Community

The St. James firehouse on Route 25A/Lake Avenue. Photo from Google Maps

A vote that may determine the future fate of a St. James firehouse has been set for June 19.

The board of commissioners of the St. James Fire District voted to move forward with holding a June 19 public referendum on the sale of the Route 25A firehouse to the St. James Fire Department, a nonprofit organization that is made up of the volunteer firefighters and EMS workers.

The white, two-story firehouse at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 25A was purchased nearly five years ago by the St. James Fire District — which consists of elected officials who are responsible for setting taxes to provide and maintain the buildings and fire and EMS service equipment the volunteers use. The district’s hope was that purchase of the building would help reduce its annual expenses, as it was paying rent for space to the St. James Fire Department.

“Given the current state of the building and the fire district’s needs, maintaining ownership of this property is no longer a fiscally prudent option,” Commissioner Ed Springer said.

The Route 25A firehouse, built in 1922, has not been significantly renovated or updated in more than 50 years. The fire district said the antiquated building cannot house a majority of its current fire engines due to height restrictions of the garage bay, so only one truck operates out of the location.

Given the current state of the building and the fire district’s needs, maintaining ownership of this property is no longer a fiscally prudent option.”
– Ed Springer

Under the original contract of sale, there was a clause that stipulated the St. James Fire Department would be given the first chance to repurchase the building should the district put it up for sale. This contract has been upheld by the New York State Supreme Court and the state attorney general’s office.

“Selling it back to the department would carry a number of benefits: the department, as they are under different laws and regulations than the fire district, would be able to expedite repairs and improvements to the facility, through the use of its budget,” Springer said.

If the building’s sale is approved June 19, there will be no tax rate impact on fire district residents.

The proposed sale has led to widespread concern through the St. James community about the future of the firehouse and whether it would still be an active station. Earlier this year, Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard voiced concerns about the district’s proposed plans to consolidate all operations out of its Jefferson Avenue headquarters. Dahlgard said he feared it would significantly increase response times for his residents, placing them at increased risk, as that station is farther away.

Bill Kearney, vice chairmen of the St. James Fire District board, said the goal of possible consolidation would be to improve emergency response times by bringing key personnel together at one location.

To better assess the community’s needs and concerns, the fire district launched an online survey asking residents, taxpayers and business operations in St. James and Head of the Harbor to anonymously provide feedback on their fire rescue services by April 30. A preliminary draft of the survey’s responses has been given to the fire commissioners, according to spokeswoman Jessica Novins, but had not been released to the public as of May 22. The fire commissioners have not had time to review the preliminary draft yet, according to Novins.

A community forum for residents within the fire district will be held Wednesday, May 30, at 7 p.m. where information will be presented about the sale, future plans for the Route 25A building will be addressed and to answer any questions regarding the referendum. The location of the May 30 meeting is to be determined by May 24 and then posted on the fire district’s website at www.stjamesfd.org.

Suffolk County Department of Social Services Commissioner John O’Neill and PJS/TCA Vice President Sal Pitti field resident questions at Comsewogue Public Library May 22. Photo by Alex Petroski

A viral video of a lewd act in public and rumors about a large-scale new development project are probably why most attended the meeting, but emotions set the tone.

Anger, passion, fear and compassion flowed like a river during a nearly three-hour meeting of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association at the Comsewogue Public Library May 22. It was the civic’s scheduled meeting for May, but the regular members acknowledged this was an out-of-the-ordinary community gathering.

Earlier this month, a cellphone video of two people, believed to be homeless, having sex at a Suffolk County bus stop in Port Jefferson Station spread not only across the community, but the country. As a result of that incident, and in an effort to ascertain the facts about an announcement made by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office May 10 that he was allocating about $8 million in funding for a large-scale affordable housing apartment complex for the homeless in Port Jeff Station, the civic association invited leaders from across local government to attend and field resident questions and concerns.

“This is how it starts,” civic association President Edward Garboski said at one point during the meeting, as tensions rose among the approximately 200 people who crammed into The Richard Lusak Community Room at the library. “None of these people are going to give you a solution to this problem tonight. Most of the people in this room have never been to a civic meeting. This is how it starts. We invited all these people here. They’re going to hear us speak. We continue to fight — together.”

