Town of Huntington

Photo from Flickr/David Rodriguez Martin

Huntington town officials’ proposal to create a permit to allow drones to fly over town parks and beaches has hit turbulence with hobbyists and commercial pilots.

Huntington town board held a public hearing June 5 to consider creating a permit process that would allow the recreational and commercial use of unmanned aircraft systems, such as model aircrafts or drones, on town-owned parks and beaches for the first time since 2015.

“We are seeing it happen anyway,” said Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D). “We want to be able to regulate and have a say about it.”

In October 2015, the town adopted a law sponsored by Cuthbertson that made it illegal to pilot an unmanned aircraft on private property or town property without the owner or the town’s consent. It defined an unmanned aircraft as “a non-human carrying aircraft weighing no more than 55 pounds, capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere intended exclusively for sport, recreation, education and/or competition and is typically guided by remote control or onboard computers.”

Drones have been a fantastic tool for getting students involved in STEM and aviation.”
– Scott Harrigan

While the original law said the pilot of the craft would have to receive consent from town board to fly at town-owned property, parks and beaches, it did not lay out a process.

Under the proposed changes, if approved, a model airplane or drone pilot will have to file an application with the town attorney’s office for a permit to take off and fly their aircraft over town-owned property at least five days in advance. The pilot will be required to provide: a specific date and time the aircraft will be flown; a full description of any photo, video or audio recording capabilities; the location over which the activity will take place; and a statement confirming whether it is for commercial or recreational activity.

Several drone hobbyists and commercial operators stepped forward June 5 to offer feedback on the town’s proposal.

“I care very deeply about keeping Long Island a place where people can freely fly drones for business and pleasure. Drones have been a fantastic tool for getting students involved in STEM and aviation,” said Scott Harrigan, CEO of the Oyster Bay-based Harken Aerial that offers commercial drone photography. “A lot of people call it a gateway drug to aviation.”

Harrigan commended town officials for considering a permit process but had concerns regarding how the detailed information required could restrict drone use.

“The biggest logistical issue you run into is weather, requiring X amount of days for notice of operation is difficult,” Harrigan said. “What I’d like to see addressed is some relief for weather or rescheduling.”

Ed Anderson, a recreational model airplane pilot from Syosset, agreed that requiring five days notice before flying would eliminate possible recreational use by hobbyists.

The biggest logistical issue you run into is weather, requiring X amount of days for notice of operation is difficult.”
– Harrigan

Both Harrigan and Anderson suggested the town look closer at modeling its laws after the Town of Oyster Bay’s regulations, which offer a seasonal and nonseasonal permit rather than for one-time use.

Harrigan also took issue with the town’s stipulation that any camera, video or audio recording by a drone couldn’t take place where there is a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

“That’s a vague and meaningless term,” he argued. “I can walk out onto a beach with a camera and there’s no right to restrict. Now, I have a $40 drone that I picked up from Toys ‘R’ Us with a camera on it at 15 feet over head, and I have violated a law.”

Cuthbertson, who is a practicing attorney with experience in municipal and land use law, said the phrase “reasonable expectation of privacy” is commonly accepted legal term that has well-defined limitations.

The proposed changes will not affect the current punishment for those who violate town code consisting of a fine exceeding $1,000 or imprisonment for up to 15 days. Massapequa Park resident Kenneth Kramer, a model airplane enthusiast and licensed commercial drone pilot who often flies in Huntington area, asked the town to reconsider amending this.

“The Town of Oyster Bay is having a problem with people knowing about the permit process,” Kramer said. “If you are going to be charging people, that it is going to be a hardship on the average family.”

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) assured that the town was soliciting feedback and would consider some of the suggestions made prior to changing the code.

“It’s a good start, and we would love to make it better,” he said.

An aerial map overview of Huntington Station revitalization projects shows the state-owned NY Avenue property highlighted in yellow. Image from Source the Station

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Huntington Town officials are looking to state representatives in Albany to push for the transfer of ownership of a state property on New York Avenue to the town by June 20.

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) introduced a late resolution at the June 5 town board meeting to send a home rule message urging New York state legislators to approve the transferring of ownership of about 4 acres of land in Huntington Station to the town in order for revitalization efforts to move forward.

