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Damon McMullen

Former Northport Mayor George Doll with newly re-elected Deputy Mayor Tom Kehoe. Photo from Tom Kehoe

Spring brings the winds of change to the village of Northport as the longtime Mayor George Doll and his deputy have stepped down, giving over the reins to  familiar faces.

As of April 3, Doll and Deputy Mayor Henry Tobin have officially retired. Former trustee Damon McMullen has taken up the mantle of village mayor, while Tom Kehoe is now the deputy mayor. The question on many residents’ minds is, why did they retire?

“It’s been 12 years,” Tobin said. “I never meant it to be a career. I loved being a trustee and the deputy mayor, but it’s time to do other things.”

Tobin hopes to travel more. Doll said he is ready to roll up his sleeves and spend more time at his other career, as a commercial fisherman. The former mayor also wants to spend more time with his wife, children and grandchildren.

“I will miss George and Henry both miserably,” said Village Clerk Donna Koch. “It was a pleasure working with them for the past 12 years.”

McMullen served as a Northport trustee for 10 years before running unopposed for mayor last month.

I never meant it to be a career. I loved being a trustee and the deputy mayor, but it’s time to do other things.

— Henry Tobin

“If George had wanted to run again, I would have stepped aside,” McMullen said. “I learned so much from George, mainly to relax and be level headed. He said there’s always a solution to whatever problem was at hand that day.”

McMullen added that he admired Doll’s ability to work well with everyone around him. As a trustee, he felt the two had a good relationship working together.

Kehoe agreed with McMullen on the longtime mayor’s approach to running Northport.

“George had an even-handed approach to managing the village; he never attacked people.” Kehoe said, explaining a prior mayor had been contentious. “There was so much rancor and bitterness before George became mayor. Once George took over, no one was ridiculed. He was approachable. He was never disrespectful.”

Kehoe lauded Doll for transforming the village hall into a community forum where residents felt their concerns and issues could be heard. He said the new board will endeavor to do the same.

As the outgoing deputy mayor, Tobin stressed it is important that the new trustees keep sight of working together.

If George had wanted to run again, I would have stepped aside.”

— Damon McMullen

“‘All of us on the board knew that the public wanted a well-unified, well-functioning village government and so we all worked through all the issues until we had a consensus, trusting George and each other,” he said.

Fellow board members said a great deal was accomplished by Doll during his tenure as mayor. Kehoe said they started outdoor dining in Northport, which turned the village into a destination like Huntington or Port Jefferson.

“We have zero vacancies now on Main Street, except for Gunther’s, which is closed because of the fire,” the new deputy mayor said. “We’ve brought people into the village.” 

Tobin said the former leadership also fostered many community activities such as the farmers’ market and Northport Harbor Family Nights, which occur in August. Among Doll’s successes, he said, was rallying community support to save the post office from being closed.

Northport is a unique place with all types of people here. We have 7,000 residents and we want to balance everyone’s needs.”

— Tom Kehoe

The former board, including McMullen and Tobin, managed to obtain significant grants to cover the cost of upgrading the sewer treatment system and installing sewer mains in Steers Pit. The project cost a total of $13 million, but due to the board’s hard work and financial savvy the village taxpayers only had to pay $1.2 million out of pocket. 

Now with McMullen at the helm, he will be setting new goals for the board and already has a list of projects he wants to tackle.

“I want to see the bay area even cleaner,” McMullen said. “And if the weather ever breaks, we will start a lot of road work, including curbs and sidewalks on Woodbine Avenue and work on Laurel Avenue by the library.”

The new mayor said he plans to have the board review the village’s code book to update some of the existing laws.

“Some of the code is 40 years old and it worked in its day, but it just isn’t practical anymore,” he said.

Both McMullen and Kehoe know they will face a few challenges, but both feel they are up for the job.

“We will keep Northport vibrant,” Kehoe said. “Northport is a unique place with all types of people here. We have 7,000 residents and we want to balance everyone’s needs.

The spot at 225 Main Street will be where Northport Village will begin construction for a new inn. Photo from John W. Engeman Theater

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Blueprints and floor plans can be drawn up for the proposed Northport Inn, which overcame its first legal hurdle last week.

Northport Village trustees voted 3 to 1 to approve a code modification that paves the way for the construction of hotels and/or inns within the village’s downtown business district. Mayor George Doll and Trustees Jerry Maline and Damon McMullen voted in favor, and the sole dissenting vote was cast by Deputy Mayor Henry Tobin.

