Town of Huntington

Republican challenger Jim Leonick will take on incumbent Councilwoman Joan Cergol, on right, Nov. 6. Photos by Kyle Barr

There’s a hot race for a one-year term on Huntington Town Board that could tip the scale of the council’s political leaning.

Incumbent Joan Cergol (D) is a lifelong Huntington resident who was appointed in December 2017 to the seat vacated by former councilwoman Susan Berland, who was elected to the Suffolk County Legislature. She previously served as the town’s director of the Huntington Community Development Agency, executive director of the Economic Development Corp. and executive director of the Local Development Corp.

Republican challenger Jim Leonick should be familiar name with Nov. 6 voters. The East Northport attorney unsuccessfully campaigned for Town Board as a running mate with Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) in 2017, coming up just short by less than 650 votes. Now he’s back, seeking to fill the remaining year of Berland’s term.

“I’ve heard more and more complaints of things wrong with the town,” Leonick said. “There are many people complaining about things that don’t have the wherewithal to do something, but I do and that’s why I’m running.”

LIPA lawsuit/Northport Power Station

The Republican challenger said he believes the most important issue in this election is Long Island Power Authority and National Grid’s lawsuit against the town over the tax-assessed value of Northport Power Station.

“It will have the greatest financial impact on town residents, and the tax bills of the Northport-East Northport school district,” he said.

Leonick said he supports levying a fossil fuel tax on the plant to recoup any lost tax money, believes the plant is not currently properly assessed for taxes given its gas and electrical transmission lines should make it more valuable, and is in favor of spending money investigating if using eminent domain to take control of the plant is feasible.

“I agree it’s an anvil hanging over the town’s head for seven years,” Cergol said. “We need to be a unified front.”

She agreed more information would be needed before considering proceeding with eminent domain, as it would require a townwide referendum. Cergol chastised the topic being used as a “political divisive tactic.” The councilwoman said she has been following the advice of the town attorney on how to proceed.

Development

Cergol said the most common issue she hears about is Huntington’s overdevelopment and its impact on the character of the town. She wants to see changes made to C-6 zoning code that affects apartments over commercial space and wants to require all parking needs to be contained by each individual project or on private lots. The Democrat also supports construction of a parking structure or other means to alleviate the village’s parking issues.

“Residents are not happy with downzoning, the town should stick to what the master plan says,” Leonick said. “People who have lived here 30, 40 years and paid taxes don’t want their community to start looking like Nassau and Queens.”

The Republican said a simple fix to the C-6 zoning issue would be to increase the number of parking spaces needed to build apartments. Leonick also criticized the town for not constructing a parking structure for Huntington village, suggesting a modular unit could be purchased and easily constructed.

Government Transparency

On issues like the LIPA lawsuit and parking, Leonick said he feels the town lack’s transparency on its actions. Cergol responded by saying the town’s website has an entire section dedicated to the LIPA lawsuit.

The councilwoman said she authored and co-sponsored the bill that led to live streaming of the town’s meetings and events. She also offered to host monthly forums at Town Hall to delve into topics like 5G cellular service transmitters, where residents can ask questions of town officials and discuss the issue.

Leonick said the town’s web page on LIPA doesn’t go far enough and suggested development of additional electronic communications with residents, like a blog.

2019 Tentative Budget

In review of the 2019 tentative budget and government costs, Cergol said the town has
reduced expenses by using technology to allow residents to apply for affordable housing and register for recreational programs online. She is willing to negotiate the number of full-time staff members per council member, which the tentative budget calls to cut from two to one each with a shared secretary.

Leonick said that he’s glad the proposed budget stays within the 2 percent tax cap but believes there should be an increase in personnel in the town attorney’s office to help reduce outside legal fees and that each council member should have two full-time staff.

Huntington town officials, members of Veterans of War Post 1469 and Lipsky Construction representatives celebrate the official groundbreaking on a veterans housing complex in Huntington Station Oct. 30. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Columbia Terrace veterans affordable housing project, which has been promised for close to eight years, might be finally coming to fruition.

