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Garant

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New plans for stairs near Toast Coffeehouse. Left photo by Kyle Barr; right image from Deck and Patio Company

The stairs leading up from the parking lot in front of Portside Bar & Grill is full of dried grass and aging streetlights with extension cords reaching out the top like lifelines on ancient scuba gear.

Now, a Smithtown-based metal fabrication company is proposing a complete remodel of the path leading up to the stairs, even including a waterfall and pond.

Sean Hanley, left, and Mayor Margot Garant discuss new staircase and park. Photo by Kyle Barr

“That water feature would bring the whole thing to a whole other level,” Port Jefferson village Mayor Margot Garant said. “It would be just so calming.”

Sean Hanley, whose wife, Melissa Hanley, owns Salon Blonde hairstylists across the street from the staircase, has known the area for a long while, and approached Garant at the start of the year about transforming the aging staircase and pathway.

“My mother lives in the village — we’re really local, and I always felt that space needed some work there,” he said. Hanley is the owner of LB Fabrication & Automation, a metal fabricator and mason based in Smithtown. 

The designs were created in part by Hanley and by Huntington Station–based Deck and Patio Company, which he hopes will be used when it comes time to start the landscaping portion of the project.

“The space is not totally flat in there, so it doesn’t allow for seating areas everywhere, and we just had to come up with something nice,” the metal fabricator said. “Really want to dress up that sign and walkway so people feel comfortable walking up those stairs.”

Last year in the winter of 2017 and 2018, the village closed the stairs for what it said was necessary renovations due to safety concerns. Garant said she would like lighting that maintains a rustic aesthetic of nearby signage on storefronts.

While the plans don’t include them, Hanley has discussed putting in a waterfall feature on the left-hand wall, which can be seen from the parking lot. They are also considering putting in a stream that would go from the waterfall over to a planned pond. The metal fabricator said the pond can be built so it can be drained down below ground far enough so it won’t freeze during the winter months.

“Everybody was really on board with this,” Garant said.

Plans for pocket park near Toast Coffeehouse. Image by Deck and Patio Company

The concrete pathway would be replaced by herringbone brick that continues up the stairs to the top level. Hanley also said he wants to create a decorative latticing underneath the stairs to cut off access for pedestrians, and that he would want to clean up the stairs themselves of rust.

Along with plans for the stairs, Hanley is also in talks with the village to replace some of the signage in parks, such as Founders Park, with those made from powdered aluminum, so it won’t rust.

Garant said she needs to show the plans to the Business Improvement District. She also intends to speak to the owners of Portside Bar & Grill about adding additional fencing along their building to shield from view when employees use the bottom side entrance. She also said she intends to look into opening up the alleyway between The Kate & Hale and The Secret Garden.

The mayor and metal fabrication owner said there are still details to be worked out over how many companies the village will put out to bid for, what will be the total costs and what is the phasing plan for the project. Overall, they hope to have the project done by the end of spring.

While the details need to still be worked out on which companies will complete the project, Garant said she is looking to see if they can do parts of the project with in-house staff.

“It’s still a public project,” she said.

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Planned changes to area around Barnum Avenue and Route 25A. Photo from PJ planning department

Port Jefferson village has long been dealing with issues of parking and attracting more people into the downtown, but proposals put forward by village officials and other property owners have received stern opposition from residents living close to these proposed projects.

The upstairs meeting room in the Port Jefferson Village Hall was packed March 14 as residents came out to get answers on several major developments coming to Port Jefferson. One details the planned development for a mixed-use apartment and retail space in the building that is currently Cappy’s Carpets, while another includes a new parking lot on Barnum Avenue.

The Port Jefferson planning board was originally allowing additional comments from residents until March 24, but they agreed to extend that until March 29 for the planned Cappy’s development.

Apartments in Cappy’s Carpets

Several Port Jeff residents said the Shipyard apartment complex, which only started receiving tenants little more than a year ago, left a bad taste in their mouths. Many who spoke at the March 14 meeting decried the Tritec Real Estate Company’s four-story 112-unit rental complex, and asked that if development were to continue, then they should learn from the last development.

