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Comsewogue Public Library

The historic Terryville Union Hall is the latest recipient of a Little Free Library, thanks to Comsewogue Public Library Director Debra Engelhardt and the library, which stocked and funded the installation.

Pictured with Engelhardt are library staff members and local resident Angela DeRosalia, who hand-painted the kiosk, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Northern Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Dzvonar and member Lisa Molinelli, who brought their children to ‘leave a book, take a book.’

Joining them is Terryville Road Elementary School Principal April Victor with supportive parents and students and Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith, Vice President Joan Nickeson, Treasurer Lou Antoniello and member Jackie Kirsch, who donated a collection of popular tween books.

The home at 73 Henearly Drive in Miller Place has residents on the block up in arms over its purchase for redevelopment by the Developmental Disabilities Institute. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

A group home for young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities is heading to Henearly Drive in Miller Place, but some residents on the block are up in arms over the purchase.

The group home will be the most recent in a string of homes across Suffolk County set up by the Smithtown-based Developmental Disabilities Institute, and will house six  low-functioning autistic  adults over 21 years old, as well as three full-time staff members.

The establishment will function as a place to call home for those with disabilities who have aged out of the nonprofit’s  residential programs for children.

DDI’s director of development, Dan Rowland, said the company went into contract May 23 to buy the house at 73 Henearly Drive for redevelopment.

“It’s a family neighborhood. It’s just very upsetting the amount of traffic it’s going to bring. They’re going to create a nuisance.”

— Janice Simon

Despite speculation of turning the entire front yard into a parking lot, he said there is only a plan in place to widen the property’s driveway to accommodate four vehicles for employees and visitors, and rules will be put in place for the home’s residents to keep neighbors at ease. The parking will also accommodate minivans used to transport group home residents anywhere they need to go in the community.

Residents near the property said the new development will disrupt the community’s quality of life, pointing to staff members entering and exiting the property as potential risk for an increase in traffic and safety hazards in the area — which, they said, is predominantly quiet, peaceful and occupied by children.

“It doesn’t make any sense why you would put this in the middle of a nice neighborhood, how is that fair?” said Henearly Drive resident Janice Simon, who is worried there will be a congestion of vehicles and possible dumpsters in the street around the property, where children currently play.

“Everyone deserves a place to live, but you don’t just disrupt what we have,” she said. “It’s nice, it’s a family neighborhood. It’s just very upsetting the amount of traffic it’s going to bring. They’re going to create a nuisance.”

A letter sent out by DDI’s director of adult services Aug. 18 invited residents living within 500 feet of the property to an information session to discuss the group home, and how the organization operates, at the Comsewogue Public Library Aug. 29.

Following the meeting, a letter circulated among neighbors addressing concerns surrounding the group home and urging them to contact community leaders if they oppose it.

“This block has enough traffic on it,” the letter titled “Attention Neighbors” read. “We do not want people rushing to get to work driving down this block that is very populated to begin with.  … Although we are not begrudging the residents the ability to live in a group home, we feel that the choice of 73 Henearly in the middle of a highly populated block is not the right one.”

A resident on the block, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed.

The home purchased by the Developmental Disabilites Institute is located on the corner of Willmington Street and Henearly Drive in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

“That’s the main concern,” the resident said. “It’s not who’s going to be living there or what type of people are going to be living there, but the increased traffic and the effect on home values, opening a business in the middle of a very quiet neighborhood. I just think putting it in a busier area like Miller Place-Yaphank Road would be more appropriate.”

However, Rowland expressed objection to the home being seen as an imposing business.

“Just because people are providing services in the home for someone who needs it doesn’t make it a business … this is a home,” Rowland said.

According to the director, the organization has launched more than 30 group homes throughout townships in Suffolk and Nassau counties, including Brookhaven and Islip,  and many of them sit in residential neighborhoods.

He said, in choosing a location for its group homes, DDI works alongside the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities in Albany to gauge the amount of care facilities in a town — including other group homes, hospitals, vocational centers and nursing homes — to ensure it won’t be opening a home in an area that is oversaturated.

The house at 73 Henearly Drive was chosen because of the surrounding neighborhood, the features of the structure and its suitability to house the six adults, Rowland said, adding that the individuals who will live there deserve a home in a safe community as opposed to being confined inside an institution.

“We understand that people are going to be uncomfortable with the idea of something like this being introduced to their neighborhood, and we’re sympathetic to the viewpoints of the neighbors in the neighborhood we’re moving into, but we also have to protect the rights of the people we care for,” Rowland said. “We hope to overcome their discomfort with it by demonstrating that we can, and will be, good neighbors with everybody.”

