Government

Project is one of three slated for Huntington Station

A rendering of what the affordable veteran housing project on Depot Road and E9th Street would look like. A zone change is required to move the plan forward. Photo from Fred DeSanti

The Huntington Town Board will consider changing the zoning on its own motion of a Huntington Station property next month to make way for a veterans affordable housing project.

The proposal, which would be built on a quarter-acre vacant lot on the corner of Depot Road and East 9th Street, entails creating four, one-bedroom affordable units in a two-story building with a lobby, according to property owner Fred DeSanti. The town board is considering changing the zoning from C-6 Huntington Station Overlay District to C-1 Office Residence District to accommodate the project.

DeSanti said in thinking up ways to develop the property that he and his brother-in-law Douglas Quimby own both became interested in helping veterans while also doing their part to revitalize Huntington Station.

“We just thought this was a way we could do something good for the community [and] we could provide much needed housing for the veterans,” he said.

The town and the community, he said, received the project warmly. Joan Cergol, the executive director of the town’s Economic Development Corporation, said DeSanti approached her with the idea in part to contribute to the area’s face-lift while also giving veterans an affordable place to live. She said the town is supportive of the project.

DeSanti’s project isn’t the only veterans housing project slated for the area. VetsBuild is in the process of building the country’s first ever Department of Energy zero-energy home built by vets and for vets on Depot Road near East 5th Street, a project that is in final reviews at Huntington Town. Also, the town is working on pushing forward Columbia Terrace, a 14-unit affordable housing condo complex for veterans to be located at Railroad Street and Lowndes Avenue.

“There seems to be an organic appearance of veteran-based housing in Huntington Station, which is a welcome type of a development as we are pursing new development in the downtown area,” Cergol said.

Once it is completed, the VetsBuild project — a green project — will create and generate as much energy as it uses, according to Rick Wertheim, the senior vice president of green initiatives and housing at United Way of Long Island. It will accommodate five veterans with special needs.

Asked why build in Huntington Station, Wertheim said they liked that the area’s slated for redevelopment. The town board has been working with master developer Renaissance Downtowns to redevelop the area.

Building in such an area “gives the folks who live there the opportunity to walk to a really dynamic living experience as opposed to being densely nested in a residential area where they’re kind of cut off from everything,” Wertheim said.

Cergol said she believes the word is getting out about change in Huntington Station.

“I think that there’s a general sense of optimism and enthusiasm to be a part of positive change in Huntington Station,” she said. “Whether you are a government, a private property owner or a nonprofit … everybody is looking through the same kind of prism now.”

Officials celebrate the installation of a new septic system in Nesconset. Photo from Bellone’s office

Nineteen households won, but one winner on Laura Court in Nesconset was the first to reap the benefits.

The county installed its first advanced on-site septic system last Thursday, Aug. 20, via the Suffolk County Advanced Septic Pilot Program Lottery as part of the Reclaim Our Water initiative to improve water quality, restore natural storm barriers and implement on-site wastewater treatment systems. County Executive Steve Bellone (D) called it a significant step in improving the quality of water on Long Island.

“This pilot program will demonstrate the benefits of protecting one of our great natural resources and will provide individual homeowners as well as the rest of Suffolk County an opportunity to improve both the environment of their homes as well as that of Suffolk County,” he said.

The 19 systems were donated by four national manufacturers: Hydro-Action Industries, BUSSE Green Technologies, Norweco and Orenco Systems. The advanced wastewater treatment systems are valued at up to $15,000 per system.

Cops charge Eddie Schmidt with grand, petit larceny as association continues search for missing finances

Former Poquott civic President Eddie Schmidt goes over civic matters over the summer. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Former Poquott Village Trustee Eddie Schmidt, who was accused of stealing more than $23,000 from the civic association while the 22-year-old was the group’s president, was arrested and charged with grand and petit larcenies last week.

Police said Schmidt, who was arrested at 10:45 a.m. on Aug. 17 at his home on Birchwood Avenue, was charged with two counts of petit larceny and one count of grand larceny for incidents of theft that occurred between September 2013 and May 2014, according to a police spokeswoman. She said Schmidt took cash from the Poquott Civic Association.

Tad Scharfenberg, an attorney representing Schmidt, called the situation “outrageous,” and said “from what I’ve seen he’s actually done nothing wrong.” In a phone interview on Tuesday, Scharfenberg defended his client and said he didn’t steal any money.

“They’re just unhappy with the way it was spent.”

Scharfenberg said Schmidt didn’t spend any of the money on himself. Asked what he spent the money on, Schmidt’s attorney said they’re analyzing that now, and he called it a “situation where I don’t think he did a great job of record keeping.”

