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Herb Mones

The Town of Brookhaven has approved a license agreement to allow the town educator to live at the ranger's cottage, above, at West Meadow Beach. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

The Town of Brookhaven is ensuring a trip to a local beach remains educational as well as enjoyable.

Nicole Pocchiare, Town of Brookhaven environmental educator, will be residing in the ranger’s cottage at West Meadow Beach. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

The town board unanimously approved a license agreement between Brookhaven and town environmental educator Nicole Pocchiare June 14. The agreement allows Pocchiare to reside at the house known as the ranger’s cottage at West Meadow Beach.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she was pleased about the board voting unanimously in favor of the license agreement and understanding the importance of having a continuous presence at the beach.

“I think having an environmental educator present at West Meadow Beach is a benefit to the entire community,” Cartright said. “It allows her to keep a close eye on the sensitive ecosystem there and also provide programs in a manner that’s not ‘9-to-5-ish.’ She does programs early in the morning — she has late evening programs — and I think that the community is appreciative of that.”

Eileen Gerle became the first environmental educator for the town in 2009, and when she retired in October 2014, Molly Hastings took over the position until her suspension in September 2016, which the town has not provided a reason for. While Pocchiare has been an environmental educator for the town since April 2017, Cartright said it took some time before someone could live at the cottage again after Hastings left because the town councilmembers felt it was beneficial to set up a license agreement, where the resident could only live in the home as long as they were a town educator.

Cartright said residents have been consistent in their requests that they wanted someone present at the cottage at all times.

“Even if it’s just a tidbit that they learn, it brings them closer to the beach and the creek.”

— Nicole Pocchiare

Civic leader Herb Mones, from Stony Brook, is one of those residents. He said he calls West Meadow Beach the “Fire Island of the North Shore” due to the similarities in views and native species, and feels it’s important the town has someone in place to educate beachgoers about its importance.

“I think it’s critical because it not only fulfills the state law for the preservation of West Meadow that stipulates that there be an environmental educator at the park, but what it does, it brings about a growing awareness and an appreciation for the ecosystem and the environment which is developed by their programs,” Mones said. “I think the more robust the program, the better the future for the park and the preserve.”

Pocchiare said she was excited to hear of the board’s approval because she feels it will make her job a bit easier living on the beach and also being close to West Meadow Creek. Currently, she has been traveling from her office at Brookhaven Town Hall whenever there is a program at the beach or someone is needed there. The educator said being on the grounds will make it easier to help representatives from organizations who may need to work on the site early in the morning or late at night. Most important of all, residing at the cottage will provide her more opportunities to interact with the public, even outside of town programs.

Nicole Pocchiare releases a butterfly during an environmental program at West Meadow Beach. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

“It increases the appreciation and increases then the conservation of the beach,” she said. “Even if it’s just a tidbit that they learn, it brings them closer to the beach and the creek.”

Pocchiare said programs for the current year include educational activities for all ages including nature exploration, full moon and nature walks, and birding by the beach.

The educator, who currently lives in Selden and grew up in Holbrook, said she remembers going to West Meadow Beach for the first time 10 years ago and meeting Gerle.

“I remember loving this little beach,” she said. “I was used to the South Shore because I was a Sachem girl and grew up in Holbrook. But I think I’ve grown to really love the North Shore beaches. The sand flats that West Meadow has and those beautiful sunsets because of it being situated from north to south, overlooking the west. And then having the creek and the salt marsh on the other side of Trustees Road is something so unique to West Meadow which sets it apart from all the other beaches.”

Owners of the Shell gas station on the northwest corner of Route 25A and Jones Street have submitted variances to the Town of Brookhaven's board of zoning appeals to construct a gas canopy and install a 72-square-foot lighted sign. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Three Village Civic Association is taking action to prevent a gas station from “changing the scenery” in the area.

Magid Setauket Associates LLC, owner of Shell gas station on Route 25A and Jones Street, applied for variances to the Town of Brookhaven Board of Zoning Appeals in the beginning of March. The company submitted proposed plans to construct a large canopy and a lighted electric sign at the gas station.