The Capobianco family, which owns the property, along with real estate firm Brooks Partners LLC unveiled plans in February for creating a three-story apartment and retail space in the current Cappy’s Carpet shop at 440 Main St. The development would replace the existing carpet store along with the boat storage lot to the rear of the property.

The proposed plans call for 1,200 square feet of retail space, a 1,500-square-foot restaurant and a 750-square-foot fitness center on the ground floor. Above that would be 44 one-bedroom and two, two-bedroom apartments on the second and third floors. Also included was a roof deck and rooftop fire pits. Village Mayor Margot Garant previously said the building had remained at three stories in direct response to criticism over the Shipyard development.

Left: Cappy’s Carpets in Port Jefferson; right: rendering of new mixed use space. Left photo by Kyle Barr, right photo from Port Jeff planning department

In terms of parking, the project would include 78 spaces, with the 37 set in a parking garage within the development and 41 spaces outside. The parking spaces would require the developer to pay for four spaces in lieu of parking fees, due to village code parking requirements.

Sayville-based attorney Eric Russo, representing Brooks Partners, said the project would enhance the village’s walkability, especially north of the majority of downtown’s businesses. 

“As part of your village’s master plan, your goal was you wanted to create a walking downtown and expand on the town, so it would move forward where it was on Main Street and continue upward toward this particular area,” Russo said. 

Residents were quick to criticize the idea of a roof deck, saying that people standing up so high would likely be heard throughout parts of the village.

“We live in a bowl here, and if somebody has a roof deck on top of that building, that’s going to travel uphill into our residential area,” said Marge McCuen, resident on Tuthill Street. “I think it was very inconsiderate.”

The development would also go along with new projects to remediate traffic concerns in that area. The New York State Department of Transportation has said it will amend traffic concerns surrounding Barnum Avenue, including removing the triangle median where Barnum and Main Street connect, making one egress and ingress and eliminating the need for pedestrians to make two crossings along one road. The next project is to install a traffic light at the intersection of Old Post Road and Main Street in hopes of eliminating some problems of the accident-prone intersection during rush hour. Patrick Lenihan, an engineer with Hauppauge-based VHB engineering firm, said the state DOT has also recommended removing four street-level parking spaces on Main Street near the expected curb cut for the development.

Resident Michael Mart said removing those four spaces on Main Street would mean the village would be even further in the hole when it comes to parking spaces, not counting the four spaces the developer is willing to pay in lieu of parking for.

As part of the application, Brooks Partners conducted a traffic study with VHB. Results showed the weekday average traffic for Main Street was less than 18,000 vehicles per day in the vicinity of the project site as of March 2016. Saturday and Sunday daily volume during the same week was recorded at less than 20,000 and 15,000 cars, respectively. Some residents criticized the traffic study, especially for the limited time it was conducted, saying it should have also shown traffic patterns for weekdays, especially in mornings when buses take children to school and when cars arrive on the morning ferries.

“With your traffic study, instead of doing just one day in July, you should have done a day in April or May, preferably a weekday, make it when the ferries arrive,” said village resident Drew Biondo. “I think you’d get a better sense.”

“We live in a bowl here, and if somebody has a roof deck on top of that building, that’s going to travel uphill into our residential area.”

— Marge McCuen

Biondo later in the meeting asked if the building would be built on pilings, which the developer responded with yes, on over 200, which would take about three weeks to install during code-allowed times. 

Mart added he hopes this new apartment complex would not get a similar payment in lieu of taxes plan the Shipyard complex received from the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency. Another $10.8 million planned apartment complex called Overbay, being built by the Hauppauge-based development company, The Northwind Group, has also received an extended PILOT agreement from the Brookhaven town IDA.

“We as taxpayers then have to pay the cost burdens from it,” he said.

At the village’s March 18 board meeting, Garant asked the board to look at the village’s code regarding roof decks, agreeing at the rate in which sound travels within the area. 

