Authors Posts by Sara-Megan Walsh

Sara-Megan Walsh

Sara-Megan Walsh
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Huntington YMCA employees and town officials at a ceremonial groundbreaking Oct. 25 on a new facility. Photo from Facebook

The ground has been broken and construction is underway on a new building for the Huntington YMCA that will nearly triple the size of its existing facility, allowing it to expand the programs it offers to the community.

The YMCA of Long Island and Huntington Town officials held a ceremonial groundbreaking Oct. 25 to celebrate the start of construction of a 29,000-square-foot Health Living Center. The new facility will allow Huntington YMCA to expand its fitness and preventative health programs that focus on chronic disease prevention and recovery.

“Our Health Living Center is a tremendous step forward, allowing us the capacity to achieve this goal and provide our community with the programs it needs,” said Anne Brigis, president and CEO of the YMCA of Long Island in a statement. “We have listened intently to the needs of the Huntington community, and we’re excited to begin building our Health Living Center into a gathering place for individuals to grow, learn and lead healthy lives.”

The new state-of-the-art center will include a 7,500-square-foot gym with a suspended running track above it, cycling studios, several multi-purpose adult fitness rooms and a new child care center. There will also be room set aside for the YMCA to expand its programs that focus on chronic disease prevention and recovery, including Moving for Better Balance (a fall prevention program), a diabetes prevention program and senior wellness walks.

The conceptual rendering of the new Huntington YMCA. Photo from YMCA of Long Island

“The Y is more than a swimming pool or an athletic field,” said New York State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport). “At its heart, the Huntington YMCA is a community center where people can engage with physical and mental health and get the care they need. The Healthy Living and education programs all work to help these local communities and provide very necessary programs to people from all walks of life.”

The Health Living Center is being built in accordance with New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) new health initiative, which calls for a stronger emphasis on preventive health measures and education.

The nearly $9 million price-tag of the new building is being paid for through a combination of public-private partnership, according to Beverly Lacy, vice president of philanthropy for YMCA LI. The organization has received both a $400,000 and $500,0000 Empire State Development award from the state office which aims to support local business development and job creation through efficient use of financial assistance, and several generous private individual donations.

The Town of Huntington received a municipality grant to improve the parking lots shared by the town’s facilities, the senior center, Huntington YMCA and the Cinema Arts Center.

Construction of the new facility is anticipated to to be complete in 12 to 18 months, according to a YMCA spokesperson.

Once construction is complete, Lacy said that the Huntington YMCA will be able to move its programs currently held in the town’s John J. Flanagan Center, where it rents space, into the new facility.

“We have had a great relationship and it’s good to work with the town, but the facility is a little tired,” Lacey said. It’s hard to keep the heating and cooling where it needs to be. It’s hard to use the space for our purposes, as for health and wellness classes you want to be able to control the temperature.”

Town spokesman A.J. Carter said there are no future plans for Flanagan center’s use.

Incumbent Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D) will face Republican challenger Dom Spada to represent the county’s 18th District. File photo, right; photo on right from Dom Spada

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Suffolk County’s current fiscal crisis is the motivation for a Huntington Bay resident to campaign against the incumbent for a seat in the Suffolk legislature.

Dom Spada, deputy mayor of the Village of Huntington Bay and second assistant chief of the Halesite Fire Department, is running as the Republican candidate against incumbent Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D) to represent the county’s 18th legislative district.

Spada said it’s his concern over the county’s “dire” financial situation that has inspired him to run for political office.

“We have a huge spending problem here in Suffolk County,” he said. “We have the worst gang and opioid problem we’ve had in decades with a huge deficit and debt. I think it’s time for a change.”

The county has a budgetary shortfall of more than $150 million for 2017, according to County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) September budget proposal for 2018, and is roughly $2 billion in debt.

“We have the worst gang and opioid problem we’ve had in decades with a huge deficit and debt. I think it’s time for a change.”

— Dom Spada

Spada said he believes elected officials need to stop “spending so much money on nonsense” and cut wasteful spending, citing examples like $150,000 for a study on a guard rail in Rocky Point and $350,000 approved to design two miles of sidewalks. If elected, he said he will request reviews of all county contracts with outside vendors to see if better rates can be negotiated.