Members of the civic association have expressed concerns over the proposed plans to build the fuel canopy, which would measure 79 feet in length, 26 feet in width and approximately 25 feet in height, setback 14 1/2 feet from 25A, which is less than the distance required by the town. The company has proposed plans to install a 72-square-foot freestanding ground sign that exceeds the 24 square feet permitted by Brookhaven, with a maximum illuminance that also surpasses the town’s requirements.

“The large canopy proposed by the Shell station is unusual and out of place in our historic downtown Setauket.”

— Herb Mones

After receiving news of the proposed variances, the civic association informed its members via email and stated that between a seven-mile stretch along 25A, from St. James to Port Jefferson, there are no gas station canopies.

“This canopy and the associated digital sign would make this a precedent-setting project which would open the door for all the other stations along 25A to do the same,” the email read.

Representatives from Magid Setauket Associates were originally scheduled to
appear before the board March 21, but due to inclement weather, the meeting was postponed until March 28. The company’s
petition was then scheduled as a holdover for the board’s April 18 meeting.

Herb Mones, chair of the civic’s land use committee, said he is hopeful the postponement may mean the applicant is rethinking their proposals. He said state Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) and town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) wrote letters to the town’s Board of Zoning Appeals to oppose the station’s request for variances.

“The large canopy proposed by the Shell station is unusual and out of place in our historic downtown Setauket,” Mones said. “Simply put — it overwhelms the sense of place we have worked so hard to preserve and protect in the Three Villages. The electronic sign, positioned close to the roadway, may be well suited for a four-lane highway, not for our historic Main Street.”

The civic association was one of the key organizations involved in the Route 25A resident visioning meetings that were spearheaded by Cartright in 2017, and its officers have discussed changes at the Shell station with Magid Setauket Associates in the past, including the addition of a convenience store, according to George Hoffman, the civic’s first vice president.

“As far as our position on this, we’re basically about how it affects our community, how it affects our children, how it affects the traffic.”

— Omar Ishtiaque

“We opposed the plan, citing the location and limited parking space on the property,” Hoffman said. “The civic association hopes the current plan is not a way to gain approval by seeking several variances from the ZBA and, once in hand, seeking the final approval for the convenience store.”

Omar Ishtiaque, who owns Cupeez Drive-Thru less than a quarter of a mile west from the Shell station, said he and a few of his customers also have concerns. The business owner said he has seen many changes along the roadways since his family opened the store 35 years ago. He said he feels the historical aspect of the village is something that draws people in and makes residents appreciate their surroundings.

“As far as our position on this, we’re basically about how it affects our community, how it affects our children, how it affects the traffic,” he said.

Ishtiaque said while he’s not against development, a sense of place is important to him, and with his own business, he has taken down signage that was near the roadway and has tried to keep the store as traditional looking as possible.

“When a lot of the newer changes come in with corporations funding these type of businesses, yes, it’s great in a lot of ways, but at the same time I think it takes away a piece of our community,” he said.

A representative for Magid Setauket Associates did not respond to inquiries for comments.

The Greenway Trail runs between Port Jefferson Station and East Setauket. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

The Friends of the Greenway is hosting another cleanup event for the Setauket to Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail on Saturday, Aug. 29, from 8 to 10 a.m.

Volunteers who want to help mow, prune, clip and beautify the community hiking and biking trail should bring gloves, trash bags, clippers, mowers, brooms or shovels along with any gardening tools. The helpers can choose an area on the trail to beautify and head straight to work — but please contact Charlie McAteer from Friends of the Greenway at cfmcateer@gmail.com to report the location — or they can report to one of the trailheads for an assigned task.

Participants can also help distribute information to trail visitors at either the Port Jefferson Station end or the Setauket end of the trail.

The Greenway Trail runs between Limroy Lane in East Setauket and the New York State Department of Transportation parking lot in Port Jefferson Station, near Route 112 at Hallock Avenue.

To take part in maintaining the trail apart from the cleanup event, contact McAteer to find out other ways to help.

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