“The Town of Huntington, in partnership with Renaissance Downtowns at Huntington Station LLC and the entire Huntington Station community, is engaged in a multi-year community planning and revitalization process to help realize the community’s aspiration for a more walkable, vibrant and transit-friendly environment,” Cergol’s resolution reads.

“As you may know, from day one when I started with the town I was assigned to Huntington Station and I’ve been chipping away at it ever since.”
– Joan Cergol

The land sought is a narrow strip of property adjacent to the western side of New York Avenue/Route 110, bordered to the north by Church Street running along the roadway south to the Long Island Rail Road right of way. It is currently owned by New York State Department of Transportation.

Ryan Porter, president and co-CEO of Renaissance Downtowns, said obtaining ownership of the land is critical for moving forward in the planning and construction of the artist lofts and hotel envisioned as part of the Huntington Station revitalization master plans. In February 2014, the town board approved a special use permit for the hotel along New York Avenue under a C-6 overlay zoning. Since then, the plans have not advanced any further.

Town board members approved the home rule message by a 3-2 vote urging the passage of the land transfer bills that have been sponsored by state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) and state Assemblyman Steve Stern (R-Dix Hills) before the end of state legislature’s session.

“As you may know, from day one when I started with the town I was assigned to Huntington Station and I’ve been chipping away at it ever since,” Cergol said, noting she also recently sponsored a resolution that allowed the area to be federally designated an Opportunity Zone which provides tax incentives to business owners. “To be in the position I am now to advance progress is very rewarding and to see things happening makes me feel like a rock star.”

Councilmen Gene Cook (R) and Ed Smythe (R) voted against seeking a transfer of the New York Avenue property. Cook said he was originally in favor of the resolution but admitted to having issues with some of the actions taken by Renaissance Downtowns in recent months, including requesting permission to construct two-bedroom apartments in the Gateway Plaza after initial plans were already approved and seeking approval of $2.6 million in tax breaks from Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency on the project.

“It was a good way to set [Renaissance Downtowns] up and say we’re all playing good or you aren’t playing.”
– Gene Cook

“I wasn’t happy with what happened with Renaissance the past couple of weeks, the nonsense, the changes, going for IDA money,” the councilman said. “It was a good way to set them up and say we’re all playing good or you aren’t playing.”

Porter said he hasn’t had the opportunity to speak personally with Cook since the developer’s request to add two-bedroom units to Gateway Plaza was withdrawn in mid-May.

“We made an adjustment to alleviate the concerns of the community,” Porter said. “But the truth of the matter is that there was a good portion of the population that was disappointed we removed the two-bedrooms units.”

Renaissance Downtowns is hopeful it will receive the necessary permits to begin demolition of the existing buildings located at 1000 to 1026 New York Avenue this summer to make way for construction of Gateway Plaza, according to Porter. The proposed plans for the plaza call for the construction of a mixed-used building consisting of 16,000-square-feet of retail space and a total of 66 apartments. The existing Brother’s Barber Shop will remain in place.

The master developer said there is a June 14 meeting scheduled to hammer out more details and set a more definitive schedule for demolition and construction.

File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington Town officials will seek to borrow $7.3 million to tackle a wide variety of projects in the upcoming year.

The board approved bonding out $4.95 million for town projects and $2.55 million for water district improvements at its June 5 meeting. Councilman Gene Cook (R) voted against taking on debt, as he traditionally does each year, arguing the necessary funding should have been incorporated into the town’s 2018 budget.

“We have to be cautious with our money,” Cook said.

“We need to look for alternative sources of revenue in order to make the town move forward.”

– Chad Lupinacci

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said seeking bonds for large capital projects and improvements is better for the town’s long-term growth than tapping into its capital reserves.

“There’s certain things you can budget for, but at times there are larger capital projects that will take a longer time and need more money,” Lupinacci said, citing the restricting of the state’s 2 percent property tax levy increase cap. “We need to look for alternative sources of revenue in order to make the town move forward.”

One project that garnered the entire board’s support – including Cook – was bonding for $2.4 million to make roadway improvements throughout the town. These funds will supplement the more than $4.2 million set aside in the town’s 2018 budget for the Highway Department’s contractual services, materials and supplies.

“It has to do with paving the roads and we get a lot of complaints about potholes,” the supervisor said.

