Government

A rendering of the Gateway Plaza development on the left, and on the top right, the envisioned artist residences on the corners of New York Avenue and Church Street. Image from Renaissance Downtowns

Plans to revitalize Huntington Station are inching closer to fruition, with the town board holding a public hearing next week to jointly consider the environmental impacts of three potential developments that would inject the community with retail, commercial and residential spaces.

Renaissance Downtowns, a private developer the town appointed and charged with revitalizing Huntington Station, is spearheading the projects situated along New York Avenue. They include a four-story, 140-room hotel with 100,000 square feet of office space; 49 artists’ lofts, which would include residences and gallery space in a three-story building; and 68 residences made up of studios and one-bedroom units to be built above 16,000 square feet of retail space.

Andrea Bonilla, the community liaison for Source the Station, a partner of Renaissance Downtowns that solicits ideas for redevelopment in Huntington Station, said the public hearing will allow the board to consider the impacts of all three projects in one hearing, versus considering one at a time, which would take about six to nine months each, she said in an interview this week.

“The feeling was if you’re in very close proximity, to do a single environmental impact statement to cover the area,” town spokesman A.J. Carter said last week.

It’s a big step forward for Renaissance, and for the area’s revitalization, Ryan Porter, vice president for planning and development at Renaissance Downtowns said this week. “It’s huge,” he said.

The three projects represent what Renaissance has identified as “immediate opportunity sites,” meaning they’ll able to be developed within the current sewer district capacity.

There’s still work to be done before the projects are in the ground. Once the board considers the environmental impacts under the New York State Environmental Quality Review process, it can choose to adopt a finding on whether the projects pose a significant impact. If a favorable finding were adopted, Renaissance would begin financing the projects and gaining site plan approval for each lot, Porter said.

Porter said he hopes Renaissance breaks ground on the hotel project by the end of the year. He also said he has already attracted interest from companies such as Marriott and Hilton.

The public hearing next week is yet another town board milestone on Renaissance’s road to revitalization of Huntington Station. The most recent was the town board’s approval of a community benefits agreement in January that spells out job and economic benefits to the surrounding community if Renaissance develops property in Huntington Station. That agreement was the brainchild of a number of local groups, officials have said.

Workers clean up the section of Old Mill Creek behind Village Hall. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Old Mill Creek has been an unusual sight lately for those who are used to seeing the narrow Port Jefferson waterway choked with vegetation.

A contractor recently began working on the troubled creek, uprooting invasive trees and plants a few weeks ago and clearing the view to passersby. This week, workers were standing in the stretch of the stream behind Village Hall with an excavator at its bank. They are restoring the eastern half of the creek, which discharges into Port Jefferson Harbor.

Old Mill Creek has been polluted and dirty for a long time. Photo from Steve Velazquez
Old Mill Creek has been polluted and dirty for a long time. Photo from Steve Velazquez

Port Jefferson Village has a permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to install rock supports at the creek, replace invasive plants with freshwater species, remove built-up sediment that blocks water flow, install filters to improve water quality and repair a pipe known as a culvert that channels the creek under Barnum Avenue.

That culvert repair will alleviate some flooding issues downtown, because the pipe is largely blocked up and causes problems during high tide and storms when the creek swells.

A goal of the project is to improve water quality in the creek and, indirectly, in the harbor.

Last month the village hired Holbrook-based contractor G & M Earth Moving Inc. to perform the restoration work and will use a DEC grant to cover three-quarters of the cost.

Old Mill Creek starts near Longfellow Lane and Brook Road, passes the Caroline Avenue ball field and goes under Barnum. From there it goes past Village Hall and wraps around Schafer’s restaurant before running under West Broadway and into the harbor.

Over the years, invasive species, flooding and pollution have beaten up the creek. Hazardous chemicals that had been illegally dumped over many years at the former Lawrence Aviation Industries property, an aircraft-parts manufacturer in Port Jefferson Station, traveled down-gradient into the creek.

Beyond the current restoration project, the village has further plans for improving and protecting the waterway, including doing similar work on the half of it west of Barnum Avenue and reducing stormwater runoff in its entire 517-acre watershed area.

