Government

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Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) will be collecting school supplies at her office, located at 306 Main St. in Port Jefferson, the Port Jefferson Free Library, Comsewogue Public Library and Emma S. Clark Memorial Library through Aug. 14.

Coordinators of the drive are looking for notebooks, loose leaf paper, three-ring binders, pens, pencils, markers, crayons, colored pencils, calculators, rulers, backpacks, scissors and erasers.

Supplies will be distributed during the 11th annual Stand up for the Homeless event hosted by the Suffolk County Department of Social Services Aug. 29.

Residents question how town officials are selecting priority list of park updates for upcoming 2019 capital budget

A spring rider at Morewood Park in Smithtown

Town of Smithtown officials have taken steps to approve roughly $4.5 million in investments in its parks, but residents are questioning which ones are given top priority. 

Smithtown approved a $174,500 contract to redesign Flynn Memorial Park into a modern sports complex while greenlighting plans to construct a new playground and spray park at Callahans Beach at its July 17 meeting. The total price tag for those two projects is estimated at $4.5 million. 

“We are doing a lot of work that needs to be done at the parks and beaches at a huge financial cost,” Councilman Tom Lohmann (R) said. “It won’t be done in one year, it has to be done smartly. But, it has to be done.” 

The barbecue area at Callahans Beach. Photo by Kyle Barr

At Callahans Beach, town officials have proposed a plan to rip up a portion of the asphalt parking lot in order to install a new playground at an estimated cost of $175,000, a spray park for roughly $150,000 and to construct picnic area shelter for approximately $200,000. Lohmann, who serves as the board’s liaison to the town Department of Parks, Buildings & Grounds, said the improvements are a result of the town’s approved lease agreement with Propagation Solutions Inc., for Site Tech Wireless LLC to install a 150-foot cell tower in the upper parking lot. 

“As part of their recommendations and requirements for the cell tower, we had to make changes to Callahans Beach,” the councilman said. “We will be adding the playground and some beautification to ensure it is still aesthetically pleasing.” 

Lohmann said the town hired St. James-based RDA Landscape Architecture to create a plan for the Kings Park’s Flynn Memorial Park project. One of the first steps is $2.2 million for all new LED lighting for the fields along with new field layout, new fencing as well as a new concession stand in the center of the park that will also contain bathrooms. The proposed plans call to tear out the existing facilities, install a new playground, repave the parking lot and redesign the layout to reduce it to one main entrance.

“By making it a true softball-baseball complex with a playground for kids to come play on, we hope it will help drive people into our communities,” Lohmann said. “It will be done and upgraded to where it should have been many years ago.” 

The latest announcement of capital improvements to Smithtown’s parks comes shortly after the town celebrated the grand reopening of three parks after $1.3 million in refurbishments: Joseph Andreoli Park in Nesconset and Gaynor Park and Veterans Memorial Park in St. James.  

Smithtown residents have questioned how elected officials are deciding which parks take priority in receiving upgrades. 

A Town of Smithtown parks employee spreads fresh wood mulch at Morewood Park July 27. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Michael Vizzini, a four-year homeowner on Stanwich Road, said he hopes there will be some consideration given to Morewood Park. The park consists of two basketball courts whose surfaces have a spiderwebbing of cracks stretching across it, with the back boards showing signs of rust. The playground fell victim to a fire more than 10 years ago, according to the town parks
department, and was rebuilt on a soft wood mulch base with metal slides, a set of swings and dotted with a few spring-based animals on which to ride. 

Vizzini, who lives adjacent to the park’s back entrance, has been looking for a way to improve its aesthetics since he moved in. 

“I’ve called the town to see if they will remove the partial sidewalks so I can plant bushes there next to my white picket fence,” he said. “Contractors won’t touch it, it’s town property.” 

Vizzini said he purchased on Stanwich Road to be close to the park for his two young children, but unfortunately, there isn’t much there on which they can safely play. 

