Town of Brookhaven

Community members and public officials gather in Smithtown for a public hearing on the development of the Flowerfield/Gyrodyne property in St. James. Photo by David Luces

By Cindy Smith

As a Smithtown native who mobilized my neighbors to study the Gyrodyne project and speak at the hearing, and having spoken myself, I am gratified at what was predominantly an open-minded reception. Clearly many residents had not been informed of the grossly negative impact that project might have, and why they should insist the Smithtown Planning Board ask more questions before rubber-stamping the proposal.

Cindy Smith. Photo by Jim Lennon

Based on research by dozens of concerned residents, including nationally known environmental advocates like Carl Safina, we testified to evident prior use of lead arsenate, methyl bromides and excessive nitrates at Flowerfield — a fact not mentioned in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). We documented how the Planning Board excluded data concerning traffic, provided evidence of potential harm to Stony Brook Harbor and surrounding waterways, and — disturbingly — rebuffed regional officials like Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) who sought to provide information about shared infrastructure and planned regional development.

We also presented economic evidence that many jobs potentially created by the development will produce low-paying, minimum-wage positions — and that the property might actually be removed from the tax base, causing it to shrink rather than grow.

Lastly, we shared our concern that the development will trigger more high-density use along historic 25A, creating more suburban sprawl.

As a descendant of Richard “Bull” Smith, I envision a shared North Shore future that values both our history and our tomorrows. I hope Smithtown residents will visit us online at www.UnitedCommunitiesAgainstGyrodune.com and at Facebook.com/UnitedCommunitiesAgainstGyrodyne.

The conversation is not over! The Planning Board will accept written comments through 5 p.m. Jan. 24. Residents should also communicate their concerns directly to Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R).

Thank you, Smithtown, for welcoming your neighbors into the planning process. 

Cindy Smith

United Communities Against Gyrodyne Development community group

Mariano Rivera made an appearance at Brookhaven Town Hall Jan. 16 in support of his proposed Honda dealership in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by David Luces

Yankees National Baseball Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera was known throughout his professional career for his knack of nailing down tough victories. On Jan. 16, baseball’s all-time career saves leader added another victory to his business career when he won approval of a zoning change from the Brookhaven Town Board for a proposed Honda dealership in Port Jefferson Station.

“It feels great to be able to be a part of Port Jefferson Station, we’re excited to make new friends, be able to help others and do the right thing for this community.” 

– Mariano Rivera

The dealership on Route 112, dubbed Mariano Rivera Honda, could open later this year if the town Planning Board approves a site plan. The Town Board voted 7-0 to rezone parts of the 8.1-acre property to allow expansion of an existing building and construction of a new one. The Planning Board has yet to set a date to hear Rivera’s plan. 

“It feels great to be able to be a part of Port Jefferson Station,” Rivera said after the vote. “We’re excited to make new friends, be able to help others and do the right thing for this community.”

Don King, the Kings Park-based lawyer representing Rivera, said the business will be a good fit in the community 

“They love him, the excitement is there — I had one guy tell me he wants to buy a car in [Yankee] pinstripes,” he said. 

The Hall of Fame pitcher met with the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association last May to discuss the project. While the civic submitted a letter to the town with no complaints, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said there were a few suggestions that would help the site fit better into the area. 

“The [sales and service] building was originally 55,000 square feet and we reduced down to 35,000,” King said. “The neighbors asked if we could do something smaller and we would if we got permission from Honda — and we did.”

Rivera’s plan also calls for expanding an existing 6,425-square-foot auxiliary building by more than 30 percent and increasing the parking lot’s capacity to hold over 350 vehicles. The dealership would be built at an existing car dealer site at 1435 Route 112, between Jefferson and Washington avenues.

King said they don’t have a date yet of when the dealership could open but said it comes down to a number of things like designs tweaks and how soon the Planning Board can review the site plans. Once these are approved and necessary permits are obtained, construction will start. 

After the hearing, Rivera interacted with Yankees fans and residents who came out to Town Hall in Farmingville. He posed for pictures and signed autographs for a number of Brookhaven officials. 

“This man has the golden touch,” Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) said after the hearing concluded. 

 

Community members and public officials gather in Smithtown for a public hearing on the development of the Flowerfield/Gyrodyne property in St. James. Photo by David Luces

Residents of both Brookhaven and Smithtown spoke during a Jan. 8 public hearing about the impact of the proposed development of the 75-acre Flowerfield/Gyrodyne site on Route 25A in St. James. While opinions varied, one thing was certain: The project will be the largest development the area has seen in quite some time. 

