeth. 

He is also an adjunct professor of political science at Stony Brook University and faculty adviser of the school’s sailing team and he already has students promising to help man the ship if needed.

Port Jefferson village historian Chris Ryon said the masts of the Halie & Matthew could likely be seen from all across the village’s downtown and, along with pennants hanging from the ship’s stays, would attract visitors down toward the park. 

“The harbor used to be filled with tall ships and masts,” Ryon said. “We’ll be able to see them from all over the village. We’re hoping to draw people into the harbor area.” 

Ryon said the committee had been in contact with Harris a year ago about bringing the schooner to Port Jeff, but contact fell through. It was at the start of the year that Harris reached back out to the committee about making Port Jeff a home for the schooner. The ship has a 24-foot beam and a 90-foot main mast. Its max capacity is at 100 people aboard.

The Port Jefferson Tall Ship Committee, a subset of the conservancy, of which Ryon is a member, has been working for years to bring a tall ship into the harbor. The contract would be for four years. Under the initial proposal, after the first year, the village would receive a 20 percent share in net profits of the vessel, which gets revenue through its charter operations and dining and bar services. There is an option to renew after that initial time, under the condition the village would negotiate a profit-sharing agreement.

The ship would have to get access to the village’s water and electricity, but Ryon said he did not believe the ship would use so much resources because, other than for appliances and lights, the ship is sail powered. The Seawolf is already hooked up to the village’s electricity, but water lines may need to be extended to the new schooner. Garant said the conservancy has agreed to pay half of the costs of extending those lines to the new vessel if needed. 

While the village still needs to work out security specifics with Harris, Rose said the ship will have two people living on the ship full time in order to make sure there isn’t any vandalism of the Halie & Matthew.

Garant said the first year would be a pilot, and they wanted to have dates in years 1 through 4 where the owners would commit to giving the village access to the vessel at minimum three times a year for fundraising initiatives. 

Ryon said over 500 large ships were built in the harbor during the area’s shipbuilding heyday. The largest wooden sailing ship built in the harbor was the Martha E. Wallace, built in 1902 and topped at more than 200 feet long. Ryon said the last time the harbor played host to a schooner of notable size was in the 1970s, a ship called the Enchantress.

With a new ship coming in, Rose can’t wait to see Port Jeff’s shipbuilding history come alive again.

“It’s going to be great to see the area’s maritime history start to be honored,” he said. 

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A rendering of the proposed development in Mount Sinai. Image from Steven Losquadro

With the sounds of senior living facilities construction echoing up and down Route 25A, another developer has one more project coming down the pipeline for Mount Sinai, this time for a facility geared toward millennials.

The proposed development, Mount Sinai Meadows, will be a 30-acre mixed-use majority rental and part commercial facility geared toward creating a living space for young adults and young professionals.

“For people in the ages of 20 to 34, an increasing subset of the population here on Long Island, there is not appropriate housing or opportunities for such individuals who wish to stay here,” said Rocky Point-based attorney Steven Losquadro, who is representing the developer. 

Representatives of the site’s developer Mount Sinai Meadows LLC, headed by Woodmere-based real estate developer Basser-Kaufman, attended a Town of Brookhaven board meeting March 14 seeking a change of zoning from J-Business 2 to Planned Development District along with approval of the draft environmental impact study. No final decision was made on the property, and the board confirmed it would leave the proposal open for another 30 days to allow for additional comments.

“We felt it was very important for us to broaden our offerings of housing.”

— Ann Becker

In terms of amenities, the site plans to have bike racks, walkable grounds, communal barbecue areas, electric car charging stations, a large open lawn for the use of residents and four spaces toward the northern end of the property that will be used for large retail spaces. There will be 21.78 acres used for residential housing, while 8.3 acres will be retail. 

The project looks to include 140 housing units, including 106 two-bedroom apartments and 34 one-bedroom apartments. Losquadro said none of the apartments will be subsidized housing.

Engineer Charles Voorhis, a partner of the Melville-based firm Nelson, Pope & Voorhis LLC, said the project includes a 170-foot buffer, incorporating a 40-foot natural buffer between the site and the surrounding woods and residential communities to the south and west of the planned development.

