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Renaissance Downtowns cleared to move ahead

Ryan Porter, of Renaissance Downtowns, speaks at a Huntington Town Board meeting. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington Station’s revitalization took one step forward on Sept. 16, as the Huntington Town Board approved the Huntington Station Gateway Plan at its monthly meeting.

The Huntington Station Gateway Plan is the environmental review encompassing three sites slated for redevelopment by Renaissance Downtowns — the town’s master developer for Huntington Station.

The three sites are all within walking distance of the Huntington Long Island Rail Road station and in close proximity to each other, allowing for a combined review of the potential environmental impacts of the projects, the town said. The projects include a hotel and office building across the street from the train station at the intersection of New York Avenue and Railroad Street; a mixed-use building with apartments and retail businesses behind the town’s Gateway Plaza at New York Avenue and Olive Street; and artists’ residences and display space in part of what is now a parking lot at New York Avenue and Church Street.

“Approval of the Gateway Plan allows Renaissance to take the next steps on each of the proposals, which could include site plan approval,” according to a town statement.

In an email this week, Ryan Porter, vice president of planning and  development at Renaissance said the team is excited about the approval of the plan, which marks the “culmination of nearly a year’s work in collaboration with the town and the community.”

He said the team would continue to work with the town and the county on sewer solution strategies for the non-sewered areas in the revitalization.

“With this approval behind us, we will now accelerate discussions with our development and financing partners as well as multiple tenant prospects,” Porter said. “In addition Renaissance will look to commence site plan approvals and building permits for several of the sites in 2015 with the goal of being in the ground in 2016.”

The projects are also near the proposed Columbia Terrace veterans-preference affordable housing development Huntington Town has planned for the intersection of Railroad Street, Columbia Street and Lowndes Avenue. Town officials said they hope to break ground on that development early next year, according to a statement.

For more information about Renaissance’s plans, visit sourcethestation.com.

Town wins two court decisions against utility

Northport power plant. File photo

Huntington Town is touting two court decisions boosting its case against the Long Island Power Authority in an ongoing challenge over the assessment of the Northport power plant and the amount the utility pays in property taxes on the facility.

The decisions, issued by State Supreme Court Justice John C. Bivona, were dated earlier this month and received by the town’s special counsel on Sept. 25. The first decision dismissed LIPA’s standing as a plaintiff in the case, since National Grid, and not LIPA, owns the plant, according to the decision.

The second decision granted a stay in the assessment case until there is a final court determination of the town’s argument that National Grid should be held to a 1997 pledge by LIPA not to challenge the plant’s assessment. So far, the town has won pretrial decisions in that case, according to a town statement.

LIPA is suing Huntington Town to recover some $270 million in property taxes it paid since 2010, arguing the aging Northport power plant facility is grossly over-assessed. Northport-East Northport school district is also a party in the lawsuit.

If LIPA wins, Huntington Town taxpayers could see a 15 percent increase in town property taxes and a 60 percent increase in school taxes, according to the town’s website.

The judge dismissed LIPA’s standing as a party initiating tax certiorari proceedings. In one of his decisions, Bivona said that while LIPA believes its financial interests are adversely impacted currently by a wrongly overstated assessment of the power plant, “the result is still remote and consequential and certainly does not constitute a direct loss because the property taxes levied upon the Northport Power Station are actually and directly paid by National Grid Generation, LLC.”

In the second decision, Bivona granted a stay to the town on each of the four tax certiorari proceedings National Grid commenced challenging taxes from 2010 to 2013. The stay was granted until completion of a case involving the town’s contention that National Grid, as the successor to LIPA, should be held to the 1997 pledge.

In previous decisions, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court cited both a letter then-LIPA chairman Richard Kessel sent to the town and statements Kessel made to the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association, during which he said he would drop any pending tax certiorari cases and not initiate any further ones at any time in the future. In return, the town promised not to increase the assessment on the plant. The town has not done so.

Most significantly, Bivona’s second decision means the court needs to consider the validity of the town’s 1997 pledge argument before embarking on a trial on the actual tax challenges — which promises to be complicated, lengthy and expensive.

“These two significant decisions help clarify the process for resolving these cases by first addressing the town’s key contention: that at the heart of the case is our belief that promises made by both sides should be kept,” Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone said in a statement. “In the long run, resolving that question first should save taxpayers money by potentially obviating the need for a lengthy and expensive trial on the technical question of the assessment.”

A spokesman for the Long Island Power Authority said the utility didn’t have a comment on the issue.

