Times of Huntington-Northport

Plan calls for the hiring of 40 additional engineers and police department staff

A temporary heating and air conditioning unit installed at the homeless shelter of Northport VA medical center. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The new leadership at the reigns of the 90-year-old Northport VA Medical Center has unveiled a three-year plan aimed at making $21 million in repairs to address critical infrastructural and staffing concerns.

Director Scott Guermonprez said since taking up the position in June 2017, he has drafted together a plan that looks to address the out-of-date utilities systems and crumbling buildings that led to the closure of its homeless veterans housing in January, and a brief shutdown of its operating rooms in February.

““We have to figure out how we focus on the resources we have and use them as quickly and prudently as possible.”
– Scott Guermonprez

“There was a facility condition assessment done last year that came out that said if we were to try to fully rehabilitate the entire campus it would cost more than $450 million, or to try to build a new one would cost more than $1 billion,” Guermonprez said. “We have to figure out how we focus on the resources we have and use them as quickly and prudently as possible.”

There are approximately $7 million in projects getting underway this year, according to the director, which includes replacing four of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning units of the main medical center as well as a new roof.

The VA director said they had also received approximately $1.1 million to renovate the homeless veterans shelter, run by the nonprofit Beacon House, with new ductwork and an electronically controlled heating and cooling system. The work is expected to be completed by the end of the summer, according to Guermonprez.

The director said the three-year plan also calls for hiring 40 additional engineering and trade staff to oversee maintenance and upkeep of the 71-building campus under its new Chief Engineer Oscar Prue.

“[Prue] has been very successful in overseeing a large number of projects over multiple years and multiple locations,” Guermonprez said, noting he’s worked on VA medical centers in Albany and Syracuse.

“While this VA has plenty of work ahead of them, I am confident that they have a plan and are moving in the right direction…”
– Tom Suozzi

The first major project Prue is expected to tackle is the demolition of long-abandoned Buildings 1 and 2 which housed the facility’s original hospital, standing opposite the current medical center.

“It’s an eyesore,” the director said. “One of the biggest complaints we’ve had with Northport is insufficient parking. When it was built nearly 40 years ago, the intent was to demolish those buildings. It never happened.”

He anticipates the Department of Veterans Affairs will give him clearance to move forward shortly, with demolition tentatively scheduled to start in the late fall. These two of the 428 buildings nationwide the Veterans Administration has plans to demolish or repurpose. The space cleared will be converted to additional parking space for the medical center, allowing a few hundred spaces to be added.

“We want to add valet parking,” Guermonprez said. “We have the largest number of veterans over 80 years old in the New York-New Jersey health care system. We want to make it easier for them.”

Adding more parking and upgrading the heating and cooling systems will allow Northport VA to consolidate its medical treatment services into the medical center. Currently some programs like the outpatient mental health services and opthamology are in outlying buildings.

“[W]e are expanding police services given the unfortunate incidents occurring across the nation with shootings as we want to keep our veterans safe.
– Colleen Luckner

“While this VA has plenty of work ahead of them, I am confident that they have a plan and are moving in the right direction to ultimately upgrade and restore these facilities so that they can properly serve and honor our veterans here and in the community,” Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said after touring the VA facility with the director in late April.

Other key components of the VA’s three-year plan include replacing the campus’s steam vents and expanding its security force to deal with modern threats, said Colleen Luckner, associate director of Northport VA.

“In addition to the construction projects, we are expanding police services given the unfortunate incidents occurring across the nation with shootings as we want to keep our veterans safe,” Luckner said.

The Northport VA will be hiring on additional staff for its police department as well as implementing new systems such as additional cameras, panic alarms and other such measures.
Later this year, the Northport VA expects to celebrate the grand opening of expansion of its Riverhead outpatient clinic to include more physical therapy space and hearing services in July, before adding physical therapy, occupational therapy and more services to its Patchogue location.

No. 9 Harborfields will travel to No. 8 Westhampton today at 4 p.m. in the second round of playoffs

By Bill Landon

Harborfields’ strength lies in its singles play. The No. 9-seeded boys tennis team swept all four singles spots — all the Tornadoes would need in a best-of-seven series — and went on to blank visiting Brentwood 7-0 in the first round of the Suffolk County playoffs.

Harborfields junior Alex Rzehak, who earned All-State honors the last two years, led his team at first singles. He shut down Brentwood’s Armando Santana 6-0, 6-0.