The Mount Sinai Civic Association president Ann Becker said approximately 20 percent of the housing stock in the hamlet is for those 55 and older. She said the developer has offered assurances that the development is not expected to bring in an overwhelming number of children into the Mount Sinai School District.

“We have worked with the developers and have been provided with assurances that the number of children … will not burden our community,” Becker said. “We felt it was very important for us to broaden our offerings of housing.”

A number of residents on Mount Sinai Facebook groups were concerned about the traffic impact these new developments could have. The developer’s representatives did not rule out a potential increase in traffic.

Maureen Bond, the communications director of the Mount Sinai-Miller Place Chamber Alliance, said she also supports the project.

“In my opinion, this is the best plan so far,” she said. “There are traffic issues that need to be addressed; however, I believe having traffic is better than having no traffic.”

The civic has been supportive of the development for years, helping to shape its identity into the millennial housing proposal. One of its most recent requests for the development was to ensure the developer would not seek and would not be given any financial assistance or tax aid from the town, especially any help from the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency. Two senior developments at the corner of Echo Avenue and Route 25A, one an assisted living facility, had recently been given a generous 13-year payment in lieu of taxes agreement, and though the civic had been supportive of that project, it was heavily against the loss of taxes from the PILOT.

“For people in the ages of 20 to 34, an increasing subset of the population here on Long Island, there is not appropriate housing or opportunities for such individuals who wish to stay here.”

— Steve Losquadro

The Mount Sinai Meadows project has been in the works for several years. Anthony Graves, Brookhaven town’s chief environmental analyst, said he had talked to Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) in 2012 about creating a “true town center” for each of the communities in Council District 2 along Route 25A. A prior project for the site was originally proposed by a different developer specifically for J-2 business zoning, Voorhis said. That project included 805 square feet of retail, 37,000 square feet of office and a 2,000-square-foot bank.

Representatives of the developer said there was no final decision on the expected price on the rentals, but Losqaudro said they have promised the civic it will be at market rate.

Voorhis added the developer is currently in talks with the owner of the neighboring strip mall to allow access between the two retail centers. The developer is also in talks about acquiring the neighboring music store property and incorporating it.

Graves said the town was interested in the PDD zoning because it could more accurately reflect the mixed-use nature of the proposed development.

“[We] believe this development is in the spirit of that original efforts we made in Mount Sinai,” the environmental analyst said. “We look at it as a true town center for Mount Sinai.”

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Planned changes to area around Barnum Avenue and Route 25A. Photo from PJ planning department

Port Jefferson village has long been dealing with issues of parking and attracting more people into the downtown, but proposals put forward by village officials and other property owners have received stern opposition from residents living close to these proposed projects.

The upstairs meeting room in the Port Jefferson Village Hall was packed March 14 as residents came out to get answers on several major developments coming to Port Jefferson. One details the planned development for a mixed-use apartment and retail space in the building that is currently Cappy’s Carpets, while another includes a new parking lot on Barnum Avenue.

The Port Jefferson planning board was originally allowing additional comments from residents until March 24, but they agreed to extend that until March 29 for the planned Cappy’s development.

Apartments in Cappy’s Carpets

Several Port Jeff residents said the Shipyard apartment complex, which only started receiving tenants little more than a year ago, left a bad taste in their mouths. Many who spoke at the March 14 meeting decried the Tritec Real Estate Company’s four-story 112-unit rental complex, and asked that if development were to continue, then they should learn from the last development.

The Capobianco family, which owns the property, along with real estate firm Brooks Partners LLC unveiled plans in February for creating a three-story apartment and retail space in the current Cappy’s Carpet shop at 440 Main St. The development would replace the existing carpet store along with the boat storage lot to the rear of the property.

The proposed plans call for 1,200 square feet of retail space, a 1,500-square-foot restaurant and a 750-square-foot fitness center on the ground floor. Above that would be 44 one-bedroom and two, two-bedroom apartments on the second and third floors. Also included was a roof deck and rooftop fire pits. Village Mayor Margot Garant previously said the building had remained at three stories in direct response to criticism over the Shipyard development.

