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Ed Smyth

Huntington Town Board approved the transfer of 1000 New York Ave. to Renaissance Downtowns April 10. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A Town of Huntington councilman sharply criticized his fellow board members’ willingness to transfer town-owned land to a private developer for Huntington Station’s revitalization as a “betrayal of public trust.”

Huntington town board voted 4-1 to give 1000 New York Ave. to Renaissance Downtowns, the master developer behind Huntington Station’s revitalization, at its April 10 meeting.

Councilman Ed Smyth (R) was the only one to vote against, blasting his colleagues that giving the property away for free was “unconscionable.”

“Giving away this property without knowing its current fair market valuable is grossly irresponsible,” Smyth said. “Our roads have potholes, marines and docks are in disrepair, the main floor of this building is covered by rubber matting that’s held down by tape. … The town cannot afford to give away this real estate for free.”

The town had acquired the former Tilden Brakes site through use of eminent domain for about $700,000. Since then, the town has spent funds to demolish the former auto care center and clean up the land, Smyth pointed out.

Giving away this property without knowing its current fair market valuable is grossly irresponsible.”

—Ed Smyth

A Town of Huntington councilman sharply criticized his fellow board members’ willingness to transfer town-owned land to a private developer for Huntington Station’s revitalization as a “betrayal of public trust.”

Huntington town board voted 4-1 to give 1000 New York Ave. to Renaissance Downtowns, the master developer behind Huntington Station’s revitalization, at its April 10 meeting.

Councilman Ed Smyth (R) was the only one to vote against, blasting his colleagues that giving the property away for free was “unconscionable.”

“Giving away this property without knowing its current fair market valuable is grossly irresponsible,” Smyth said. “Our roads have potholes, marines and docks are in disrepair, the main floor of this building is covered by rubber matting that’s held down by tape. … The town cannot afford to give away this real estate for free.”

The town had acquired the former Tilden Brakes site through use of eminent domain for about $700,000. Since then, the town has spent funds to demolish the former auto care center and clean up the land, Smyth pointed out.

The land is one of four parcels Renaissance Downtowns needed to acquire to move forward with Gateway Plaza redevelopment. The approved site plan for 1000 to 1026 New York Ave. calls for the construction of a mixed-used building consisting of 16,000-square-feet of retail space and 66 apartments — 33 studios and 33 one-bedroom units. The existing Brother’s Barber Shop will remain in place.

Smyth said the developer has paid more than $3 million to private owners to acquire the three neighboring properties, yet the town will not receive any funds for 1000 New York Ave.

“It’s not a free transfer by any stretch,” said Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D).

Cergol said that the town-owned property was appraised two years ago when the master development agreement for Huntington Station was negotiated. Renaissance Downtowns has invested funds into the revitalization project that was levied against the property’s value or “baked into the transaction.”

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said he found himself in a difficult position in voting on the contractual agreement negotiated by former Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) to give the land to Renaissance Downtowns under Huntington Station’s master plan. If the transfer was voted down, Lupinacci said he knew the town would be immediately hit with a lawsuit and face tens of thousands in legal fees.

We owe it to Huntington Station, revitalization is important.”

— Chad Lupinacci

“I care too much about the town and taxpayers to waste this type of money,” he said.

The supervisor suggested the funds could be better spent by improving the town’s parks, offering childcare services or keeping the town’s tax rate low. His proclamation that he would support the measure and encouragement to his fellow board members to do the same, was met by a round of applause from residents.

“We owe it to Huntington Station, revitalization is important,” Lupinacci said. “We want to restore it. It’s an excellent area.”

Renaissance Downtowns had initially projected a time line of groundbreaking on the Gateway Plaza in fall of 2017. The developer hopes to be able to begin demolition within 60 to 90 days once proper permits are in order, according to Renaissance Downtowns Community Liaison Andrea Bonilla. A groundbreaking ceremony on construction is projected for this fall.

“This is the next stage in the overall development,” Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said. “I think it’s a good stepping stone.”

The developer has already completed construction of Northridge, a multiuse building consisting of 6,200-square-feet of retail space and 16 one-bedroom apartments further south on New York Avenue.

Councilman Eugene Cook has a proposal that would set term limits for all Huntington elected officials. File photo by Rohma Abbas

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Town of Huntington council members will reopen the issue of setting term limits for elected officials by putting it before residents next month.

The town board voted unanimously to hold a public hearing Dec. 13 on term limits for all elected officials in the town.

Councilman Eugene Cook (R) presented a revised resolution that proposed that individuals elected to the offices of town supervisor, town council, town clerk, receiver of taxes and superintendent of highways be limited to three consecutive terms, for a total of 12 years, in the same office.

“Since I’ve been elected, I wanted to put term limits in and I didn’t have any support for it,” Cook said. “I spoke to the new [elected officials] coming in, and they asked me if three terms was alright.”

Cook previously made an effort to bring up term limits in August, which was defeated. This revised resolution differs from his August proposal, which suggested setting the limit at two consecutive terms, or a limit of 8 years in office.

The August proposal failed to move forward after Cook and Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) tried to amend it so that the nonlegislative positions of town clerk and receiver of taxes would not be term limited. Supervisor Frank Petrone (D), Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) voted against the amendment because they said they believe term limits should apply to all elected officials equally.

“I believe what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Cuthbertson said after the Nov. 10 board meeting.