Commack resident Bridget Zaminer, a Knolls Lane homeowner, said she’s lived in the area for three years and has only taken her three young children to Morewood Park a handful of times to use the basketball courts. 

The basketball courts at Morewood Park. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“The play equipment is old and dingy,” Zaminer said in an email. “Not to mention, I would not want to be there alone since it’s so desolate.” 

Lohman said the town’s parks department did a full review in 2017, which estimated the town would need $11.6 million to bring all its parks and beaches up to date.  

“Where do you get $11.6 million?” he asked. “Monies weren’t properly put back into the property to keep these facilities and assets up to standard.” 

The councilman said factors used to determine which sites will get funding include estimated community use, safety concerns and consideration for those facilities where the town provides additional services for which a fee is paid — such as boat slips at the marina or sports fields utilized by adult leagues. He admitted dozens of town “pocket parks,” or recreational areas surrounded by residential properties like Morewood, are in desperate need of updates so it’s a tough call. 

Lohmann said he has a meeting with Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and parks director Joseph Arico scheduled for Aug. 2 to discuss the town’s 2019 capital budget and which parks to update. Residents should be pleased to know sites being given consideration include the town’s marina and Morewood Park. 

“[Morewood] doesn’t get a tremendous amount of use,” Lohmann conceded. “But with younger and younger families moving into the neighborhood, it’s getting attention.”

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Town of Brookhaven is harnessing the power of the sun.

Tara McLaughlin, Brookhaven’s deputy commissioner of planning, announced at the July 12 board meeting the town had received the bronze designation from SolSmart, an organization funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, which helps municipalities across the country expand solar energy options and recognizes the ones that do so. Brookhaven applied for the designation in 2017, according to McLaughlin.

“As I am a competitive person always striving to achieve more, I am confident with small changes and installation of solar panels on several town buildings, next year we will at least attain the silver award,” she said.

The deputy commissioner said the town processed about 2,000 permits for solar power installation last year and expects to process at least that many in 2018.

“The world is changing, people are realizing, why not use the sun,” Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said.

In addition, the town is planning to install solar panels at Town Hall, the Pennysaver Amphitheater and Brookhaven Calabro Airport. The Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, a government department that selects projects to provide financial assistance in the form of tax reducing agreements, announced July 9 it had accepted applications for economic incentives for the airport and Town Hall installations, pledging to provide $4.6 million in assistance.

Huntington Town Hall. File photo by Rohma Abbas

As the Town of Huntington is entrenched in a lengthy legal battle with Long Island Power Authority, its elected officials are looking to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels and move to sources of renewable energy.

Huntington town board unanimously agreed to apply for a $62,500 grant from New York State’s Climate Smart Communities Grant Program at its July 17 meeting. If the funding is approved, the town will move forward with a study of its current energy use and how to transition to using more renewable energy resources.

There is a nationwide movement of towns pledging to go renewable by 2050 and we want Huntington to be one of those towns.”

– Jenny Strandberg

“There is a nationwide movement of towns pledging to go renewable by 2050 and we want Huntington to be one of those towns,” Jenny Strandberg said.

Strandberg is one of many Mothers Out Front, a grassroots community organization pushing for a transition to 100 percent clean and renewable energy, who asked Huntington officials to move forward with the study and renew their pledge to protect the environment.

“If everyone on the planet lived like the average American, you would need five planets,” said Jennifer Browns, a professor of sociology of LIU Post and Mothers Out Front member. “We need a commitment to 100 percent renewable energy and we need it now.”

Huntington first adopted the state’s Climate Smart Communities pledge in 2012. By taking the pledge, the town made several promises to its residents including trying to “decrease energy use” and “build a climate-smart community.”

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said in order for the town to become Climate Smart Community certified, it would need to hire a consultant to perform a Government Operations Greenhouse Gas Inventory to
assess what emissions its producing, a 100 percent Renewable Energy Feasibility Study and then a Capital Phase-In Plan to determine and set a schedule to meet the town’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. The estimated cost for those steps is approximately $125,000, according to Lupinacci. The town is seeking funding for half through the state grant.