Cleanup project is next step in building transformation

The New York State Armory is slated to become the James D. Conte Community Center. File photo

Huntington’s town board took the next step needed to transform the New York State Armory in Huntington Station into the James D. Conte Community Center, approving a measure at a town board meeting last week to spend $437,000 to clean up large amounts of hazardous materials inside the building.

The board also voted on a resolution approving the conditions it must meet for a $1.5 million state grant that will be used to continue the building’s transformation into the center, named after the late state Assemblyman James Conte. The site is slated to become a multipurpose venue offering programs and services for both youth and adults.

When the town took over the building located on East 5th Street in Huntington Station, officials found asbestos and other unsafe material inside, town spokesperson A.J. Carter said in a phone interview this week.

“Before anything further can be done, the hazardous material has to be removed,”  he said.

Town board members approved a resolution authorizing Unitech Service Group, a Bay Shore business, for the remediation of hazardous material and other work needed done in order to move on to the next step of the transformation. The town’s director of purchasing received sealed bids and Unitech was chosen as the lowest responsible bidder for the project.

The work will include asbestos removal, waste disposal, temporary lighting, removal and recycling of mercury wall thermostats, installation of temporary waterproofing and more.

The center will serve as a collaborative venue for not-for-profits and other agencies to interact with town initiatives and agencies, such as the Huntington Business Incubator, Huntington Opportunity Resource Center, among others, to uplift the area and improve the lives of residents, according to a previous press release from the town.

A date for the project has not been set, as the town has not drawn up any contractual agreements, according to Carter. However, it is expected to begin later this year.

File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington Town is exploring how to stay on while the power isn’t.

The town board voted last week to apply to the New York State Energy Research and Development for a $100,000 grant that would explore the feasibility of creating a community microgrid energy system that would link up Huntington Town Hall, the Village Green senior center and the Huntington Sewer District wastewater treatment plant.

The town will spend $7,750 to hire technical consultant TRC, based in New York, to assist in preparing the grant application by the May 15 deadline. Huntington Hospital and the Huntington YMCA could also be potentially added to the microgrid, the town board resolution said.

Microgrids are essentially self-sustaining, small electric grids with their own generation resources and internal loads that may or may not be connected to the larger electric utility macrogrid, NYSERDA’s overview of the grant program said. NYSERDA, in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, said it plans to award up to $40 million under the three-stage NY Prize Community Grid Competition to support the development of community microgrids throughout the state.

“When a widespread power outage affects the town, it is important that electricity be restored to sites that provide vital emergency services,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D), who spearheaded the measure, said in a statement. “Creating a microgrid linking Town Hall, the Village Green Senior Center, the Huntington wastewater treatment plant, Huntington Hospital and the YMCA could help to restore electric service to those locations more quickly. The concept certainly merits a feasibility study, which is why the town is applying for this grant.”

Electric power in the U.S., including generation and distribution systems, used to operate on a smaller scale, but over time, regional utilities were developed to deliver cost-effective and reliable water, heat, power, fuel and communications over broader distances, according to a summary of the program on NYSERDA’s website.

“These systems are, however, vulnerable to outages that can impact large regions and thousands of businesses and citizens, particularly as a consequence of extreme, destructive weather events,” the summary said. “Microgrids could help minimize the impact of these outages by localizing power generation, distribution, and consumption so that a fallen tree or downed wire will not interrupt critical services for miles around.”

During Hurricane Sandy, Huntington Town Hall lost power, town spokesman A.J. Carter said, but officials were able to get the building back running via a generator. Getting on a microgrid, he said, could help Huntington’s most crucial facilities get online faster during outages.

“Theoretically it would allow the utility to target this grid first because of its emergency nature,” Carter said.

Councilwoman Susan Berland (D), who seconded the resolution offered by Supervisor Frank Petrone, said the town’s response to Hurricane Sandy power outages was good, but the microgrid is still worth exploring.

“If we could explore the idea of being on our own grid that’s something we should absolutely look into,” she said. “The exploration and the alternate conversion are obviously two different things, because you’d have to see what it would entail and whether it’s doable.”