The approved funding also includes $1 million for the Greenlawn Water District to purchase and replace old water meters, in addition to $1.55 million for the Dix Hills Water District to make infrastructure improvements at a plant and replace water meters.

The $7.2 million approved for improvements is substantially less than the town had borrowed the last two years. Huntington took on $13.34 million in 2017 and $13.95 million in 2016, under the prior administration.


Projects approved in the $7.3M Bond:
-$75,000 to resurface parking lots
-$100,000 for fencing
-$130,000 for tank and sump improvements
-$175,000 for roof replacement at ice rink
-$175,000 for town building improvements
-$390,000 for drainage equipment
-$750,000 for drainage improvements
-$2.4 million for road improvements
-$560,000 for Huntington Sewer District
– $1 million for Greenlawn Water District
– $1.55 million for Dix Hills Water District

The funding sought by the town could drastically increase if Lupinacci reintroduces a resolution permitting the town to take out $13.5 million in bonds for construction of the James D. Conte Community Center off East 5th Avenue in Huntington Station. The supervisor pulled the measure June 5 before a vote, saying the overall cost of the project had increased and town council members asked for additional time to review the proposed changes.

“I would rather everyone have their questions addressed before it is voted on,” he said.

When plans for the community center were unveiled in November 2017, town officials had estimated renovating the 2,500-square-foot former New York State Armory would come in at approximately $10 million. The town’s 2018 budget already set aside $3.75 million for the project, in addition to a $1.5 million state grant.

Lupinacci said he plans to address funds for the James. D. Conte center at the June 19 town board meeting.

Two resolutions seeking funds for purchase of vehicles and equipment were defeated by a 3-2 vote, with Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and Cook against. This included a new trackless vehicle at an estimated cost of $130,000, which Lupinacci said he believed would have been used for maintenance of town-owned parks and fields.

The Northport power plant. File photo

Huntington town elected officials refused to entertain a request to hire additional legal help in its lawsuit against Long Island PowerAuthority, despite calls from Northport residents for help.

Huntington Councilman Gene Cook (R) offered a resolution at the June 5 town board meeting to hire Manhattan-based law firm Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP as additional legal counsel in the town’s pending tax certiorari case with LIPA and National Grid over the Northport Power Station as the case heads to trial in July.

“I believe this is a very needed law firm to hire at this point,” Cook said. “For the money that this law firm would [cost], it’s a whole lot less than the hundreds of millions we stand to lose.”

For the money that this law firm would [cost], it’s a whole lot less than the hundreds of millions we stand to lose.”
– Gene Cook

A request to hear and vote on a measure was shot down by a 3-2 vote, by Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R), Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D).

“There are hundreds of thousands — millions of dollars at stake now in this case,” Lupinacci said. “Huntington has been fighting hard on behalf of the taxpayers. We will continue to use all legal options at our [disposal] to make sure LIPA and National Grid honor their contractual promises.”

LIPA filed a tax certiorari lawsuit against the town assessor’s office in 2010 seeking a 90 percent reduction in the tax assessed valuation of its Northport Power Station, and seeking repayment of all taxes it claims to have overpaid since 2010 — currently amounting to more than $550 million and growing.

Cook said the Manhattan-based law firm is one of the top litigation firms in the nation, although admittedly not specialized in cases related to power plants.

“We are losing a huge opportunity and it will hurt everyone out there by not doing this,” he said.

Several prominent Northport residents had pleaded with the town officials to support Cook’s resolution Tuesday afternoon including Northport school board trustee David Stein, who spoke as a private resident in support of the measure.

The army of attorneys, lobbyists and PR titans that we are against now requires an outsized army of our own.”
– David Stein

“LIPA and National Grid have brought in a veritable army of lawyers, lobbyists and [public relations] attack dogs,” Stein said, painting an image of a David-versus-Goliath fight. “The army of attorneys, lobbyists and PR titans that we are against now requires an outsized army of our own. And so, I urge you to engage the services of the biggest, best, brightest and most well-known in all of these areas now.”

Under Cook’s proposed contract, attorneys from Boies Schiller & Flexner would have been paid an hourly rate of not more than $1,650 an hour to assist the town’s current legal representatives from Lewis & Greer P.C. in determining a strategy and arguments for the upcoming trial. These accumulated attorney fees could not be bonded under state law, according to the town supervisor, but would have required dipping into the town’s capital reserves.