Spencer, a physician with his own Huntington practice and an ordained minister, was first elected to the Legislature in 2012 and is seeking re-election for his fourth term. Since taking office, Spencer said he’s been conscious of the county’s “abysmal” finances and has worked to improve it.

“I have a building, I have a home and a mortgage; there’s good debt and bad debt,” he said. “It’s the same thing in government. I believe when we invest in our public safety, our environment and our infrastructure, it’s good debt.”

Spencer pointed to various cost-saving measures he’s approved including reducing the county’s workforce by 10 percent; consolidating the offices of the comptroller and treasurer; and getting out of an unfunded mandate to build a new prison which he estimated saved the county approximately $100 million. He also noted he voted to freeze legislative officials’ salaries and agreed to contribute to his own health insurance.

If re-elected, the incumbent said he will continue to look to improve efficiencies, reduce waste and seek additional funds.

“I believe we send more to Albany and the federal government than we get back,” Spencer said. “I believe we should get our fair share.”

“I believe when we invest in our public safety, our environment and our infrastructure, it’s good debt.”

— Doc Spencer

His Republican challenger said the increasing number of fees — the mortgage fee, red-light camera fees, false home alarm fee, cremation fees — to make up the county’s budgetary shortfall is unfair to taxpayers. Spada said he’d repeal all “illegal” fees if elected as he doesn’t believe the fees’ cost is commensurate with the services being provided.

Spencer said he’s weighed and questioned each individual fee as they’ve come up for a vote. He supported the cremation fee, but said he agreed he’d like to review the red-light camera system and modify the home alarm fee so that a homeowner’s first false alarm requires them to register with the county but no monetary penalty.

The Legislature hopefuls also discussed opioid and heroin addiction, one of the most widespread issues plaguing the county as a whole.

The Republican candidate said he would like to see more officers on the street and requirements that anyone saved from an overdose through Narcan be required to immediately be transported to a treatment facility for a 72-hour stay, similar to treatment for mentally disturbed patients.

Spencer said the county’s resources are limited in combating opioid/heroin addition and gang violence. If re-elected, he said he would continue looking for state funding to increase the number of treatment beds for addicts and get qualified physicians more involved in the county’s 24-hour hotline and emergency resources.

Huntington councilwoman Susan Berland (D) races against Republican Hector Gavilla to represent Suffolk’s 16th Legislative District. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Two candidates are vying to represent Suffolk County’s 16th Legislative District as term limits force incumbent Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) to step down after 12 years of service.

Democratic candidate Susan Berland, of Dix Hills, has served Huntington residents as a councilwoman for more than 16 years. She has drafted the town’s blight legislation for abandoned or unsafe buildings and structures, placed restrictions on bamboo growth, and had free sunscreen dispensers installed at town beaches.

Republican hopeful Hector Gavilla, also of Dix Hills, is seeking political office for the first time. Gavilla has been a licensed real estate broker since 2003, and has run Commack-based Long Island Professional Realty since 2010.

The candidates are concerned with the county’s financial future, affordable housing and public safety. Both nominees said with Suffolk expecting a budgetary deficit of more than $150 million this year, there is a need for the incoming legislator to help bring finances under control by consolidating
services wherever possible.

“We spent over $600 million for social services and we never ask these people if they are illegal aliens.”

— Hector Gavilla

Berland also proposes that the county’s sale tax be increased by 0.25 percent, from 8.625 to 8.875 percent, and that all county employees be asked to chip in and help contribute to their health insurance.

“That really spreads it among everybody equally and that would help raise money,” she said during a recent candidate debate at TBR News Media’s Setauket office.

Gavilla said if elected he would look to save money in two of the largest areas of the county’s budget: police department salaries, as their contract ends 2018, and social services.

“We spent over $600 million for social services and we never ask these people if they are illegal aliens,” he said. “I want to make sure these people are American citizens.”

While residents continue to struggle with the cost of living in Huntington township, the two candidates disagreed on what measures would improve quality of life.