“He’s our No. 1 player,” Harborfields head coach Bob Davis said of his state tournament alternate. “He plays the best kid on every other team in our division. In fact, the top four finishers in the county are all from our division. This is the second year in a row he’s the alternate. He’s a junior, so he’ll get another bite at the apple.”

Eighth-grader Chris Qi, at fourth singles, also shut out his Brentwood opponent.

“He wound up with a 9-3 record this year in our division — that’s not easy,” the coach said. “We have some kids who are serious about tennis, and [slowly but surely] we’re getting there.”

Other young Harborfields athletes shined during the match. Freshman Michael Singer nipped his challenger 6-1, 6-0 at second singles. Singer made the All-County team this year, and won a round in the county singles tournament.

“We’re hoping for big things from him [moving forward,]” Davis said.

Rounding out singles action was junior Bobby Bellino, who won his match 6-0, 6-1.

“He could wind up being the best of all,” the coach said of his third singles player. “He’s got amazing tools, he just has to work on his consistency.”

The second doubles pair of John Mulé and Luke Verdon competed in the only match that went to three sets. After falling 3-6 in the first, the seniors rallied back 6-3, 6-1 to claim a win in the second-to-last match of the afternoon.

“It was interesting,” Mulé said. “We really didn’t play much at all last week because of the weather. We may have underestimated our opponent at first, they’re pretty good.”

Davis, although thinking his team should have been seeded higher, said he’s under no illusion that his team will have to work hard to prepare for No. 8 Westhampton May 23. The Tornadoes will travel to Westhampton for a 4 p.m. match.

“I think we should’ve gotten a high seed … so now we have to go out and prove it,” he said. “Westhampton is a very good team. It’ll be a very good match, so we’ll see what happens.”

Bellino said he’ll be prepared, but added the doubles pairs will also need to be ready to back up the singles players.

“It’ll be a lot of pressure on our doubles guys — they have to come up big and get those crucial points because if one of us in singles loses, we need a doubles team to pull through,” he said. “I’m just going to go in with a clear head and not think about the pressure that’s riding on the game … just go out and have fun, try to find my opponent’s weakness and use that to my advantage.”

This version was updated May 22 at 9 p.m. to change the date of Harborfields’ next game, which was postponed due to rain.

Five people were injured Sunday when a SUV flipped onto its side on Larkfield Road in East Northport.

The East Northport Fire Department and Suffolk County police responded to reports of a motor vehicle crash near the intersection of Larkfield Road and Cedar Road at approximately 7 p.m. May 20. The accident involved a Toyota SUV that had overturned onto it’s side and had swiped another car. Firefighters had to use the heavy rescue tools including the “jaws of life” to remove the roof from the vehicle, according to fire department spokesman Steve Silverman.

The five occupants of the SUV, three adults and two children, were transported to Huntington Hospital where they were treated for non-life-threatening injuries, Silverman said. The driver of the car declined any medical assistance.

There were about 50 East Northport firefighters and emergency personnel who responded and were on the scene with four heavy rescue engines, four ambulances, paramedic first responders and fire police under the direction of fire Chief Dan Heffernan.

Huntington Station resident Michael Colangelo in uniform. Photo from Facebook

Two off-duty New York City police officers from Long Island were killed in an upstate car crash Sunday.

New York City Police Department said in a press statement Huntington Station resident Michael Colangelo, 31, and Hauppauge resident John Martinez, 39, were killed in a single-car crash May 20. Colangelo was assigned to the NYPD’s canine unit while Martinez worked in the 84th Precinct’s detective squad.

New York state police responded to reports of a fatal motor vehicle accident on Oliveria Road in Shandaken, New York at approximately 11:23 p.m. May 20. Police determined that Martinez was driving a 2018 Maserati when the vehicle left the roadway and struck a large tree, before flipping and coming to a stop on it’s roof. Both Colangelo, a passenger, and Martinez, were pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. A third passenger was transported to Albany Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries.

Watch TBR News Media for more to come on this breaking news story.

Correction: Updated 2:38 p.m. May 21:  The NYPD officer killed is John Martinez, not James as first reported. 

Two Dix Hills men arrested as a result of a long-term investigation

Dix Hill residents Wesley Snider and Steve Polizzi were arrested by New York State police for allegedly possessing more than 500 pounds of marijuana. Photo from NYS Police Dept

New York State police announced the arrest of two men who allegedly had more than 500 pounds of marijuana stored in two East Northport facilities.