The proposal seeks to subdivide the land into nine lots, keeping existing businesses and a catering hall while adding a 150-room hotel with a restaurant, two assisted living centers, two medical office parks and a 7-acre sewage treatment plant.

During the hearing, Gyrodyne representatives said they are taking a sustainable approach and have come up with multiple alternatives to the original plan that balance out potential impacts to the surrounding communities. 

Kevin McAndrew, a partner at Cameron Engineering, a Woodbury-based firm hired by Gyrodyne, discussed the potential benefits of the project. 

“The project would bring in significant economic benefits — generate over $3.5 million dollars, bring in high quality jobs and no increase to [area] school enrollment,” he said. 

McAndrew said the firm has acknowledged traffic concerns in the area. The proposed plans, he said, such as the assisted living center, would contribute minimal traffic congestion during peak commute hours. The developer pointed out the inclusion of walking trails, bike lanes, green infrastructure and a potential sewage treatment plant at the site, which representatives said could be used for sewering for downtown St. James. 

Despite what they heard from the presentation, many speakers and civic leaders said they were not convinced, including officials from Brookhaven, Suffolk County and New York State. 

“This 75-arce project will undoubtedly be the largest development in the Smithtown/Brookhaven area for the next generation.”

– Ed Romaine  

Ed Romaine (R), Brookhaven supervisor, said the project would impact the communities of Brookhaven in a devastating way. 

“This 75-arce project will undoubtedly be the largest development in the Smithtown/Brookhaven area for the next generation,” Romaine said. 

Romaine and others complained that Brookhaven is being left out of the planning process and their concerns are not being addressed. As the site is just outside their borders, it would impact their roads, particularly Stony Brook Road. 

“I submitted extensive comments on the scope of the project, to this date I haven’t been contacted about any of these concerns,” the supervisor said. “25A is over carry capacity and we are going to add more? I have concerns about Setauket Harbor and water quality as well as this sewage treatment plant.” 

Maria Hoffman, press secretary read a statement from Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket):

“Shortcomings of this DEIS include the project’s impact on Stony Brook Harbor, will the onsite [treatment] plant become a regional sewer district? What type of sewer system will be purchased and installed, and will it remove nitrate? These meaningful unanswered questions need to be answered and resolved before the project is allowed [to move forward].”

Stony Brook resident Curt Croley said he’s worried about the project’s impact on property values. 

“There is no doubt in my mind that this proposal is opportunistic based on available land,” he said. “I can’t help but wonder if there’s been enough diligence about the sewage treatment plant, the runoff and all the potential impacts that are so close to all these municipalities.”

Joy Cirigliano, chapter president of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, expressed concerns about the nearby harbor and other waterways.

“We already have water quality issues in Stony Brook Harbor and Smithtown Bay with Ecoli and hypoxia, adding more nitrogen to the harbor is significant,” she said. The applicant must analyze these impacts and the repercussions before proceeding with the plan.”

Artists, such as Kevin McEvoy, who had a thriving studio on the Flowerfield site, have already left. The atelier now has limited operations at Gyrodyne. 

 “The development of that property will only enhance us and allow us to grow,” she said. “[St. James] will become the microcosm of small-town life we yearn to be again.” 

– Natalie Weinstein

Some Smithtown residents welcomed the project, because the St. James business district on Lake Avenue could tap into the project’s proposed sewage treatment plant. 

Natalie Weinstein of Celebrate St. James stressed the importance of the potential project and how it would finally allow for the revitalization of Lake Avenue as a cultural art district. 

“The development of that property will only enhance us and allow us to grow,” she said. “[St. James] will become the microcosm of small-town life we yearn to be again.” 

Following the public hearing and end of the public comment input later this month, the Smithtown Planning Board will await submission of a final environmental impact statement in preparation for a vote on the Gyrodyne applications. 

TBR News Media has previously reported that Smithtown has already received $3.9 million from Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), so it can connect the Lake Avenue business district in St. James to the Gyrodyne sewage treatment plant. 

 

Clothing items and other miscellaneous items left near the Port Jefferson train station. Photo by Kyle Barr

At 7 in the morning, the Port Jefferson Train Station is largely deserted. At such an early hour, the morning frost glistened as the sun peaked over the horizon. It’s 39 degrees outside. By 7:30 a.m., the few commuters who travel on the morning’s last scheduled peak train simply stuck their hands in their pockets and waited outside. They were not drawn to the warmth and seats found in the nearby station office.