Gavilla said his platform puts taxpayers first by looking to reduce backdoor fees, like the mortgage fee and false alarm fee, and stop wasteful government spending in attempt to build transit-oriented or affordable housing.

“We have an obligation to provide different types of housing for different people,” Berland countered.

“We have an obligation to provide different types of housing for different people.”

— Susan Berland

The councilwoman said if elected to the legislature she would support high-density, mixed-use retail and apartment space as a way of helping to preserve existing open space, like parks and golf courses.

Gavilla said he would rather see 20-year tax abatements offered to large businesses in an effort to attract more job opportunities.

For current residents, public safety in combating gang-related violence and the heroin/opioid crisis is a top priority.

Berland said she would suggest bringing back the county’s DARE program to educate elementary school children on the dangers of gangs and drug use. She also recommended closer cooperation among law enforcement officials and drug courts, which offer addicts a choice of treatment or jail time for drug-related offenses.

“We need to have cooperation between the police department, FBI, town and code enforcement to draw together and combat these issues,” she said.

Gavilla said he’d propose much stricter prosecution and enforcement on drug dealers, increase police patrols, and arrest and deport any illegal immigrant.

“I want to make sure every single illegal alien who commits a crime has to be deported,” he said. “Today, we have many illegal aliens coming in and they have become a burden on society.”

The Town of Smithtown will have a different look in 2018. File photo by Phil Corso
Tom McCarthy. Photo by Kevin Redding

Voters will have six diverse options when they step into the voting booth to select two candidates to represent them on Smithtown Town Board Nov. 7.

In a sit-down Oct. 26 at the TBR News Media office in Setauket, the six candidates stated their positions on downtown revitalization, traffic and what the biggest issue the town faces looking ahead to 2018.

Incumbent Councilman Thomas McCarthy (R), who is also the deputy town supervisor was first elected to the board in 1997. Incumbent Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R), a St. James resident and former Suffolk legislator for 12 years, is also seeking re-election.

Lynne Nowick. Photo by Kevin Redding

McCarthy and Nowick said they are proud of the work they have done to push forward the downtown revitalization of Lake Avenue in St. James. The issue in other areas, the incumbents said, is sewers for the town’s business districts. With New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) promising $40 million in state funds, it’s a project they said is slowly but steadily moving forward.

“We need to continue what we are doing,” McCarthy said. “We have a five-year plan that is the best five-year plan we’ve ever had.”

During her first term in office, Nowick said residents have reached out to her primarily regarding quality of life issues. If re-elected, she said she plans to focus on addressing the continuous need to improve the town’s roadways, sidewalks, parks and beaches; areas where she feels she can make a difference, as she said her ability to push revitalization is limited.

“I am frustrated with the landlords of these [downtown] buildings,” Nowick said. “We can’t have a community that’s alive unless the buildings have stores. What can we do to entice the landlords to bring in new businesses?”

Bob Doyle. Photo by Kevin Redding

Their Republican primary challengers have kept their names on the ballot because they said they believe the town needs sweeping change. Nesconset resident Bob Doyle, who served for more than 37 years in law enforcement and is a U.S. Army veteran, has joined with Tom Lohmann, of Smithtown, a former member of the New York City Police Department and current investigator for the county district attorney’s  insurance crime bureau. The pair is still running on the Conservative party line.

“First and foremost, the first thing you have to do is a comprehensive master plan done with the inclusion of the community,” Lohmann said. “By far, the biggest topics of concern are the downtown business district is dying and traffic.”

Tom Lohman. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Conservative candidates, if elected, said they want to update the town’s comprehensive master plan to include all hamlets, in consultation with civic groups and local businesses. Lohmann said to do this he would start up quarterly community meetings in different hamlets so town officials could sit down with residents to hear concerns and get feedback. Doyle vowed to seek a traffic study in conjunction with state and county officials, using the latest technology to find a solution to improve flow on Smithtown’s roadways.

“Traffic, bar none, is the biggest issue,” Doyle said. “Residents are extremely frustrated with the flow of traffic in Smithtown.”