“None of these people are going to give you a solution to this problem tonight. Most of the people in this room have never been to a civic meeting. This is how it starts.

— Edward Garboski

The discussion began with Suffolk County Department of Social Services Commissioner John O’Neill answering questions for about an hour. O’Neill was pressed with questions about the concentration of shelters for the homeless in the Port Jefferson Station area, oversight of the locations and curfew rules, and how the locations are selected. He said it was against the law to publicize the location of homeless shelters, though he said if he were legally allowed he would compile a list by zip code. He said the shelters in most cases are privately owned, and if they are compliant with state and federal regulations, they are approved with no consideration taken regarding volume of like facilities in the area. O’Neill also said checks are done regularly at all county shelters to ensure they are in compliance with regulations.

“The argument with the homeless is they need help, we know this,” PJS/TCA Vice President Sal Pitti said. “Everybody here in one way, shape or form has collected food, done something for a homeless individual. I think our biggest issue is the lack of supervision at these locations.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Suffolk County Police Department 6th Precinct Inspector Patrick Reilly also attended the meeting and fielded questions from the attendees.

“I live in Port Jefferson Station as well, so I’m not coming from another community saying ‘Oh, it’s not that bad,’” Cartright said. “I love where I live, but there are issues and we need to deal with them. It’s a complex
issue and it doesn’t happen overnight. We are committed — I can say that for each of us that are sitting here today — to trying to make a difference and coming up with solutions.”

One suggestion that emerged from the meeting is the necessity for a 24-hour hotline to contact the county DSS when issues occur in the community. Currently the hotline only operates during business hours. Reilly said he believes a viable answer to reduce crime in the area, especially in the vicinity of Jefferson Shopping Plaza, would be the installation of more police surveillance cameras. Residents were also repeatedly urged to call the police when observing illegal activities, and to stay engaged with civic association efforts to foster a strength-in-numbers approach.

Many of the elected officials said they plan to be back at the association’s next meeting July 24 to unveil plans for revitalization in the area near the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station.

State Sen. John Flanagan congratulates Laurel Hill School student Sam Specht for winning the New York State Senate’s 2018 Earth Day Poster Contest. Photo from Senator John Flanagan's office

A student in East Setauket is improving the environment one bottle at a time.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) presented sixth-grader Sam Specht with a certificate for winning the New York State Senate’s 2018 Earth Day Poster Contest during a May 21 assembly at The Laurel Hill School. For his entry, “We Are Creating a Monsterous Problem,”

Sam took the challenge one step further by creating a monster made of bottles to hold his poster.

Sam Specht’s winning Earth Day poster entry included a robot made of plastic bottles holding his poster. Photo from Joanne Specht

Flanagan said Sam, 12, was chosen from 4,600 entries, representing 43 of 63 state senators.

“You, my friend, have distinguished yourself as the best of 4,600,” Flanagan said.

The senator had advice for the students in attendance. He said young people may garner more respect when it comes to advising others in disposing of litter and recycling since people don’t always listen to adults who tell someone to pick up or recycle a piece of garbage.

“I guarantee if one of you said it, they’d pay a lot more attention,” he said. “So, don’t think you can’t make a difference, because you can.”

Sam, who lives in Bellport, has attended The Laurel Hill School since pre-K. He chose the plastic bottles as the issue for his poster because he said not enough people recycle them properly. During his research for the essay that accompanied the poster, Sam said he discovered a million bottles are purchased worldwide every minute and 91 percent aren’t recycled. Facts he included on his poster.

“I figured out that the amount of the bottles we use in America daily are enough to go from New York to San Francisco and back,” he said.

The 12-year-old had advice on how to help with reducing the number of bottles found in trash cans and littering communities. One, Sam said, is to purchase reusable drinking containers, and to also look for recycling receptacles when in public. Sam said it’s vital to research locations to ensure plastic is recycled properly when returning bottles from home, which he found most supermarkets do.

“I figured out that the amount of the bottles we use in America daily are enough to go from New York to San Francisco and back.”

