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Alex Petroski

Rob Gitto and his son Ryan ride The Gitto Group’s float during Port Jefferson Village’s 2016 Santa Parade. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

A prominent Port Jefferson-based real estate development company opened a 38-unit apartment building in upper Port Jefferson earlier in 2016, but the father-son team behind the project is about much more than turning a profit.

Port Jefferson native Tony Gitto, who now lives in Belle Terre, and his son Rob have been in the business of developing communities together since 2002, when Rob joined the family business.

Their apartment building on Texaco Avenue, which opened in July in upper Port, is not only a business venture for Rail Realty LLC, a division of The Gitto Group, but also a major step in a villagewide effort to revitalize uptown and turn it into a suitable gateway for Port Jefferson’s downtown, waterfront community.

For their impact on the Port Jefferson community and dedication to making it a great place in which to live, Times Beacon Record News Media names The Gitto Group as People of the Year for 2016.

Rob Gitto of The Gitto Group. Photo from Gitto

When the company decided to build The Hills at Port Jefferson on Texaco Avenue, the plan was to develop in two stages because they weren’t sure if there would be enough demand to fill the units. A month ahead of the designated opening of the first phase, which housed 38 units, a waiting list already existed for phase two. Thirty-six more apartments will be filled in the summer of 2017 when the building is estimated to be ready.

“I think they took a lot of risk to put the shovel in the ground,” Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant said in an interview. “It’s a huge undertaking to do a project like that.” Garant actually grew up across the street from the Gittos.

Rob Gitto said the group saw an opportunity to try to improve a part of the community that needed attention. Garant said the village is actively seeking state and county grants to aid in the development of Port Jeff, and 74 housing units could have a massive impact in achieving that mission.

“Our whole goal with re-branding upper Port was making sure when you came to the [train] tracks, you have that same sort of gateway that you get down the hill,” Garant said. “You can’t do it by yourself. You need that private sector person to be willing to make the investment and then you as a municipal government, you need to be there to support them if it’s the right project. I think a lot of times ‘developer’ just gets such a negative connotation. We’re building our future.”

Garant said she hopes the influx of residents will have a large impact on businesses in the village.

“Tonight is going to be a cold and quiet night in the village — these merchants still have rents to pay,” she said.

Rob Gitto, who has since moved to Poquott, acknowledged that lifting up a community where he and his family grew up is an added bonus to business success.

“We’re a business and we’re looking to make a profit, but at the same time we’re hoping it jump-starts revitalization up there,” he said. “A lot of our tenants go to [PJ Lobster House] and use the dry cleaner. Hopefully [the businesses] are feeling the effect of people living up there.”

The Hills at Port Jefferson opened in upper Port in July. Photo from Rob Gitto

The elder Gitto, who remains involved with the business, reiterated his son’s sentiments regarding the balance between business success and community service that the group has achieved.

“I believe that the village has the potential to be one of the finest communities on Long Island with all that it has to offer residents, visitors and businesses,” he said in an email. “The Hills development was an appealing option for The Gitto Group as it provided an opportunity to improve the uptown area, and provide facilities for young people to stay in the community and be the future of the community. In addition, the development was a great economic opportunity for our company.”

Barbara Ransome, the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce director of operations, said she appreciates the Gittos for their impact on the village’s business world, but their love of landscaping and dedication to beautifying their properties and other village properties is part of what makes them so special to the community. Rob Gitto said they also contribute donations throughout the year to the village and local charities.

“The family is just first class,” Ransome said in an interview. “It’s not just a flash. It’s consistent. They’ve been very generous to this community and they’re a nice family.”

Ransome said their properties, like the CVS on Main Street near Barnum Avenue, are stunning in the springtime after thousands of flowers are planted.

Garant called the father-and-son team “perfect gentlemen,” and recognized them for embracing Port Jeff’s slogan and their efforts to make it come true. It encourages visitors to stop by the destination village “for a day, or for a lifetime.”

“The only way it’s going to work [in upper Port] is if everybody does their part,” Rob Gitto said. “Hopefully we can make it a better location for people to come visit and live. We don’t want people to just drive through uptown anymore.”