Petrone, who is preparing to leave office after serving for nearly 24 years, and Cuthbertson (D), who was re-elected Nov. 7 to his sixth term having already served for 20 years, have both agreed to move forward with a public hearing Dec. 13.

The supervisor admitted while he was not initially in favor of implementing term limits, he’s had a change of heart.

“Term limits bring movement, people can move to other places,” Petrone said. “People in the town can move, like Susan [Berland] did, to the county when there are vacancies and there’s only a vacancy in the county because there’s a term limit.”

Berland, who first took political office as a Huntington board member in 2001, ran a successful campaign to be elected the next representative of Suffolk County’s 16th Legislative District Nov. 7, taking over for Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills). Stern could not run for re-election due to being term limited.

Similar to Cook’s revised resolution, Suffolk County legislators are limited to serving 12 years in office.

Cuthbertson said he agreed to have the public hearing and will listen to what residents have to say on the issue Dec. 13 before making a decision.

The Nov. 9 motion to move forward with implementing term limits comes only two days after state Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R) was elected to be the town’s next supervisor and his running mate, Republican Ed Smyth, won a seat on the town board. Both Lupinacci and Smyth’s campaign promises focused on government and ethics reform, including support for term limits for town officials. Lupinacci and Smyth take office in January 2018.

“While we appreciate the town board’s enthusiasm about term limits, we may better serve the public by passing a comprehensive ethics reform package beginning next term, which includes term limits for policy makers, among other initiatives which make government more transparent, accountable and efficient for the people of Huntington,” Lupinacci said in a statement.

The town board has the option of voting on Cook’s resolution at their Dec. 13 meeting, immediately placing term limits on those newly elected.

Cook said if his measure is not approved in December, he will continue to push for reform.

“If it doesn’t go through, I’ll put it up again in January,” Cook said. “It’s good for the people of Huntington, that’s for sure.”

Incumbent Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), Democratic candidate Emily Rogan and Republicans Jim Leonick and Ed Smyth are competing for two seats on Huntington's town board. Photos by Alex Petroski
Incumbent Mark Cuthbertson (D). Photo by Alex Petroski

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Four candidates for the Huntington town board are deeply divided on what steps are needed to ensure a brighter future for residents.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) is seeking re-election to his sixth term on town council with political newcomer Huntington resident Emily Rogan (D). She is a freelance writer who has served as a trustee for Huntington school board for 12 years, four of which as the board’s president. Rogan seeks to take over the seat of Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D), who chose to run for Huntington supervisor rather than seek re-election to town council.

They will face off against Republican candidate Jim Leonick, of East Northport, an attorney with his own practice who has previously worked as a state tax grievance arbiter. He is running with Lloyd Harbor resident Ed Smyth, also an attorney who has served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and previously on the Village of Lloyd Harbor’s board of zoning appeals.

While the candidates all profess a love for Huntington, they disagreed on what shape or form its future development should take.

Republican candidate Jim Leonick. Photo by Alex Petroski

Cuthbertson said one of his main goals is creating more housing for senior citizens and millennials to enable them to stay in town. Rogan agreed to the need for a walkable community that incorporates mixed-use retail and apartment spaces in the town, citing downtown Huntington Station and Melville’s Route 110 as prime locations.

“The entire town benefits when all of our town is thriving and feels uplifted,” Rogan said. “People want to see Huntington Station become as desirable a place to be as downtown Huntington village, downtown Northport Village or Cold Spring Harbor.”

Leonick and Smyth both said they feel these developments aren’t considered desirable by residents, saying current town board simply isn’t listening. The Republican
candidates said rather than high-density apartments, they would make it easier for seniors to put accessory apartments in their homes for additional income.

Democratic challenger and political newcomer Emily Rogan. Photo by Alex Petroski

“Density is part of a plan that will allow us to sustain our local economy,” Cuthbertson responded in a recent debate at TBR News Media offices in Setauket. “We’ve already liberalized the rules of apartments to put apartments over stores in our downtown areas. In Huntington village, it’s been very successful.”

Rather than more housing, Smyth and Leonick said their focus would be outreach to bring large businesses to Melville’s Route 110 business corridor to increase jobs.

“The best path to affordable housing is a bigger paycheck,” Smyth said.

Leonick took it one step further calling for re-evaluation of the town’s comprehensive master plan Horizons 2020.

“The biggest thing we need to do is put the brakes on future development projects until we get a handle on what we need to be doing,” Leonick said.

Both Republican candidates said that if elected, they would focus on improving the status of the town’s roadways and traffic issues. Smyth called the town’s roads “deplorable,” citing Prime Avenue as an example, after utility companies have cut them up to lay wires and infrastructure, calling for changes to town code. Leonick heavily criticized town officials for a lack of parking in Huntington village.

Republican candidate Ed Smyth. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It takes a half hour of driving around to get a spot,” he said. “You can’t continue to develop in the village without solving that problem. We should have had a parking garage a while ago.”

Cuthbertson said the town’s work on a parking garage began two years ago, with a failed attempt at a public-private partnership, but is now moving forward. He pointed to the lack of empty stores downtown as a sign of success.

Rogan agreed that the town’s roadways need change, not more paving, but rather to become more pedestrian and bicyclist friendly. She wants to focus on a public campaign and signage to improve driver awareness.

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