Town of Huntington officials, members of the Huntington Community Development Agency (CDA) and members of the local Veterans of Foreign War Post 1469 joined Bayport-based Lipsky Construction Oct. 30 to celebrate the start of the project’s construction.

Huntington Station has been waiting decades for neighborhood and economic revitalization, which over the past several years is beginning to mobilize,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “Our veterans and their families make many sacrifices to keep them safe, and we owe them the opportunity and ability for owning a home they can live in.”

Our veterans and their families make many sacrifices to keep them safe, and we owe them the opportunity and ability for owning a home they can live in.”

— Chad Lupinacci

The new development features 14 apartments at the corner of Lowndes Avenue and Railroad Street in Huntington Station. It consist of six, one-bedroom units and eight, two-bedroom condo-style apartments, according to CDA Director Leah Jefferson.

The project was put out to bid again in June with a budget of approximately $3.5 million, Jefferson said. Lipsky Construction was the lowest bidder and a contract signed in September. The project is expected to be completed within 300 days, and have all units sold and occupied by Sept. 30, 2019.

“When I heard it about veterans, I took extra steps to make sure we got on the project,” said Barry Lipsky, the president of Lipsky Construction.“It’s a matter of how much to give back.”

The costs of the units will be offered at 80 percent of the Nassau-Suffolk median income, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo. The one-bedroom apartments  starting at $200,000.

The veterans housing project was first proposed back in 2010, according to Lupinacci. That same year, the CDA was awarded $1.56 million grant from the New York’s Empire State Economic Development Fund Program. An additional $2 million dollars were borrowed by the town from the town’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund And Agency Fund for the sake of the project, which will be paid back upon the sale of the apartments. Interim funding has been secured by Huntington’s elected officials through People’s United Bank in the form of a construction loan.

“What I found out over the years, veterans don’t ask for a lot. They’re not banging on doors saying ‘gimme, gimme, gimme.” 

— Rick Seryneck

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D), former director of the town’s CDA, said one of challenges has been  rising costs compared to the amount of grant funding available.

The town has also secured $250,000 in funds from the county to go toward road realignment, curbing and street lighting, which Lupinacci said would be installed after construction is finished.

The supervisor said a lottery will be held to fill the apartments closer to the project’s completion.

Rick Serynek, a member of the Huntington Veterans Advisory Board, said he knows veterans who could make use of affordable housing. He said  many of those who have served are not the type to ask for help, even if they need it.

“What I found out over the years, veterans don’t ask for a lot. They’re not banging on doors saying ‘gimme, gimme, gimme,” Serynek said. “All they want is a fair shake.”

The Town of Huntington's municipal parking lot between New and Green streets. File Photo by Rohma Abbas

Town of Huntington officials voted to take the next step forward in pursuing construction of a parking garage in Huntington village Oct. 23. Yet, both elected officials and business owners remain divided over whether it is the best solution to a decades-old problem in this modern era.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) led the town’s Local Development Corporation in approving the release of up to $16,000 to investigate the feasibility of constructing a parking structure in Huntington village over the existing municipal lot between New and Green streets by a 4-1 vote.

“We want to continue trying to explore and see what our options are with that area to see if the ground is physically sound to build something,” Lupinacci said. “We don’t want to lose any grant money that may be available to us.”

We want to continue trying to explore and see what our options are with that area to see if the ground is physically sound to build something.”

—Chad Lupinacci

The $16,000 in funds will be used to conduct soil borings, a topographic survey of the area, prepare utility mark-outs and other necessary preliminary steps needed prior to start of construction, according to Lupinacci.

In December 2017, the town had been awarded a $1.7 million grant from the state’s Regional Economic Council for construction of a facility to ease the village’s long-term parking woes.

The town had previously contracted with Level G Associates of Bethpage who completed a report in May 2017 that determined it was both physically and economically feasible for the town to construct a 528-space parking deck. To date, the town does not have any conceptual plans for a garage, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.

That may be due in part to the divide between elected officials, local business owners and Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce on whether constructing a new facility is the best solution.

Councilman Eugene Cook (I) was the sole vote against further studies for a proposed parking garage between New and Green streets Tuesday night.