Parking lot on Barnum Avenue

Port Jefferson officials are planning for a 44-space parking lot located on the west side along Barnum Avenue just after the turn on Roessner Lane that goes toward Rocketship Park. 

The space currently exists as a gravel lot, and officials have allowed town workers to park in it for the time being. The site was once a house that Garant described as an illegal rental property. Officials agreed to purchase and demolish the building in 2017. 

Plans for the parking lot give it a 53-foot buffer from Barnum Avenue and a 23-foot buffer from Caroline Avenue. These plans also include a new sidewalk with plantings along the edges of the proposed site. The board has stated its intention to eliminate parking along the northern side of Caroline Avenue.

The site of the planned parking lot on Barnum Avenue. Photo by Kyle Barr

Garant said the proposed lot would include a managed parking system with meters but no overnight parking and limits to the number of hours a car is allowed to park in that lot. A gate would be installed to prevent people from parking in the lot overnight. 

Barbara Ransome, the director of operations for the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, said the new parking was desperately needed. 

“We really haven’t had a new parking lot in downtown in 50 years,” Ransome said. “From the business perspective we really do support the additional 44 parking spots.”

The mayor added the plans for lighting include goosenecked, directional lighting that would focus their rays on the parking lot itself, and they would be automated to turn off at midnight.

“We’re very sensitive to the lighting,” Garant said. “The light will not penetrate beyond parking area.”

Despite her attempts at assurances, some residents who would border the proposed lot were not so convinced. Kathleen Loper, who lives on Caroline, said she has already had problems with lighting from the nearby baseball field disturbing her ability and her neighbors to maintain their sleep schedules. 

“People have different work schedules — those lights are very distracting, so I can imagine what the parking lot lights are going to do,” Loper said. “If I wanted to live in Manhattan, I would have bought a house in Manhattan.”

Pat Darling Kiriluk, a Port Jeff resident, said she was concerned about the beautification of that space, especially with the Drowned Meadow House nearby along the same street.

We are never going to have enough [parking] availability,” Kiriluk said. “It’s never ever going to be enough.”

“The light will not penetrate beyond parking area.”

— Margot Garant

Others who live in the area already feel the area is dangerous for pedestrians due to high traffic along Barnum and Caroline. Tony Dutra, who lives at the corner of Caroline and Barnum, asked why the project couldn’t have an entrance off Barnum and an exit on Caroline. Anthony Cucuzzo of D&B Engineers and Architects said they could look at the idea but believed large traffic volumes along both roads would cause delays.

Garant has previously said if the project gets approval, she would want construction to start by fall of this year.

The mayor added the village may be able to enhance the crosswalk features. Other residents feared illicit activity happening in the parking lot at night.

Kevin Wood, village parking administrator, said current parking lots already have surveillance cameras and parking ambassadors, which would be extended to this new parking lot. 

The LIPA plant as seen from Harborfront Park. Photo by Kyle Barr

A New York State Supreme Court judge approved the Town of Brookhaven’s settlement with the Long Island Power Authority over the Port Jefferson Power Station’s tax assessment. 

In the agreement signed Dec. 14, the $32.6 million tax assessment on the power plant will be reduced by around 50 percent incrementally over the next nine years to $16.8 million, starting with the 2017-18 tax year.

It’s a not-so-final finale to what has become years upon years of grinding legal battles and anxiety over what will happen to local taxes should LIPA, which claimed its power plant has been overassessed by hundreds of millions of dollars for nearly a decade. LIPA’s lawsuit wanted its assessments reduced by
approximately 90 percent.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said in a statement the settlement will benefit Brookhaven in the form of lower electric bills.

“This deal puts an end to the uncertainty of this plant over the course of nine years and gives finality to this issue,” Romaine said. “I have always believed that all property assessments should be fairly based on property value.”

Brookhaven officials said that without a settlement, taxpayers faced the potential of being liable for $225 million to LIPA, and the power authority has said LIPA customers will save a total of $662 million by 2027.