“This is a really good kid,” Scharfenberg said. “College kid, working hard. They’re trying to blow him up and it’s not right.”

The arrest marks a milestone in a saga that had gripped the village earlier this year, when civic officials alleged he took more than $23,000 while he was the president of the Poquott Civic Association.

Officials had claimed that while president, Schmidt used money raised at civic events to purchase things unrelated to civic expenses, like gasoline, Vineyard Vines clothing and dining at gourmet restaurants.

Schmidt resigned as president of the group last September.

Earlier this year, Schmidt fired back against the accusations in an email, breaking his silence since the allegations arose late last year. He called the claims rumors.

“The silence was a courtesy as I thought the present Board was genuinely working towards a mutual agreement between us to benefit the community. Unfortunately, the board was not genuine in its dealings, and has acted contrary to resolution,” Schmidt said in the letter. “I am writing this letter now to explain the situation, as I have genuine concerns regarding the presentation of the information by the Board, and by the climate of rumor that has spread throughout our village.”

In that letter, he spoke about the events he helped bring forward as president of the civic, despite carrying a hefty workload while attending college at 19 years old.

“I did my best to work towards common ground while rumors became widespread, and incorrect information and damaging assumptions were presented.”

In March, Poquott Civic Association officials spoke publicly about a potential settlement between Schmidt and the board for $15,000. President Carol Pesek said at the time that the settlement offer was for $15,000 — $5,000 less than the money originally demanded late last year — and also included a controversial confidentiality clause that would forbid the board from speaking of the matter. There was also a nondisclosure clause that would forbid it from letting the community know where the money came from, and an agreement that Schmidt would not be prosecuted, the civic board said. But civic officials couldn’t get past the confidentiality clause.

It’s not immediately clear what happened to that settlement offer.

Mountains of mulch dwarf Councilman Dan Panico, Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro and Supervisor Ed Romaine at the Brookhaven Town highway yard in Setauket. Photo from Brookhaven Town

The severe thunderstorm that slapped around the North Shore earlier this month had one benefit: Lots of debris leads to lots of mulch.

Brookhaven Town officials announced recently that the town now has a large supply of mulch to give away to residents, and both mulch and compost will be distributed for free, as supplies last. Residents must bring their own containers to the distribution locations throughout the town and must load the materials into their vehicles themselves.

Pickup locations, which opened for distribution on Aug. 24, include:

Percy Raynor park, at Route 347 and Belle Mead Road in Centereach, Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the weekend.

Rose Caracappa Senior Center on Route 25A in Mount Sinai, Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the weekend.

Brookhaven Town Hall’s south parking lot, off 1 Independence Hill in Farmingville, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Robert Reid park, at Defense Hill Road and Route 25A in Shoreham, Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the weekend.

Holtsville Ecology Center, on Buckley Road in Holtsville, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more information and pickup locations, call 631-451-TOWN.

Supervisor Ed Romaine breaks ground where the two homes are being built for returning veterans. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Local officials joined Mark Baisch, president of Landmark Properties in Rocky Point, and Joe Cognitore, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249, to celebrate the groundbreaking of two homes Baisch is building for returning veterans and their families.

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) attended the groundbreaking event, which took place on Aug. 20 in front of the property on Tyler Avenue in Sound Beach.

“We as a nation — we as a country, as a state, as a county, as a town owe them our thanks,” Romaine said.

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Commander Joe Cognitore, Councilwoman Jane Bonner, Supervisor Ed Romaine and Councilman Dan Panico pose for a photo before tying a ribbon around the oak tree that will rest between two homes being built and given to returning veterans. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Commander Joe Cognitore, Councilwoman Jane Bonner, Supervisor Ed Romaine and Councilman Dan Panico pose for a photo before tying a ribbon around the oak tree that will rest between two homes being built and given to returning veterans. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Bonner also commended Baisch for his efforts.

“Kudos to Mark for having the creative brain to come up with an idea and push the envelope, as you will, to create an opportunity to build houses for veterans,” Bonner said.

Baisch purchased the property two years ago and wanted to give back to the veterans by building two homes. These are Baisch’s ninth and tenth homes for returning veterans. The first home he built was also in Sound Beach, and was given to a veteran who earned a Purple Heart for his services.

“This is not something for the faint of heart,” Baisch said during the press conference.

Cognitore joined Baisch to help him execute his idea. As Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he took on the responsibility of selecting candidates for the two $249,000 homes.

In order for the veterans to qualify for the homes, they must be first-time homebuyers making less than $200,000 to $300,000 annually. The amount of time a vet served in either the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the size of the vet’s family and whether they received awards for their service are determining factors in deciding which applicants will receive the homes.

It is still unknown which veterans and their families will receive the homes.