“The sooner we get it in, the more we can beat people to the top of the line to make sure we show our commitment and we are ready to roll on it,” Lupinacci said.

Let me state clearly, it is LIPA’s policy to transition to renewable energy 50 percent by 2030.”

– Peter Gollon

The program requires the town provide 50 percent matching funds, for which it will pull $62,500 from the its Environmental Open Space & Park Fund Review Advisory Committee’s Green Project Fund. The committee has already approved the project.

Both East Hampton and Southampton townships on the East End have already become Climate Smart Communities certified by going through this process, according to Huntington resident Tara Kotlia. She said she would like to see the Town of Huntington become the third.

Peter Gollon, a Huntington resident and board trustee for Long Island Power Authority, said if Huntington moves forward with the study and transitions to renewable energy, it would bring the town more in line with the utility company’s long-term vision.

“Let me state clearly, it is LIPA’s policy to transition to renewable energy 50 percent by 2030,” Gollon said.

He stressed that LIPA and the power  companies will continue to push renewable energy as the future, and encouraged the town to do the same.

“It’s clear different communities must engage, set examples for each other and move toward clean energy, renewable energy as soon as possible,” Gollon said. “Huntington must continue to be a leader

Properly drafted prenuptial agreements ensure that assets ... remain separate.

By Linda M. Toga, Esq.

Linda Toga, Esq.

THE FACTS: I am widowed, have two grown children and will soon be getting married to Joe. Joe also has children from his first marriage. We are both financially independent and have agreed that our assets will remain separate. When I die, I want my children to receive the bulk of my assets.

THE QUESTION: Should I ask Joe to sign a prenuptial agreement? 

THE ANSWER: The quick answer to your question is Yes. Properly drafted prenuptial agreements ensure that assets that are held by one spouse at the time of the marriage remain separate and that marital assets are only those assets that the spouses intentionally commingle. 

In other words, if, at the time of the marriage, you have a brokerage account worth $200,000, that account will not be subject to equitable distribution in the event the marriage terminates in divorce unless you add Joe’s name to the account.

However, if you choose to use some of that money to purchase a house with Joe, the assets you invested in the house will no longer be deemed your separate property and will be subject to equitable distribution in the event of a divorce. You and Joe need to discuss how you want your separate assets to be treated in the event of a divorce and have a prenuptial agreement prepared that reflects those wishes.  

In addition to addressing how your separate property will be treated, your prenuptial agreement should address how your retirement accounts and pension plans are to be handled. Some such accounts and plans require the account holder or the plan participant to obtain the consent of his/her spouse if that spouse is not going to be the beneficiary on the account/plan. 

If you have such an account or pension plan and you want to name your children as the beneficiaries, you will want Joe to waive any rights he may have to the assets held in the account or managed by the plan. 

While most people understand the importance of prenuptial agreements in connection with divorce, such agreements are equally, if not more important, when one of the spouses dies. That is because a well-written prenuptial agreement addresses the rights of a surviving spouse to share in the estate of his/her deceased spouse. 

In New York, spouses have priority over other family members to administer the estate of a person who dies without a will. That means that if you do not have a will at the time of your death, the Surrogate’s Court will give Joe, and not your children, priority to become the administrator of your estate. 

In addition to having the right to handle the estate of an intestate spouse, under the intestacy statute that governs the estates of people who die without a will, the surviving spouse is entitled to the first $50,000 of the testamentary estate and 50 percent of the balance of the estate. In your case, Joe would be entitled to more than half of your estate, leaving your children with less than they would be entitled to if you had not remarried. 

Even if you have a will at the time of your death, Joe, as the surviving spouse, can exercise his right of election. That means that he can claim one-third of almost all of your assets regardless of whether you owned the assets jointly with another person or designated other people as beneficiaries via a beneficiary
designation form. 