Left: Cappy’s Carpets in Port Jefferson; right: rendering of new mixed use space. Left photo by Kyle Barr, right photo from Port Jeff planning department

In terms of parking, the project would include 78 spaces, with the 37 set in a parking garage within the development and 41 spaces outside. The parking spaces would require the developer to pay for four spaces in lieu of parking fees, due to village code parking requirements.

Sayville-based attorney Eric Russo, representing Brooks Partners, said the project would enhance the village’s walkability, especially north of the majority of downtown’s businesses. 

“As part of your village’s master plan, your goal was you wanted to create a walking downtown and expand on the town, so it would move forward where it was on Main Street and continue upward toward this particular area,” Russo said. 

Residents were quick to criticize the idea of a roof deck, saying that people standing up so high would likely be heard throughout parts of the village.

“We live in a bowl here, and if somebody has a roof deck on top of that building, that’s going to travel uphill into our residential area,” said Marge McCuen, resident on Tuthill Street. “I think it was very inconsiderate.”

The development would also go along with new projects to remediate traffic concerns in that area. The New York State Department of Transportation has said it will amend traffic concerns surrounding Barnum Avenue, including removing the triangle median where Barnum and Main Street connect, making one egress and ingress and eliminating the need for pedestrians to make two crossings along one road. The next project is to install a traffic light at the intersection of Old Post Road and Main Street in hopes of eliminating some problems of the accident-prone intersection during rush hour. Patrick Lenihan, an engineer with Hauppauge-based VHB engineering firm, said the state DOT has also recommended removing four street-level parking spaces on Main Street near the expected curb cut for the development.

Resident Michael Mart said removing those four spaces on Main Street would mean the village would be even further in the hole when it comes to parking spaces, not counting the four spaces the developer is willing to pay in lieu of parking for.

As part of the application, Brooks Partners conducted a traffic study with VHB. Results showed the weekday average traffic for Main Street was less than 18,000 vehicles per day in the vicinity of the project site as of March 2016. Saturday and Sunday daily volume during the same week was recorded at less than 20,000 and 15,000 cars, respectively. Some residents criticized the traffic study, especially for the limited time it was conducted, saying it should have also shown traffic patterns for weekdays, especially in mornings when buses take children to school and when cars arrive on the morning ferries.

“With your traffic study, instead of doing just one day in July, you should have done a day in April or May, preferably a weekday, make it when the ferries arrive,” said village resident Drew Biondo. “I think you’d get a better sense.”

“We live in a bowl here, and if somebody has a roof deck on top of that building, that’s going to travel uphill into our residential area.”

— Marge McCuen

Biondo later in the meeting asked if the building would be built on pilings, which the developer responded with yes, on over 200, which would take about three weeks to install during code-allowed times. 

Mart added he hopes this new apartment complex would not get a similar payment in lieu of taxes plan the Shipyard complex received from the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency. Another $10.8 million planned apartment complex called Overbay, being built by the Hauppauge-based development company, The Northwind Group, has also received an extended PILOT agreement from the Brookhaven town IDA.

“We as taxpayers then have to pay the cost burdens from it,” he said.

At the village’s March 18 board meeting, Garant asked the board to look at the village’s code regarding roof decks, agreeing at the rate in which sound travels within the area. 

Parking lot on Barnum Avenue

Port Jefferson officials are planning for a 44-space parking lot located on the west side along Barnum Avenue just after the turn on Roessner Lane that goes toward Rocketship Park. 

The space currently exists as a gravel lot, and officials have allowed town workers to park in it for the time being. The site was once a house that Garant described as an illegal rental property. Officials agreed to purchase and demolish the building in 2017. 

Plans for the parking lot give it a 53-foot buffer from Barnum Avenue and a 23-foot buffer from Caroline Avenue. These plans also include a new sidewalk with plantings along the edges of the proposed site. The board has stated its intention to eliminate parking along the northern side of Caroline Avenue.

The site of the planned parking lot on Barnum Avenue. Photo by Kyle Barr

Garant said the proposed lot would include a managed parking system with meters but no overnight parking and limits to the number of hours a car is allowed to park in that lot. A gate would be installed to prevent people from parking in the lot overnight. 