Public hearing on code changes to take place May 5

Ethics board attorney Steven Leventhal. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Come May 5, the Huntington Town Board will hear from the public on proposed revisions to its own ethics code.

The changes to the code expand who must file a disclosure statement and what must be disclosed. The revisions also include a comprehensive code of conduct for town employees, according to a town statement. The proposal also calls for a plain-language booklet explaining the ethics code, and for the booklet to be prominently displayed on the town’s website.

Tweaks to the code are the product of work between the town’s ethics board and Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D).

“These changes have been in the works for many months, clarifying portions of the previous code and adding new features to further reassure our residents that Huntington conducts its government according to the highest ethical standards,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in a statement.

Edwards said the revisions take into consideration comments made by residents at a recent ethics board public hearing.

“This new code incorporates recent ethics changes enacted by the state, state court decisions, language from the New York State Comptroller’s model code of ethics, suggestions from ethics experts and, most importantly, public input at the recent hearing the Ethics Board conducted,” she said in the statement. “The new code also enhances the education requirements, so town officials and employees clearly know what conduct is allowed and what is not. This is a code we can be proud of, and I hope it will be well-received.”

The new version divides the code into three sections: a code of conduct; expanded disclosure requirements; and powers and duties of the Board of Ethics and Financial Disclosure. It expands the universe of people required to file financial disclosures to include policy makers and requires all public officials to disclose specific client information.

Those interested can view the proposed code at the Huntington Town Clerk’s office, and on the town’s website at huntingtonny.gov. Also, Edwards will be meeting with some who made specific recommendations for code tweaks at the ethics board hearing.

The board is expected to vote on the changes at its June 9 meeting, according to the statement.

Also at the April 21 meeting, the board appointed Edward William Billia of Huntington Station and reappointed Ralph Crafa of Northport to the ethics board. One vacancy still remains on the five-member board.

The May 5 meeting starts at 2:30 p.m.

Huntington Town Councilman Gene Cook. File photo by Rohma Abbas

The Huntington Town Board hired an outside attorney on Tuesday to investigate legal issues surrounding an East Northport rental property that Councilman Gene Cook (I) partially owns.

The board’s Democrats — Supervisor Frank Petrone, Councilwoman Susan Berland, Councilman Mark Cuthbertson and Councilwoman Tracey Edwards — voted in favor of the move. Cook recused himself from the vote.

The resolution follows recent reports in local newspapers the Observer and the Long Islander that focus on the Larkfield Road property Cook co-owns with attorney Josh Price and Huntington real estate agent Tim Cavanaugh. The property, which contains five apartment units in one structure, was written up on a town code violation late last year stemming from work that was done on the site in October.

The property is in a single-family zoning district but the owners claim the house predates Huntington Town enacting a building and zoning code in 1934, and point to a 1997 town document indicating that. The document, known as a letter in lieu of a certificate of occupancy, is issued to properties formed before the town began to issue those certificates. But the property has been on the Department of Public Safety’s radar for various issues, according to town files — most recently in October, over whether work done there had proper building permits. A town inspector told a previous owner that the occupancy document “does not designate use of the structure and that he must go to the [Zoning Board of Appeals] for the use of a five-family dwelling,” according to a town document.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Cook labeled the board’s appointing a special attorney “political payback.” He also noted the town has not issued him a summons to appear in court on any charges. Cook, the board’s minority member who caucuses with the local GOP, is seeking re-election to his seat this year.

Meanwhile, Petrone, who proposed hiring the attorney with a second from Cuthbertson, said the town needed to hire outside counsel to look into the matter.

“The intent is to resolve this.”

According to the resolution, the situation has “created a conflict which precludes the town attorney’s office from investigating further and which requires recusal of the town attorney’s office.”

Petrone said that is to be expected when an investigation involves a board member.

“If there is a violation, or anything that comes forward on a board member, we cannot really investigate the situation or even try to negotiate it out, because it’s a board member that really acts, votes on budgets and votes on the individuals that would be looked at for the solution to a problem,” he said to reporters after the meeting. “So you normally bring in someone from the outside, and that’s what this is for — bring someone in, bring them together, to hopefully resolve whatever the issue is.”