— Sam Specht

Sam was unable to bring his bottle monster to the assembly because he already brought the pieces, which included soda and water bottles for the body and a milk jug for the head, to Costco to recycle. He said he was happy his teacher and mom took pictures to display at the school presentation.

“I was pretty surprised when I won because I knew a lot of people participated so I didn’t really expect that,” he said.

Sam’s mother, Joanne, said her son has been concerned about the environment for years.

“He is always reminding us to turn off the water when we brush our teeth,” she said. “He is also always asking everyone in our family to use refillable bottles instead of buying water bottles.”

The mother said Sam helps his neighbors bring their recycling cans to the curb on collection days, which she said has made him more aware of how much plastic is used and discarded.

“I am glad for Sam that he won because he takes this issue very seriously,” she said.

Mount Sinai resident Michael Cherry arrives to be the first customer of the valet parking service in Port Jeff in July 2017. File photo by Alex Petroski

Grass is green, water is wet and Port Jefferson Village doesn’t quite have enough parking to accommodate all of the demand.

To try to alleviate one of the village’s longest standing criticisms, the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District is taking another shot at a valet parking program to make finding a spot easier while patronizing downtown stores and restaurants on the weekends. The program was first instituted in July 2017 on an experimental basis, with cars dropped off in the Meadow parking lot, located south of Roessner Lane, west of Main Street and east of Barnum Avenue, adjacent to Rocketship Park. The increased traffic entering and exiting the parking lot and obstruction of spaces used for visitors of the nearby restaurants were among the complaints resulting from last year’s program that were tweaked for 2018.

Valet parking program
  • $7 per car
  • drop off at Village Hall
  • cars to be parked at Port Jefferson High School
  • service offered Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day

“Last year’s location was less than optimal, in that cars were being staged on a very busy entrance to our busiest parking lot,” said Kevin Wood, parking administrator for the village, who will receive regular reports from BID representatives on the execution of the program throughout the summer. “The village has a responsibility to look at all ways and solutions to bring optimal parking options to its visitors and residents and reduce ‘parking anxiety.’”

This year, the drop-off point will be the parking lot behind Village Hall on West Broadway. The building has separate driveways for entering and exiting.

“The location at Village Hall is a very natural setting for staging cars with an entrance and an exit and a semi-circle flow,” he said.

The program will still cost users $7 but will only be offered from 5 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Last year Sunday hours were also available. As was the arrangement last year, the cars will be driven by valets from the staging area to Port Jefferson High School, where they will be parked.

An agreement between the BID and Port Jefferson School District remains in place, in which the valet company, Advanced Parking Service, will take 75 percent of profits, leaving the remaining 25 percent to be split evenly between the village and school district. The BID supplied an upfront investment to get the program going for 2018. BID President Tom Schafer said the organization determined it would need about 120 cars to use the service daily to cover the cost of five employees for the company, and anything more than 120 would result in the program turning a profit.

“The village has a responsibility to look at all ways and solutions to bring optimal parking options to its visitors and residents and reduce ‘parking anxiety.’”

— Kevin Wood

Schafer said he and the BID’s members were glad to hear the program would be given another opportunity with a full season and with what all stakeholders view as a more practical staging area. Port Jeff’s board of trustees approved the use of the Village Hall lot during a meeting May 21. Multiple meetings took place between the end of the program last year and its ultimate renewal between representatives of the BID, Wood and village elected officials to work out some of the issues that arose in 2017.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if not for the fact that we have Kevin Wood as our parking administrator,” Mayor Margot Garant said during a May 7 board meeting.

Schafer also touted Wood’s involvement as an asset this time around.

“Everyone’s ecstatic,” Schafer said of the BID members. “Kevin Wood has been a great help. He understands that there’s just too many cars.”

The village has also approved hiring two parking ambassadors for this summer, who will be tasked with occupying lots to help parkers use meters, the village’s parking specific mobile phone application and to direct them to available spaces.

The continuation of the project will ultimately be determined by the village, which included a provision in its resolution to terminate the program “at any time or for any reason.”

Valet parking will be available in Port Jeff from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Photo courtesy of Kent Animal Shelter

MEET SHEA!