Port Jeff resident Gordon Keefer arrived at around 7:25 with his small dog, a maltese, carried in the bag beside him. He walks to the station from his home and takes the train from Port Jeff to Penn Station several days a week, but he can’t even remember a time when there were benches outside of the station or on the platform. He said the ticket building gets crowded when the temperature drops low enough, but he’s never seen it be too much of a problem.

“There’s a pro and a con to that,” he said about the prospect of benches. “Otherwise you would have some of the ‘regulars’ coming by.”

Many of those who stood outside waiting for the train did not feel too concerned about the lack of seating, but many understood “why” they weren’t there. As Port Jefferson village, Brookhaven town and Suffolk County continue to look for means to help the homeless population in Upper Port and Port Jefferson Station, village officials said there wouldn’t be any outdoor seating until they can get more support from the state and MTA.

“I hate to think those who are less fortunate are not afforded the same opportunities.”

Michael Mart

At the last Port Jefferson village meeting Jan. 6, one resident’s call for benches at the local train station led to a heated argument between him and local officials.

Michael Mart, a local firebrand, asked why the station lacked outdoor seating compared to other stations on the line. He said the lack of benches was very unfair to the elderly or infirm who want to use the station.

“I hate to think those who are less fortunate are not afforded the same opportunities,” Mart said. 

According to an MTA spokesperson, the LIRR coordinated with the mayor and other local residents to not include the benches when the train station was remodeled “as they were attracting homeless and others who could compromise the safety of customers and cleanliness of the station.”

There are 12 benches in the station’s ticket office, which is open from 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. daily except Thursday when open until 7:15 p.m. 

Mayor Margot Garant said that although the current master plan does not eliminate seating at the train station, she does not support benches that would facilitate the homeless loitering or sleeping on them. Brookhaven Town’s Quality of Life Task Force held a public meeting in December to discuss what’s currently being done, but members described the need for further legislation at every level of government that could better get the homeless population off the streets and into shelters. 

“I have been doing this for 11 years, every concern [with which] people have come to me I have addressed and done everything I can do about it,” the mayor said. “But I will not tolerate the people panhandling, making beds … We have a task force of 40 people around the table, we have been working on this every other week.”

She added there have been multiple calls about homeless in the area, from those sleeping under the tracks, in planters, or in the area surrounding the parking lot. Remnants of clothes and other discarded items are evident in the gravel lot behind what was once known as the Bada Bing restaurant. 

Pax Christi, a temporary homeless shelter located just feet from the station for men aged 16 and up, has come up in conversation during meetings multiple times recently. It’s one of the few shelters in the area that provides lodging for those who need it, but it can only contain people for a short time, as per state law. Residents have complained about people going outside into Pax Christi’s backyard through an unlocked security door, where they say they have harassed and heckled those standing on the platform.

The village has moved to create a higher fence between the platform and the Pax Christi building. The shelter’s director, Stephen Brazeau, told TBR News Media he has no problem with such a fence.

Part of the issue, the mayor said, is due to a lack of MTA police presence at the station, adding there are only a handful on the entire length of the northern rail lines. The MTA has said more officers will be deployed along the LIRR, but no number has yet been specified, the spokesperson said.

Sal Pitti, the president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and member of the town task force, said the problem is perhaps even more prevalent on his side of the tracks.

“I’ve gotten hundreds of complaints about benches at the train station, we don’t need them,” he said. “The task force physically told the MTA don’t put benches back there.”

“The majority of problems stem from homeless mentally ill people, people who prefer living on the street without restrictions to people who want to use the system to get out of that.” 

Barbara Sabatino

Barbara Sabatino, who along with her husband once owned the Port Jeff Army Navy surplus store before it closed in 2018, said homeless who used to occupy those nearby benches across from her shop at the station negatively impacted her business.

“The majority of problems stem from homeless mentally ill people, people who prefer living on the street without restrictions to people who want to use the system to get out of that,” she said.

Members of Suffolk County Department of Social Services have said one of the hardest tasks of trying to help the homeless is to build trust, and to convince homeless individuals to be taken to a county shelter. It takes time, patience and having the right person there at the right time. 

Mart said part of the issue is too many people have the attitude they don’t wish to deal with or interact with the homeless. 

“If we feel uncomfortable dealing with people that are different, then that’s another issue, and that’s what I’ve seen most up there and heard everywhere else,” he said. “To deprive everyone else of an opportunity to use the train station comfortably is unfair.”

 

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Valerie Catright have considered running for the state senate district 1 seat.