When reached on Wednesday, Price said he felt the situation was politically motivated.

“This is truly an example of a municipality using taxpayer dollars to go after its political enemy for no other reason than that they’re trying to win an election this year and it offends me to the very core,” he said.

The situation was brought up with the town’s ethics board at its annual meeting earlier this year. Northport resident Sherry Pavone read from a letter saying the town’s ethics code needs to be enhanced with regard to town board members disclosing relationships with individuals they recommend for appointments to the town’s decision-making boards. She was speaking specifically about Price, who Cook sought unsuccessfully to appoint to the town’s ZBA last year, and said Cook should have disclosed that he and Price were partners in a limited liability company that owns the multifamily home before moving to make the appointment.

The board hired attorney Edward Guardaro Jr., of the firm Kaufman, Borgeest & Ryan LLP, to look into the East Northport house case. The town is paying $200 per hour out of its operating budget.

Guardaro, who has worked with the town before, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Rally against New York State education changes

A protestor stands on North Country Road in Mount Sinai on Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Barbara Donlon

Educators, parents and students gathered outside state Sen. Ken LaValle’s Mount Sinai office Tuesday with one clear message: They won’t forget he voted “yes” on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget when it’s their turn to vote in November 2016.

Nearly 100 people rallied in front of the North Country Road office of LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), holding signs letting the senator and the community know they were upset he voted in favor of a portion of the 2015-16 state budget that amended the teacher evaluation system, lengthened the time before teachers can gain tenure and created new designations for failing schools.

Beth Dimino, president of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association and a John F. Kennedy Middle School teacher, said her association and other groups coordinated the protest to show the senator they don’t take his vote lightly.

“The purpose of this rally is to remind Mr. LaValle that his vote in favor of Mr. Cuomo’s budget and anti-public education agenda will be remembered by the parents and taxpayers in the November elections,” Dimino said.

A child hoists a sign during a public education protest. Photo by Barbara Donlon
A child hoists a sign during a public education protest. Photo by Barbara Donlon

LaValle, who was in Albany at the time of the protest, was just re-elected to his 20th term in the Senate and will be up for election again next year.

He said in a statement Wednesday, “We improved on what the governor put in his budget proposal and I fully expect we will continue to fix the education piece, with the final result addressing parents and educators concerns.”

April Quiggle, a Port Jefferson parent, said she came out to show how disappointed she is in the senator she always supported.

“I feel betrayed by him,” Quiggle said.

Not one person at the education rally was without a sign. Young children also held signs.

Miller Place resident Erik Zalewski, who teaches in the Middle Country school district, said LaValle and other politicians who voted in favor of the governor’s reform sold out educators and kids.

“It seems money is more important than the children,” Zalewski said.

Lucille McKee, president of the Shoreham-Wading River Teachers Association, joined in to let everyone know she is tired of non-educators making decisions about education.

Halfway through the rally supporters broke out in a cheer: “Ken LaValle you let us down, Ken LaValle you let the students down, Ken LaValle we will not forget!”

Many parents at the picket said they tried numerous times to reach out to the senator by phone and email and never heard back.

Hundreds of cars drove by as everyone protested on the corner of the road. Drivers honked, gave thumbs-up signs and cheered, letting the protesters know they supported them.

A restaurant is proposed for the old Suffolk County Water Authority building, above. The owner of Schafer's restaurant says the development will block the view from his building's deck, which can be seen in the background. Photo by Elana Glowatz

A proposal to build a restaurant at the old Suffolk County Water Authority building on West Broadway has one neighboring businessman crying foul, saying the establishment would block his customers’ view of the harbor.

At a Port Jefferson Planning Board meeting on April 16, representatives for property owner The Crest Group LLC and President Enrico Scarda shared plans for the roughly 1/4-acre lot on the north side of the street, right off of the harbor. According to Port Jefferson Station-based engineer Allen Bernhard, the restaurant would include a second-floor outdoor deck with a footprint almost the size of the building itself — just shy of 2,000 square feet. The deck would start on the side of the building and wrap around to the north side, facing the harbor.