In other words, Joe would be entitled to one-third of an account you owned jointly with your children and one-third of your pension or retirement plan. To ensure that your estate is handled by the person of your choosing and that your assets pass to your intended beneficiaries regardless of whether you have a will, it is important to have Joe sign a prenuptial agreement waiving his spousal rights. The waiver should address both the administration of your estate and the right of election. Since prenuptial agreements are generally reciprocal, you should be prepared to waive the same rights in the prenuptial agreement as Joe. 

If you decide a prenuptial agreement is the best way to proceed, you should retain an experienced attorney well in advance of your marriage to prepare the agreement. To ensure that the prenuptial agreement you sign is enforceable, Joe should have separate counsel so that he cannot argue that he did not understand the rights he was waiving or the consequences of signing the agreement. 

Linda M. Toga provides personalized service and peace of mind to her clients in the areas of estate planning, wills and trusts, Medicaid planning, estate administration, marital agreements, small business services, real estate and litigation. Visit her website at www.lmtogalaw.com or call 631-444-5605 to schedule a free consultation.  

A rendering of the proposed Heatherwood rental units in South Setauket. Rendering from Heatherwood

The Town of Brookhaven is in the final stages of deciding whether to allow a controversial retirement community to be constructed. 

Commack-based Heatherwood Luxury Rentals has proposed plans to build on nearly 26 acres of its more than 70-acre golf course on the southeast corner of Arrowhead Lane and Route 347. It was put on the planning board’s decision calendar at its July 9 meeting, and now they have 62 days from July 9 to render a decision.

The property at the intersection of Arrowhead Lane and Route 347 is currently a golf course. Photo by Andrea Paldy

If approved, the company would construct Heatherwood Golf at Setauket, a 55 and over community with 200 rental housing units, 403 parking stalls and additional garages. Heatherwood also plans to redesign the golf course, reducing it from 18 holes to nine. The property falls in both the Comsewogue and Three Village school districts.

John Gobler, a 48-year homeowner in Heatherwood Village South in South Setauket, attended the July 9 meeting objecting to plans for the new development having only one entryway to exit and enter, which would dump traffic onto Arrowhead Lane. He said the intersection of Arrowhead Lane and Route 347 has been a problem for several years due to the number of cars exiting onto Arrowhead and the timing of lights at the corner, where he has witnessed only four or five cars being able to go through a green light.

He questioned a traffic engineering study by Stonefield Engineering & Design, LLC conducted June 13 of the traffic volume count of cars exiting Arrowhead to Route 347. He said the company found a total of 183 cars during 7 to 9 a.m. and 141 vehicles 4 to 7 p.m. Gobler said he sat at the intersection and monitored traffic for a 20-minute period, 8:55 to 9:15 a.m. three separate days when school wasn’t in session and counted exiting cars from Arrowhead. His average was 89 for the 20-minute intervals, which would be 266 cars during the morning rush hour. He said Stonefield’s count of 183 cars over a two-hour period would mean only 31 cars every 20 minutes.

Frank Filiciotto, a traffic consultant with Stonefield, said there are always spikes in traffic, which could account for Gobler’s observation. He also said the 183 and 141 numbers represent one-hour volumes within the periods of time specified and not the entire time specified. He said the company has been monitoring traffic in the area for four years. One observation of cars entering and exiting nearby Fairfield Knolls North by the company showed a daily total of 218 cars observed during 7 to 9 a.m., 2 to 4 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. Stonefield broke the figures down to 60 in the morning period, 80 from 2 to 4 p.m., and 78 during the evening period. The monitored development is 0.65 miles northeast of the proposed apartments and is also age restricted. The company prorated the numbers since Fairfield Knolls has 91 more units than what is proposed for Heatherwood. He said the amount of traffic was similar to what they originally projected and should not negatively impact the area.

“The overpacking of the site with housing, adjacent to a residential neighborhood, and built on an already highly trafficked Route 347 demonstrates poor planning.”

— Herb Mones

“This isn’t assumption,” Filiciotto said. “This isn’t opinions. This is fact. We went out, and we calculated the amount of traffic Fairfield North was generating during peak hours.”