His sentiments were echoed by Nowick and two other challengers.

Democratic candidates Amy Fortunato, a Smithtown resident of 30 years, and Patricia Stoddard, a retired Smithtown school district teacher, are both eyeing seats on the town board. They said the main issues of Smithtown are downtown revitalization, traffic and government reform, much like their opponents.

Amy Fortunato. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I think we need an overall town survey,” Fortunato said. “What type of stores do we want? What do we want to see downtown? We need a comprehensive master plan that would distinguish the business district using town code.”

McCarthy countered that there is funding proposed to be set aside in both 2018 and 2019 to help update and overhaul the town’s codes, which have not been updated in decades.

However, Stoddard said the need to update town code is similar to the need to update the town’s master plan — something citizens have begun on their own.

Patricia Stoddard. Photo by Kevin Redding

“We need a master plan so we have something to build toward,” Stoddard said, pointing to Smithtown United Civic Association’s recently released draft proposal that focused on the district’s New York Avenue building. “It seems like a really good start using smart growth.”

Both Democratic candidates said the Smithtown town board has been more adversarial than cooperative, with town board meeting agendas being difficult to understand and public details on capital projects hard to come by. They vowed to improve transparency through increased communications on the town website and social media.

The two candidates elected to the town board will each serve a four-year term and receive an annual salary of $68,500 based on the proposed 2018 budget, posted on the town’s website.

Incumbent Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), Democratic candidate Emily Rogan and Republicans Jim Leonick and Ed Smyth are competing for two seats on Huntington's town board. Photos by Alex Petroski
Incumbent Mark Cuthbertson (D). Photo by Alex Petroski

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Four candidates for the Huntington town board are deeply divided on what steps are needed to ensure a brighter future for residents.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) is seeking re-election to his sixth term on town council with political newcomer Huntington resident Emily Rogan (D). She is a freelance writer who has served as a trustee for Huntington school board for 12 years, four of which as the board’s president. Rogan seeks to take over the seat of Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D), who chose to run for Huntington supervisor rather than seek re-election to town council.

They will face off against Republican candidate Jim Leonick, of East Northport, an attorney with his own practice who has previously worked as a state tax grievance arbiter. He is running with Lloyd Harbor resident Ed Smyth, also an attorney who has served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and previously on the Village of Lloyd Harbor’s board of zoning appeals.

While the candidates all profess a love for Huntington, they disagreed on what shape or form its future development should take.

Republican candidate Jim Leonick. Photo by Alex Petroski

Cuthbertson said one of his main goals is creating more housing for senior citizens and millennials to enable them to stay in town. Rogan agreed to the need for a walkable community that incorporates mixed-use retail and apartment spaces in the town, citing downtown Huntington Station and Melville’s Route 110 as prime locations.

“The entire town benefits when all of our town is thriving and feels uplifted,” Rogan said. “People want to see Huntington Station become as desirable a place to be as downtown Huntington village, downtown Northport Village or Cold Spring Harbor.”

Leonick and Smyth both said they feel these developments aren’t considered desirable by residents, saying current town board simply isn’t listening. The Republican
candidates said rather than high-density apartments, they would make it easier for seniors to put accessory apartments in their homes for additional income.

Democratic challenger and political newcomer Emily Rogan. Photo by Alex Petroski

“Density is part of a plan that will allow us to sustain our local economy,” Cuthbertson responded in a recent debate at TBR News Media offices in Setauket. “We’ve already liberalized the rules of apartments to put apartments over stores in our downtown areas. In Huntington village, it’s been very successful.”

Rather than more housing, Smyth and Leonick said their focus would be outreach to bring large businesses to Melville’s Route 110 business corridor to increase jobs.

“The best path to affordable housing is a bigger paycheck,” Smyth said.

Leonick took it one step further calling for re-evaluation of the town’s comprehensive master plan Horizons 2020.

“The biggest thing we need to do is put the brakes on future development projects until we get a handle on what we need to be doing,” Leonick said.