The state police’s Troop L narcotics unit, based in Farmingdale, along with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office arrested two men for allegedly possessing drugs after a long-term investigation. Police executed search warrants at a Dix Hills home and two storage facilities, located at 2083 and 2091 Jericho Turnpike in East Northport. The officers found more than 500 pounds of marijuana, which was estimated to have a street value of more than $2 million. In addition, there was more than $200,000 along with multiple vehicles and real estate properties seized as result of the investigation, according to state police.

State police arrested two Dix Hills residents Steve Polizzi, 57, and Wesley Snider, 28. Polizzi is charged with two counts of first-degree criminal possession of marijuana, one count of second-degree criminal possession of marijuana and one count of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.  Snider is charged with one count of first-degree criminal possession of marijuana and one count seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.

Both men were arraigned May 10 in First District Court in Central Islip, and will be held in Riverhead county jail in lieu of bail. Attorney information for the defendants was not immediately available.

File photo

Suffolk County police 2nd squad detectives are investigating a car accident that killed a man in Greenlawn Friday night.

Police said Michael Spera was driving a 1995 Nissan westbound on Clay Pitts Road near Stratford Avenue when he lost control and the car overturned at approximately 6:50 p.m. May 18. Spera, 34, of East Northport, was transported to Huntington Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Christopher Walsh, 36, of East Northport, a passenger in the car, was transported to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore where he was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check. Detectives are asking anyone with information about the crash to call the 2nd squad at 631-854-8252.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elwood Middle School will get a new roof with the passage of Proposition 1 by voters. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Across the Town of Huntington, voters went to polls May 15 and gave their stamp of approval to their districts’ 2018-19 budgets. Many of the districts are planning to use funds to increase their security measures in schools or make critical infrastructure and building repairs.

Yet, threat of hazardous weather and early evening storms made for a light voter turnout, with fewer ballots being cast than in previous years. This disappointed some board of education members, who rely on their taxpayers’ votes as a critical measure of community feedback.

Harborfields 2018-19 budget

Harborfields voters approved the district’s $86,086,696 budget for the 2018-19 school year, by 966 votes to 275 votes. The approved budget is an increase of nearly $2 million over the current year and will impose tax levy increase of 2.19 percent for district taxpayers.

“The community’s continued support of the district allows us to provide a ‘world-class’ education to the children of our community,” Harborfields Superintendent Francesco Ianni said. “We look forward to implementing several enhancements to the curriculum for next year, including the restructuring of the high school science research program and a new literacy curriculum. In addition, the proposed budget will allow us to enhance security throughout the district.”

Harborfields votes by the numbers

$86M budget: 966 Yes votes to 275 No votes

Board of education
Suzie Lustig: 949 votes
Steve Engelmann: 862 votes
Joseph Savaglio: 744 votes

The superintendent said the district will reorganize its pupil personnel services department to include a chairperson of special education, allowing the school psychologist more time for child-focused responsibilities.

The proposed spending plan features funding to restructure Harborfields High School’s science research program to allow the teacher to have dedicated time set aside to support students in their individual pursuit of science inquiry. Other enhancements contained in the district’s approved budget include a new literacy curriculum; additional resources for science classes districtwide; and new educational classes in engineering, computer science and business entrepreneurship.

The average Harborfields school district resident will see their annual school taxes increase by an estimated $222.80 per year. This is based on the average home having an assessed value of $4,000, in which an assessed value is a dollar value placed on the property by the Town of Huntington solely for the purposes of calculating taxes based on comparable home sales and other factors.

“The community’s input was vital to the creation of this budget, so I thank those residents who participated throughout the process and those who took the time to vote,” Ianni said.

Harborfields board of education

There were three candidates running uncontested for three seats on Harborfields board of education in this year’s election.

Current Vice President Suzie Lustig received 949 votes and was re-elected to her seat. Newcomers Steve Engelmann received 862 voters and Joseph Savaglio received 744 to join the district as board trustees starting in the 2018-19 school year.

Elwood school district

Elwood taxpayers passed the district’s $61,606,082 budget for the 2018-19 school year by 896 votes to 327 votes. The adopted budget is an increase of nearly $1.3 million over the current year. It represents a tax levy increase of 2.71 percent, which fell under the state-mandated tax cap.