In 2014, Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) sponsored the resolution for a zone change for the property from A Residence 5, which allows one housing unit for every 5 acres, to Planned Retirement Community, which would allow a 55 and over community. On Dec. 16, 2014, the town board approved by a 4-3 vote. Councilwomen Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Connie Kepert (D-Middle Island) as well as Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) dissented. 

The town board placed conditions on its zone change approval, including requiring Heatherwood owner Doug Partrick to donate 40 acres of land to the Manorville Farm Protection Area, removing a billboard at the golf course and constructing a sidewalk on the east side of Arrowhead Lane. Panico’s office confirmed the town accepted the 40 acres of property in 2015 in lieu of the Pine Barrens Credit redemption required under the Planned Retirement Community code.

Development of the golf course has faced opposition from elected officials and local civic associations since it was first presented in 2014. Cartright remains opposed to the project as it stands, according to her legislative aide Jennifer Martin. 

Herb Mones, chair of the Three Village Civic Association’s land use committee, said the civic group opposed the initial zone change for the golf course, and he said many felt it was controversial due to the town board approving it over the objections of Cartright.

“The overpacking of the site with housing, adjacent to a residential neighborhood, and built on an already highly trafficked Route 347 demonstrates poor planning,” he said.

Sal Pitti, president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, said the group still stands opposed to the development.

“The community spoke in force back when the project was proposed, and they said we don’t want it,” Pitti said. “The aspect that bothered us the most for the acceptance of the project was that a donation of land went to another council district instead of ours.”

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. speaks during an interviw at TBR News Media in Setauket July 20. Photo by Kyle Barr

Seven months into Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr.’s (D-Lake Grove) term, several issues have become top priorities. He sat for an exclusive interview at the TBR News Media office with the editorial staff July 20 to detail the road ahead.

Staffing issues within Sheriff’s office

The sheriff’s office is short-staffed specifically due to officers retiring or leaving for higher paying jobs elsewhere, according to Toulon.

“I’m almost signing one to two retirement letters a day,” he said. “We just lost two — one going to [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] police and one going to the New York City Police Academy. I’m expecting to lose two in the near future; more going to other law enforcement [jobs].”

The department is short on 76 mandated posts that the two county corrections facilities are supposed to have. This has led to an increase in overtime for existing corrections personnel. Toulon said he sees the low starting salary for Suffolk County corrections officers as the primary driver of the staff shortage. Those in the positions are paid $30,000 per year initially, reaching about $76,000 after 12 years. Starting salaries in Nassau County or New York City corrections are about $10,000 more.

“The people in our custody that have detainers are not good people. I wouldn’t want them on our streets – I wouldn’t care what their status is.”

— Errol Toulon Jr.

Toulon said 30 people will be graduating from the county academy Aug. 8 to fill some of the vacancies.

A pay raise would have to be approved by the Suffolk County Legislature, though Toulon said he supports it.

School Security

As the occurrences of school shootings seemingly increase nationally, especially after the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida, security has become a hot topic amongst school districts and communities. The sheriff’s office is working on the issue as well. Toulon said getting everybody on the same page when it comes to securing schools is a tough but essential job, which requires coordination between school security, police departments and the sheriff’s office.

“When you are going into these schools you frequently realize some of these schools have armed security, some have unarmed security, and some have security that are armed because they hired retired law enforcement, and it’s not publicized,” Toulon said.

School security officers obviously do not have standards as far as uniforms across county school districts. Further confusing local law enforcement, each school might have different protocols in engaging an active shooter, whether they will actively engage the shooter with a firearm or focus on getting the children to safety.

Toulon said he and his officers have gone into schools at the request of the districts to perform security assessments. So far 10 out of 69 school districts in Suffolk County have taken the Sheriff’s department up on the offer.

Toulon said an ideal setup might be having standardized training for all school districts and school security officers in the county not only so they would know what to do in a school fire, bomb or shooting scenario, but also because it would train them to interact with any local police that arrive on the scene.