State Sen. Ken LaValle’s (R-Port Jefferson) announcement he would not be seeking reelection has suddenly bolstered both party’s efforts to get a candidate into the 1st District seat.

Several Democrats have already stepped up to run, including Parents for Megan’s Law founder and Port Jeff resident Laura Ahearn, Suffolk County Community College student and Mount Sinai resident Skyler Johnson and Tommy John Schiavoni, a Southampton Town Board member.

Johnson said he thought it was good LaValle was retiring after so long in office. The young Democrat took a shine to a primary that “allows people to hear what candidates have to say, to help us flesh out our ideas.”

Ahearn thanked LaValle for his years of service, adding that now the venerable senator is no longer running, she “looks forward to continuing meeting and listening to voters of the 1st Senate District.”

Suffolk Democratic Committee Chairman Rich Schaffer did not return multiple requests for comment, but has made previous statements to other newspapers that have perked the ears on both sides of the aisle. 

Quickly upon the news of LaValle not seeking another term coming out Jan. 8, rumors quickly circulated who else was on the shortlist. While some rumors pointed to Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant wishing to seek the seat, she strongly put the idea aside, saying she did not want to step into that arena. 

The other person most rumored to be running was Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who has yet to make an official announcement but responded to inquiries by saying, “The county chair indicated that I would be running — his statement is correct.”

On the Republican side, rumors circulated that Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) would look to take up his cousin’s seat, but the town councilman said he currently resides outside the district boundaries and cannot run for the position. 

Suffolk Republican chairman, Jesse Garcia, said he already had a shortlist for Ken LaValle’s seat that included Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, and even Brookhaven council members Dan Panico (R-Manorville) and Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point).

Palumbo said while it would be a step-up, his current leadership position in the Assembly, and the young age of his two children, one 12 and the other 15, might make it a tough call. 

“It wouldn’t foreclose a future run,” he said.

When asked about the prospect of running, Bonner said, “There are a lot of people exploring their options. … I’ve been approached by numerous people to consider it and I am. It’s a conversation I’ll have to have with my family and husband. It is a decision that’s not to be made lightly.”

 

the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a 10-year multi-billion project to build a new electron-ion collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton. Provide photo from Brookhaven National Lab

By Daniel Dunaief

Through answers to basic questions, scientists develop new technology that changes the world, leading to medical breakthroughs, energy applications and national security devices.

That’s the theory behind the U.S. Department of Energy’s decision last week to award a 10-year project that will cost between $1.6 billion and $2.6 billion to build a new electron-ion collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton. 

For the scientists, the discoveries will flow from answers to questions about the nature of visible matter.

“The big science we’re excited about, the hundred-year-old questions, are things like where does the mass of a proton come from,” said Robert Tribble, the deputy director for science and technology at Brookhaven National Laboratory and a nuclear physicist. The EIC is like a microscope to look at quarks and gluons, he explained.

With support from numerous New York State and Long Island leaders, BNL recently won a competition against Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator in Virginia to build an electron-ion collider. Members of the Jefferson Accelerator, as well as over 1,000 scientists from 30 nations, will partner with BNL staff to conceptualize and build the new collider, which will be the most advanced ever constructed.

In addition to understanding atomic nuclei, we will be able to generate a better view of the universe writ large [with discoveries from the EIC].”

Robert Tribble

“We do not understand very dense matter that exists in the universe in objects like neutron stars and black holes,” Tribble explained in an email. “In addition to understanding atomic nuclei, we will be able to generate a better view of the universe writ large [with discoveries from the EIC].”

Over the next decade, the construction of the new EIC will employ 4,000 people, said Doon Gibbs, the laboratory director at BNL. That number represents the workforce that will, at one time or another, contribute to the construction of this new facility. 

The new EIC will expand on the technology of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, which has been operating since 2000 and will stop running experiments in 2024. Indeed, part of the appeal of BNL as a site for this new facility arose out of the ability to extend the resources by building a new electron storage ring and electron accelerator elements.

Researchers will collide electrons and protons and numerous atomic nuclei to study the strong nuclear force. These collisions will reveal how the subunits of protons and neutrons in the nucleus, namely the quarks and gluons, come together to help generate mass in visible matter.

The staff at BNL is “delighted and excited” that the site for the EIC will be on Long Island, said Gibbs. “Our design has the capability of using many existing technologies and extending them farther than they’ve been before.”

Indeed, even the conception of the EIC has led to some new scientific breakthroughs, some of which the lab and its partners will share with the public in the next few weeks.