“If spending $1,650 were a silver bullet that would achieve something here, I would do it,” Cuthbertson said. “The law firm Cook would like to hire has absolutely no experience in tax certiorari cases that involve power plants.”

Lupinacci said he was willing to consider looking into other prominent litigation law firms which might be able to serve the town at a lower cost.

“Sometimes when [law firms] look at a municipality, they believe they are looking at deep pockets,” the supervisor said. “We have to do some outside the box thinking and leave no stone unturned.”

If spending $1,650 were a silver bullet that would achieve something here, I would do it.”
– Mark Cuthbertson

Northport Village Deputy Mayor Thomas Kehoe and Northport resident Tammy Topel both urged the Huntington town officials to take more aggressive action in light of additional information that has become public — spoken widely about by Cook — calling the Northport Power Station a hub through which natural gas lines and fiber optic networks for internet pass through.

“I believe these are misguided attempts to incorporate other aspects into the valuation process that just aren’t there,” Cuthbertson said. “It’s a red herring and unfair to the public.”

Cook vehemently disagreed with his fellow councilman in open debate.

The town is moving forward by pursuing help from its state elected officials, according to the supervisor, including scheduling a meeting with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to garner his support for a resolution to the case. Lupinacci said the town still remains open to negotiations.

“We are always speaking with the other side to see if there is some kind of resolution, but we are probably not going to achieve a resolution that is going to be beneficial to the taxpayers of Huntington and to our students,” Lupinacci said. “We are prepared to take this case to trial.”

Huntington Harbormaster Fred Uvena gives a tour of accident-prone sites. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

As Huntington boat owners get ready to pull up anchor and head out for the start of the season, town officials and maritime police emphasizing boating safety and a plan to crack down on drunk boating.

“Across Long Island and the entire state, boating accidents and deaths have been increasing the last few years,“ Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “At the local level, the coast guard and the
local marine units have noticed fewer boaters wearing life jackets, and general inattention to the rules of the waterways.

Across Long Island and the entire state, boating accidents and deaths have been increasing the last few years.”
– Chad Lupinacci

Lupinacci was joined by Huntington Harbormaster Fred Uvena, members of the Huntington Bay Constable and members of the Suffolk County Marine Bureau at a May 24 press conference where they called for stricter enforcement of speed limits inside Huntington Harbor, awareness of small craft in local waters and a crackdown on boating while intoxicated.

In 2017, there were more than 650 deaths across the country involving boating incidents, according to a report by the U.S. Coast Guard. There were 19 fatal accidents, resulting in 22 deaths, and more than 70 people injured in New York. The overall number of boating-related deaths is less than in 2016, but still represents a general increase over the last few years. The report said that there were 12 boating accidents in the state in which alcohol was found to be a contributing factor, which resulted in one death and 16 injuries in 2017.

“When you come down and get in your boat, the biggest thing we emphasis is common sense,” Uvena said.

The harbormaster emphasized that every boat should have life jackets for every passenger, that boat owners should check their fuel, flares and radio when boarding and that those in charge of the boats should know not to drink and pilot their craft.

There are multiple high-risk areas across Huntington Harbor and all the way out into the entrance to Long Island Sound, according to Uvena, He pointed out that hot spots for incidents include the private beaches along the harbor that host many canoers, paddle boarders and other small craft. There are also the hazardous areas full of protruding rocks along the beach near Huntington Harbor Lighthouse and an area commonly called The Box close to the Northport Power Station.

When you come down and get in your boat, the biggest thing we emphasis is common sense.”
– Fred Uvena

Over the past five years, Uvena said he has seen incidents involving kayakers and paddle boarders increase along with the surge in these activities’ popularity in Huntington. The harbormaster said that they are so low to the water that boaters who fly too fast, too close to the shore have the possibility of clipping them or running over them completely. The U.S. Coast Guard’s statistics show that canoe and kayaks had the second highest total death count at 152 compared to 323 in open motorboat.

”Boaters need to take heed of their speed in the middle of the bay,” Uvena said.