Waiting patiently at Kent Animal Shelter is Shea, a gorgeous 4-year-old calico with the sweetest personality. She is a smaller sized cat even though she is full grown but she has a huge heart! If you are looking for a cute, petite cat with a wonderful personality, then Shea is the girl for you! Lets find this sweet girl a home! Shea comes spayed, microchipped and is up to date on all her vaccines.

Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. The adoption center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. For more information on Shea and other adoptable pets at Kent, visit www.kentanimalshelter.com or call 631-727-5731. 

 

Linda Nuszen, Maryann Natale and Janet D'Agostino, parents who have lost children to opioid addiction, during an event dedicating a new garden at St. Charles Hospital May 18. Photo by Kyle Barr

They say it’s becoming impossible to walk through a crowd and not find at least one person who hasn’t been affected by the opioid crisis. On May 18 a group of more than 50 people, nearly all of whom have lost loved ones, or at least experienced the strain of a loved one having gone through the throws of addiction, gathered at St. Charles Hospital for the unveiling of a new “Remembrance and Reflection Garden” just outside the Infant Jesus Chapel on hospital grounds.

The idea started with Port Jefferson resident Marcia Saddlemire, whose daughter Nicole passed away as a result of opioid addiction in 2015. She said she didn’t want to leave the memory of her daughter as just an opioid addict.

“I was getting angry watching the news, when they say so many died from overdose in Suffolk County this year, I said dammit, she’s not a statistic, she’s a person, she has a name and a life,” Saddlemire said. “All the mothers agree with this, they don’t want to grow up to be addicts. This is not what they wanted from their lives, they had dreams, they had goals.”

Stones dedicated to families affected by opioid addiction in a new garden at St. Charles Hospital. Photo by Kyle Barr

Saddlemire said she didn’t have the connections or know-how to create such a project, so she managed to get in contact with three women — Janet D’Agostino, Maryann Natale and Linda Nuszen — all of whom belong to multiple anti-opioid organizations and support groups. They gathered together to plan and create the new garden.

“We want it to be public — we don’t want to hide it,” said Natale, whose son Anthony died of an overdose. “We want them to know it’s an epidemic. This garden also helps those families who are going through such time with an addict.”

St. Charles Hospital was chosen as the location for the garden because of its existing programs fighting opioid addiction, according to the mothers. The hospital has 40 beds that are allotted for chemical dependency rehabilitation, 10 for supervised detoxification for adults and four for detoxification of adolescents age 12 to 18. Jim O’Connor, the executive vice president of St. Charles Hospital, said administration expects to receive another 10 beds for detoxification services. He said he also expects to develop an outpatient center at the hospital for addicts who need ongoing, comprehensive care in the next several years.

“We are honored that these families have chosen St. Charles Hospital as the site for this very special garden, as St. Charles is committed to hosting hospital programs which combat Suffolk County’s current addiction crisis,” O’Connor said.

Stones dedicated to families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction in a new garden at St. Charles Hospital. Photo by Kyle Barr

Nearly all work for the project was donated by local businesses. The garden includes stones engraved with the names of victims of opioid addiction and quotes from their families. Ron Dennison and his son Alan from Bohemia-based Long Island Water Jet donated their time to create a heart sign featured in the garden. The sign features large words like “forgiveness” and “understanding” along with small words like “pain” and “fear,” to show positive emotions overcoming the negative.

Dennison’s daughter, Sarah, went through the St. Charles rehab program when she became addicted to opioids. She is out of the program now, and she has a daughter named Serenity.

“When your kids are addicted, you deny it, you deny it, you deny it,” the elder Dennison said as he fought to speak through tears. “And then one day you wake up you say, ‘what is going on here.”

Nuszen and her family founded Look Up for Adam, a foundation dedicated to her son who died from an overdose in 2015. Her organization helps to raise awareness.

“So many people don’t know how to show up for our loved ones,” she said. “So many people don’t know how to be themselves, or how to be here for each other. So now that we can come here and have a place where we’re not isolated — so they come here and know they’re not alone, that there are people who care about them.”

New Ground held a ribbon cutting ceremony at its Huntington transitional home for homeless veterans. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Two United States military veterans and their families will be the joining the Huntington community shortly as they take the keys to their new home.