Both Republican candidates said that if elected, they would focus on improving the status of the town’s roadways and traffic issues. Smyth called the town’s roads “deplorable,” citing Prime Avenue as an example, after utility companies have cut them up to lay wires and infrastructure, calling for changes to town code. Leonick heavily criticized town officials for a lack of parking in Huntington village.

Republican candidate Ed Smyth. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It takes a half hour of driving around to get a spot,” he said. “You can’t continue to develop in the village without solving that problem. We should have had a parking garage a while ago.”

Cuthbertson said the town’s work on a parking garage began two years ago, with a failed attempt at a public-private partnership, but is now moving forward. He pointed to the lack of empty stores downtown as a sign of success.

Rogan agreed that the town’s roadways need change, not more paving, but rather to become more pedestrian and bicyclist friendly. She wants to focus on a public campaign and signage to improve driver awareness.

State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci, a Republican, faces off against Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards, a Democrat, for Huntington Town supervisor. File photos

Two of Huntington’s elected officials are running against one another to snag the open seat of town supervisor, as 24-year incumbent Frank Petrone (D) announced he was not seeking re-election. The candidates met recently at TBR News Media offices in Setauket.

Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) was elected to the town board in 2014, after serving 10 years on the Elwood board of education. She worked for 37 years at Verizon, climbing the ladder to regional president of network operations.

Edwards said she is running to see through some of the changes and programs she’s started.

State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci is running for Huntington Town supervisor. File photo

State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R) was elected in 2012, and serves as the ranking Republican member on the Assembly Higher Education Committee. Previously, he was a trustee on the South Huntington school board for nine years. He now wants to bring his experience to benefit the town.

Both Edwards and Lupinacci agree that public safety is one of the biggest issues the next supervisor will face.

Lupinacci stressed that the next supervisor will need to ensure the town cooperates with county and state officials to pool resources to keep the pressure on gangs and the heroin/opiate addiction issue. He proposes monthly meetings with area school superintendents to help determine how the town can help school districts, and more after-school and summer programs like the Tri-CYA to keep youths off the streets.

Edwards said the effort to cooperate for the sake of improving public safety is already there.

“The things we are doing right is that we have partnered with the [county] police department, we have partnered with the state liquor authority, and we have been a participant going with them on raids,” she said. “We are intimately involved in that to address the criminal nature of the code aspect of it, so that if there is something, we can shut it down.”

The Democratic candidate pointed to the recent shutdown of two Huntington Station bars with ties to gang activity, but said the town needs to be even more proactive. Her five-point plan to improve public safety includes getting more state resources to create a stronger public safety office within the town, creation of a heroin/opiate task force and adding more lighting to improve visibility in areas that are hot zones for crime.

Governmental reforms are needed in Huntington, according to both candidates, starting with a three-term limit, or 12 years, in office.

Edwards also wants to create additional meetings where town department heads meet directly with citizens to hear and answer their concerns, make town hall’s entrance more customer service-oriented, and distributing government forms to local libraries to make them easier to obtain.

Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards is running for supervisor. File photo

Lupinacci suggests increasing the number of town board meetings and taking them on the road, hosting them in schools to allow more people to attend. Edwards disagreed.

“Taking town hall on the road would be confusing to people,” she said. “I think people will be showing up at town hall and have no idea where the town board is meeting.”

Lupinacci said a list of town board meeting dates and locations could be printed on the annual recycling calendar mailing.

“We also need to increase the amount of residents’ speaking time,” he said. “Right now, it’s clipped at three minutes. We want to increase it to five minutes to give people more time to speak on the issues.”

His other proposals include creating an online checkbook on the town’s website where taxpayers can see where their money is being spent, create an online freedom of information to request town documents, and providing a greater breakdown of the town budgeting process over a series of meetings to allow for more input.

Lupinacci also stressed the lack of available parking in Huntington village is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed — he says a parking garage is overdue.

Edwards insists a parking garage for the village is currently in the works, but said each of the town’s hamlets have different issues of importance.

Northport police have played a key roll in providing information that may get a suspected heroin dealer off the village’s streets.

Three Northport Village Police Department officers worked on a joint operation with the Suffolk County Police Department, Suffolk County Sherrif’s office and Suffolk County District Attorney’s office to execute a search warrant on a Central Islip home Oct. 11 that led to the arrest of an alleged heroin dealer.

