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Blight

Demolition at the Heritage Inn motel in Port Jefferson gets underway on May 17. Photo by Elana Glowatz

By Elana Glowatz

Smashes and gashes, scraps to dust.

Officials started to take down the decrepit Heritage Inn motel in downtown Port Jefferson on Tuesday morning, sending sledgehammers into a glass window and dropping an excavator’s arm onto the roof of one structure on the West Broadway site.

It was the first step toward new construction at the spot, where TRITEC Real Estate Company is putting up a 112-unit apartment building with parking underneath the structure, near the intersection with Barnum Avenue.

Bob Coughlan swings a sledgehammer into glass at the Heritage Inn motel, the blighted Port Jefferson site where his real estate company is building apartments. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Bob Coughlan swings a sledgehammer into glass at the Heritage Inn motel, the blighted Port Jefferson site where his real estate company is building apartments. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Previously called the Residences at Port Jefferson, TRITEC’s Bob Coughlan said on Tuesday that the apartments will be called “The Shipyard.” He estimated the project would be completed in 20 months.

“We’re thrilled to add to the vibrancy of the community,” said Coughlan, a TRITEC principal who lives in Port Jefferson.

He and Mayor Margot Garant did the honors in the ceremonial demolition, with both taking sledgehammers to a glass window in the attendant’s booth toward the front of the property before Garant got behind the controls of an excavator and sent its arm down hard into the roof of that booth, crushing everything underneath it to cheers from onlookers.

“We had the honor of taking the first bite out of the building and it was very cathartic,” she said afterward, noting that she was still shaking from the experience.

More demolition was scheduled to occur on the property later in the week, with a groundbreaking on the three-story luxury apartment building in June.

According to the plans approved by the Port Jefferson Planning Board, there will be 42 one-bedroom apartments and 70 two-bedroom, and the building will take up less than half of the 3.74-acre property to leave room for landscaping and buffers. The project did not require any variances or special exceptions from the village.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Councilman Michael Loguercio oversee the demolition. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

On March 21, Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) was joined by Councilman Michael Loguercio (R-Ridge) at the demolition of the building formerly known as the Oxygen Bar, on the northwest corner of Route 25A and Broadway in Rocky Point.

The demolition comes after numerous Brookhaven Town building code violations and resident complaints. The Town shut down the bar in 2011 due to an expired Place of Assembly permit after a non-fatal shooting of four people occurred there. It has been a vacant eyesore in the community ever since that time.

“This is a happy day in Rocky Point, and a long time coming,” Bonner said. “Removing this blight will keep the revitalization of our business district right on track. We’ve got more to do, and I look forward to working with our local business and community leaders to keep moving ahead.”

Related: Town purchases blighted Oxygen Bar in Rocky Point

The Town purchased the property in November 2015 and Bonner is working with the Rocky Point VFW to transform it into a veteran’s memorial square, which will serve as the gateway to the downtown business district.

“Removing blight has such an immediate, positive impact on the community,” Loguercio said. “I commend Councilwoman Bonner for her determination to get this eyesore demolished.”

The blighted Oxygen Bar property in Rocky Point could soon be demolished. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Rocky Point may soon have one less eyesore in its downtown business district.

After four years, Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said the town finalized its purchase of Rocky Point’s Oxygen Bar property. The Town of Brookhaven acquired the land for $525,000 — a sum $275,000 less than the property owner’s asking price.

On May 9, 2011, the town shut down the business after four people were involved in a non-fatal shooting on the premises. The bar’s Place of Assembly permit, which allows people to gather and conduct activities at the location, also expired.

For several years, the owner of the Oxygen Bar property rented the establishment to various operators and promoters. Cafe Brianna was one of many businesses that used the establishment before the Oxygen Bar, but that eventually closed due to limited parking. When the bar came into town, initially the CVS across the street allowed cars from the neighboring business to park in its parking lot, but that agreement changed after the shooting.

As the area strayed from a family-friendly location, the town hoped purchasing the property would help revitalize the area — something Bonner started working on before she got into office.

According to Bonner, the bar’s poor business plan contributed to its failure in the business district.

“It’s one thing to always have a dream,” Bonner said. “It’s another thing to meet and discuss your business plan.”

The bar owners held wet T-shirt contests, gentlemen’s nights and other events to attract residents to the premises, but their attempts were unsuccessful. Since the bar closed in 2011, the property has remained vacant.

Now, the town may demolish the building before spring. The plan is to landscape and beautify the property after tearing down the building. The project would add to the property’s infrastructure improvements, which the town finished last year.

“This is wonderful for Rocky Point,” Bonner said. “[The bar’s] always been a blight and an eyesore even when it was operating.”

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Study could help officials push along revitalization

One blighted uptown property, the old diner on Main Street, was demolished earlier this year. File photo by Elana Glowatz

An upcoming study of blight along Main Street in uptown Port Jefferson could help the village revitalize the area, according to the officials who set it into motion.

The board of trustees approved the study at a recent meeting, in part to identify properties that potentially could be seized through a process called eminent domain, in which a municipality takes control of land to perform a public benefit and compensates the owner. Although eminent domain is classically used for public works projects like building new roadways or widening existing ones, Village Attorney Brian Egan explained that the Port Jefferson government could use the coming analysis of blight uptown as ammunition to make a case for applying eminent domain to less common purposes.

Seizing blighted properties along Main Street in the village’s troubled uptown area could help officials push along their revitalization efforts there.