“If you all go away with one thing, I want you to go and find me two veterans for these houses,” Baisch said. “That’s the most important thing.”

The town board discusses a resolution added to a meeting agenda. Photo by Phil Corso

A Smithtown councilman is proposing to raise the minimum wage for town employees, but the discussion has been tabled for future consideration.

Town Councilman Bob Creighton (R) initially proposed to have a minimum wage resolution be added to the agenda to last Tuesday afternoon’s town board meeting, which would effectively set the minimum wage at $9 per hour as of April 1, 2016.

The motion was met with skepticism, and Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) moved to table the proposal for a future date, which the board unanimously approved.

Over the last several months Smithtown resolutions for municipal hires showed workers being hired at rates anywhere from as low as $8 and as high as $16 per hour. The town, however, is not legally bound to abide by a minimum wage.

Creighton could not be reached for comment. The discussion will be revisited at a later town board session.

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Mayor Dee Parrish signs a document at Thursday evening’s Poquott Village board meeting at Poquott Village Hall. Photo by Talia Amorosano

By Talia Amorosano

In the early morning, on Tuesday, Aug. 4, a surprise extreme weather event literally took the North Shore by storm, leaving floods, fallen trees, and power outages in its wake, and causing Village of Poquott officials to declare a State of Emergency.

Nine days later, on Aug. 13, it was clear that effects were still very much being felt in the Three Village area, with uprooted trees and debris lining the roadways up to Poquott Village Hall. There, at 7 p.m., citizens of the village gathered to voice their reactions to board members’ handling of the storm, and to express requests for how the remaining damages should be handled.

A major complaint many meeting attendants shared involved communication between board members and the public. Residents at the meeting voiced concerns of a lag in response time from Poquott Mayor Dee Parrish and her administration, which one trustee took issue with.

“The only way we found out the road had re-opened was to drive down there and look, make a U-turn, and go back.” Trustee Harry Berry said in defense of the accusation. “We heard nothing. First off, there was no power— a lot of people didn’t get their power back until Saturday. There was no Internet, and cellphone coverage was terrible.”

Still, residents argued the village officials could have done more to communicate with the greater Poquott community after the storm.

Indeed, the storm did bring with it increased safety concerns. Village resident Carol Pesek emphasized the importance of future communication in terms of relaying how to avoid some of the unique dangers brought about by the storm. She specifically noted the necessity of avoiding trees touching downed telephone wires.

Parrish said she would note these considerations for the future, and then brought the public commentary section of the meeting to an early close. After this, the board approved resolutions authorizing Parrish to draft and submit a FEMA application requesting financial support to cover storm damages, directing Clerk Joseph Newfield to schedule, and notice accordingly, public bids for cleaning of village drains per the list from the Commission of Environmental and also directing the clerk to schedule, and notice accordingly, public bids for tree clean up and removal in the village from the storm.

A resolution approving a village carting company to conduct an additional pick-up of residential landscaping debris, not to exceed $5,000, was tabled, on the condition that enough debris may be cleared by individual residents to render the additional expense unnecessary.

The Poquott Civic Association and Village of Poquott also held a fundraiser on the afternoon of Saturday, Aug. 15, at the park on the corner of Washington Street and Chestnut Avenue. Tommy Sullivan, of Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge, performed a free, old-time rock n’ roll concert, and attendees donated money and participated in a raffle to raise funds for storm repairs.

With community participation and cooperation between elected officials and constituents, the Three Village area will recover from this storm quickly and, perhaps more importantly, gain the tools and experience necessary to prepare for future incidents of extreme weather.

Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Huntington Town Board is considering partnering with Suffolk County to buy the development rights of a Greenlawn Christmas tree farm.

The board held a public hearing on Tuesday to discuss a plan to buy a conservation easement and the development rights of the Tilden Lane Farm on Wyckoff Street in Greenlawn. The Tilden family has operated the farm for generations, and the property has been recognized as a National Bicentennial Farm for its more than 200 years of continuous farm use.

The town would use money from its Environmental Open Space and Park Fund and would split the cost with Suffolk County, according to a Town Board resolution.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said the legislator supports the move: “Few and far between are there opportunities in this district to have open space preservation, so he is in support of this.”

Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), who sponsored the measure, said he brought it forward because it was a “win-win” in that it offers the possibility to preserve the land, but also allows the Christmas tree operation to continue. Cuthbertson said he’s frequented the farm on occasions.

“It costs us less to outright purchase and allows something that’s a very compatible use to continue,” he said.

Asked how much the development rights would cost, Cuthbertson said the town is at the “beginning stages” of that process.