In response to those on Henearly Drive anticipating a neighborhood eyesore in the group home, the director of development said the 55-year-old nonprofit’s track record speaks for itself.

“We keep them looking good, we maintain them and we respect the neighborhood values in terms of noise or any sensitivity of increased traffic,” he said.

“Group homes don’t have quality of life problems. There’s no loud music, there’s no speeding and no unkept properties. And what about the people who need the services? What about their quality of life? They’re human beings.”

— Jane Bonner

Dawn McCarthy, president of the Miller Place Special Education Support Group, said she doesn’t see the home as a blight on the neighborhood either.

“I don’t think it’s going to interrupt quality of life at all,” McCarthy said. “Miller Place has a fairly decent-sized population of autistic children. I wonder how residents would feel if it was their children’s home. I can’t imagine it’s going to have an impact on anyone’s resale value.”

An anonymous resident expressed concern over a purported risk of individuals leaving the home at night, which she said is why the residence will be electronically locked and equipped with alarms.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) called the opposition to the group home disheartening.

“I’ve explained to everybody, and this is the truth, that in almost 10 years in office, I have never ever had a problem with a group home in my council district,” Bonner said. “Group homes don’t have quality of life problems. There’s no loud music, there’s no speeding and no unkept properties. And what about the people who need the services? What about their quality of life? They’re human beings.”

Henearly Drive resident Janine Biancaniello made it clear her opposition was aimed at the group home’s employees and not its six individuals.

“When I come home from work, my home is my safe haven,” Biancaniello said.“I don’t want strangers up and down my block, 500 times, people I don’t know coming and going all day and night … [with] everybody outside smoking and on their phones and hanging out — no way — it doesn’t work like that. We’re going to have to pay their taxes while our property values go down. They’re going to change our way of life.”

The group home is protected under the Padavan law, which allows group homes to supersede local zoning as long as they meet state codes.

DDI said it is uncertain at this time when the group home will open.

More to come as next location is planned for Rocketship Park in Port Jefferson

Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society Vice President Antoinette Donato unveils the new Little Free Library in front of the William Miller house in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Outside the oldest house in Miller Place sits the newest public library on the North Shore.

What might initially appear to be a newly installed, red-and-white mailbox in front of the William Miller House at 75 North Country Road is actually a Little Free Library, where residents of all ages are encouraged to pick up or drop off a book while on the go.

The mini library, which is shaped like a tiny schoolhouse and currently holds between 15 and 20 books ranging from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” to “Goodnight Moon,” stands as the most recent free book exchange program to sprout up on Long Island, with others installed at West Meadow Beach and Heritage Park in Mount Sinai last year.

Books inside the new Little Free Library in front of the WIlliam Miller House in Miller Place were donated by the Port Jefferson and Comsewogue libraries. Photo by Kevin Redding

The idea for the book-sharing movement, which has spanned more than 70 countries around the world since the first little library was built by Todd Bol of Wisconsin in tribute to his mother in 2009, is that with a quick turn of a wooden latch, it can increase book access for readers of all ages and backgrounds and to inspire a love of reading and community connection.

Members of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society unveiled their new addition Aug. 9 to a large crowd of smiling faces, which included residents, elected officials and representatives from Port Jefferson Free Library and Comsewogue Public Library. The two libraries partnered with the historical society to buy and sponsor it.

“I woke up this morning and I had the Mister Roger’s song in my head, ‘Oh what a beautiful day in the neighborhood,’” said Antoinette Donato, vice president of the historical society, during the ceremony. “This little library is symbolic of how our community comes together … and a community is strengthened when all the different organizations work well together. So when you reach into that box to put something in or take something out, please remember that you’re also reaching into your community. I hope it’s a very active library.”

Tom Donlon, director of Port Jefferson Free Library, said when he and Debbie Engelhardt, director of Comsewogue Public Library, decided to partner up to bring the program to the Miller Place community, they immediately knew the perfect place for it.

Jack Soldano, who has been selling his comic book collection this summer to raise money to help fix the historic William Miller House, was the first to add to the new Little Free Library’s collection. Photo by Kevin Redding

“Right away we thought of the historical society,” Donlon said. “The society really meshes with our libraries’ goals of education, entertainment, enlightenment and lifelong learning and investigation. We love that it’s here, it’s a great spot and I think it’s certainly going to serve the community very well.”

Engelhardt called little free libraries a beautiful concept.

“Anybody can use it as much as they want and it’s always a mystery when you open that box — you never know what you’ll find,” Engelhardt said. “There are no late fees, no guilt, no stress. If you want to keep a book, you can … we are pleased to partner with the historical society to bring this gem. The books inside will move you and teach you. We say that libraries change lives and, well, little free libraries can too.”