While the application of research at the EIC will likely lead to breakthroughs in fields including materials science, researchers at BNL are excited about basic questions about the nature of nuclear matter.

A typical experiment at the EIC will likely follow the same pattern as it has with RHIC, in which hundreds of researchers from around the world collaborate to understand physics properties. In the next few years, researchers will develop a detailed design before they start construction.

“We love challenges at BNL, we like building big machines. We’re good at it. We have a whole class of staff who, in particular, are experts at this kind of activity and they are pretty excited.”

Doon Gibbs

Gibbs said the facility has a strong handle on the safety features of the new collider, which will build on the protocols and designs developed at the RHIC as well as with the National Synchrotron Light Source II, also at the lab in Upton.

“We love challenges at BNL,” Gibbs said. “We like building big machines. We’re good at it. We have a whole class of staff who, in particular, are experts at this kind of activity and they are pretty excited.”

Area politicians are also excited about discoveries in basic science, translational benefits in areas like medicine and the expected boost to the local economy.

“Establishing the electron-ion collider on Long Island might be focused on particles, but it will add some serious mass — nearly $1 billion worth — to the local economy,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) said in a statement. BNL has the “talent, the technology and the track record to make the most of this national project.”

Schumer believes this project will guarantee that BNL continues to be a “world class research facility for the next generation.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) praised the leadership at BNL.

“I congratulate BNL Director Doon Gibbs for leading this exceptional organization and all of its scientists who have worked incredibly hard every step of the way to make this possible, and can’t wait to see what they do next,” Zeldin said in a statement.

 

Brookhaven town hall. File photo

By Monica Gleberman

Town of Brookhaven residents were in for a shock the day before new years, after the town posted on its website that the sanitation company, Quickway, abruptly broke its contract Dec. 31 saying it would no longer be doing pickups in multiple areas throughout Brookhaven.

Brookhaven officials said they were given notice at noon on December 31 that Ronkonkoma-based Quickway Sanitation would no longer honor their contract to collect residents trash from areas they serviced in Brookhaven; including portions of Shoreham, Rocky Point, Port Jefferson Station, Farmingville, East Patchogue and Manorville.

“Quickway carting was one year into a multi-year contract where they were the successful bidder for residential refuse and recycling services,” town officials said in a statment. “Town of Brookhaven intends to pursue every available legal option as a result of this carter’s unacceptable actions.”

Officials added the town is working with other local carting companies to put contingency plans in place.

The Town of Smithtown also had contracts under Quickway, which concurrently voided its garbage carting with them New Year’s eve.

Within 24 hours of its original message, Brookhaven town had a new post on its website that it had entered into emergency award agreements with several local companies to immediately “provide coverage for garbage pick-up in the seven garbage collection districts affected by the carter who broke their contract with the town.”

Kevin Molloy, spokesperson for Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), said the new contract is only for the time-being.

“The contracts were emergency contracts so they are for the short term,” he said. “For the long term, we will be looking at the second highest bidders and making sure any changes we make keeps us in compliance with New York State laws. We will keep residents informed as the information comes in.”

Smithtown also held an emergency meeting and signed a one-year procurement contract with Brothers Waste to takeover Quickway’s route in St. James and Smithtown.

Quickway did not respond to phone calls for comment.

Molloy said that the town has received “normal to low cals” to its waste management office as of today.

Multiple community Facebook groups spread the message of the company having voided its contract. Some residents complained of Quickway’s past policies. The release said all companies it reached out to have worked with Brookhaven in the past and service would continue as normal with regular pickups on Thursday, but did ask residents to be patient with this transitional process.

“Because they will be new to these service areas, we ask residents in these areas to be patient as they learn these routes. Please call 451-TOWN if your garbage has not been collected by late afternoon.”

This post will be updated when more information becomes available.

This post was updated Jan. 2 to include quotes from Kevin Molloy. This post was updated Jan. 3 to include information on Smithtown garbage services. 

Lise and Steven Hintze. Photo from Three Village Historical Society

By Donna Newman

Lise and Steve Hintze have been caring, contributing, active members of the Three Villages for more than two decades. They are both generous givers, willing to share their energy and talents for the benefit of the community. It is with gratitude that we honor them as 2019 TBR News Media People of the Year.

Residents who frequent the Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket may or may not know of the Hintzes’ efforts to keep improving and growing this valuable community venue.

Lise Hintze at a recent event at the Bates House. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Steve Hintze has been a Frank Melville Memorial Foundation trustee since 2008. He served several terms on the board as secretary. At present, he chairs the Park’s Building and Grounds Committee.