Elwood votes by the numbers

$61.6M budget: 896 Yes votes to 327 No votes
Proposition 2: 854 Yes votes to 345 No votes

Board of education (uncontested)
Heather Mammolito: 918 votes
James Tomeo: 983 votes

“On behalf of the entire administration and board of education, I would like to thank all residents who voted in support of the proposed 2018-19 budget,” Elwood Superintendent Kenneth Bossert said in a statement. “Your support will allow the district to continue to enhance our academic program for our students, as well as increase security throughout the district. We are continually grateful to the Elwood community for its support of our district.”

Proposition 2

Voters cast their ballots in favor of Proposition 2, approving by 854 votes to 345 votes. The measure will allow school officials to create a capital reserve fund for future improvement projects that were not included in the bond approved earlier this year. Under the terms approved, the district will set aside a maximum of $500,000 a year, not to exceed a total of $5 million over a 10-year period to help pay for capital projects.

Elwood board of education

Two incumbent Elwood board of education trustees ran unopposed for another term serving their community. Trustee Heather Mammolito received 918 votes and trustee James Tomeo, received 983 votes to be re-elected to their seats.

By Sara-Megan Walsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

Northport voters have approved the district’s 2018-19 school budget and elected a new face to serve their community May 15.

2018-19 school budget 

Northport and East Northport residents approved the district’s $166,810,381 budget for the upcoming 2018-19 school year, 2,287 votes to 754 votes. The budget contains a 2.15 percent year-to-year increase, or $3.5 million more than the current year.

The district’s approved spending plan will allow starting a new alternative high school program for students struggling with the traditional model and expand the district’s coteaching model across all grade levels. It will also be able to move forward with its one-to-one Chromebook initiative by providing personal laptops with Google applications to students entering ninth grade as well as purchasing a new piano for its music department. There are also funds set aside in the 2018-19 budget to purchase new athletic
equipment for student-athletes including lacrosse helmets, treadmills, ellipticals and additional automated external defibrillators.


Northport budget results
$166.8M budget: 2,287 Yes votes to 754 No votes
Proposition 2: 2,524 Yes votes to 555 No votes
Proposition 3: 2,403 Yes votes to 696 No votes

Board of education results
Victorria Buscareno: 2,195 votes
David Stein: 2,173 votes
David Badanes: 1,915 votes
Thomas Loughran:  1,612 votes

The average Northport homeowner will see their annual school taxes increase by an estimated $159 per year. This is based on the average home having an assessed value of $3,800, in which an assessed value is a dollar value placed on the property by the Town of Huntington solely for the purposes of calculating taxes based on comparable home sales and other factors.

Proposition 2

District voters cast their ballots in favor of Proposition 2, by 2,524 votes to 555 votes, Tuesday night. The measure will allow the district to take $900,000 out of the district’s capital reserve funds for infrastructure upgrades and repair. The list of districtwide projects includes fencing and gate replacement, door replacements, window replacement and heating and air conditioning unit upgrades and enhancements.

Proposition 3

Taxpayers also gave their stamp of approval to Proposition 3, by 2,403 votes to 696 votes. The district will be able to establish a new Capital Reserve III Fund. The board members said that the fund is necessary for several critical infrastructural improvements including roof replacements of its buildings, window replacement, bathroom replacement, masonry and concrete work, floor replacement, wall replacement, classroom renovations, library and multimedia center renovations and gym reconstruction among other projects. The district has put forth that a maximum of $20 million will be placed into this fund along with any investment income the account earns for a term of 10 years. Under the terms of Proposition 2, the district would move no more than $1 million from the remaining 2017-18 budget into the fund to get it started and invest no more than $2 million in each of the following school years.

Northport board of education

Northport residents will have one new community voice on their board of education for the 2018-19 school year.

Newcomer Victoria Buscareno received 2,195 votes, the highest of any of the candidates, and will take the place left open by current trustee Tammie Topel who did not run.

Buscareno is a Northport resident for the past 43 years and currently works as a seventh-grade special education teacher at South Woods Middle School in the Syosset school district. She has four children, one who graduated in 2017 and three who are currently students in the district.

Current board Vice President David Stein was re-elected with 2,173 votes was trustee David Badanes with 1,915 votes. Challenger Thomas Loughran trailed receiving only 1,612 votes. Buscareno and Stein were elected to serve for three years, and Badanes was elected to a two-year term.

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