She added that these mini libraries have also proven to energize the spot they’re put in. For the historical society, whose William Miller House is nearly 300 years old and needs between $18,000 and $28,000 to renovate a collapsing roof and a total $100,000 for a full-house repair, any amount of attention to their cause is welcomed.

“What this does for us is it puts us in the limelight again, so that people are aware of us, they come and visit us and are sensitive to our needs,” Donato said.

Fittingly, although the box was stocked with books already donated by the libraries, the first batch of reading material from the public came from 12-year-old Jack Soldano, who spent the summer raising more than $1,000 for the historical society with his very own comic book stand.

Soldano contributed issues of Captain America, Star Wars and Power Rangers comics to join such titles as “Leaving Time” by Jodi Picoult, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn, “The Stranger” by Harlan Coben and the Grimm fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Over at Heritage Park, next to the Shack concession stand by the playground, the red-painted little free library currently contains more youth-oriented reads. Several books within “The Babysitters Club” series and Walt Disney’s “Fun-To-Learn Library” collection, as well as “Sable” by Karen Hesse, are available for the taking.

Manorville resident Megan Murray, who was at the park with her young daughter, said she’s been a fan of the initiative since a few popped up in her area.

“The concept is great because it’s for everybody, rich or poor,” Murray said. “It’s really sad that so many kids don’t have access to books and I think it’s wonderful.”

Currently there are plans for a little free library to be installed at Rocketship Park in Port Jefferson next month.

Adding to the typical Saturday docket of sleeping, eating and playing, a few furry locals headed to a Port Jefferson Station library in search of a new home.

For the third consecutive year, the Comsewogue Public Library hosted a Pet Adoption Fair in the hopes of finding new homes for cats and dogs currently up for adoption through local organizations.

Save A Pet animal rescue in Port Jefferson Station, Last Chance Animal Rescue in Southampton, Patchogue Rotary Animal Assisted Therapy and Brookhaven Animal Rescue Alliance each sent representatives of the two-legged and four-legged variety to set up on the grounds of the library to meet prospective new families April 29.

“We really wanted to just bring the community together and just try to get some animals some homes,” Shelby Broderick, an adult services librarian at Comsewogue Public Library who helped to organize the event, said during an interview. “We thought that this was a perfect place since there’s always people coming and going, so we wanted to get some exposure for these animals and some therapy dog groups.”

Stephanie Winus of Save A Pet, a shelter-based rescue as opposed to a foster-home-based, said the shelter currently has about 15 dogs waiting for new “forever” homes.

“I like to do these events as a volunteer because I think it just gets the word out of what Save A Pet is, where it’s located, which is right in this neighborhood in Port Jeff Station, and also you get to see some of the dogs in person,” she said. “We’ve had dogs a year or two and eventually found the right home for them because the idea is to place them in a home where they’re going to be forever in, and not just place them to get them out of the facility so that more dogs come in.”

Andrea Allen, an event leader for Last Chance Animal Rescue, said the foster-based shelter has about 40 animals currently up for adoption.
“It’s so important because it brings awareness to the community of our mission of saving the animals from the high kill shelters down south,” she said.

Broderick said finding homes for the animals brought to the fair is important, but events like these can play a larger role.

“I feel like even if there’s just one adoption it’s worth it just to host some groups and get exposure for them,” she said. “Even if one dog gets a home that’s one less dog that’s in a shelter without a family.”

For more information about any of the groups visit saveapetny.org, lcarescue.org, praatinc.org or bhara.org.

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The children's section of the Port Jefferson Free Library. File photo by Heidi Sutton

The community sent a resounding message of approval for two different library budgets April 4 — a vast majority of voting residents are happy with the services provided by their local libraries and are willing to pay for more.

The Port Jefferson Free Library’s $4.2 million budget passed with a 143 to 10 margin. The 2017-18 financial plan is about 1.2 percent more than last year’s version and will cost homeowners on average about 49 cents more monthly in property taxes compared to last year.

“We are very flattered and pleased at the support we get,” Library Director Tom Donlon said in an email. “This year we juggled a few budget lines around, and tried to focus on where our community wanted us to go. We increased the book budget as well as the programming budget in order to deliver the materials and services that Port Jeff has come to expect.”

More than 1,000 children participated in summer reading programs offered by the library in 2016, and 270,000 items were checked out during the 2016-17 fiscal year, according to a budget newsletter sent out to the community. Library administration was also proud of a teen garden established in 2016, which allowed children and teens to grow vegetables for local soup kitchens. A new, easy-to-use website was launched by the library last year, and the board also plans to update the community on some possible improvements to the facilities coming in the near future.