Why spend $16,000 if we may not need it,? There are stages that we need to go through to do it properly, and I think we are rushing it with this stage.”

— Eugene Cook

“Why spend $16,000 if we may not need it,” he said. “There are stages that we need to go through to do it properly, and I think we are rushing it with this stage.”

Cook said there are new town employees in the town’s Public Safety Department who are researching the cause of parking issues plaguing the town and expressed some “good ideas.” The councilman cited advances in technology, such as the future possibility of automated cars, could change both transportation and resulting parking needs of the area.

Brian Yudewitz, chairman of Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber holds a similar position that alternative solutions to a parking garage and modern technologies need to be more closely considered after getting feedback from its members. He said the town’s last parking study was done before the prolific use of ride services like Lift, Uber and the new Qwik Ride shuttles.

“The word we’re getting from a lot of merchants in town is those things are being used quite a bit,” Yudewitz said. “Another thing we do suggest is the re-evaluation of the structure of the municipal lots and paid parking structure as it stands to see if there’s a better way to get people in and out.”

The town implemented metered street-side parking in Huntington village in April 2014 and renewed its contract with Devo & Associates for the parking pay system Tuesday night for another three years through September 2021. Yet, the system has its critics.

I would be so in favor of them building even a two-story parking garage.” 

— Gabriel Garcia

“It’s upsetting for many people,” Gabriel Garcia, manager of Bistro Cassis said. “I understand why they do it, but you can’t expect people to park for only three hours if they want to spend a whole night out on the town.”

Garcia said available parking spaces in Huntington village remains his biggest concern, given patrons regularly express their frustrations to him and state they won’t visit the restaurant on weekends due to a lack of available slots.

“I would be so in favor of them building even a two-story parking garage,” he said.

He estimated only 30 percent of his restaurant’s clientele would be willing to consider using ride services such as Uber or the Qwik Ride shuttles, as they don’t rely on other sources for transportation.

Across town, Honu Kitchen & Cocktails owner Mark Zecher said he frequently sees customers utilizing Qwik Ride shuttles, since it started operating in August, and public transportation playing a positive role in addressing the area’s parking issues.

I always tell people, ‘If we didn’t’ have a parking problem, we’d all have a problem.'”

— Mark Zecher

“More and more people are using Uber, and it not only has to do with the parking situation but the drinking and driving laws,” Zecher said. “People are becoming much more conscious and responsible.”

Zecher said there is an ever-present need for more parking by the village’s businesses.

“I always tell people, ‘If we didn’t’ have a parking problem, we’d all have a problem,’” he said.

Despite his business being close to the proposed site of the parking garage, Zecher said he was unsure if more municipal lots or a new facility was the best solution for parking woes given potential costs or the possible impact of neighboring businesses during construction.

“At the end of the day, more parking spots would be good but how we get there and how it affects businesses along the way is a question I can’t answer,” Zecher said.

Brookhaven’s single-stream recycling facility in Yaphank. File photo by Clayton Collier

By Alex Petroski & Sara-Megan Walsh

Recyclable materials have been building up at the Brookhaven Town recycling plant in Yaphank ever since China stopped accepting imports from American facilities in January, but the future of the facility is even more up in the air now.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said contractor Green Stream Recycling terminated its 25-year contract to operate the Yaphank facility effective Oct. 29 citing financial woes due to market changes. The company signed the agreement with the town in 2013.

“We’re a regional facility — for them to do that it certainly isn’t going to speak well of the future of their waste management business on Long Island,” Romaine said.

The town plans to pursue legal action against the contractor for breach of contract, according to the supervisor.

Green Stream Recycling, owned by principals Joe Winters and Anthony Core, also of Hudson Baylor Brookhaven LLC, did not return a phone call requesting comment.

An aerial view of Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling plant in Yaphank is surrounded by recyclables in August. Photo from Town of Smithtown

Romaine said the town will be putting the contract out for an emergency bid Nov. 1 for a new facility operator, and the town board will select a replacement at a Nov. 2 special meeting.

“They had three years of very good profits, and then as you know more recently there have been changes obviously in the recycling market where most of our recycling goods went,” Romaine said. 