In searching the Wilson Avenue apartment, officers found and confiscated 33 grams of heroin, seven grams of Fentanyl, $3,050 in cash along with drug scales and drug packaging materials. A 2016 Honda was also seized in the raid.

Davon McNair, 25, of Central Islip, was found and arrested a short distance from his home, and found to be in possession of crack cocaine, according to police.

Davon McNair mugshot. Photo from Northport Police Department

“Anyone who sells this poison in our village can expect the Northport police to pursue them to wherever their trail leads,” said Chief Bill Ricca of the Northport Police Department.

Ricca said the information that led to McNair came to light when two of his officers made unrelated arrests for drug possession in May. Upon questioning those in custody, police were able to piece together details that appeared to lead back to the same individual making heroin sales not only in Northport but throughout Suffolk County. The intelligence was brought before the Suffok County task force, who had undercover agents purchase heroin from McNair on three different occasions over several months before applying for the search warrant.

McNair, a known member of the Bloods street gang, was charged with five felony counts of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and one misdemeanor count of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. He is currently being held on $100,000 bond/$50,000 cash bail.

“McNair maintains his innocence, defends his reputation, and will vigorously defend himself against these charges,” said his defense attorney Pierre Bazile.

In the past few weeks, Northport police have also been involved providing Suffolk County police with information that led to the arrest of Manorville resident Donald Guichard Sept. 20. Guichard was arrested for allegedly growing more than 100 marijuana plants in a subterreanian home for sale, according to Suffolk police.

“We like to let the public know when we can get bad guys off the street,” Ricca said. “But if there is more to gain, we don’t publicize it.”
Ricca said he was confident strict enforcement polices seem to be reducing the amount of drugs in the village.

“For the first time in three or four years, we’re seeing a downtick so far,” he said, noting there are three months left in the year. “We’ve been told by those we arrest or informants that the word is out — ‘stay away from Northport.’”

The steeple of St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Northport has been leaking for more than a decade. Photos by Sara-Megan Walsh

A Northport congregation is praying for community help in order to save a pinnacle of the town’s history and landscape.

St. Paul’s Methodist Church has launched a capital campaign seeking to raise $300,000 to make structural repairs to the building’s historic steeple and preserve the sanctuary’s stained glass windows. The parish has found innovative ways to deal with the leaking steeple for nearly a decade, but the need for restoration has heightened as more extensive damage has occurred over time.

Pastor Kristina Hansen, religious leader of St. Paul’s, said the issue of rainwater leaking into the church’s sanctuary predates her arrival in 2010. Parishioner Alex Edwards-Bourdrez, who has been at the church for 26 years,  said determining the leak’s source took a lot of guesswork. Churchgoers used pots and pans to catch the water for years, and Hansen said the church even replaced the building’s roof “at hefty cost,” which did little to solve the problem.

“That’s when we realized the real problem was the steeple,” she said. “The steeple was the culprit all along. It’s gotten to a point we can’t ignore or make do anymore.”

The church’s original steeple, built in 1873, is iconic, made of white-painted wooden boards with a copper dome on top. It’s steeped in more than rainwater, as throughout the decade parishioners have signed their names on the walls of the bell tower as they’ve made confirmation or held a position of service in the congregation.

A stained glass window in the church’s sanctuary. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Edwards-Bourdrez said the steeple’s leak has gradually limited church activities, restricting use of the balcony for seating and preventing performance of the bell choir during inclement weather.

St. Paul’s has had a number of different construction firms come to review the damage and give estimates on the cost of repairs to preserve the historic structure, Hansen said. Initial prices range from $125,000 to $150,000, according to the pastor, but that could increase once scaffolding is built and a closer inspection is made of the two- to three-story high structure. The church has had temporary repairs done to prevent any further damage at the moment.

“Right now, for the first time in a decade, it isn’t leaking, but it’s not going to hold,” she said.