The village code approved Aug. 22 sets basic guidelines to regulate any future construction of a hotel and/or inn including maximum height and required parking spaces.

“There’s a tremendous need for lodging in this area” said Kevin O’Neill, managing director of John W. Engeman Theater. “Long Island is one of the most underserved locations in the United States for lodging.”

An artistic rendering of what the proposed hotel and restaurant at 225 Main Street in Northport Village may look like. Photo from Kevin O’Neill

O’Neill, along with his business partner Richard Dolce, the theater’s producing artistic director, first presented a proposal for a 24-room Northport Inn and restaurant to be built at 225 Main Street in May, feet away from the Engeman.

“With the entrepreneurial juices that we both have, we were trying to figure out different ways that we can hedge the risk of a show being successful or not to help keep us afloat,” O’Neill said. “The vision came into play where we could create a restaurant that synergizes with the theater and an inn.”

The main inspiration for the proposal came from The American Hotel in Sag Harbor, according to O’Neill, in addition to several boutique lodgings that Dolce and O’Neill visited in Camden, Maine, last year. The partners said their goal is to bring first-class harborside lodging to the village along with a restaurant to serve meals and drinks to both overnight visitors and theatergoers.

“We have no intention of this becoming a glitzy Hampton-type thing,” O’Neill said. “We think it could be a charming harbor town like you have in Maine, but seven hours closer.”

Since the initial presentation in May, the main public criticism voiced by residents and the sole dissenting trustee, Tobin, has been what the potential impact the addition of the hotel and restaurant would have on the village’s parking and traffic congestion. Public comments were accepted by the village board from May 16 to July 18.

“We’re already stressed for parking on Main Street,” Tobin said. “I support the hotel, I support the restaurant. The question is what size restaurant will work within downtown Northport?”

The proposed plans as set forth call for a ground-level, 200-seat restaurant, according to O’Neill. Tobin said a parking and traffic study should have been conducted prior to the trustees’ vote to modify the village code to allow for the construction of the hotel/inn.

“We are taking a building that’s a blight upon the community and turning it into a landmark.”

—Kevin O’Neill

“[A parking and traffic study] would give us guidance on how many seats a restaurant could have and yet have minimal parking and traffic problems,” Tobin said. “We could use a study to determine the balance between the economic needs of the hotel and the logistical needs of the village and its residents.”

O’Neill stressed that he and Dolce are “very conscious” of parking concerns in Northport, citing that the village currently has approximately 600 public parking spaces, largely at the west end of the business district. He said it is their plan to convert the existing two parking lots, of 12 spaces each, currently on the property into a total of 54 parking spots. This is more than the number required under the village code passed on Aug. 22, according to O’Neill.

“We have done tireless research and we are confident that the parking we are providing, along with our valet that we’ve provided for the last 10 years, that we will have a seamless process to handle this,” he said.

The John W. Engeman Theater currently offers a valet parking service for  its attendees, managing to service and park vehicles for 390 patrons up to twice a day for weekend matinees and evening performances.

A secondary issue raised by Tobin and residents was a concern that the 200-seat restaurant could be used for catering large events, causing a large influx of vehicular traffic at a time. However, O’Neill said he and Dolce have no interest in providing catering service for weddings, bat mitzvahs or other special occasions.

O’Neill said he hopes to have blueprints and a site plan drawn up for the proposed Northport Inn by Nov. 1 to present to the village, with the hopes of beginning construction in early spring 2018.

“We are taking a building that’s a blight upon the community and turning it into a landmark,” O’Neill said.

Both O’Neill and Dolce said they welcome any village residents with questions or concerns about their proposal to contact them directly for further discussion.

Northport Village trustees Jerry Maline, left, and Damon McMullen pose together. File photo

Northport Trustees Jerry Maline and Damon McMullen will each have a third term at the helm of their village.

Maline and McMullen each secured a seat on the village board of trustees Tuesday night over challenger Joe Sabia, with McMullen receiving 955 votes and Maline receiving 733 votes, according to the clerk’s office. Sabia finished third with 519 votes.

Maline and McMullen, who first won their seats in 2008, will have another four years together.

“It’s a very good working relationship,” Maline said in a phone interview last week. “We don’t always agree on things, but we talk it out and we come to a consensus on what’s best for the village. We support each other in our individual endeavors that help the village. We have a mutual respect for each other.”