The sheriff’s office plans to host a forum for Suffolk County school superintendents August 16 at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue to talk broadly about school security and to share ideas.

Dealing with gangs and immigration officials

Toulon said that while county jails only hold people charged with local crimes, they do work with the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency when it comes to some inmates.

“I’m almost signing one to two retirement letters a day.”

— Errol Toulon Jr.

“The sheriff’s office doesn’t profile people,” Toulon said. “If you blow a stop sign or a red light, we are going to pull you over. The people in our custody that have detainers are not good people. I wouldn’t want them on our streets – I wouldn’t care what their status is.”

Toulon stressed that the sheriff’s department does not participate on any ICE raids. He advised the immigrant community to know their Miranda Rights, that they do not have to communicate to police without a lawyer, and that anyone concerned about an arrest could contact the sheriff’s office.

Many people in local communities are concerned about activities perpetrated by the local incarnations of the MS-13 gang. Several high-profile gang murders were prosecuted in the past few years, including the 2017 murder of two young girls in Brentwood, complicating community-law enforcement relations and heating up a polarized, politically-based national discourse. Stories of abuses of power carried out by the federal agency, mostly in areas nearer to the southern border, have not been representative of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office’s dealings with ICE, Toulon said, adding that he would not tolerate inappropriate behavior from any uniformed officer within the facilities he oversees, be them staff under his purview or otherwise.

Toulon said comments made by President Donald Trump (R) on the matter have made his job tougher, especially when dealing with local immigrant communities.

“The tensions that I see in the immigrant community come from what they see going on in the rest of the country,” Toulon said. “The fact that our current president tweets about it and makes comments about a whole population – that is not fair, it makes my job a lot more difficult.”

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and the town board have taken steps that would allow the construction of a power plant in Yaphank, complicating the status of Port Jefferson's LIPA-run plant. File photos by Alex Petroski

It’s one step forward, two steps back for Caithness Energy, LLC in Brookhaven.

After securing a win in its efforts to advance the construction of a 600-megawatt power plant in Yaphank earlier this month, Caithness Energy LLC, an independent, privately held power producer informed by Brookhaven Town its special use permit for the site expired July 15.

The special use permit, initially approved in 2014,  granted Caithness permission to build a power plant on the site, according to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto. It was granted for two years and  one-year extensions were approved twice, which is the limit under town law.

“We’re looking into it, but believe it has no bearing and we look forward to the next steps before the Planning Board,” Caithness President Ross Ain said in a statement.

The possibility that the permit might have expired was first raised by Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) during a July 12 meeting. She abstained from voting on a motion to lift a restrictive covenant preventing the project’s advancement due to amendments made to Caithness’ original 2014 plans, which included a reduction to the plant’s output capacity and updated technology. The other five councilmembers and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) voted to remove the covenant.

“They’ll have to file a new application for the special permit and we’ll certainly accept it,” Eaderesto said.
The town attorney noted Caithness still has a pending site plan application before the Planning Board, which would remain as such as a new special use permit is sought.

The proposed project has drawn opposition for its potential environmental impact from groups like Sierra Club Long Island and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

In addition, Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant has spoken out against the proposal, warning the construction of a second Caithness plant could push her community “off the economic cliff.”

The village has argued a way to make good with Long Island Power Authority over its decreasingly needed plant — and LIPA’s legal contention its Port Jeff plant’s property tax value is over-assessed and has been for years — could be to increase its output capacity. If constructed, the Caithness II plant, which would be built nearby the company’s first Yaphank plant opened in 2009, could theoretically kill plans to repower the Port Jefferson plan, according to the village.

Port Jeff Village and the town have said a settlement is nearing in an eight-year-long legal fight with LIPA, that will likely result in a gradual decrease in revenue from the plant’s property taxes, which help fund budgets for the village, Port Jefferson School District, the fire department and the public library.

Developmental Disabilities Institute and a homeowner are currently under contract for the nonprofit to buy a Setauket home for six young adults with autism and developmental disabilities. Photo from Zillow

Residents on one cul-de-sac in Setauket and its surrounding streets aren’t putting out their welcome mats for potential future neighbors.