In addition to repairs to the steeple, the pastor said that the church is seeking donors to help preserve the sanctuary’s turn-of-the-century stained glass windows. The leading between sections of glass has started to deteriorate, which leaves the weight of the stained glass unsupported and prone to collapse. The estimated cost of repairing a single window can run more than $20,000, according to Hansen.

“I don’t know how much of the original work is still being done anymore,” she said. “It’s a part of the character of the sanctuary.”

The parish is hoping with the community’s support to upgrade its bathrooms, which are frequently used by residents for athletic events, artistic performances and local organizations like the Boy Scouts. This past Cow Harbor Day, churchgoers invited runners and spectators in need of a restroom inside to use the outdated facilities. The church wants to update its bathrooms and stairways to be fully handicapped accessible.

“With how many people we have in our building, we want our hospitality to be better,” Hansen said. “Any way we can make it more accessible, we want to do.”

The church’s capital campaign has already found support in the Northport community with John W. Engeman Theatre at Northport offering to donate $25,000 over the next three years. Hansen said a golf fundraiser is being held Oct. 16, with more events being planned in the upcoming weeks.

Jo Ann Katz, owner of Northport Plays, said the church has “been her home” for Northport Reader’s Theater and the Northport One-Act Play Festival over the years. It has provided a location for Long Island theater groups and actors to come together, with the yearly festival taking place on the parish’s stage in the gymnasium.

Katz will coproduce a special performance of “Ever Random,” a new play written by Long Island playwright Patrick Sherrard, to benefit St. Paul’s Nov. 5 at 3 p.m. The play is described as a touching comedy that explores a family’s struggles in the wake of a great loss. The show recently finished its September run at Manhattan Repertory Theatre.

Tickets cost $15 and reservations can be made by visiting www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3099845.

Hansen said St. Paul’s members are grateful for the community coming together to support the steeple’s repair.

“You can see the steeple from the harbor as you are coming up the street. It’s one of those iconic marks,” she said. “The fact is it’s compromising this beautiful sanctuary.”

Huntington town officials hope federal funding will help crack down on drug use and gang violence. File photo

Huntington town officials were pleased to find out they will be receiving federal and county funding to implement local programs addressing drugs and gang violence. 

The town will be receiving part of the $500,000 federal grant awarded to Suffolk County Police Department from the U.S. Department of Justice Oct. 5 to combat the influence of street gangs such as MS-13. The grant comes from the justice department’s Project Safe Neighborhoods, a national initiative aimed at stemming gang and gun violence through enforcement and community outreach programs.

“This is the fruits of a collaboration between Suffolk County Police Department and our town officials,” Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) said. “The gang situation and opioid crisis are symptoms of something larger. While they are working on enforcement, we locally have to work on prevention and intervention.”

Edwards said she called for a meeting this past July with top Suffolk County officials including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), Police Commissioner Tim Sini (D) and town officials upon learning about this grant’s available to come up with a strategy.

“We agreed at that meeting that tackling the problem required working together to coordinate the work being done by law enforcement and social services and youth programs,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said. “The funding will enable us to move ahead at full speed towards making a dent in the effects gangs and violent crime have had on the quality of life in some of our neighborhoods.”

Edwards said she did not know exactly how much of the grant, or what funds, will be directed to the Huntington community, she will start working with local leadership to see what form the prevention and intervention initiatives will take.

“The money is now available to create these initiatives,” the councilwoman said. “We will work with community leaders and school districts to see what is best for their needs.”

Edwards said she hopes to gather these “key stakeholders” together in November, once election season is over. Ideas will also be brainstormed by Huntington’s Youth Council, a group comprised of students from each of the town’s nine high schools which meets monthly.

In addition to the federal grant, Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) announced the county legislature approved spending $70,000 to purchase two license plate scanners for the police department’s 2nd Precinct.

“It doesn’t infringe on civil liberties, but gives the police a heads up while they are cruising around,” Spencer said.

This will bring the precinct’s total up to five scanners allowing them better coverage of Huntington’s main roadways when searching for stolen cars or those on a watch list    whether protectively for an Amber Alert or wanted for suspected drug trafficking.