The terms of contract with Green Stream Recycling yielded $20 per ton of processed recyclables, a quarter of which went back to Brookhaven with the remaining 75 percent
redistributed to neighboring municipalities that had agreements with Brookhaven to send their recyclables to the Yaphank facility, Romaine said. The supervisor said the town hadn’t received any money from Green Stream since May, though Brookhaven has continued making payments to other municipalities.

“The Town of Brookhaven believes very strongly in the benefits that a municipal recycling program brings to our respective communities and hence the reason we continued acceptance and payment for the material received from the Town of Huntington,” Romaine wrote in an Oct. 23 letter to Huntington Supervisor Chad
Lupinacci (R).

Similar letters were also sent to Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and the other municipalities that have single-stream recycling agreements with Brookhaven.

John Clark, director of Environmental Waste Management for the Town of Huntington, said the town was previously informed Aug. 23 Brookhaven would not renew the intermunicipal agreement to accept Huntington’s collected recyclables set to expire at the end of this year. Under the terms of the agreement, Huntington received up to $15 per ton of recyclable material delivered to the Yaphank facility.

In 2017, Huntington collected and delivered more than 14,000 tons of material to the single-stream recycling plant that was processed through the intermunicipal agreement. This resulted in more than $152,000 in net revenue, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.

The town had already issued a request for proposals Oct. 18 in an attempt to find an alternative solution to start Jan. 1, 2019, which may include converting back to dual-stream recycling where residents may be held responsible for sorting their trash again.

The news of Green Stream Recycling ending its contract with Brookhaven will pose only a temporary issue for Huntington, Lembo noted.

“The Town of Brookhaven believes very strongly in the benefits that a municipal recycling program brings to our respective communities and hence the reason we continued acceptance and payment for the material received from the Town of Huntington.”

— Ed Romaine

“We are already in the process of reaching out to potential recycling vendors and other municipalities to execute a two-month agreement that would get us through the end of the year under our single-stream recycling mode,” Lembo said.

Russ Barnett, Smithtown’s environmental protection director, said the town had received a telephone call from Brookhaven Oct. 19 to immediately cease sending recyclables to Brookhaven’s Yaphank facility. Smithtown’s town board plans to issue an emergency request for proposals at its Oct. 25 meeting seeking a new contractor to cart and process its residents’ recyclables, according to spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. It’s unclear what if any impact this may have on Smithtown’s tentative 2019 budget.

“Residents should continue doing what they are doing right now,” Barnett said. “We’re not asking residents to make any changes.”

Smithtown Town plans to temporarily store all collected materials at its Municipal Services Facility on Old Northport Road in Kings Park until a new carter is found. A new recyclable operator could mean a move back to dual-stream recycling.

“We’ve got a broad solicitation out there to identify what our options might be,” Barnett said. “Whether we will be offered services as an unsorted single-stream recyclables for sorting and purification elsewhere, or whether or not people might propose that prior sorting [by residents] needs to be done.”

A spokesperson for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement the agency is working with Brookhaven and the other towns impacted to develop solutions that will allow for processing of existing materials at the site and long-term solutions to continue recycling in the region, as well as working with industry stakeholders to solve the problem of drying up markets for the recycled material.

Bruce Tilden, above, owner of Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn, holds up a deer antler prop at the Oct. 10 Town of Huntington board meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

Hunting season is open in Huntington, though local farmers and residents are at odds over whether the town will soon allow special permits for bowhunting on deer after the season ends.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation currently allows for people to apply for Deer Damage Permits that would allow residents to hunt deer if they can show the animals are negatively impacting agriculture, horticulture, biodiversity or are a threat to human health and safety. The Town of Huntington currently does not allow for these licenses, but some local farmers have been lobbying the town to let them apply for one.

“I’m trying to keep this business alive for my grandchildren,” said Bruce Tilden, the operator of Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. “If it were a bug I could spray it, if it were a rat I could trap it, but because it’s Bambi, I can’t do anything about it.”