Stock photo

Thirteen more mosquito samples have tested positive for West Nile virus in Suffolk County, bringing the total this year to 192, according to Dr. James L. Tomarken, the county’s health commissioner.

The samples were collected from Sept. 15 through Sept. 17, from the following areas: three from West Babylon, one from North Patchogue, one from Selden, one from Patchogue, one from Port Jefferson Station, one from Setauket, one from South Huntington, one from Bay Shore, one from Islip, one from Holbrook and one from Smithtown.

One human has tested positive for West Nile this year. The 55-year-old man from the Town of Islip was admitted to a local hospital in late August upon experiencing symptoms consistent with the virus, according to a Suffolk County Department of Health Services statement on Sept. 11.

The virus, first detected in birds and mosquito samples in Suffolk County in 1999 and again each year thereafter, is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito.

“The confirmation of West Nile virus in mosquito samples indicates the presence of West Nile virus in the area,” Tomarken said. “While there is no cause for alarm, we urge residents to cooperate with us in our efforts to reduce the exposure to the virus, which can be debilitating to humans.”

To reduce the mosquito population around homes, residents should try to eliminate stagnant water where mosquitoes breed. Other tips include disposing of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water-holding containers; removing discarded tires on the property; making sure roof gutters drain properly, and cleaning clogged gutters; turning over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use; changing the water in birdbaths; cleaning vegetation and debris from the edges of ponds and keeping shrubs and grass trimmed; cleaning and chlorinating swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs; and draining water from pool covers.

Most people infected with West Nile virus will experience mild or no symptoms, but some can develop severe symptoms including high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis, according to Dr. Tomarken. The symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent. Individuals, especially those 50 years of age or older, or those with compromised immune systems, who are most at risk, are urged to take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

There are a number of ways to avoid mosquito bites. Residents are advised to minimize outdoor activities between dusk and dawn; wear shoes and socks, long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors for long periods of time or when mosquitoes are more active; use repellent; and make sure all windows and doors have screens.

To report mosquito problems or stagnant pools of water, call the Suffolk County Department of Public Works’ Vector Control Division at 852-4270.

For medical questions related to West Nile virus, call 854-0333.

To learn more about how mosquitoes are captured and tested for mosquito-borne diseases in Suffolk County, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtaO-GkF8Yc

To learn more about how mosquitoes are prepared for West Nile virus testing, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebOvsdiln-8.

For further information on West Nile virus, visit the Department of Health Services’ website: http://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/HealthServices/PublicHealth/PreventiveServices/ArthropodborneDiseaseProgram/PreventingMosquitoBorneIllnesses.aspx

Group criticizes amendment aimed at two-family homes

Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards. File photo by Rohma Abbas

A representative of the Huntington Township Housing Coalition blasted a proposal from Councilwoman Tracy Edwards (D) at a public hearing last week that would add requirements to creating two-family homes.

The law, if approved, would transform the process to create a two-family home in the R-5 Residence District from one that’s as-of-right — not requiring any planning or zoning board review — to one that requires a special-use permit from the Huntington Town Zoning Board of Appeals.

The ZBA would then review the application on a number of criteria and would also consider community input. Those criteria include aesthetics, like ensuring the house looks like a single-family home of no more than two stories, and restricting features, like exposed cellars, large attics, tall roofs, multiple driveways and decks, and prominent secondary entrances, according to the proposed law.

The owner would also have to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the board that he or she would sustain “severe hardship” if the application was denied and that the hardship wasn’t self-created.

Roger Weaving, who spoke on behalf of the coalition, said, on Sept. 16, that the group was strongly opposed to the legislation. In a statement opining on the law, the coalition criticized the current requirements governing two-family home creation as well, calling them “so restrictive as to virtually exclude two-family homes from being created in Huntington.”

“Not only is the resolution arbitrary, it perpetuates racial and class segregation in Huntington, without purpose other than to exclude new people,” Weaving said.

Weaving also said that the proposed amendment includes arbitrary and vague language. It claims two-family homes should look like single family homes, but there’s no specificity on what a single family home should look like.

The proposal said the dwelling should be at least five years of age, but the coalition called this requirement “arbitrary and without purpose other than to exclude two-family homes in Huntington.” Also, the amendment doesn’t describe what constitutes a severe hardship.

The coalition and Weaving claimed the law doesn’t jive with the overall mission to create affordable housing in town for the community’s young people. Two-family homes offer lower rents, and the lower cost of living “allows young people to create a work/life balance, save some hard-earned dollars, and eventually & hopefully set down roots here in Huntington.”