“Steve has brought a firefighter’s grit, an MBA, and a wealth of knowledge of all aspects of building and site design to the role,” said FMMF President Robert Reuter. “He also brings an admirable collection of professional-grade tools, and he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. Steve is always an absolute pleasure to work with and he knows how to complete a project to the high standard for which the park is known.”

His projects have included park lighting, the mill restoration, which is now in progress, and assisting Eagle Scout candidates with their endeavors for park enhancement.

Lise Hintze was recruited to join the park’s staff in 2011 in the dual role of office manager and director of the Bates House. Regular visitors know her as the friendly face of the Frank Melville Memorial Park. Her finger is always on its pulse, and she is ever on the lookout for potential improvements.

“The quintessential office manager, Lise efficiently handles park business,” Reuter said. “As director of the Bates House, she works with demanding brides and anxious grooms on wedding weekends — and then manages all manner of programs during the week. The full schedule of special events and gatherings keeps her on call, but her thorough planning makes it all look easy. A pioneer in social media reporting, Lise has enabled the park to keep Friends informed via a website.”

Lise Hintze has been described as a “Saint on Earth” and a “Super Hero” by folks who know her but wished to remain anonymous. They see her as “the height of humanity” always ready to help. Her credo: “What does anybody — or any animal — need that I can give them?” It is an attribute reportedly shared by her husband.

Steve Healy, president of the Three Village Historical Society, is happy to add his voice to those impressed with Lise Hintze’s abilities.

“Her work at the Frank Melville Park — between the Bates House and the Grist Mill and the growth in the park has been fabulous,” Healy said. “She synergizes the park with the community, is admired for her efforts and she does a great job taking the park to new levels.”

Lise Hintze does not let her job description limit her. If it’s happening in the park, it’s on her radar. Among her many contributions outside of official duties include the Wind Down Sunday outdoor concerts, begun with Katherine Downs and others and an ambitious schedule of three concerts. The park now offers nine. She has, when needed, instigated wildlife rescues. When drug abuse cropped up in the park a few years ago, she took a pragmatic stance and turned a potential security issue into an educational opportunity.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) lauded — and also joined in — that effort.

“Lise has a keen eye for what’s needed in the area,” Hahn said. “The opiate group she helped create in the fall of 2017 brought in speakers and provided a place for parents and students to openly and without judgment discuss the opioid crisis they were witnessing firsthand. It was a critical step for our community.”

The creation of this parent group was most likely the impetus for the Three Village school district’s hiring of a dedicated drug and alcohol abuse counselor, who began serving students and their families the following fall.

Steve Hintze, left, with Tim Smith of Old Field Landscaping preparing the site of Frank Melville Memorial Park’s new pollinator garden. Photo by Robert Reuter

These efforts alone would suffice to warrant community kudos, but there’s more.

Steve Hintze is still heavily involved with the Three Village Historical Society. A past president, he is currently the organization’s grants administrator and is busy gathering the resources to reconstruct the historic Dominick-Crawford Barn on TVHS property in Setauket.

Sandy White, office manager at TVHS had nothing but praise for her former boss.

“Steve was the president when I started working at TVHS. He hired me,” White said. “And to this day he is always there to help — willing to do anything. He’s working now with Steve Healy on the grants for the barn and comes into the office as often as he can. Willing to help anyone with everything, Steve tries to make a difference in everything he does.”

Healy and Hintze, who knew each other as firefighters in New York City before they became active in Three Village nonprofits, apparently share many of the same values. Healy has great respect for his colleague’s vast knowledge and willingness to share it.

“Steve is one of the people I have on speed dial,” Healy said. “When I call I know I’ll get a ‘Yes.’”

“If there’s ever a problem, he doesn’t just give me his input, he’ll roll up his sleeves and get involved in the solution. He’s a special breed with excellent leadership skills and creative ideas. The TVHS is blessed to get someone of his caliber and work ethic.”

Hahn completely agrees.

“Steve Hintze is a pillar of the community and a local hero,” Hahn said. “He contributes so much in real and tangible ways. His calming presence is valuable. He knows how to deal with people, how to motivate them, and how to find solutions, and he is always willing to do what’s necessary.”

There is general consensus with Reuter’s final assessment of these two exceptional individuals.

“They are remarkably modest people and would insist that what they do is nothing special,” Reuter said. “But they are, in fact – something special.”