Tilden said that his farm, which sells Christmas trees, has had problems of deer rubbing the bark off his trees and doing damage to saplings for many years, mostly before the deer hunting season opens up Oct. 1. He said he had called the DEC but was told he could not apply for a DDP because the Huntington town code prohibits it.

A hunter waits for deer near Cindy Gavel’s house in Asharoken. Photo from Cindy Gavel

Residents living on the edge of wooded property feel giving local hunters the potential to hunt beyond the normal season could only exacerbate what they see is close-proximity hunting going on near their homes. Several Asharoken and Eaton’s Neck residents spoke in an open hearing during a town board meeting Oct. 10 about their issues with longbow hunters near their homes.

“With these permits the danger of hunting would exist all year long” Eaton’s Neck resident Christine Ballow said. “If this is all year long you have a much higher risk for the community… Instead of hunting we could neuter the bucks.”

In 2015, the Huntington town board voted to allow longbow hunting of deer on private property throughout the town during the regular longbow hunting season Oct. 1 to Jan. 31. The hunting still requires a DEC permit.

State regulations also require hunters to be 150 feet from other private property. Though for some like Asharoken resident Cindy Gavel the footage between her and hunters is not enough to provide safety for herself or for the kids in the community.

“It’s ridiculous how many tree stands are in this neighborhood,” Gavel said. “You can’t even feel safe to walk down the street.”

In 2016, Gavel watched as a buck with an arrow in its back leaped her backyard fence before moving into her yard and bleeding to death.

“If they would change the regulations to be 500 feet from private property it would not affect hunters,” she said.

Other nearby townships have enforced greater footage between property and deer hunters. In December 2017, East Quogue-based hunting advocacy group Hunters for Deer sued The Town of Smithtown over its maximum limitations of 500 feet between hunters and private property, saying it was illegal, inconsistent with DEC regulations and that it restricted deer hunting in many parts of the town. A New York State Supreme Court judge dropped the case saying the town was in their right to restrict the footage, according to court filings. The hunting group announced on their Facebook page they would appeal.

If it were a bug I could spray it, if it were a rat I could trap it, but because it’s Bambi, I can’t do anything about it.”

— Bruce Tilden

A spokesperson for the state DEC said that 135 DDPs have been issued in Suffolk County in 2018 and that any complaints about permits or hunting can be sent to the NYS Environmental Conservation Police for investigation.

Ballow asked the town council why Huntington wasn’t considering making the proposed law restricted to commercial farmers alone, but Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said the change in town code was to bring the town into accordance with current DEC and state law, and that it should only apply to farmers who need to deal with deer outside the regular hunting season.

“It’s allowing farmers to get special waivers to take care of their property,” Lupinacci said.

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) said she wished the town council would spend more time reviewing any issues with the new law regarding who could apply for a DDP.

“I question what constitutes a ‘farmer,’” Cergol said. “Is it people with a backyard vegetable garden? We should tighten it to provide clarity — see what we can do to find middle ground.”

Lupinacci said that while the local law does not allow these licenses, the state DEC could issue DDP licenses despite town code. Huntington Town Attorney Nicholas Ciappetta said he believed the DEC could do that, but as far as he knew they haven’t yet.

“The state law trumps the town code in the case there are any inconsistencies, so they could disregard the town code,” Ciappetta said. “But they haven’t so far.”

The board did not give an exact date on when the code change would come to a vote.

Correction: Christine Ballow’s quote was changed to reflect more of her original argument.

Hundreds gathered in Huntington to put on a proud display of their Italian heritage at the 20th annual Long Island Columbus Day Parade Oct. 7. The event, hosted by the Town of Huntington and Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce, aims to celebrate Italian heritage, culture and their contributions to society.

Hundreds of New York members of the Order of Sons and Daughters of Italy in America marched along the parade route from the Old Village Green west on Main Street to the Christopher Columbus statue, at the intersection of West Neck Road, in honor of the organization’s 113th anniversary.

This year’s parade marshals were: Robert Ferrito, president of the New York OSDIA, Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R); Antoinette Biordi, an anchorwoman for News 12; and Vito DeSimone, an Italian media personality.

Huntington High School students have given a presidential gift to the Town of Huntington that is already being called “timeless.”