At the public hearing, Bernhard said the existing building at the site, which would stay, would block most of the deck when viewed from the south “so it’s not interrupting views.”

Even with planning board approval, the restaurant would still need a permit for outdoor dining from the village board of trustees.

The deck was the main point of contention during the meeting. Attorney Zachary Beriloff, of Ronkonkoma-based Gruenberg Kelly Della, who is representing Schafer’s owner Tom Schafer, said the dining area would actually block the outdoor “observation deck” at Schafer’s restaurant, on the other side of West Broadway.

“It obstructs the view of the water from across the street,” Beriloff said.

But attorney Linda Margolin, of Islandia-based Bracken Margolin Besunder LLP, countered that the issue was a matter between private landowners, not something regulated by the law.

“The issue for this board is not whether the view from Mr. Schafer’s observation deck is important to him,” she said. “I’m sure it is. The question is whether the view from Mr. Schafer’s observation deck is a view of particular importance to the public. … That’s not a public view of significance.”

Beriloff also took issue with three variances the zoning board granted for the project, on the restaurant’s size, parking area and distance from other restaurants. He said Schafer was not properly notified of the proposal and asked the planning board to hold off on any decisions until the matter is resolved.

The board adjourned the hearing, which will resume on May 14.

Aside from the addition of the deck, the proposal does not call for many changes to the outward appearance of the site. Bernhard said the owner would keep much of the original architecture but add large windows on the north side of the building. He also said the owner would plant some trees where possible.

The proposed restaurant could be in limbo for a little while, however, because of a parking issue at the site.
The old water authority building sits at the edge of the Brookhaven Town marina parking lot, with some of the town parking spaces immediately to the north and west of the site and the lot’s entrance to the east. Brookhaven Town has plans to cede control to Port Jefferson Village of those roughly 30 nearby parking spaces in a deal the two municipalities arranged to make up for a deficit of spaces at a mixed-use project up the road, at the historic First National Bank of Port Jefferson. The town owns the bank building and the building next door on East Main Street that used to house the tax receiver’s office and is selling the property to a developer who will put in retail space and apartments. But as the details on that project are not finalized, the marina parking spaces at the harbor are not yet officially in the hands of the village.

There are no other parking spots near the water authority building, possibly linking the fate of the restaurant proposal with that of the parking space deal between the town and the village.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone shakes hands with a veteran after signing two bills into law, as other officials look on. Photo by Rohma Abbas

A roomful of veterans and lawmakers gathered in Northport on Monday morning to salute the signing of two new Suffolk County bills aimed at protecting veterans and the public against acts of stolen valor.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed the legislation, which was spearheaded by Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), into law. One of the bills makes it illegal for individuals to fraudulently represent themselves as decorated veterans to members of the public in order to solicit donations or obtain money, property or other benefits. The law makes it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or one year in prison.

The second law imposes stiffer requirements on veteran nonprofit groups that solicit donations in Suffolk County. Such groups will be required to disseminate financial information to the public about how their fundraising dollars are being spent.

The laws were born out of a joint effort of many veterans, Spencer said, namely John Cooney, the commander of the Northport American Legion Post 694 and Tom Kehoe, former Northport Village Board. Both men held Spencer’s “feet to the fire” to get the legislation drafted, particularly after what Cooney described as instances in Huntington Town in which individuals fraudulently represented themselves as veterans for personal gain.

“The needs of our veterans and the desire to give on part of our residents can create vulnerability, as organizations and individuals have sought to take advantage, to profit from these circumstances,” Spencer told an audience of veterans at the Northport American Legion. “The two bills that we sign here today will work in conjunction to ensure our charitable dollars go where they should go — to support our veterans.”

A number of local leaders attended the conference, including Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), Supervisor Frank Petrone (D), Councilman Gene Cook (I), Northport Village Mayor George Doll and Northport Village Police Chief Ric Bruckenthal. The village police chief lost his son, Nathan Bruckenthal, a U.S. Coast Guardsman, who was killed in a terrorist-suicide bombing in Iraq 11 years ago this week.