Ann Pellegrino, with volunteer Elaine Gaveglia and caretaker Peter Castorano, brought Bethel Hobbs Community Farm back to life more than a decade ago. Photos by Laura Johanson

By Laura Johanson

Many people face difficulty in their lives — some struggle, many endure — and then there are those that transcend. Ann Pellegrino, founder and director of Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach, is one of those rare individuals. She has faced hardship and heartache and transformed both into gestures of generosity and hope.

“Ann is an incredible, hard-working woman who always shines brightly with her smile and by her continued and valued efforts in our community,” said Tom Muratore, Suffolk County Legislator (R-Ronkonkoma). “We’ve watched her and her loving family go through crisis and challenges that only focused her and showed who she really is.”

Jeff Freund, president of The Greater Middle Country Chamber of Commerce, also has praise for her.

“People like Ann are the lifeblood of our community,” Freund said. “Her selfless devotion through her efforts at Hobbs Farm are in my mind heroic.”

The accessible Garden of Ephraim, at the farm. Photos by Laura Johanson

For more than 100 years Hobbs Farm in Centereach was a working farm, but it was only a vacant lot in 2007 when Pellegrino began the initiative to bring its barren soil back to life. The idea of a farm came to her years before when, as a single mother, she had to visit a local food bank. Pellegrino saw firsthand that the only items available to those in need were boxed or canned goods. The seed of an idea was planted.

Back on her feet and remarried in 2006, Pellegrino began to reflect on her turn of fortune. Deciding it was time to give back, she planted a small garden in her yard in the hopes to grow enough produce to donate. “I was on a mission, rented a rototiller and started ripping up our beautiful, manicured lawn,” she said. “My husband wasn’t too happy.”

It didn’t take long for Pellegrino to realize she needed a lot more land. That’s when the vacant lot down the road came to mind.

“I knew it was once a farm and that the owner had died,” Pellegrino said.

Alfred Hobbs, owner of the land, was a second-generation farmer and part of the first African American family-owned farm on Long Island. Upon his death, Hobbs bequeathed the land to Bethel AME Church in Setauket. Pellegrino was hopeful when she sought out the church’s pastor.

“I thought it would be easy to convince him to let me work the land,” Pellegrino said. “I gave it my most enthusiastic pitch but the response I got was ‘we will pray on it.’ I was devastated. I remember afterward falling to my knees to pray for guidance,” Pellegrino recalled. “I went back to the church and on my second visit spoke with Rev. Sandra, the pastor’s wife. It was she who finally convinced him to let me give it a try. So, I planted a few tomato plants that were donated by a local greenhouse and brought the harvest back to the church.”

The following year, with the church’s blessing, Pellegrino recruited family, friends and other volunteers so that Hobbs Farm could begin its incredible rebirth. Peter Castorano was among the first farm volunteers and now serves as caretaker.

“Many people volunteer an hour or two and are very helpful, but Ann and I are here all day long, day after day,” he said.

Today, the farm is self-sufficient with most of the 50,000 pounds of food grown donated to several local food banks. Farm expenses are covered by money raised at fundraisers held throughout the year.

Tragedy amid growth and triumph  

In 2011, tragedy struck the Pellegrino family. Pellegrino’s son Christopher was paralyzed in a terrible car accident. She faced the heart-wrenching reality of having to care for her now disabled son while struggling to also nurture the growing farm.

“He was 19, paralyzed from the neck down and on a ventilator,” Pellegrino said. “It was so hard, after helping to build the farm, Chris was no longer able to even visit, and I was limited because I couldn’t leave him alone,” she said. “We’d spoken about creating access for disabled veterans before Christopher’s accident.” 

“People ask me why I do it, and I answer if your child was in need wouldn’t you want someone to make that choice?”

Ann Pellegrino

She confessed that those discussions had always been put on hold because of the difficulties of construction.

“It frustrated me,” Pellegrino said. “Everyone saying it was too hard. I didn’t truly understand until my son was in a wheelchair.” 

Refusing to give up, Pellegrino pushed forward and once again turned “something bad into something good.” With the help of people at Stony Brook University, she approached the Christopher Reeve Foundation and secured a grant for a wheelchair-accessible garden.

“We were able to create an asphalt walkway to the road and rows of raised beds,” the farm owner said.

The new space, officially opened in 2014, was named the Garden of Ephraim, which means fruitful in Hebrew. Now all individuals, wheelchair users or otherwise, have access to community gardening at Hobbs Farm.

Pellegrino attributes Christopher’s strong will to a sort of transformation over the next few years.