Huntington town officials unveiled a new historic marker Sept. 21 in Municipal Lot 49 on New York Avenue commemorating a speech given during the town’s 250th anniversary celebration in 1903 by former President Theodore Roosevelt’s (R).

“In doing so today, we are not only honoring the president who came to address the residents of our town, but the importance of the legacy he left behind,” said Katelyn Sage, a senior at Huntington High School.

Roosevelt’s visit wasn’t only very powerful because he was a sitting president coming here for the anniversary of a great town, but he also started the study of historical remembrance here in Huntington.” 

— Chad Lupinacci

Sage and Huntington senior Luke Farrell have worked together during the past year to research Roosevelt’s 1903 visit to Huntington with Joseph Levy, Huntington school district’s chairman of humanities. After hours of research, the students learned a committee of local women searched through attics, basements and barns to pull together a collection of artifacts from the town’s Colonial era ahead of the presidential visit, according to Sage. The committee and collection served as the foundation of the current Huntington Historical Society.

“Roosevelt’s visit wasn’t only very powerful because he was a sitting president coming here for the anniversary of a great town, but he also started the study of historical remembrance here in Huntington,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said.

On the Fourth of July in 1903, Roosevelt gave a speech praising civic-minded virtues to a large crowd gathered in an empty field now near the intersection of New York Avenue and Gerard Street in Huntington. It was reenacted by Theodore Roosevelt impersonator Leer Leary at the unveiling ceremony Sept. 21. A short excerpt is also written on the historic marker.

“In civil life, we need decency, honesty. We are not to be excused as people if we ever condone dishonesty,” the supervisor said, reading the selected Roosevelt quote. “That’s advice to heed for our representative government at all levels, whether it’s the local level, state level or national level.”

In civil life, we need decency, honesty. We are not to be excused as people if we ever condone dishonest.”

— Theodore Roosevelt’s 1903 speech

Roosevelt was only the second sitting president to visit Huntington, according to Lupinacci, after George Washington, who dined at the former Platt’s Tavern in 1790. No sitting president has visited the town since. A traditional blue-and-gold historic marker was erected in 1932 by the New York State Education Department near the intersection of Park Avenue and Route 25A to mark Washington’s visit.

“Luke, Mr. Levy and I have researched and organized this project in order to commemorate an important historic event that not only happened in our town, but has yet to be acknowledged,” Sage said.

The marker commemorating Roosevelt’s visit, funded by Huntington High School’s student government, bears a different design. The students choose to install a plaque that displays a black-and-white photo of the occasion, the quote from Roosevelt’s speech and a short caption describing the historical significance of the event.

“I congratulate them for doing a wonderful job commemorating a period from 115 years ago,” Town historian Robert Hughes said. “The quote they selected reflects modern-day America as well. This is a timeless historic marker.”

Huntington Town Clerk JoAnn Raia hands out copies of the 2019 Tentative Budget to the town council. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The first draft of the Town of Huntington’s 2019 budget prepared by Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) was immediately met by sharp criticism and divided the town council.

Lupinacci presented a draft of the town’s 2019 budget calling for a $122.8 million tax levy, or an increase of 2.53 percent from the current year, at the Sept. 20 town board meeting. The proposed 2019 budget falls under New York State’s mandated tax levy increase cap by approximately $80,000, includes $371,000 in rollover savings from 2018, and accounts for growth in the town’s tax base valued at roughly $400,000.

I have taken a conservative approach to expenditure allocations, using previous actuals as a baseline for these costs.”

— Chad Lupinacci

“I have taken a conservative approach to expenditure allocations, using previous actuals as a baseline for these costs,” the supervisor wrote in an open letter presenting the budget. “Particular focus was given to employee salaries, overtime and benefits.”

Lupinacci said some of the challenges faced in drafting the 2019 budget included accounting for contractually mandated collective bargaining increases for all town union employees and a 9 percent increase in employee medical costs. He has suggested appropriating $750,000 from the town’s fund balance to help cover costs in three areas: the consolidated refuse fund, street lighting and the Huntington sewer district.