The Harbormaster office is receiving new buoys that have LEDs built in to be more easily seen at night. Uvena expects to receive them by the end of the year, but as the boating season kicks off, the harbor constables can only advise boaters on the dangers of speeding in the harbor and of drinking and boating. Those individuals who are found guilty of boating while intoxicated can face stiff penalties. On the first offense, an individual can receive from a $300 to $500 fine and 15 days in jail; additional offenses result in harsher fines and longer jail time. However, under current law a boating while intoxicated charge does go on a driver’s license or go onto the pilot’s record like a driving while intoxicated in a car would.

Deer Park resident Gina Lieneck has firsthand experience with the potential dangers of boating. In August 2005, she and her family were spending the day tubing off the coast of Fire Island. They were heading back to Bay Shore Marina when out of the dark, another boat approached them from behind at top speed. Lieneck and her husband were severely injured by the boat and its propeller, but her 11-year-old daughter Brianna was killed where she was sitting on the starboard side.

“We need to make this change, and make it now.”
– Gina Lieneck

If a boater is born on or after May 1, 1996, they are required to have a safety certificate to operate a boat, otherwise there is no certificate or license required for any noncommercial boater in New York. Lieneck has been making the long trek to Albany every week for the past three months to lobby for Brianna’s Law, that would require all operators of power-driven boats to take an in-person boating safety class inside state coastal waters.

“We need to make this change, and make it now,” Lieneck said. “We’re not decreasing in accidents, we’re increasing, and we need to think about the safety of everybody on our waterways.”

Uvena said that approximately 300 people attended the three previous safety courses required for prospective boaters under the age of 21, but he said he supports a law that would require similar courses for older boaters. Lupinacci, who before becoming supervisor served as state assemblyman for New York’s 10th District, said he expects Brianna’s Law to get bipartisan support.

“It’s about time that things need to get done about boating safety,” Lupinacci said.

Traffic patterns will be altered as of June 11, with part of Level 2 coming under construction

Huntington's south parking garage at the Long Island Rail Road station. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Starting June 11, Huntington Station commuters may want to leave themselves a little additional time to park their cars at the railroad station.

The Town of Huntington announced that it has hired a new contractor to finish up waterproofing the concrete parking deck on Level 2 of the south parking garage at the Huntington Long Island Rail Road station.

“This is one of the many improvements the town has been coordinating with the LIRR at the Huntington train station,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “This project will make the south parking garage safer for Huntington commuters.”

This project will make the south parking garage safer for Huntington commuters.”
– Chad Lupinacci

The work will include replacement of some of the structure’s construction joints, waterproofing of the concrete deck, and then painting on new pavement markings once the waterproofing is complete. It is anticipated the work will take approximately four to six weeks to complete.

The south parking garage will remain open for public use while under construction, according to Lauren Lembo, Huntington public information officer, as the necessary work will affect only a portion of the second floor and all three stairwells. Those areas the town anticipates will be closed or impacted include: the western half of parking Level 2, including the eight handicapped accessible parking stalls; a portion of the entry ramp to Level 2; the ramp from Level 2 up to Level 3; and all three stairwells from the ground floor to Level 5.

“Traffic patterns within the garage will be modified to bypass the construction zones,” Lembo said in a statement.

Those commuters affected should be able to find additional parking across the street from the south parking garage, according to Lembo, and in the town-owned parking lots north of the railroad tracks on the west side of Route 110.

Traffic patterns within the garage will be modified to bypass the construction zones.”
– Lauren Lembo

Waterproofing the parking garage’s second level is the last step in long-awaited renovations in a project that has been left unfinished for more than two years. In 2015, the town hired Tonawanda-based general contractor Patterson-Stevens to oversee several improvements to parking garage including waterproofing of the entire structure. Work on the second level of the train station parking was slated to begin the first week in May 2016.

After less than two weeks, the Patterson-Stevens contract was suspended May 9 by the town, who said the company was allegedly violating New York State’s apprenticeship training program. Upon further investigation, town officials terminated the contract Aug. 8, 2016, according to Lembo, claiming that
issues had not been resolved with the general contractor within 90 days.

Lembo said Huntington town officials decided to take over these remaining renovations in-house, having town employees act in place of a general contractor. The list of projects that was undertaken by town employees included painting parking stall lines and traffic signals on the second floor and roof (Level 5), installing handrails and guards for the stairs between floors, and the conversion of some ground-level parking spots to handicapped accessible slots.