Barbara Ransome, the director of operations for the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, said the new parking was desperately needed. 

“We really haven’t had a new parking lot in downtown in 50 years,” Ransome said. “From the business perspective we really do support the additional 44 parking spots.”

The mayor added the plans for lighting include goosenecked, directional lighting that would focus their rays on the parking lot itself, and they would be automated to turn off at midnight.

“We’re very sensitive to the lighting,” Garant said. “The light will not penetrate beyond parking area.”

Despite her attempts at assurances, some residents who would border the proposed lot were not so convinced. Kathleen Loper, who lives on Caroline, said she has already had problems with lighting from the nearby baseball field disturbing her ability and her neighbors to maintain their sleep schedules. 

“People have different work schedules — those lights are very distracting, so I can imagine what the parking lot lights are going to do,” Loper said. “If I wanted to live in Manhattan, I would have bought a house in Manhattan.”

Pat Darling Kiriluk, a Port Jeff resident, said she was concerned about the beautification of that space, especially with the Drowned Meadow House nearby along the same street.

We are never going to have enough [parking] availability,” Kiriluk said. “It’s never ever going to be enough.”

“The light will not penetrate beyond parking area.”

— Margot Garant

Others who live in the area already feel the area is dangerous for pedestrians due to high traffic along Barnum and Caroline. Tony Dutra, who lives at the corner of Caroline and Barnum, asked why the project couldn’t have an entrance off Barnum and an exit on Caroline. Anthony Cucuzzo of D&B Engineers and Architects said they could look at the idea but believed large traffic volumes along both roads would cause delays.

Garant has previously said if the project gets approval, she would want construction to start by fall of this year.

The mayor added the village may be able to enhance the crosswalk features. Other residents feared illicit activity happening in the parking lot at night.

Kevin Wood, village parking administrator, said current parking lots already have surveillance cameras and parking ambassadors, which would be extended to this new parking lot. 

Green was the color of choice from Miller Place to Rocky Point as thousands lined the roads to celebrate the 69thannual Miller Place – Rocky Point St. Patrick’s Day Parade March 17.

With a cool, sunny day preceding the coming Spring, families sat along Route 25A from the Rocky Point Business District all the way into Miller Place and watched as members of the Miller Place, Rocky Point and Sound Beach fire departments walked in step to members of local family farms, the fife and pipe bands, marching bands, baton twirling teams and many, many more.

Before the parade even began, children and adults alike walked through the streets blasting from green plastic trumpets and horns, painted their faces with clovers and even brought their pets out dressed in Irish flair.

A house located at 55 Shinnecock is torn down by Brookhaven town. Photo by Bea Ruberto

There was once a house on Shinnecock Drive in Sound Beach. Now there is a vacant patch of land and rubble. From the front, it was close to idyllic, featuring a small single-floor cottage, a mason stone exterior, a picket fence and a worn birdbath sitting just behind a fence. 

The house is gone, torn down by the Town of Brookhaven for being a derelict property. Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said the frontage of the home was beautiful, but everything behind the front, what one couldn’t see from the street, was torn up and run down.

“It was like on a theater stage, the front looked good, but there was nothing behind it,” Bonner said.

A house located at 55 Shinnecock is torn down by Brookhaven town. Photo by Bea Ruberto

The work to take down derelict homes is constant. At the tail end of February, the town had demolished another home on Audrey Street in Miller Place. These vacant and derelict houses have had a menacing moniker affixed to them, zombie homes, and since the 2008 mortgage crisis and subsequent recession, they have become endemic on Long Island. At a Sound Beach Civic Association meeting March 11, Bonner explained the process the town takes to removing these blighted structures and explained the reasons why it’s difficult to repurpose the land after the home is torn down.

Town officials are informed about zombie homes in multiple ways. Residents can call up town hall or contact the council district office directly. Otherwise, Bonner said her office learns about these derelict buildings through interacting with the community at civic meetings or by just driving around the district.

The town sends out a third-party inspector, namely Hauppauge-based engineering firm Cashin, Spinelli & Ferretti LLC, to check on the home and make sure the property is vacant. If not, the house is then put on the vacant home registry, a long list of houses in the town that no longer have legal occupants.