New Ground, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing veteran homelessness, held a ribbon cutting ceremony May 14 to celebrate the completion of its new two-family Rockne Street transitional home.

“This is such a big deal for us,” said Shannon Boyle, executive director of the nonprofit. “This is our first residential property although we’ve been providing services to homeless veterans and their families for over two decades.”

“This is our first residential property although we’ve been providing services to homeless veterans and their families for over two decades.”
– Shannon Boyle

Boyle said her Levittown-based organization will work in collaboration with the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program offered by Northport VA’s Housing and Urban Development department to provide a place to live for homeless vets while they receive educational training, social services and financial literacy training.

“Out of the 62 counties in New York state, Suffolk County leads not only in terms of veterans in population, but also in the number of homeless veterans,” Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “It’s great that this two-family home will provide those coming back an opportunity to raise a family in a great neighborhood.”

The home’s first residents are expected to move in June 1, according to Boyle, of which one family has already been identified. She said the veteran is a single mother who is raising two daughters, ages 5 and 7. The girls will be enrolled in Harborfields school district.

“Through Northport VA’s VASH program, the homeless veterans receive a voucher to help afford rent while receiving educational services,” Boyle said.

The veteran is meeting with a social worker from New Ground every week to create and outline a series of goals while studying for her college entrance exams, according to Boyle. The family is anticipated to live in the home for a period of three to five years before being able to afford to rent a market-rate apartment or become homeowners.

It’s great that this two-family home will provide those coming back an opportunity to raise a family in a great neighborhood.”
– Chad Lupinacci

Boyle said a second veteran and his or her family has not yet been identified and approved, but several candidates are currently in the process of being interviewed and screened.

“This is really going to be a miracle in these families lives,” U.S. Rep Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said. “A miracle like this only happens when people at New Grounds and the supporting groups put in the effort.

Boyle said New Ground was able to complete the house thanks to Grant Havasy, managing partner of Blue & Gold Homes in Huntington, donating his time as general contractor overseeing the project. Other companies including AvalonBay Communities, Appliance World, Cosentino, Eagle Electrical Group Inc., and Prince Carpet & Floors also donated products and services.

“On behalf of all the veteran families who will reside in this home as they work to put their lives back on track and establish a brighter future, I extend a heartfelt thank you to all who have made this possible,” Boyle said. “The outpouring of generosity has been tremendous from so many individuals and businesses that we have been able to transform this house beyond what we had dreamed possible.”

Mount Sinai-Miller Place Chamber Alliance Co-President Donna Boeckel, co-owner of Awsomotive Car Care in Mount Sinai, talks to members about new goals during the chamber's first meeting May 16. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Mount Sinai-Miller Place Chamber Alliance has sprung up from the ashes after the dissolution of the North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce and hopes to learn from its mistakes.

“We will help promote shop local,” said Donna Boeckel, co-president of the chamber and co-owner of Awsomotive Car Care in Mount Sinai. “We want to help people recognize how much value and how many personable small businesses we have in these two areas.”

The first meeting of the new chamber was held last wednesday and was

“We want to help people recognize how much value and how many personable small businesses we have in these two areas.”

— Donna Boeckel

She was joined by more than 30 local business operators and owners, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) who wanted to show support during the chamber’s first meeting May 16. The Mount Sinai-Miller Place Chamber Alliance expects to hold meetings the first Wednesday of every month.

In October 2017, the North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce, which covered businesses from Port Jefferson Station to Wading River, dissolved because the time commitment proved too much for such a large coverage area. It was then decided that the chamber would split up to take on original shapes, which focused on business in just a handful of hamlets.

“It got too big — the businesses of separate hamlets, whether they’re in Miller Place or Mount Sinai, know their needs and know their concerns,” Bonner said. “If you think about the Shoreham-Wading River chamber, their competition is the [Tanger Outlets in Riverhead.] That isn’t the same here.”

Boeckel said the previous group did not encompass enough volunteers but said that while these splintered chambers will remain separate organizations, they do expect to work with each other.

“We’ll probably do some joint meetings, maybe some joint events — we’ll bounce ideas off each other,” said Jennifer Dzvonar, owner of Bass Electric in Port Jefferson Station and president of the Port Jefferson/Terryville Chamber of Commerce. Her association began meeting in January of this year.