Although cleaning up upper Port and creating a more pedestrian-friendly district with both business and residential space has been a priority for some years, progress has been slow. Residents and some local business owners have been calling for improvements as well, citing safety concerns stemming from a roaming homeless population and drug-related crime. One of the more recent and most visible changes to Main Street occurred when the decrepit, crumbling diner — previously known as the Station Diner and the Old Port Diner — was demolished in January, after months of discussion between officials and the property owner. However, a new building has still not been erected in its place.

East Coast-based engineering firm VHB is conducting the blight study. That firm is no stranger to Port Jefferson: In addition to various work around the village, the engineers have completed other projects specifically for the uptown area in the past, including a traffic study that was included in the upper Port revitalization section of the village’s new comprehensive plan.

When the trustees approved the new study on Nov. 2, they specified that it should not take more than 12 weeks to complete.

North Shore resident calls on neighbors to boost effort against blight

The Crooked Hill bus stop is blighted before Ed Mikell helped to rejuvinate it as he spearheaded a community effort to clean up Commack. Photo from Mikell

By Alex Petroski

The 7 Cents Club of Commack is not a household name, but it might be one day.

Ed Mikell, a retired Commack resident, said he created the 7 Cents Club of Commack hoping to attract, as he puts it, “anyone interested in promoting Commack community pride.”

Promoting community pride might sound vague, but for Mikell it is specific and direct. He is tired of seeing the streets of the town he has called home for nearly a half-century covered with trash and he is ready to do something about it, he said.

Mikell said he plans to focus his efforts to clean up Commack on a small segment of Crooked Hill Road for now, which runs north and south for about four and a half miles almost right down the middle of Long Island. He described the site of his inaugural, and to date his only completed 7 Cents Club of Commack project, which he did by himself back in September.

“It’s the first time that I decided to do anything like this,” Mikell said. “I had a free afternoon. There were about 10 people standing in the middle of that garbage. I said, ‘this is just terrible.’”

The Crooked Hill bus stop in Commack shines after Ed Mikell helped to rejuvinate it as part of a community effort to clean up his neighborhood. Photo from Mikell
The Crooked Hill bus stop in Commack shines after Ed Mikell helped to rejuvinate it as part of a community effort to clean up his neighborhood. Photo from Mikell

It is hard to discern who should be responsible for the bus stop in question that now features a white bench and a brown, metal garbage can with white lettering that reads “7 Cents Club of Commack,” compliments of Mikell’s wife Linda.

The garbage can was a spare that Mikell spotted in the corner of a field on the Suffolk County Community College Grant Campus, along with about 20 other identical ones. Mikell said a maintenance worker was more than happy to help him load the can into his car to be transported to the site. Mikell wouldn’t divulge where the bench came from because he didn’t want to endanger the generous party’s employment.

And while cleaning, Mikell had found seven cents on the ground, hence the name of his volunteer project.
“He comes up with these ideas every once in a while and they usually turn out to be quite amazing,” Linda Mikell said, adding she wasn’t surprised when her husband came to her and described his plan, rather than searching for someone else to do the dirty work. “That’s the way Ed is.”

There is no question over who is responsible for the bus stop now. Mikell said he has an arrangement waiting with Cliff Mitchell of the Suffolk County Public Works Department to claim the spot, along with a larger segment of Crooked Hill Road, as part of the Adopt-a-Highway Program.

To proceed he needs signed waivers from his team that he can bring to the county, which will then provide him with gloves, sticks to pick up garbage, bags, reflective vests and anything else that the club might need.

The program requires a commitment from applicants to tend to claimed areas once a month, 10 months a year for two years.

Mikell said he is willing to commit to this cause for the foreseeable future, and thanks to his nearly 50 years of business experience, he is prepared for possible expansion. He has what he called a “project control” system in place that will help him track the sites of cleanups, when they were addressed, by whom and when follow-up was done.

“My whole thought about this was if it works in Commack it’ll work in Kings Park, it’ll work in Hauppauge, it’ll work in Wyandanch,” Mikell said. “It will work in every town and all that needs to be had is a person like me in every town who cares, who will go out and organize and structure it.”

Since he began dropping flyers in Commack mailboxes and hanging them in public places about six months ago, Mikell says he has yet to hear back from anyone interested in lending a hand. The lack of enthusiasm from others in the community has disheartened him, he said, but it has not deterred him from finding applicants in other ways.

Mikell has since enlisted the help of a few neighbors from his street, including retired mechanical engineer Nicholas Giannopoulos.

“We’d like to have the community look halfway decent,” Giannopoulos said. “Basically I think everybody should contribute to the community to make it better. If you live in an area that you like to live in, everybody should think along those lines.”

Mikell returns to the original site regularly to make sure that his efforts were not wasted. On one occasion, he noticed someone sitting on his bench at the bus stop and saw garbage next to the can. He asked the woman why she didn’t put the garbage in the can. She responded defensively and said it didn’t belong to her.

“I’m not blaming the woman. I was just making a comment,” Mikell said with a smile. “She’ll sit there and allow that to be there instead of just picking it up and putting it in the garbage. I think people are just busy as all hell. If you don’t have one job you have two.”

Mikell has a big job ahead of him with Crooked Hill Road alone. He pointed out about 15 to 20 spots that needed attention from someone. There is no doubt in his mind though as to where the attention will come from.

“People say ‘it’s the town of ‘X-Y-Z’ — you’d expect it from that town.’ Well I don’t expect it from any town.”

If you would like more information about the 7 Cents Club of Commack you can contact Ed Mikell at 7centsclubcom@optimum.net.