At this week’s public hearing, members of the Tilden family urged the board to move forward with the acquisition of the development rights, which would preserve the property as farmland forever. Six years ago, the town and county made an offer to buy the rights, and an appraisal of the property was done, but the farm’s owner at the time turned the offer down, according to town spokesman A.J. Carter.

The opportunity came up again when the current heirs became interested in selling the land.

“We’re trying to keep our Christmas tree operation going,” Bruce Tilden said. “We’re thankful the town is supporting this endeavor and we’re looking forward to keep it going.”

Neighbor Jane Irving also urged the board to move forward with the purchase, noting that the Tilden family “has always been good neighbors.”

“Isn’t it wonderful that the Town of Huntington has a working tree farm within the town borders?”

Spencer’s spokesperson said the development rights purchase would be reviewed by the county’s farmland committee on Sept. 15.

A deli on the Platt’s Tavern site would be demolished under Dominick Mavellia’s zone change application to construct a medical office building. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Huntington Town Board postponed a decision on whether to rezone a historic Huntington village property that once hosted George Washington for dinner in 1790.

The deadline for the decision was Sept. 7, but the board voted to extend that until Dec. 6.

The project area is the site of the former Platt’s Tavern, one of the first buildings in the area. According to town documents, Washington dined at the establishment on April 23, 1790, during a tour of Long Island.

Developer Dominick Mavellia wants to change the zoning of a parcel on the corner of Route 25A and Park Avenue from R-15 Residence District to C-1 Office Residence District to make way for a 10,000-square-foot medical office building at the site. Of that space, GoHealth Urgent Care would occupy 3,000 square feet, and 7,000 square feet would be regular medical office space for North Shore-LIJ Health System.

Part of the plan would also include situating a life-sized statue of George Washington beside his horse on the property.

At a public hearing on June 9, residents said they wanted a more historic look incorporated into the application — particularly with the proposed design of the structure. Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said the extra time on the decision is in part to afford the developer and the community more time to work on the application.

“The owner of the property continues to work with residents and historical groups to tweak the property to reflect their concerns and comments, so this gives him extra time to do more tweaking,” town spokesman A.J. Carter said in an interview this week.

File photo

The Commack Volunteer Ambulance Corps is running out of credit, and is calling on the Smithtown Town Board to help them change the way they sustain cash.

Director Rich O’Brien and chief Tom Lowenberg of the Commack VAC spoke before the Town Board at a work session on Tuesday morning with hopes of swaying the town to help them seek new ways to collect revenue and, hopefully, save taxpayer dollars for both Smithtown and Huntington residents who utilize the service.

O’Brien pitched a plan that would essentially bill private insurance companies for patient care, which he said would ultimately reduce the amount of money both towns would need to allocate to the group on an annual basis.

When a resident receives care through the Commack VAC, O’Brien said the group would then submit a patient care report to the hospital, which would gather insurance information on the patient, and then the VAC would bill the insurance company for reimbursement of costs, which could be as high as $1,000 on any given call. If a resident does not have insurance, he said the group would establish a plan in which they could pay for the services they received.

O’Brien said his group’s call volume has been steadily increasing to nearly 3,600 calls each year, but revenues have not matched the growth to accommodate activities.

“This is simply the most practical way to save taxpayer money,” O’Brien said. “Commack is growing, and if you look at the Commack division between Smithtown and Huntington, our calls are coming in around 60 percent Smithtown and 40 percent Huntington.”

The director said the group had been advised to borrow money to keep it afloat, but rising debt costs have left the VAC at what O’Brien and Lowenberg called a plateau.

“We started borrowing, but our operating budget has suffered,” Lowenberg said.

In order to reduce taxpayer dollars, O’Brien said Commack should follow suit of other volunteer ambulance corps across Long Island to seek financial reimbursements from residents’ insurance companies, and use the money to help expand the services and also leave the group less reliant on town money.

Lowenberg said insurance company reimbursements were an untapped resource utilized typically at private ambulance companies, but not as much by volunteer groups.

He also said new revenues would help the VAC fund a fifth ambulance vehicle and potentially expand into a new space near Commack Road and New Highway.

The 2015 adopted budget for Smithtown allocated $1,001,435 for the entire Commack Ambulance District.

Smithtown Comptroller Donald Musgnug said he has been working with the VAC to comb through the numbers and assess the best plan of action. He said insurance company money could potentially be what might eventually allow Commack’s VAC to stand on its own without the town’s taxpayer money to sustain it.

“It does seem to be a legal form of service they could do,” he said. “Clearly, there is a need for good volunteer ambulance corps service. Looking long-range, it stabilizes taxes to the district and would result in a decrease. It definitely should be pursued.”

The Commack group would still need Huntington Town to sign onto the plan in order to make it practical, Musgnug said, and town officials there have been vetting the proposal for future consideration.

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