Smithtown-based Developmental Disabilities Institute is currently under contract to buy a house on Cynthia Court. DDI plans to use it as a residential home for six young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. On July 16, the nonprofit invited residents from Cynthia Court and Sherry Drive to an informational meeting at The Setauket Neighborhood House to allow them to familiarize themselves with the organization. Tables were set up where attendees could ask DDI representatives questions regarding renovations to the home required to convert it from a four-bedroom to six-bedroom home, safety concerns and other issues.

Kim Kubasek, DDI associate executive director, said when looking for the ideal house, the organization works with real estate agents who are familiar with the size and style homes DDI needs, and then the residential development coordinator reviews the listings and screens out those that are too close to other group homes to avoid saturation in a neighborhood.

DDI held an informational meeting for residents, below, July 15 at The Setauket Neighborhood House. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“The house in Setauket was one of approximately two dozen that our team considered after screening the multiple listings,” Kubasek said. “Considerations include square footage, property size, the amount of off-street parking possible at the home, the layout of bedrooms and living space, the proximity to hospitals, day programs, recreational opportunities, the fair market value of the house and many other factors. The cost of the house and the potential cost of renovations are also factors we consider since we must work within the allowable budget for such development.”

At the July 16 meeting, traffic concerns and safety issues were on the forefront of the minds of the majority of residents who attended, which also included those living on streets surrounding Cynthia and Sherry. Many believed the home would be better suited for a through street instead of one that only has one way in and out. A number said they had no issues with the individuals who would live there.

A few residents who live on Cynthia Court said the families in the cul-de-sac can be found regularly riding bikes, throwing frisbees, walking dogs and even out with sleds in the snow, especially the children. Others pointed out that DDI may be a nonprofit but it’s still a business with employees, and they were concerned that staff members would be going back and forth all day in their cars and this would cause a safety issue for the children playing outside.

Kubasek said DDI is planning to do its best to create a good amount of off-street parking and the house has a garage. She said the organization is also proposing to expand the driveway and create a parking area behind the house.

During the day and night shifts, there will be three or four staff members each shift, and the night staff consists of two people, according to Kubasek. During the day, staff members including a nurse or behavioral therapist may stop by.

“We do a lot of training around vehicle safety and around being a considerate neighbor and being a good neighbor.”

Kim Kubasek

“We really instill in our staff a sense of pride in that area,” she said. “We do a lot of training around vehicle safety and around being a considerate neighbor and being a good neighbor.”

Penelope Drive resident Ed Hill said this isn’t the first incident where people in the neighborhood have felt they have been imposed upon. He said residents have encountered issues with visitors to Sunrise of East Setauket, a senior living home parking cars along  Hills Drive, which is how residents on Cynthia Court access the development. He said there are more cars than usual during holidays on the street, and when it snows, it’s hard for plows to clean. He said he also felt the DDI home in the neighborhood would lower property values.

“A home is a lifetime investment,” Hill said. “So now homeowners are not going to get the full value of what their house is worth because this is next to it.”

Hill and others said they worry if the young men living in the house will act out since they have developmental disabilities.

Kubasek said the clients are not violent, and DDI staff members actually worry about them.

“In many ways they don’t have that sense of safety that they should have as young adults,” Kubasek said. “We try to instill that in them but also be there to protect them while we’re teaching the day-to-day life skills they need.”

She said in other houses DDI residents attend block parties, and in the S-Section neighborhood in Stony Brook, they go to the neighborhood clubhouse and they participate in activities.

Domenick Giordano, who lives on Penelope Drive, said he felt it was going to negatively affect the whole community and encouraged his neighbors to speak to their elected officials.

“I expect all of our elected officials to fight this to the very end,” Giordano said. “They’re shoving this down our mouths.”