Edwards couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday — her aide said she was traveling. But in prior interviews, the councilwoman has said her main thrust in introducing the law was to give neighbors the chance to comment on such projects, as current town code doesn’t require it. She was inspired to create this law after speaking with a Greenlawn resident who came home one day surprised to find a two-family home in the community.

“You shouldn’t be able to go to work one day thinking that the house being built next to you is a single family and come home from work and find it’s a two-family house,” Edwards said. “Intuitively, that just doesn’t sound like something we want to do.”

Creating sound regulations and requirements for non-single family homes is “appropriate and necessary,” the coalition stated in the letter, and requiring notification of neighbors “makes sense.” But “requiring a five-year wait period and demonstration of a ‘severe hardship’ make no sense.”

The public hearing was closed.

Plan freezes salaries for pols, bumps highway budget

Town board members receive a copy of the 2016 preliminary budget. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) unveiled a $188.7 million preliminary 2016 budget on Wednesday. Sept. 16, that reduces spending slightly from this year and stays within a state-mandated cap on property tax levy increases.

If approved, the budget would amount to a $29 increase for the average homeowner, if looking only at the town’s three major funds. The budget is balanced by a 1.3 percent increase in the town’s tax levy, because Huntington is using fewer funds from reserves to balance the budget, according to a town statement.

The town board voted at a meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 16, to schedule an Oct. 6 public hearing on the budget. The public hearing will take place at 6 p.m.

The spending plan is a “no-frills” budget, which is down from this year’s spending by .2 percent, officials said. The budget would maintain current services and reflects a reduction in staffing through attrition —fewer than five employees due to some retirements in the town’s General Services department, Petrone told reporters after the meeting.

There’s $1.9 million more budgeted for the town’s Highway Department, due to last year’s severe winter. That increase was offset by little to no increase in other major town funds and decreased spending in some of the special districts, a town statement said.

One of the issues the supervisor said he’s wrestling with is funding expenses taxpayers may want but that count against the municipality in its state tax cap levy increase calculations.

To that end, Petrone said officials have not included renewing a multi-million dollar Open Space Bond Act town taxpayers voted in favor of to have the town fund green initiatives, park improvements and land purchases, because revenue raised through the act counts into the town’s tax levy. Petrone also said that the town has been considering putting up a referendum to create a parking district, which could have the authority sell bonds to fund a long-desired parking garage in Huntington village, but that would count against the town’s tax levy calculation.

Petrone said he’s been calling on state lawmakers to look at possible revisions to the tax cap law in cases where voters directly choose to tax themselves.

“This 2016 budget preparation presented challenges and realities that will alter how the town does business going forward, without important changes to the tax cap act,” Petrone wrote in his budget message. “While the tax cap act seeks to stabilize the tax base, it also limits our ability to enhance or expand services to our residents.”

Other highlights of the budget include freezing all salaries for elected officials and appointment management, continued focus on building a $1.5 million new animal shelter and implementing design and initial construction of the James D. Conte Community Center at the former Huntington Armory.

The supervisor also proposed a $15 million capital budget that focuses on improvements to the town’s infrastructure, such as the rehabilitation of various plants and pump stations in the Dix Hills Water District to headworks improvements in the Huntington Sewer District. Funding is also included for road rehabilitation, drainage infrastructure and paving, according to the statement.

Victoria Espinoza contributed reporting

A scene from last year’s Long Island Fall Festival. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Come Oct. 9, Heckscher Park in Huntington will transform into a hub of fall festivity.

The 22nd annual Long Island Fall Festival, which will run until Oct. 12, throughout Columbus Day weekend, will fill the park with fun, featuring vendors, music, food and more. The event is hosted by the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce and Huntington Town.

According to the festival’s website, “This community event highlights the best Huntington has to offer — from its civic-minded businesses, cultural institutions and service organizations, to its restaurants, pubs and retailers.”

More than 300 craft, promotional, retail and non-for-profit vendors will line Prime and Madison streets, adjacent to Heckscher Park, as well as within the grounds of the park.

A scene from last year’s Long Island Fall Festival. File photo by Victoria Espinoza
A scene from last year’s Long Island Fall Festival. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Much like previous years, the festival will have a number of returning vendors, but there will be some new faces, according to Ellen O’Brien, executive director of the chamber. Those include vendors who make birdhouses, sea glass jewelry and more. And for the first time in many years, the festival will feature a farmers’ market.

“It’s always changing,” she said in an August phone interview. “That’s what makes it so exciting.”

Some of the main attractions include four stages of live entertainment, a beer and wine tent, a world-class carnival, two international food courts, a Sunday main stage dedicated to youth talent and more.