At its annual March 11 state of the town address, Brookhaven town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said more than 250 zombie homes had been demolished since 2014. Bonner said the town currently has approximately 2,000 zombie homes in the process of being demolished by the town.

“When I started, I never thought the town would be in this kind of business,” Bonner said. 

Bonner said her office often gathers information on a derelict property from the Suffolk County Clerk’s office, especially looking at whether the property’s taxes are current, whether there is a mortgage on the property, or whether the land is owned by an LLC. Town employees try to contact the homeowner, who is required to contact the town clerk, pay a fee of $250 and provide a point of contact for the maintenance company. However, this step is especially challenging, as often there are little means of contacting the homeowner, especially if they no longer live in the state and their contact information is not current. It could mean months of work talking to the banks or going through other channels to contact these people.

“When I started, I never thought the town would be in this kind of business.”

— Jane Bonner

If there is a significant number of problems with the property, and if there is no property management company the town can get a hold of, Brookhaven will go in and cut overgrown grass or board and secure the property, though they will only board and secure the first floor and the town does not repair roofs. After the inspection is done the inspector determines whether it meets the threshold for demolition. The inspection will also detail if there is asbestos on the property, which will mandate additional work to contain during demolition.

After the home is recommended for demolition, the town hosts a public hearing on the property. A typical town board meeting could have several of these public hearings for properties all across the town. Occasionally, the homeowner or bank that owns the property will come to the hearings and based on the arguments of the property owner, an extension could be made to allow the owner to fix up the property. Otherwise, the town allows 30 days after the public hearing before a final decision to raze a property is made.

“Occasionally, I think they don’t think we’re serious at the public hearing,” Bonner said. “Sometimes we give them time, other times we tell them they already had their 30 days.”

Brookhaven spokesperson Jack Krieger said the town expects to spend $1.8 million in 2019 on derelict properties, of which $1.2 million is directly related to demolition. The rest of that money is spent on support staff dealing with matters on contacting property owners or taking care of the property. The property owner is responsible for the demolition costs.

The town has two full-time employees who work directly on these derelict properties. Beyond that, each council member is supposed to be involved in the houses within their own district. Bonner said her office will spend a cumulative time of a full eight-hour day each week just dealing with these zombie homes.

Krieger said there have been 35 zombie homes demolished in district 2 since the zombie program began in 2013. That is peanuts compared to the likes of Mastic Beach, a village that had disincorporated in 2016. In that area, the town is dealing with more than 100 known derelict and run-down properties.

“Talk about impacting the quality of life,” Bonner said. “Talk about squatters, talk about drug dealing, talk about impacting your property values — there are a lot of components to it.”

These derelict properties often have issues with animal infestation, break-ins and squatters, which can intensify and lengthen the process of removing the run-down properties. But the biggest roadblock to bringing a house back up to standards might be the lien put on the property. 

“Talk about squatters, talk about drug dealing, talk about impacting your property values — there are a lot of components to it.”

— Jane Bonner

After the town cleans up the property, Brookhaven will often put a lien on that property for the property taxes, either expecting the property owner or the county to pay back the town. In order to buy that property, a prospective buyer must satisfy that lien first, which on the steep end could be as high as $500,000, such as the case with the house on Audrey Street, according to Bonner.

These liens could make buying the now vacant property much harder, often leaving the property vacant for years with minimal means of getting a developer to build on the property with the extra fee coming from the lien. 

“It’s kind of like a cog in the wheel, it gums up the work, it really does,” she said.

Mimi Hodges, a Sound Beach resident, asked why these houses couldn’t be rejuvenated using state loans to rehabilitate them. That, or start community projects in order to buy the property and turn it into housing for homeless veterans or other needy groups, an example of which was a land trust that was recently created in Uniondale by community members.

“To support the character of the community,” Hodges said. “Make it an affordable house.”

Supervisor Ed Romaine during his State of the Town address. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Town of Brookhaven is boasting of its finances while promising to improve town infrastructure, both in its railways and along its streets.