The waterproofing of the second floor is the last step that has yet to be completed at this time. The renovations are expected to be finished in July.

Judge rules to adjourn June 11 trial date for LIPA versus Town of Huntington

The Northport power plant. File photo

Northport school officials are inviting all district residents to a community meeting May 30 to address the potential impact of its lawsuit against Long Island Power Authority.

Northport school district will host a “call to action” community forum Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the auditorium of Northport High School. Superintendent Robert Banzer will provide residents with a brief update on the status of the district’s lawsuit against LIPA, legislation and what steps it can take to make sure resident’s concerns are being heard. The high school is located at 154 Laurel Hill Road in Northport.

This is the second meeting the school district will hold this month to address concerns over the LIPA lawsuit. School officials held a May 1 meeting where attorney John Gross presented his argument on why the utility company should be forced to uphold a 1997 promise not to attempt to lower the taxes on the Northport power plant.

LIPA has filed a lawsuit that is currently pending against the Town of Huntington to lower the Northport Power Station’s assessed tax valuation by 90 percent along with a reimbursement of all overpaid taxes since 2010. The Town of Huntington and LIPA appeared in court May 29 after which the judge adjourned the previously scheduled June 11 trial date, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo at 1:10 p.m. Tuesday.

No additional information was immediately available on why the June 11 court date was adjourned.

Developer withdraws application for Elwood Orchard hours before public hearing; vows to revise plans

More than 650 Huntington residents attended the May 17 town board meeting to take a stand against Villadom Corp's proposed development. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A developer’s decision to pull its proposal to build a 486,000-square-foot commercial development off Jericho Turnpike did nothing to stop hundreds of Huntington residents from coming out to participate in a three-hour rally against downzoning in their community.

Town of Huntington officials announced May 17 that Villadom Corp. had officially withdrawn its
application for the proposed Elwood Orchard project, hours before the public hearing was scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. at Elwood Middle School.

Huntington town officials received a May 17 letter from, Syndicated Ventures, LLC, the applicant for the proposed Villadom development project, indicating it was withdrawing its request for a change of zoning application from R-40 to C-5 and C-6 in order to construct a mixed commercial development on Jericho Turnpike, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.

We are the messengers who say we don’t want Villadom’s project in any form.”
– Gail Jospa

“As there is no longer an application in front of the town board, the public hearing for this project is canceled,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said to the more than 600 gathered. “While the applicant may submit a new application in the future, they would need to start the entire process from the beginning, submitting a new plan to the town, having it reviewed by the planning board, which then would make a recommendation to the town board regarding the scheduling of a new public hearing.”

There was a thunderousround of applause from the hundreds of residents holding bright yellow “Stop Villadom” signs or wearing T-shirts reading “Stop Villadom Mall.” There were 99 public speakers who signed up to talk, many of whom demanded answers and sought to hold the town board accountable.

“We are here tonight speaking for thousands of Huntington residents, taxpayers and voters,” Gail Jospa, of Dix Hills, said. “We are the messengers who say we don’t want Villadom’s project in any form. We don’t want anything Mr. [Kris] Torkan has to offer.”

Elwood resident Andrew Kaplan recalled how he first learned Great Neck-based developer Kris Torkan, president of Syndicated Ventures and Villadom, had proposed to build a mixed-use commercial development in Elwood while attending a Feb. 28 planning board meeting.

Shocked, Kaplan said he and Lisa Bloomstein were calling a March 11 meeting at Half Hollow Hills Library with 22 of their neighbors to organize an opposition.

His actions speak louder than his words. Pulling the Villadom application proves his commitment to the Town of Huntington.”
– Maria Mediavilla

“That night we started a petition,” Kaplan said. “A friend opened a Facebook page, we sent an email to everyone we knew in our email boxes. In a week we had 1,000 signatures, and we come here tonight with 10,0000.”

Many spoke out against the downzoning of the proposed 49-acre site from R-40, which permits single-family homes on one-acre pieces of property, to C-5 and C-6 commercial zoning, which permits for shopping districts and general business.

“The last administration downzoned every piece of property that came before the board,” Commack resident Nancy Gambi said. “There’s not a need for this, we should not downzone our property anymore.”