O’Brien said that tens of thousands of people frequent the fall festival each day. She also said she’s heard that the festival’s grossed 200,000 park-goers in one weekend.

The chamber’s always on the hunt for new vendors, but space does fill up fast. People learn about the festival through different venues, O’Brien said.

“I think it’s word-of-mouth,” she said. “I think it’s got a mind of its own at this point.”

Those interested in attending the festival can take the Long Island Rail Road to Huntington. There’s free parking at the LIRR train station during that weekend, and round-trip shuttles will run all day, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., for $1, on Saturday and Sunday, she said.

The festival begins Friday, Oct. 9, 5 to 9 p.m., and that night will feature a carnival, food court and music on stage. The fun will continue Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and that day will include vendors, music and shows, a food court and a carnival.

The same activities will be available the following day, Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. And Monday, the festival wraps up from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information and to get involved in this year’s festival, call (631) 423-6100 or visit www.lifallfestival.com.

Huntington Town Board members look over the budget. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) unveiled a $188.7 million preliminary 2016 budget on Wednesday that reduces spending slightly from this year and stays within a state-mandated cap on property tax levy increases.

If approved, the budget would amount to a $29 increase for the average homeowner, if looking only at the town’s three major funds. The budget is balanced by a 1.3-percent increase in the town’s tax levy, because Huntington is using fewer funds from reserves to balance the budget, according to a town statement.

The town board voted at a meeting on Wednesday to schedule an Oct. 6 public hearing on the budget. The public hearing will take place at 6 p.m.

The spending plan is a “no-frills” budget, which is down from this year’s spending by .2 percent, officials said. The budget would maintain current services and reflects a reduction in staffing through attrition —fewer than five employees due to some retirements in the town’s General Services department, Petrone told reporters after the meeting.

There’s $1.9 million more budgeted for the town’s Highway Department, due to last year’s severe winter. That increase was offset by little to no increase in other major town funds, and decreased spending in some of the special districts, a town statement said.

One of the issues the supervisor said he’s wrestling with is funding expenses taxpayers may want, but count against the municipality in its state tax levy increase cap calculations.

To that end, Petrone said officials have not included renewing a multi-million Open Space Bond Act town taxpayers vote in favor of to have the town fund green initiatives, park improvement and land purchases, because revenue raised through the acts counts into the town’s tax levy. Petrone also said that the town has been considering putting up a referendum to create a parking district, which could have the authority to sell bonds to fund a long-desired parking garage in Huntington village, but that would count against the town’s tax levy calculation.

Petrone said he’s been calling on state lawmakers to look at possible revisions to the tax cap law in cases where voters directly choose to tax themselves.

“This 2016 budget preparation presented challenges and realities that will alter how the town does business going forward, without important changes to the tax cap act,” Petrone wrote in his budget message. “While the tax cap act seeks to stabilize the tax base, it also limits our ability to enhance or expand services to our residents.”

Other highlights of the budget included freezing all salaries for elected officials and appointment management, continued focus on building a $1.5 million new animal shelter and implementing design and initial construction of the James D. Conte Community Center at the former Huntington Armory

The supervisor also proposed a $15 million capital budget that focused on improvements to the town’s infrastructure, such as the rehabilitation of various plants and pump stations in the Dix Hills Water District to headworks improvements in the Huntington Sewer District. Funding is also included for road rehabilitation, drainage infrastructure and paving, according to the statement.

Victoria Espinoza contributed reporting.

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Runners kick off at last year’s Great Cow Harbor 10K Run, the anchor event of the annual Cow Harbor Weekend festivities in Northport Village. File photo by Mark D’Angio

Thousands will flock to Northport Village to enjoy the annual Cow Harbor Weekend activities this weekend, but one will be doing it for the last time.

Anchored by the Great Cow Harbor 10K run on Saturday morning, Cow Harbor Weekend also includes a Saturday night concert and a parade and fair in the village on Sunday.

This year will be unique in that it is the last year Ken Savin, longtime Cow Harbor Weekend events chairman, will be organizing the festivities. In a phone interview on Tuesday, Savin said the task of managing the growing, nationally ranked was too large to continue with little help.

“It’s an enormous amount of work,” Savin, a Northport attorney, said. “I can’t do it. The volunteers just aren’t there anymore.”

Savin’s been at the helm for 10 years.

Aside from this year being the last for Savin, not much is different about this year’s race compared to previous years, he said. It has grossed about 5,000 participants, which is typical of previous years, he said.