“After the accident, he really gained focus and started to live,” she said.

In addition to gardening, he began talking to local groups about his disability and clean living.

Heartbreak and a gift in 2018 

“Years ago, I was a recipient of donated corneas,” Pellegrino said. “Last fall my driver’s license needed renewal, and I once again marked myself down as a willing organ donor. I remember mentioning it to Chris. He said he too wanted to donate someday. ‘Why not mom? When the time comes, I won’t be needing them anyway’ he told me.”

Sadly, the time came only a few months later when Christopher experienced a severe brain aneurysm.

“He was brain dead,” Pellegrino said softly. “I knew what he would want me to do, and we donated several of his organs so that a small part of him could live.”

Pellegrino entered 2019 with a renewed passion. She continues her work at Hobbs Farm and now also volunteers with LiveOnNY, a nonprofit that promotes organ donation.

“People ask me why I do it, and I answer if your child was in need wouldn’t you want someone to make that choice?”

Today, Hobbs Farm supplies countless people with fresh produce; residents with restrictive disabilities have a space to garden and grow; and three men live on because of the gift Pellegrino and her son made through organ donation.  

“She truly deserves this recognition and honor, because Ann Pellegrino is and has always been my person of the year,” Muratore said.

 

Port Jeff Village trustee Kathianne Snaden has made waves in her first year as village official. Photos by Kyle Barr

The smaller into the levels of government you get, the less visible an official usually is.

That’s not much of the case with Port Jefferson Village trustee Kathianne Snaden. 

The number of events and meetings she has been willing to attend has been far above average, especially for a trustee of a 3 square-mile village on the North Shore. She’s often seen at school meetings, Business Improvement District meetings and other gatherings involving Brookhaven Town. But beyond her short yet active time in village government, those who have interacted with her said it’s Snaden’s willingness to reach out to the village community and be there for questions, and her willingness to get her hands dirty, that’s giving her renown.

“I believe people like Kathianne are the future of this village.” 

– Margot Garant

“There’s very few people who will come to the table, roll up their sleeves and do what they were going to do,” said Mayor Margot Garant, who has known Snaden since she originally came to the village. “I believe people like Kathianne are the future of this village.” 

When she first came to Port Jefferson, she was a single mother of two, originally hailing from upstate around the Finger Lakes region. After she met her husband Bill, who originally hailed from Connecticut, she was inexorable in her desire to stay in the village. 

“Kathianne is unlike many people, if she sees something isn’t right, she will figure out how to get involved and make it better,” Bill Snaden said. “She does not do something unless she knows she can do it 100 percent.”

Snaden has become more involved with the community over time, having immersed herself with the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption. She and her family were big players in putting on the recent Greek Festival and other church events. 

“I have always appreciated what she does for Port Jeff village,” said Louis Tsunis, Greek church parish council member, who said he has known her for around four years. “I have a lot of gratitude for what she does for the community.”

Snaden became involved in local politics after the school district received a shooting threat in 2017, shortly after the dreadful shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Her husband said since so little information was available, his wife helped organize a town hall-style event for residents to get the information they needed.

Kathianne Snaden, right, at the annual Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson. Photos by Kyle Barr.

Running for trustee in 2018, Snaden lost by only four votes, though instead of bowing out, she refocused her efforts, attending numerous board meetings and becoming even more involved in village activities. 

Garant said one moment, in particular, this year exemplified Snaden’s passion for the community. When a tragic incident at Port Jeff Liquors in October saw a man shot after nearly assaulting the owner with a sword, Snaden, along with fellow trustee Stan Loucks, was there soon after the police, calling the school district constantly as she knew there was a bus that usually drops off students in front of the library’s teen center. 

“Her response was immediate, her communication with the school district was immediate,” the mayor said.

As a mother of three, with one child in each of the Port Jefferson School District’s three buildings, she started her public office career with children and young parents in mind, her husband said, looking to bridge the oft-perceived disconnect between the district and village.

Attempts to bridge that gap was epitomized with the recent homecoming celebration, one that Snaden helped facilitate. PJSD trustee Tracy Zamek worked with Snaden on the celebrations that brought hundreds of students and alumni to Caroline Field. Zamek said she has found more collaboration between village and district since Snaden came on board.

“I feel like she’s a connection with the school, she’s the liaison someone I can go to, bringing ideas or issues,” she said. “Homecoming was a great school community event that helped build that bridge between the village and the school. I look forward to continuing to build that bridge, and I think trustee Snaden will be a key piece in building it as well.”