Chamber leadership anticipates forming connections with leaders at Heritage Park and Cedar Beach for plan or sign on to participate in events. Members also hope the chamber will help them and their business with networking and exposure.

“People have to remember to shop local — Amazon is not going to the schools, Amazon is not supporting your community, it’s not employing your children.”

— Jennifer Dzvonar

“It’s good to immerse yourself in the business community,” said chamber member Brett Hochreiter, managing director of Long Island Tint in Rocky Point. “You get your name out there, you get some exposure, hopefully you get some leads.”

One of the biggest issues that members said they face is maintaining clientele when the lure of online shopping, especially with Amazon, is so strong.

“People have to remember to shop local — Amazon is not going to the schools, Amazon is not supporting your community, it’s not employing your children,” Dzvonar said.

Anker echoed the Port Jefferson Station chamber president’s sentiment.

“Chambers are so important because you can energize your community,” Anker said. “You can make sure people understand they need to put their money where their house is. Made in the U.S.A and shop local are taking precedence over convenience.”

Boeckel emphasized that the work for the chamber was and will continue to be done on a volunteer basis. Every members work full time, but she said the important thing is that local businesses should continue to support one another by donating just a little time.

“That’s what it takes,” Boeckel said. “We’re all doers. It takes doers to do what we do.”

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization Educational & Cultural Center will host a series of programs for community members over 55. File photo

A cultural and educational organization and Stony Brook law practice are joining forces to teach community members over 55 and recognize them for their contributions to society.

In March, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and Burner Law Group, P.C., launched a program that incorporates virtual travel geared toward the 55 and older community. Attendees will get to explore different places by viewing a big screen while asking curators and experts questions in real time. Nancy Burner, who practices elder law and estate planning, said the first travel program held April 25 included a virtual tour of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Canada.

“Longevity studies show that by nurturing generative qualities and looking for intellectual stimulation and fulfillment, third-agers are helping themselves to live longer and healthier lives.”

— Nancy Burner

“Viewers were able to interact with the guide and experience an engaging adventure from their seat in Stony Brook Village,” Burner said. “Future programs will continue these virtual tours and will also showcase those community members in their third age who are continuing to live extraordinary and vibrant lives.”

Burner uses the term third age to describe the 55 plus generation and has given talks and written articles about the subject.

Gloria Rocchio, president of WMHO, said the programs at the Educational & Cultural Center will be called the 55 Plus Club. She added attendees have already given feedback on what they would like to see in the future. Upcoming events at the WMHO Educational & Cultural Center will include a cyber security workshop and master classes with special guests, according to Rocchio.

“The idea is to socialize and learn things that are important to [people],” she said.

Rocchio said the 55 plus segment of the population has a wealth of knowledge to offer, and Burner said many are hungry for enlightened experiences and eager to learn new things.

“These third age events held by the 55 Plus Club inspire individuals in the second act to pursue both meaning and purpose in their lives,” Burner said. “Longevity studies show that by nurturing generative qualities and looking for intellectual stimulation and fulfillment, third-agers are helping themselves to live longer and healthier lives.”

The next event, Virtual Travel to South Padre Island — Riders of the Stream at Sea Turtle Inc., will be held May 23. Guests will learn about the rescue and rehabilitation of injured sea turtles on South Padre Island, their release back into the wild, conservation efforts, nesting, hatchling releases and more.

The cost for the program is $15 per person and refreshments are served. Call 631-689-5888 for reservations and visit www.stonybrookvillage.com for details on all upcoming programs.

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization Educational & Cultural Center is located at 97 Main St. in Stony Brook.

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Editor’s Note: After this article was published, Villadom Corp. completely withdrew its application for a change of zone for the proposed Elwood Orchard project. Read more here. 

Sitting outside the home of Huntington resident Janice Buckner, her quiet yard is heavily shaded by trees. There’s the sound of a bird singing somewhere in the surrounding forest. She fears Town of Huntington officials may allow the trees to be torn down to make way for a commercial development, at the cost of her tranquility, the wildlife and most important to her – the water quality.