Many residents pointed to The Seasons at Elwood, a community of 265 units for senior citizens, which is currently under construction, as downzoning granted by the former town administration.

“Most of us have elected two of you as you promised us to stop the overdevelopment that was happening in Huntington,” said Becky Marcus, a Huntington resident and a trustee on Elwood’s board of education, pointing to the newly elected Lupinacci and Councilman Ed Smythe (R). “We want, the people in this room, want equal protection under the laws — the zoning laws.”

Several speakers suggested concerned residents should consider seeking the services of a professional land use attorney should Villadom resubmit a new application in the future.

Maria Mediavilla, daughter of the property owner, spoke up in defense of Torkan and the project.

“The developer is a man of great integrity that cares about the community,” Mediavilla said, over boos as Lupinacci called the crowd to order. “His actions speak louder than his words. Pulling the Villadom application proves his commitment to the Town of Huntington.”

Mark Smith, Villadom’s spokesman, said the developer intends to continue revising and revamping his proposed plans.

“What you see here behind me is not a fluke. This will be here at every turn, at every decision.”
– Patrick Deegan

“In the next ensuing months, we will be directing our design professionals to make modifications to the plan, while at the same time, we will continue our community outreach,” Smith said.  This is a very special parcel of land, upon which something wonderful and community oriented can be developed. We intend to build that plan. Withdrawing our application at this time provides us with sufficient time to prepare that new plan to better serve the community.”

Many Huntington residents issued calls for the members of the town’s planning board to resign or be replaced, so they would not oversee Villadom’s next application.

“The planning board gave recommendations to the developer on how to amend the project,” Dix Hills resident Tracy Kleinberg said. “They are appointed to work for the constituents, not out-of-town developers. Replace them and appoint new planning board members whose views are more aligned with the new direction of town board.”

Community members were more than willing to step forward with ideas for the future of the land, including the town purchasing it to preserve as open space parkland or creation of a town ecology site to work in conjunction with Manor Farm Park and Berkley Jackson County Park.

Many speakers made clear they are not interested in entertaining any future proposals from Villadom, no matter how scaled back.

“What you see here behind me is not a fluke,” said Patrick Deegan, calling to the crowd. “This will be here at every turn, at every decision.”

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.”

An artistic rendering of the proposed Elwood Orchard. Graphic from Villadom Corp

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Town of Huntington officials announced Thursday afternoon that Villadom Corp. has officially withdrawn its application for the proposed Elwood Orchard.

Huntington town officials received a May 17 letter from, Syndicated Ventures, LLC, the applicant for the proposed Villadom development project, indicating that it was withdrawing its request for a change of zoning application from R-40 to C-5 and C-6 in order to construct a more than 480,000 square-foot commercial development on Jericho Turnpike, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.

Lembo said as the developer has completely withdrawn the application the May 17 hearing is officially cancelled.

The announcement came a few hours after Huntington Councilman Ed Smythe (R) put out a statement challenging the legality of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci’s (R) decision to adjourn the May 17 hearing on Villadom Corp’s proposed mixed-use commercial development Elwood Orchard to be constructed on Jericho Turnpike. Smythe said the hearing’s adjournment would require a vote by the town board.

“The Villadom public hearing is going forward today as scheduled unless the applicant withdraws it, gets a court-ordered stay, or finds three council members to vote to adjourn it,” he said in a statement.

At approximately 2:30 p.m. May 16, Lembo sent out an urgent notice that the May 17 hearing was being adjourned after the applicant for the proposed Villadom development project, sent correspondence to the town at 1:10 p.m. indicating an interest in amending their application.

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

Lembo said the that the town attorney was consulted regarding the legality of dismissing the public hearing before the announcement was made.

Mark Smith, a spokesman for Villadom said that based on many discussions with civic representatives as well as modifications that were suggested by the town’s planning board, the developer sat down with interested community members and decided the best course of action at this time was amend the application.

“It is our hope that through continued communication and community outreach we will come together to put forward a proposal for Elwood Orchard that will greatly benefit the community and the local economy,” Smith said.

Smith would not immediately share details on who or what groups Villadom Corp. met with that have led to this change.

Members of the Stop the Villadom Facebook group were discussing plans to continue their planned rally against the Elwood Orchard project at Elwood Middle School, even after the announcement was made the hearing would be adjourned.

 

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