“It’s the same Northport community, family-oriented day,” he said.

The band Group Therapy will perform on Saturday, Savin said.

The race will go on even after Savin leaves, he said — noting that the race committee has gotten prep down to a science. It’s unclear, however, who will step up to take charge over the rest of the weekend’s events.

On Sunday, the day begins with a parade down Main Street at noon. The parade features local bands, floats, sports teams, high school marching bands, antique cars and more.

Savin said an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 spectators flood the village on Saturday to witness the race, and somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 people attend the Sunday festivities.

Asked why he thinks the race has grown in popularity in its nearly 40 years, Savin said he thinks it’s because “it’s consistent.

“Number one it’s a 10K race, not a 5K,” he said. “The location, you can’t pick a better location as far as scenery and it’s got the challenge of the hills. There are just so many things.”

For more information, visit cowharborrace.com.

The annual Huntington Awareness Day Parade and Fair kicked off on Saturday, beginning at 11 a.m. The parade honored a number of local individuals. Ed Brady, longtime commander of the Suffolk County Police Department’s 2nd Precinct who retired earlier this year, served as the event’s grand marshal. Huntington Awareness Day has become an annual tradition, with thousands of people turning out to celebrate the community’s unity, diversity and solidarity.

Move is part of Stern’s Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative

Suffolk County seeks to help house veterans. File photo
Suffolk County seeks to help house veterans. File photo
Suffolk County seeks to help house veterans. File photo

Suffolk County lawmakers have taken another step toward putting roofs over homeless veterans’ heads.

On Sept. 9, the Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved the transfer of eight tax-defaulted properties to nonprofit agencies that will in turn convert them into affordable rental housing for veterans who are homeless or seriously at risk of becoming homeless.

The move is a significant component of Legislator Steve Stern’s (D) Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative, a multi-pronged legislative package aimed at battling the war against veteran homelessness in Suffolk. Officials have said there are about 750 Long Island veterans who are either homeless or who are expected to be homeless by the end of 2015.

Stern, who is the chairman of the county’s Veterans and Seniors Committee, said the law is a worthy initiative and way to truly give back to those who have served.

“I’ve always said that we all need to do our part in serving those that have served us,” Stern said in a phone interview Friday. “But it can’t just be marching a parade. It can’t just be waving a flag.”

The nonprofits involved would foot the construction bill through possibly more than $10 million in state and federal grant funding available for such projects, Stern said. Funding for the construction will be provided in part from the New York State Homeless Housing Assistance Program and United States Department of Housing and Urban Development HOME Investment Partnerships Program.

A total of 14 units of housing would be created among the eight properties that have been transferred, Stern said.

Two parcels in Central Islip will be transferred to the Concern for Independent Living for the construction of three single-family homes. Bay Shore-based United Veterans Beacon House has proposed to rehabilitate an existing home on a Copiague parcel, and build a single-family unit on a Yaphank parcel.

In addition, the Association for Mental Health and Wellness is proposing to build a new four-bedroom house for three senior disabled veterans and a live-in house manager on two parcels in Mastic; rehabilitate a house in Riverhead for one veteran family; and build a new set of four, single room occupancies for veterans on a parcel in Medford.

“As an agency committed to ensuring empowering people to overcome the impact of health and mental health disabilities, it is our intent to devote these houses to assist male and female veterans who have been affected by service-connected and post-service transition mental health challenges,” said Michael Stoltz, Chief Executive Officer of the Association for Mental Health and Wellness said in a previous statement. “I thank Suffolk County for partnering with our organization to further assist us in supporting our veterans.”

Stern’s hoping the first unit to be completed — the Copiague parcel — will be built within a year. “The timing is going to be very varied depending on the particular locations,” he said.

Housing our Homeless Heroes doesn’t stop at just housing. At the same meeting, the Legislature approved Helping Our Veterans lane (HOV lane) legislation, sponsored by Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip) and Stern. The legislation’s goal is to expedite veteran services within the county’s Department of Social Services.

Stern said many times, veterans walk into the county’s DSS for services they may typically need from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and they are “turned away.” He said it becomes challenge to get them to come back to a government assistance office. The HOV lane legislation would make it so that veterans who are seeking services at DSS would get paired with a veteran services officer. Their requests would be fast-tracked when the walk into the department — regardless of whether they’re at the right office.

“That’s very important here because veterans, too many of them, face too many challenges and time becomes very important,”
Stern said.

Stern said he’s proud of the enactment of Housing our Homeless Heroes.

“I have every reason to believe that it’s going to serve as model for the rest of the country,” he said.