Additional books and programs, along with an increase in staff salaries, benefits and retirement payments represent the largest drivers of the budget increase. The gap in those increases is closed in large part by a near $200,000 savings compared to last year in transfers to the capital fund and debt services fund. The library also will offer fewer print and nonprint newspapers and periodicals this year.

The Comsewogue Public Library’s budget was passed with 102 yes to 14 no votes. The total operating budget for 2017-18 will be about $5.6 million, up 2.7 percent from last year. Like its Port Jeff counterpart, Comsewogue Public Library’s budget increases can be attributed for the most part to increases in staff salaries and benefits. Additional money was also factored into the current budget for some furniture and equipment upgrades. The library will see a savings in the coming year in computer equipment and supplies, as well as in debt service payments.

The average homeowner in the district will be required to pay about $4 more in taxes for the 2017-18 fiscal year compared to last year.

“The 2017-18 proposed operating budget is designed to ensure that the library continues to provide a high quality service program at a reasonable cost,” a letter to the community from the library said. “The public library serves everyone in the community, from babies to seniors.”

Port Jefferson Station resident and library trustee Edward Wendol was also elected to remain in the position on the board that he’s held since 1972. Wendol, who ran unopposed, has previously served as the board president and was named a Port Times Record Man of the Year in 2003. Library administration said he “has provided guidance and oversight to the organization,” in a letter sent to residents along with an informational budget newsletter.

“I’m very happy to be on it, and I’m happy to be elected continuously,” Wendol said in a phone interview. He added his primary objective in his next term is to move along a heating and air conditioning plan for the library. “I think we’re a good asset to the community.”

Photo courtesy of Comsewogue Public Library

‘LITERACY BEGINS AT BIRTH’

The Comsewogue Public Library in Port Jefferson Station recently announced that it has officially become a Family Place Library. Family Place Libraries redesign the library environment to be welcoming and appropriate for children beginning at birth and connect parents with resources, programs and services. Pictured from left are Kristen Todd-Wurm, Christine Kowalski, Director Debra Engelhardt, Audrey Asaro, Debbie Bush and Amanda Pendzick.

Comsewogue Public Library, 170 Terryville Road, Port Jefferson Station will host a Job Fair by the Suffolk County One-Stop Employment Center on Tuesday, Aug. 23, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“The Suffolk County Department of Labor, Licensing & Consumer Affairs continues to offer a variety of services and programs, such as the One-Stop Employment Center, that provide valuable guidance to those who are looking for employment,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). “We hope that our residents in the Port Jefferson area and along the North Shore will take advantage of this opportunity to explore potential career paths or job opportunities.”

The following employers are scheduled to attend: ACLD, Access Home Care, American Pool, Association for Mental Health and Wellness, Attentive Care, Comfort Keepers, DDI, East End Disability, East West Industries, EPIC LI, FREE, HEAP, Home Depot, LI Cares, Maxim Homecare, NBTY, New York Life Insurance, Teachers Federal Credit Union, The Odyssey Group, UCP of Suffolk, United Healthcare, Urban League Mature Workers Program, US Postal Service, Utopia, Verizon Wireless and more. All residents in need of a job are encouraged to attend and no registration is required.

Job candidates in need of proper attire for an interview should contact Career Couture at 631-853-6769.

For further information, please call the library at 631-928-1212.

Library members in Port Jefferson and Comsewogue approved the two districts’ proposed budgets on Tuesday. Stock photo

Comsewogue and Port Jefferson library district members approved both institutions’ 2015-16 budgets on Tuesday. The Port Jefferson Free Library budget passed with 106 votes in favor and nine against. Comsewogue Public Library’s budget passed with 104 votes in favor and 19 against.

The Port Jefferson budget, which totals $4.33 million, will increase annual taxes by about $10.80 for the average village resident. The budget includes a $107,000 transfer to the library’s capital fund for facility improvements, as the library nears the finish line on forming a strategic plan for how the institution will serve members in the future. That plan includes improving the facilities and considers possible uses for an adjacent residential property on Thompson Street that the library recently purchased.

In Comsewogue, annual taxes will increase by about $11 for the average resident under the approved $5.58 million budget.

The Comsewogue district residents also elected a new trustee, Corinne DeStefano, with 116 votes. The candidate, who ran unopposed for a five-year term, is the wife of Comsewogue school board Trustee Robert DeStefano. A lifelong resident of the district, she works in quality assurance for software corporation CA Technologies.

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