Keith Buehler is hoisted in the air by a Port Jefferson football player after a game in 2014. FIle photo by Bill Landon

By Alex Petroski

In a day and age when heading down the wrong path can happen easily, Port Jefferson students have a counselor, coach, role model and friend who makes drifting much tougher.

Keith Buehler is in the midst of his 20th year in the Port Jefferson School District, where he has served as a varsity coach, an assistant coach and Middle School guidance counselor. He has children of his own but refers to the countless students he has interacted with during his time in the district as part of his family, too.

The feeling is mutual.

For his selfless service to the Port Jefferson School District and relentless dedication to improving the lives of students, Times Beacon Record News Media names Buehler a Person of the Year for 2016.

The Rocky Point resident said his secret to earning the trust of so many kids has been to be there for them at a young age, and that approach has allowed him to keep a close relationship with them beyond middle school years. The counselor said he spends time trying to learn a little something about every student as a way to establish a bond. Buehler said after students move on to Port Jefferson high school, they often come back to visit and seek additional guidance.

Keith Buehler is hoisted in the air by a Port Jefferson football player after a game in 2014. FIle photo by Bill Landon

“I think that Keith has kind of established himself in Port Jeff as a go-to person for the kids,” said Jesse Rosen, Buehler’s colleague and friend. Rosen, who coaches varsity baseball in addition to teaching global history at the high school, needed some help coaching the team last season. Buehler stepped up despite previously retiring from coaching to be able to spend more time with his own kids.

He has become famous for stepping up to the plate and filling multiple roles when called upon for the district.

“I’m ready to give it up, but it’s hard when the kids keep telling you to come back,” Buehler said, referring to the numerous times he’s thought it was time to step away from coaching, only to be pulled back for one reason or another. For the time being, he’s still at the helm for the varsity boys’ basketball team and is an assistant on the varsity football team. In his two decades at Port Jefferson, he coached middle school football and baseball and middle school track and field.

Success in the world of athletics is measured in wins and losses in most cases, but Buehler isn’t like most coaches. He said one year the varsity basketball team was 0-18, and it was one of the most enjoyable seasons he’d ever had. That’s not to say Buehler hasn’t been successful on the scoreboard as well. He has been a part of four Suffolk County championship-winning basketball teams.

The district’s former athletic director Deb Ferry, who was with the district for nine years, remembered her time alongside Buehler fondly.

“Keith is one of the finest assets to the Port Jefferson School District,” Ferry said in an email. “Keith has time and time again been there for all of the students and athletes. During my tenure there at Port Jefferson we always referred to Keith as the assistant athletic director. He truly did know the ins and outs of the athletic program there.”

Buehler has another unofficial title that he picked out for himself. He said he feels like the “mini mayor of Port Jefferson.”

Being the go-to guy for most problems, Buehler found himself helping others cope with some pretty substantial problems and tragedies.

Max Golub, who graduated from the district in 2012, lost his brother in 2001, when he was just 8 years old. His brother had played football for Buehler.

Keith Buehler rides a Jet Ski during a family vacation. Photo from Keith Buehler

“He was pretty vital in my healing process,” Golub said, adding that on certain occasions Buehler would take him out of classes when he wasn’t feeling great and helped him stay out of trouble.

Golub called Buehler his “protector.” He added that although Buehler wasn’t biologically a member of the family, he became like a second father.

It would seem Buehler’s plate is full enough with his own children. His son Hunter is a freshman at Stony Brook University, daughter Asha is a junior at Port Jefferson high school and his 8-year-old son Kougar and 9-year-old daughter Cessarina, from a second marriage, are currently in the Rocky Point school district. Still, Port Jefferson students who know Buehler said he’s always available in times of need.

Buehler recalled a story that has stuck with him during his tenure in the district. One of his students had asked to take him to a baseball game, when that student’s father said he could bring a friend. Confused by his son asking to bring along his guidance counselor, the father asked if he would prefer to bring one of his peers. The boy told his father that Buehler was his best friend and was who he wanted to take. So he did. Buehler said he remains close with the father and son.

“I try to be a true role model for the kids,” Buehler said. “I try to do the best I can to show them how to do the right thing.”

The spelling of Max Golub’s name was corrected in this version Jan. 3.