In a phone interview, Kevin Long, a Setauket resident and former DDI board member, said he was unable to attend the meeting due to a prior commitment but wished he had. Long’s 16-year-old son Timmy has both autism and Down syndrome. His son needs help with eating, prompts to go to the bathroom and help with bathing himself and brushing his teeth. While he and his wife are able to take care of his son at home, Long said one day when they are older they may need a DDI group home for him.

“I expect all of our elected officials to fight this to the very end.”

Domenick Giordano

“As a parent with a child who cannot function independently, knowing that there is an option where my son can live in a home in a loving environment with some of his peers with specially trained professionals, and they are highly trained, means a lot,” Long said.

He said there is a good deal of state regulation when it comes to the group homes in terms of the amount of training and vetting of the staff. From his experience, he said the DDI homes are well maintained, and the clients are good neighbors and not violent. He said some may have self-injurious behavior where they may do something like putting a foreign object in their mouth, but they are not a danger to others.

Kubasek said DDI, which runs 38 residences in Nassau and Suffolk counties, is currently in a 40-day notification period with the Town of Brookhaven and residents can reach out to town representatives. The town has the right to ask the nonprofit to choose another location if they think there is a saturation of group homes in the area.

Once DDI and a homeowner close on a house, it can typically take six to nine months to secure all of the approvals and complete the renovations, according to Kubasek.

Visitor’s entrance to the Town of Smithtown Animal Shelter and Adoption Center. Photo from Town of Smithtown

Every dog has its day, and Town of Smithtown could be handing a juicy opportunity to any private organization looking to run its animal shelter.

Town officials are looking to potentially turn partial control of the Town of Smithtown Animal Shelter and Adoption Center over to a private company. One caveat, though, is board members warn they will only go through with the plan if it doesn’t cost more than the town already spends.

“In my opinion, if this were to go through, the organization would have to be animal experts or organizations that are expert in the care of animals,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “And it has to be financially feasible. If the RFP comes back and it would be in excess of what we pay now we wouldn’t support it.”

The town board voted 4-1 July 17 to put out a request for proposal for any private organization that is interested in assuming day-to-day operations of the shelter. 

“We’ve been discussing this for more than 18 months as a board,” Wehrheim said. “Prior to choosing the director, if that happens and we keep it, the board has had conversations for professional animal
organizations who would agree to come in and operate the animal shelter in a public-private partnership. This is strictly exploratory.”

The supervisor said that some groups have already shown interest. Under the proposed plan, current animal control officers employed by the town would remain in place. The town would continue to assume the maintenance of the property and building, as well as handling any animal control or capture programs. The incoming private organization would handle the day-to-day operations, including feeding, cleaning and fostering the cats and dogs. 

The shelter has not had a director since Sue Hansen was suspended by the town from the position in February 2017 after allegations surfaced of incompetence and mismanagement. Hansen has a pending lawsuit against the town for being arrested on allegations of criminal trespassing on the town property after her suspension. She had taken over the reins from George Beatty, who resigned in 2015, after a
scandal surfaced with claims of animal neglect and abuse. 

Supervision of the shelter has since fallen to the town’s Department of Public Safety headed by Director John Valentine. Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R) said those public safety officers in the shelter would move back to the department office should this plan go into effect.

Wehrheim said they were looking for nonprofits already involved in animal care, but he did not rule out any for-profit organizations coming in.

Inzerillo, the liaison to the shelter, voted against the RFP, though she said she didn’t necessarily disagree with the concept. Instead, the councilwoman said she wished the town would have waited until after they finished upgrades to the shelter such as the construction of the new independent Trap, Neuter and Release building.

Smithtown has attained a $168,000 grant to build a new TNR building on the existing property. The town will pull matching funds equal to 25 percent of the grant, or approximately $56,250, from the town’s capital budget to complete the project, and it expects to begin building in early 2019. 

“I would have preferred to have some more time to make an informed decision … or to potentially discuss the idea with experts first or in a work session with the board,” Inzerillo said. “I have the utmost faith in my fellow board members that they would not commit to anything concrete that would put these projects in jeopardy.”

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