“It was a reasonable settlement, one we can justify to our 1.1 million customers,” LIPA CEO Thomas Falcone said.

While this settlement promises savings for Brookhaven residents, the agreement has made Port Jefferson residents, especially those living close to the two red-and-white smokestacks, question what their taxes will look like in the near future. In October the Port Jefferson School District released a series of slides showing they annually received a $17 million payment through LIPA’s tax payments, but this would be reduced to $13.8 million by 2027. While Superintendent Paul Casciano said he and his staff are still reviewing the impact of the settlement, he sees the outcome could be even worse. He expects school programs will have to be cut in the next few years, with tax increases for residents.

“It’s going to affect the tax base,” the superintendent said. “Even if our budget was voted down, there’s a high likelihood that residents will see a
double-digit increase in their tax rate.”

The settlement will also require the district to amend their plans for the 2019-20 budget next year.

Falcone said the school district already enjoys lower annual school taxes at $6,273 compared to neighboring districts calculated at little more than $10,000 based on 2015 tax data.

“It means they will go from a ‘great deal’ to a ‘good deal,’” Falcone said. “They’re still going to have the lowest taxes of their neighborhood.”

The CEO added that it was unfair for the rest of LIPA customers to have to subsidize the Port Jeff school district through their higher bills.

“I think at some point you have to say what’s fair for those 1.1 million other customers because they pay their school taxes, too,” he said.

The Port Jeff superintendent said the village has been conciliatory about letting a power plant operate within its boundaries, whereas other places in Brookhaven would have barred the plant from existing in the first place.

“Are you, as a Brookhaven resident, really going to make out on your LIPA bills? I doubt it,” Casciano said. 

In April Port Jefferson Village board passed its 2018-19 budget of $10,642,146, about $233,000 up from last year’s budget. The new budget included $107,000 in reserve funds in anticipation of the glide path agreement with LIPA resulting in reduced payments.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said she agrees with the settlement, and it could lead to more use of the plant. In 2017 the facility was only powered on for 41 days, or 11 percent of the year, according to LIPA officials.

Falcone said the Port Jeff power plant operates based on the electricity needs of residents.

“This is an important step we made today to stabilize our tax base moving forward and the viability of any opportunity to repower our power plant,” Garant said in a press release.

The settlement also comes after big wins for LIPA in the courts against the towns of Huntington and Brookhaven, and Port Jeff Village, allowing LIPA to move ahead with its effort to challenge its assessments. Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) has publicly asked New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to enact legislation that would protect residents taxes should LIPA get its way in court.

“Are you, as a Brookhaven resident, really going to make out on your LIPA bills? I doubt it.”
— Paul Casino

PSEG Long Island customers pay power plant taxes through monthly surcharges on their electric bills, but LIPA owns the electric grid and has agreements with National Grid for the power plants in both Port Jefferson and Northport. In 2009 LIPA challenged both the towns of Brookhaven and Huntington saying it had been overassessed for years, especially since the Port Jeff plant runs for so little time.

The Port Jefferson School District along with the Northport-East Northport school district and Huntington Town filed a lawsuit saying LIPA had made past promises not to challenge the taxes levied on their power plants, but they were dealt a blow in September when a state Supreme Court judge ruled LIPA “made no promises” about challenging the taxes levied. 

Garant and other Port Jeff Village officials have expressed past desires to renovate the power plant once the tax assessment issue was settled.
In September the village board advocated for the refurbishment and repowering of its base-load plant to update its decades-old technology and to justify the property’s tax assessment.

This is despite Cuomo setting a goal for 50 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources
by 2030.

Falcone said they do not currently have any plans to run the plant more or do any renovations to plant that has been there since the 1940s. 

Through being used so little and with the push for more green energy, residents have questioned how long LIPA will keep the plant running. The LIPA CEO said the plant will continue to operate for the next seven years, but in the future could be upgraded or transformed into some other space used by the power authority, such as a storage facility or a new, modernized facility.