One of the polarizing issues during this campaign cycle has been the board’s proposed budget, which would require piercing its 3.27 percent tax levy cap, causing a larger increase in taxes.

During a candidates night on March 8, Maline said piercing the state-mandated cap and increasing taxes above the limit, which the board can do with a 60 percent vote, would accommodate residents’ desires for village services.

“The facts are the facts,” Maline said at the event. “We don’t want to lessen your service. All the input I have from the residents [is] that you want the services to remain the same.”

McMullen said he is proud of the work he has done with the village’s budget.

“It’s been a privilege to be a part of the team that has helped the village get the best bond rating it can get,” McMullen said at the event.

Challenger Joe Sabia discusses taxes and the tax cap. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Challenger Joe Sabia discusses taxes and the tax cap. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Challenger Joe Sabia, who served on the Northport-East Northport school board and also ran for mayor in 2014, was opposed to the idea of piercing the cap.

“When you start to override the tax caps, it becomes a very, very dangerous thing because that means you’re raising your taxes higher than the rate of inflation,” Sabia said at the event.

None of the three candidates responded to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Giselle Barkley contributed to this report.

Challenger Joe Sabia discusses taxes and the tax cap. Photo by Giselle Barkley

With the polls open, residents have little time left to decide how to cast their votes. Last week’s candidate forum could help.

Former school board member Joe Sabia and incumbents Jerry Maline and Damon McMullen, who are all vying for two seats on the Northport Village Board of Trustees, discussed taxes, stormwater and more during a debate on March 8 at the Northport American Legion Post 694 Hall.

Maline and McMullen are each running for a third term.

Although Maline’s opening statement touched upon drivers speeding in the area and geese in village parks, residents were more concerned about why the village continues to pierce its tax levy cap in the annual budget.

Although the state mandates a fluctuating cap on how much municipalities can increase tax levies, a local board can override the cap and approve a budget above the limit with a supermajority of votes, or 60 percent. This year, the Northport board has proposed to pierce their 3.27 percent cap, for a new budget total of $20.4 million.

Incumbent Damon McMullen addressing rain garden inquiries. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Incumbent Damon McMullen addressing rain garden inquiries. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Maline said piercing the cap, and increasing taxes above the limit, would accommodate residents’ desires for village services.

“The facts are the facts,” Maline said at the event. “We don’t want to lessen your service. All the input I have from the residents [is] that you want the services to remain the same.”

The incumbent added that a lack of community participation makes it harder to come up with different ideas of addressing residents’ needs without increasing the budget.

“It’s a conglomerate of ideas, it’s not just ideas of people on the board,” Maline said.

For his part, McMullen said using reserve funding instead to offset a tax increase would negatively affect the village’s finances in the future.

Sabia felt the opposite. He proposed using reserve money to help keep taxes at bay and prevent the village from piercing the cap.

“My point would be to go through every single budget line item and every category in there and see what we can absolutely … reduce or make sure we’re not paying for duplicate services,” Sabia said.

While some residents continued pressing the candidates about taxes, other asked about the village’s rain garden plans.

Incumbent Jerry Maline speaks to residents. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Incumbent Jerry Maline speaks to residents. Photo by Giselle Barkley

In light of flooding in the area, the village has sought to establish a rain garden along Main Street. The garden would help catch the first inch to inch and a half of rainfall and filter out harmful chemicals in the process. According to McMullen, the village is currently waiting on a $500,000 grant to fund the garden, and is looking at ways to add catch basins for even more stormwater absorption.

“This is a method that’s been used around the country and it has been very successful,” he said of the rain garden.

Maline said he would continue to attend and participate in board meetings even if he is ousted from his seat. McMullen thanked residents for attending and said he hopes to upgrade the bathroom sinks in the village’s park, among other projects.

Sabia has his own agenda if elected, which includes maintaining handicap access to the parks, securing grants from the state to get more LED lights and maintaining the village’s sidewalks and roads. But his main focus remained on securing lower taxes for the village.

“You have to remember, we have a National Grid lawsuit against us. We have school districts that want more money from us,” Sabia said. “When you start to override the tax caps, it becomes a very, very dangerous thing because that means you’re raising your taxes higher than the rate of inflation.”

Voting is open until 9 p.m. at Northport Village Hall.

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