“The Town of Huntington is the guardian of this land,” Buckner said. “How can they let someone develop next door to the park and pollute the park’s water and my water?”

My hope is not just to stop Villadom, I want to see that land protected and preserved.
– Janice Buckner

Buckner, 67, owns three acres of property on Manor Road surrounded on three sides by the 135-acre Berkley Jackson County Park. It’s a few hundred feet down the road from Villadom Corp.’s site for a proposed 486,380-square-foot mixed-use commercial center. The developer has filed a request to be heard by Huntington Town board to change the zoning on nearly 50 acres from R-40 residential to C-5 and C-6 commercial. Buckner said she plans to fight it and is prepared to sue if necessary.

“My hope is not just to stop Villadom,” she said. “I want to see that land protected and preserved.”

A self-identified conservationist, Buckner first attempted to sell two acres of her property to Suffolk County  to add to the neighboring county park.

“It is my desire to see the land conserved,” she wrote in a June 2013 letter to county officials, expressing concern for the local wildlife and water quality.

Buckner said she had to turn down the county’s offer of $60,000 for the land, which was appraised to have a value of $178,000 to $180,000, as a single mother raising two daughters who was facing home foreclosure. She also contacted Peconic Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve Long Island farms, natural lands and heritage, to see if they were interested inpurchasing it.

Following a neighbor’s advice, Buckner turned to selling the density flow rights, or total gallons of sewage  permitted to be  produced by a development, for the back two acres of her property to the Town of Huntington in October 2014 for $320,000, which helped stave off impending foreclosure. She kept ownership of the land, but because of the rights sale, it cannot be developed.

Elwood Orchard will comply with all state and local water protection standards, and the proposed use does not present an adverse impact on groundwater.”
– Mark Smith

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said the town has a program under which a property owner can make a portion of their land into a conservation easement and sell the flow rights, allowing those much-needed credits to be bought up by a commercial or residential developer.

In Buckner’s unique case, her property’s rights were sold directly to the town. Her January 2015 contract of the conservation easement with the town includes restrictions against dumping trash or liquids and cutting down trees or plants.

The 2015 contract with the town states her land has potential environmental value, and Buckner said she believes, by association, the entire swath of virgin forest that extends onto Villadom’s property. She pointed to a section of the 2015 contract that states “a portion of which as ecological, scientific, groundwater recharge, scenic, educational, recreational and/or aesthetic value in its present state as natural area.”

She said she is bewildered that Huntington officials are considering a developer’s plan for a mixed-use commercial and retail center with a 90,000 square-foot fitness center that would be larger than Nassau Coliseum. She said she fears it would pollute the land and underlying aquifer she’s tried to conserve.

“Elwood Orchard will comply with all state and local water protection standards, and the proposed use does not present an adverse impact on groundwater,” said Mark Smith, a spokesman for Villadom.

Smith said the proposed plans will include an on-site treatment system to reduce nitrogen discharge into the local groundwater and will be subject to future review and approval of the Suffolk County Health Department. In addition, the proposal calls for 12 acres of the land to be kept as a greenbelt.

In light of the new information received by the town, the May 17 public hearing on the Villadom project must be adjourned.”
– Chad Lupinacci

Buckner isn’t the only one expressing concern. Robert Santoriello, superintendent of the Greenlawn Water District sent an April 20 letter to Huntington Town officials asking for a list of questions the water district raised on the project dating back to 2013 be answered. The list includes more details on the on-site sanitary wastewater treatment plant.

Huntington Planning Director Tony Aloisio said if the zoning change is approved, the developer would have to submit a more detailed site plan to the town’s planning department and Suffolk County Planning Commission.

Buckner is focusing her energy on organizing a rally against Villadom’s proposal. Huntington town officials announced the May 17 hearing was adjourned after the developer requested a chance to amend its application at 1:10 p.m. May 16.

“In light of the new information received by the town, the May 17 public hearing on the Villadom project must be adjourned,” said Lupinacci. “The hearings may only be rescheduled to a later date at the discretion of the town board.

Buckner may have to wait longer to find out if the town will grant the zone change, but she’s prepared

“I’ve spoken to a lawyer,” She said. “I know that I have a case.”

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