“I have incorporated realistic revenue budgeting, and have not relied upon one-shot revenues as a means of balancing the 2019 Tentative Budget,” the supervisor wrote.

The budget draft immediately received sharp criticism by Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) who took issue with the supervisor’s suggestion of eliminating one staff member each from each of the four board members’ personnel. Cuthbertson dubbed Lupinacci’s proposal “the height of hypocrisy” pointing to eight individuals who serve the supervisor’s office, in addition to the town board reinstating nine employees and creating 14 new staff positions in August.

In all the time I have been here, council people have had a staff of one secretary, one legislative aide, much like what is afforded our county legislators and members of the state Assembly. “

— Mark Cuthbertson

“In all the time I have been here, council people have had a staff of one secretary, one legislative aide, much like what is afforded our county legislators and members of the state Assembly,” Cuthbertson said. “Now that we have a bloated budget with these positions created in a naked power grab, he seeks to eliminate the people that help council members do their job and, in many respects, holds the administration accountable to the people of this town.”

Lupinacci said he had personally pulled all town board members aside prior to the formal release of the 2019 Tentative Budget to inform them of his proposed staffing changes. He explained his vision is that each councilperson would keep their legislative aide, who assists in policy research and handling calls from residents, and would share one combined office manager or secretary.

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) also spoke out against the proposed 2019 staffing changes.

I am not okay with the tentative budget decision regarding town council personnel which were made without consultation of fellow town board colleagues,” she said. “We, like our supervisor, must serve our constituents and this budget decision diminishes that ability.”

We, like our supervisor, must serve our constituents and this budget decision diminishes that ability.”

— Joan Cergol

In response to the proposed 2019 budget, Cuthbertson was the sole vote against reinstating four town employee positions. These staff openings include a Spanish-speaking office assistant for Town Clerk JoAnn Raia (R) at $9,260 and a dispatcher requested by Superintendent of Highways Kevin Orelli (D).

“I requested and have complete justification for a Spanish-speaking typist,” Raia said. “I have couples coming in all day long for marriage licenses, divorce documents and other documents that are in Spanish and need translation. That is a critical need in my office.”

Lupinacci said the elimination of the four positions is due to employees being replaced over time, largely due to resignations or promotions. Raia confirmed the Spanish-speaking typist submitted a resignation two weeks ago after serving with the town for four years after receiving another job offer.

“I didn’t single out any position,” Cuthbertson said. “I think we were in a better position to budget and pay for it, if we had not gone on a spending spree with patronage jobs in August.

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

Town of Huntington officials have agreed to rezone a “historic hallowed” parcel of Huntington Village turned “eyesore,” where Founding Father George Washington once stopped for dinner, after three years of extensive debate.

The town board voted 4 to 1 to allow for rezoning of the corner lot at the intersection of Park Avenue and Route 25A/Main Street from R-15 Residential District to C-1 Office Residence District to make way for a medical office building. Part of the site was formerly home to Platt’s Tavern, one of the earliest buildings in Huntington. Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) was the sole vote against the rezoning.

I believe we have an opportunity and responsibility to re-create this iconic corner in a manner that reflects and respects the historic district’s spirit and guidelines.”

— Joan Cergol

“I believe we have an opportunity and responsibility to re-create this iconic corner in a manner that reflects and respects the historic district’s spirit and guidelines,” Cergol said. “I am sorry to say I do not see that embodied in the current proposal.”

The proposed plans, put forth by developer Dominick Mavellia in 2014, would replace an abandoned gasoline service station/automotive repair shop, a deli and a vehicle storage yard with a 10,000-square-foot medical building.

The project is located within both the Old Town Green National Historic District and the Old Huntington Green Town Historic District, which contain some of Huntington’s earliest homes.

Paul Warburgh, president of the Old Huntington Green Inc. has previously voiced his opposition to the change of zoning, most recently at the Aug. 7 town board meeting. On Sept. 20, he asked town officials to table the vote and consider something different.

“I’d like to suggest some amendments to the changes to honor the historic site that exists there,” Warburgh said. “This will all then comply with the historic district law when you talk about scale and style.”