The town will be offering up $150 million to fix and aid town-owned roadways in 2019. Town spokesmen declined to offer more details but said more information will be coming later in the week.

“We need to ensure solid infrastructure is in place,” town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said. “We cannot wait any longer … we have to bite the bullet, we can’t wait any longer for federal or state assistance.”

During a 45-minute speech March 11, Romaine boasted of the town’s finances, citing its 2019 $304.2 million budget which stayed within the tax cap while not using any of the town’s fund balance. The supervisor added that fund balance was another point of pride, saying the fund balance grew by 9.4 percent across the six major funds while the town’s bond rating remained at Triple A, according to Standard and Poor’s. He said this fund balance should the town suffer any unexpected financial issues, such as the 2008 recession.

Further, he promised explicitly to keep taxes as low as possible, despite the town making up approximately 8 percent of residents’ overall tax bill.

“Our residents cannot pay more in taxes,” Romaine said. “I don’t have to tell you, but too many people, young and old, are leaving Long Island.”

The town also boasted of its Brookhaven United Consolidation and Efficiency Plan, which has started to look at creating shared services between other local municipalities and the town. The plan is due to a $20 million state grant the town received in June 2018 for the purpose of consolidation. In February, the town went into an agreement with Port Jefferson Village to consolidate its tax receiving methods with the town, using $478,000 of the grant funds. Brookhaven Town Receiver of Taxes Louis Marcoccia has said he expects the program will be extended to other villages.

In addition to tax receiving, the supervisor said the town has also consolidated services with local municipalities in purchasing road salt and sand, paving, as well as doing road clearing during snows such as with the Village of Shoreham. In April, the town has advised it will launch a municipal market portal, which will enable villages and special districts to have full access to all town contracts.

Romaine said the plan, once fully implemented over the next few years, will generate an estimated $61 million in savings for the town.

Romaine had complaints about the speed of development by New York State, not only on its roads but also the rail network in the town. Brookhaven has three Long Island Rail Road lines, one going through Port Jefferson, the Montauk line and the Ronkonkoma line, the most trafficked, which goes through the center of the town. He continued calls for electrification of these rail lines which has also been supported by state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who appropriated funds for an electrification study on the Port Jeff line.

“We cannot compete in the 21st-century economy with a 19th-century rail system,” Romaine said. “We collect a ton of money for the MTA, but we don’t see it here.”

The LIRR has also agreed to relocate the Yaphank train station so it is adjacent to William Floyd Parkway, just south of the Long Island Expressway. He said this will could take much of the burden off the Ronkonkoma train station, whose parking lot is often way past its max capacity.

While touting town savings, Romaine said officials were still concerned about the loss of $1.8 million in state aid through the NYS Aid and Incentives for Municipalities program.

“We need to start working as a region, or we will watch the rest of the country pass us by,” the supervisor said.

He also discussed environmental measures, including the town’s solar projects, the water table underground and fears of rising tides.

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The walls of East Wind in Wading River were bathed in green as the Friends of St. Patrick hosted their annual Luck of the Irish Casino Night March 8 at the East Wind hotel in Wading River. 

Attendees paid a $75 ticket and were given $200 in fake money, which they then used to play an assortment of games including black jack, Texas Hold’em, craps and slot machines. Money won could be used to buy raffle tickets for an assortment of prizes.

Attending was the recently named grand marshal, John McNamara; along with the recently named queen, Jazmine Lang, a Rocky Point High School junior; and her lady-in-waiting, Emily Hampson, a sophomore at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

The Miller Place-Rocky Point St. Patrick’s Day Parade is set for March 17 starting at 1 p.m. beginning at Harrison Avenue in Miller Place. Roads will start to close at 12 p.m.

Residents in Huntington were dressed in green, contrasting well with the gray skies above. Despite a drizzling rain, thousands still stepped out dressed in St. Patrick’s Day flair to enjoy a day of Irish pride during the 85th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade March 10.

This year’s grand marshal was Timothy Rossiter, 72, a member of the Huntington division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and president of the Rossiter Financial Group. 

The march featured several drum and pipe bands, along with local groups including local Boy Scout troops, VFWs, New York State Nurses Association and many others.

All photos by David Ackerman

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