Spencer said, as a member of the county’s new Heroin and Opiate Advisory Panel, that recent reports pointed to Route 110 as a roadway heavily used for drug trafficking. He hoped the addition of two license plate scanners will help reduce the illegal activity in the Huntingon area.

“I want to keep the pressure moving in a positive direction and not only being reactive when there is some sort of public safety incident that has occurred,” he said.

A conceptual rendering of the proposed K.I.D.S. Plus adult group home in Greenlawn. Photo from Facebook

Greenlawn residents rallied before Huntington Town officials Oct. 17 seeking answers to their questions about proposed plans for a group home on Cuba Hill Road.

More than a dozen community members spoke out at the town board meeting in which the Northport-based nonprofit K.I.D.S. Plus presented plans for an 8,000-square-foot group home for adults with physical and developmental disabilities. Residents raised concerns about traffic, noise, overall size of the home and density of group homes in the area, but ultimately found themselves with more questions than answers.

“I’m really trying hard not to have the knee-jerk reaction of not in my backyard,” said Manan Shah, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner. “We want to be partners. We want to understand. But to ask us to give you an 8,000-square-foot home without giving us information is unfair.”

Sergio Gallardo, of Greenlawn, said the Cuba Hill Road residents weren’t given an opportunity to speak with K.I.D.S. Plus founder Tammie Topel to learn what types of disabilities the home’s residents would have or review the business plans.

“We assumed you would have sat down with the people who live in the area prior to this hearing,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said. “Obviously, that didn’t happen.”

Topel, a Northport resident and member of the Northport school district’s board of education, is a well-known advocate for children with special needs as she has spoken publicly on several occasions about her son, Brandon, who is diagnosed with autism. She explained her “dream” plan is to build a group home for eight adults, 21 years of age and older, on the 2-acre wooded lot. The house would have an administrator/coordinator on site 24/7 to oversee the health and safety of residents in addition to a rotating staff of specialists and caregivers based on individual residents’ needs, according to Topel.

“There is a waiting list in New York state of greater than 11,000 people who need homes and we are trying to mitigate the problem,” she said. “We are trying to provide assistance for parents of children, young adults and adults who need a supportive independent place to live.”

However, residents were quick to point out that the K.I.D.S. Plus home would not be the first facility of its type in community.

“Within a half-mile of my home in any direction, and my neighbors as well, there are three group homes already — this would be a fourth,” said William Whitcomb, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner of 10 years. “Regardless of the nature of the residents, four is simply too much.”

Another major concern voiced repeatedly was the proposed size of the group home in comparison to the existing homes. Neighbors expressed fears that it would alter the area’s character, giving it a more commercial feel.

“The homes tend not to be very large; the properties are large, that’s why we like to live there,” said Taylor McLam, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner who said his residence is approximately 1,200 square feet by comparison. “Seven times the size of my house seems a little much.”

Jules Smilow, a resident of Darryl Lane, expressed sympathy, saying that a group home that was more commensurate in size to the existing residences would be more agreeable.

Many Greenlawn property owners, including Rebecca Gutierrez and Stephen Wuertz, pointed to the three existing group homes in the area with concerns of noise from handicapped transportation and delivery trucks, increased traffic and possible behavior incidents involving future residents.

“I think one of the things that is happening here is some people don’t know what disability looks like and what it is all about,” said George Wurzer, a licensed clinical social worker.

Wurzer said he operates a number of group homes for children diagnosed with autism. While many were met by resistance  from their surrounding communities at first, he said that over time there was more acceptance and the neighbors learned more about developmental disabilities from the experience.

“Tammie’s vision is the next evolutionary stage in helping people with disabilities,” Wurzer said.

Petrone admitted it was, in part, the town’s fault that residents did not have critical information to fairly evaluate the group home proposal. He directed Anthony Aloisio, the director of planning and environment, to arrange for a community meeting between residents and Topel.

Topel has posted a proposed blueprint of the building on the K.I.D.S. Plus Facebook page. There are several upcoming public meetings to provide those interested  with more information Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at Signature Premier Properties in East Northport, and Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. at Cause Cafe in Fort Salonga.

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