“Why are we here today?” Bellone, who is also a veteran, said. “Because the notion that someone would step forward and put themselves out as a veteran of this country in order to raise money to benefit themselves is an absolute disgrace and it is something that we cannot under any circumstances tolerate. And it’s a disgrace when you have young men like [Nathan] Bruckenthal, who has family who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country and you have men like that all across our country.”

Nonprofit groups seeking to solicit donations on behalf of veterans must register with the county’s Veterans Services Agency before doing so, and that process would be enhanced under this new legislation. Those groups would now have to submit information on how the funds they’ve raised benefited veterans, and they would need to provide a slew of new documents, including federal and state tax returns and the names of the group’s board of directors. The Office of the Suffolk County Comptroller would work with the Veterans Services Agency to review the information, and the agency would ultimately decide whether to approve or deny an application.

Individuals would be barred from fraudulently representing records of military service, and anyone who makes mention of their military service must provide, upon demand, proof in the form of credentials or identification of their veteran status. The Veterans Services Agency can deny or revoke a group’s registration certificate if it’s deemed that someone from the group violated the federal Stolen Valor Act.

“This is a great example of veterans coming together and working with our committed legislators to provide and protect,” Cooney said. “To protect the valor and the integrity of those who have served. And to ensure that funds go to those veterans that legitimately need assistance.”

Supervisor Ed Romaine and Councilwoman Jane Bonner speak against PSEG Long Island's proposed rate increase. Photo by Erika Karp

Brookhaven officials announced Thursday that the town is seeking permission from the New York State Public Service Commission to intervene on PSEG Long Island’s pending application to the commission for a rate increase.

At a press conference, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and councilmembers Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), Dan Panico (R-Manorville) and Neil Foley (R-Blue Point) expressed their concerns about the increase in the delivery charge portion of customers’ bills — a nearly 4 percent bump each year for three years — set to kick in next year. The officials said they believe PSEG Long Island hasn’t adequately justified the increase, which would have a “devastating impact,” on Long Island residents.

“We want to make sure that our voices are heard — the ratepayers in Brookhaven Town are heard,” Romaine said.

By legally intervening, according to attorney Rob Calica, of Garden City-based law firm Rosenberg Calica & Birney LLP, town officials would have access to filings and documents that are otherwise not public.

“If the town doesn’t intervene, it’s a commenter,” said Calica, who the town retained to handle the matter. “The comment period is closed. If the town doesn’t intervene, the records that are unavailable for public review remain unavailable. If the town intervenes, it elevates its status from commenter to a party.”

The utility stated in its proposal that it would invest in maintaining and modernizing the electric system; enhancing technology for managing customer accounts; improving infrastructure to better prepare for and respond to storms; and improving system reliability.

The town joins Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr., who asked to act as an intervener in an April 10 letter to the New York State Department of Public Service, the department which contains the commission.

According to PSEG Long Island’s application, the three-year increase will amount to an approximate $221 million increase in revenues.

In his letter, Kennedy called it questionable to give “that excessive amount of money” to a “quasi-governmental entity that is supposed to be a leader in management performance, yet decides to increase the average residential customer’s bills when its own employees live and work on Long Island.”

This is the first time in more than 20 years that Long Island’s utility provider has had to submit a rate plan to the Department of Public Service, as required by the LIPA Reform Act of 2013, which also put the Long Island Power Authority under the management of private company PSEG Long Island. The department assigned administrative law judges to hear the case, on which Long Island residents commented at public hearings held throughout March.

Brookhaven officials and Kennedy said they also took issue with the fact that the utility’s proposed increase does not have to follow any cap that other public institutions, like governments and school districts, have to abide by, referring to the state’s tax levy increase cap. Romaine said PSEG Long Island should have to comply with and be held to higher standards.

“They are a public authority no different than the Town of Brookhaven,” he said.

In an email, Jeff Weir, PSEG Long Island’s director of communications, said the organization is proud to have the most transparent rate proceeding that local customers have ever seen.

“We believe the modest increase that we are seeking in our filing will allow us to continue to create a more resilient, modern and customer-responsive electric utility,” Weir stated. “We welcome the opportunity to continue to have constructive, open dialogue regarding our request.”

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