Warburgh asked the town board to put a conditional approval on the rezoning that the developer be required to construct two buildings totaling no more than 6,000 square feet and no more than 30 feet in height in order to fall within the standards of the historic district.

Cergol said she reached out to the developer herself earlier this year to see if he would consider building two smaller buildings instead of the 10,000-square-foot office. She cited Sunny Pond Farm on Park Avenue as an example of redevelopment that preserved open space, historic structures, blended into the historic district and has been economically successful.

“Right now on this corner is an ugly, abandoned gas station. This is the first step of beautifying that area.

— Chad Lupinacci

Cergol asked her fellow council members prior to the rezoning vote if any were willing to postpone the decision to consider Warburgh’s request for special conditions. When no one was willing to open the matter to discussion, more residents asked if they still had an opportunity to speak. 

Councilman Ed Smythe (R) said as the property is within the Old Huntington Green Historic District, the developer’s specific site plans will have to come back before the town board in order to receive a building permit. These plans will need to contain specific details on the architectural style of the building, according Smythe, as well as the building’s proposed elevation.

“Right now on this corner is an ugly, abandoned gas station,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “This is the first step of beautifying that area.

Lupinacci called the corner’s current buildings “an eyesore” and said in the future he hopes the town will install a historic plaque commemorating Washington’s visit on the site in addition to the brief sign already there.

Port Jeff Superintendent Paul Casciano and board President Kathleen Brennan. File photos by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski & Sara-Megan Walsh

Port Jefferson and Northport-East Northport school districts, as well as the Town of Huntington, were dealt a blow in the legal battle against Long Island Power Authority in August. But, it doesn’t mean they are going down without a fight.

Port Jeff board of education voted unanimously — 6-0 with board President Kathleen Brennan absent — during a Sept. 24 special meeting to file an appeal of New York State Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Emerson’s Aug. 16 ruling that LIPA “made no promises” to the Town of Huntington, Northport-East Northport and Port Jefferson school districts not to challenge the taxes levied on its power stations.

Huntington Town Attorney Nick Ciapetta said the municipality formally filed its appeal of Emerson’s decision the following day, Sept. 25.

The judge’s ruling dismissed the third-party lawsuits brought forth by Huntington and the two school districts which alleged LIPA broke a promise by seeking to reduce the power plant’s taxes by 90 percent. The resolution passed by Port Jeff school board authorized its legal counsel, Ingerman Smith, LLP, to file the appeal.

“We do think her decision was incorrect, and clearly we do recommend that the board consider filing a notice of appeal in this proceeding,” said attorney John Gross of Ingerman Smith, LLP, prior to Port Jeff’s Sept. 24 vote.
Northport-East Northport’s board trustees had previously voted to pursue an appeal at their Sept. 6 meeting.

Gross, who has been hired to represent both Northport and Port Jeff schools, said the districts

will have six months to perfect appeals. During this time, the districts’ legal team will prepare a record including all exhibits, witness depositions, and information gathered from the examination of about 60,000 pages of documents. He said a brief outlining the  legal arguments against Emerson’s decision will be crafted prior to submitting the appeal.
LIPA will be given several months to prepare a reply, according to Gross, prior to oral arguments before a four-judge panel in New York State Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. Further appeals are possible following that decision. Gross said the process could take more than a year.

Meanwhile, Huntington Town, Northport-East Northport school district, LIPA and National Grid have agreed to pursue non-binding mediation relating to the case, which begins Sept. 26. Gross said while Port Jeff is not a party to the mediation, it will be monitoring the outcome because the process could establish a pattern of resolution for its case. He also said the district can withdraw its appeal at any time, but once that occurs it cannot rejoin the process.

“Legal actions taken by the Town [of Brookhaven], [Port Jefferson] Village and school district to generate an equitable solution to the LIPA tax assessment challenges are intended to protect its residents and children against exorbitant property tax increases; especially in a very short interval of time,” Port Jeff school district said in a publicly released letter Sept. 12 prior to passing a resolution authorizing the appeal. “Please know, that the district fully understands that the decision about engaging legal counsel is one to be made with great care, as it always carries a financial implication while never guaranteeing a verdict in one’s favor.”

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