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Huntington Station

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.

Juan Lopez of Huntington Station was convicted of using the threat of violence to recruit people into the gang MS-13. Photo from Suffolk County District Attorney’s office

A Huntington Station man has been found guilty of being an MS-13 gang member who used the threat of violence in attempt to recruit new members.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced April 9 that Juan Lopez, 32, was convicted by a jury of first-degree attempted coercion, a felony. Lopez faces a maximum of four years in jail.

“The victims did not join; they did the right thing,” Sini said. “That’s why it’s critical that the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office is here to protect the victims of not only gang violence, but also of gang intimidation.”

On April 16, 2017, Lopez was approached by two young men at the soccer fields of Manor Field Park in Huntington Station at approximately 1 p.m. in attempts to recruit them to MS-13, according to the district attorney. This occured less than five days after the murder of four young men near a park in Central Islip by alleged gang members.

Tattoos denoting Juan Lopez’s connection to the gang MS-13, according to District Attorney Tim Sini. Photo from Suffolk County District Attorney’s office

“When the boys resisted, this defendant stated to them in unequivocal terms, ‘this is how you end up dead in the park,’” Sini said. “My message to Mr. Lopez is: That’s how you end up in jail in Suffolk County.”

Lopez was arrested by Suffolk County Police Department the following day, April 17, 2017.

The case was prosecuted by the Enhanced Prosecution Bureau’s Gang Unit. The Gang Unit was launched in January 2018 by the newly-elected district attorney to focus exclusively on investigating and prosecuting crimes committed by gang members, such as members of MS-13.

Sini said prosecutors’s evidence against Lopez at trial included witness statements in addition to his own tattoos. Lopez has a “1” tattoed on his right arm near his shoulder with a matching “3” tattooed on his left arm near the shoulder joint. In addition, he had a skull with two horns tattooed lower on his left arm, forming the letter “M” when viewed upside down. The district attorney said these tattoes are symbolic of membership in the MS-13 gang.

“We will spare no resources, we will spare no effort to eradicate MS-13 from our communities,”he said.

A man, on left, is wanted for allegedly stealing a Maltipoo puppy, on right, from Selmer’s Pet Land in Huntington Station. Photos from SCPD

Suffolk County police 2nd Squad detectives are investigating the alleged theft of a puppy from a Huntington Station pet store April 9.

A man entered Selmer’s Pet Land, located at 125 East Jericho Turnpike, and allegedly stole a 3-month-old Maltipoo from the store at approximately 10:50 a.m. The dog is valued at approximately $2,500. The man fled on foot westbound on Jericho Turnpike then headed north on Poplar Avenue.

The man was described as black, in his mid-to-late 20s, approximately 5 feet, 9 inches tall and had a mustache or goatee. He wore gray camouflage pants, a green hooded sweatshirt and a knit cap.

The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the 2nd Squad at 631-854-8252 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS (8477 ). All tips will remain anonymous.

David Thomspon. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County police have arrested a man for allegedly driving while ability impaired after his vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in South Huntington April 7.

David R. Thompson was operating a 2014 Chevrolet Equinox eastbound on Jericho Turnpike at approximately 9:30 p.m. when his vehicle struck a pedestrian who was attempting to cross Jericho Turnpike at Oakwood Road in South Huntington.

The pedestrian, Anthony J. Santiago, 54, of Huntington Station, was transported by Huntington Community First Aid Squad to Huntington Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Thompson, 75, of Huntington, was arrested and charged with driving while ability impaired. He is being held at the 2nd Precinct and was scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check. The investigation is ongoing. Detectives are asking anyone with information about the crash to call the Major Case Unit at 631-852-6555.

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Huntington Station luge competitor Matt Mortinson, on top, competes with teammate Jayson Terdiman in the Winterberg, Germany November 2017. Photo from USA Luge

By Daniel Dunaief

Sixth place after the first run wasn’t going to cut it. Huntington Station’s Matthew Mortensen and his partner Jayson Terdiman had flown all the way to Pyeongchang, South Korea to bring home Olympic hardware.

Mortensen, who is in the World Class Athlete Program for the United States military, has spent years preparing for this opportunity.

The tandem was ranked fifth after the World Cup season, which brings the top athletes in the sport together for competitions around the world. They knew they had the talent to compete on the world’s biggest stage, and they had an enormous time gap, at least in the high-speed world of luge, to make up to put themselves in position for a medal.

Mortensen asked Terdiman, “Hey, do you want to go for it?” Without hesitation, his teammate agreed.

Before their next run, Mortensen sacrificed control for speed, reducing the margin for error on the final race for a medal.

“I’d rather be on my face than not try to get a medal at the Olympics,” Mortensen said.

“I’d rather be on my face than not try to get a medal at the Olympics.”

— Matt Mortensen

The second ride was better than the first, until they reached turn 13. Tapping the wall was enough to set them back. They finished that race in 13th and ended the doubles competition in 10th.

Changing the sled was “risky, but they were there to compete for a medal and not just compete,” Bill Tavares, the head coach of USA Luge, said in an email.

The Olympics were not over for the luge team, however, as they had one more competition a few days later, when they joined Chris Mazdzer, who had won a silver medal in the singles competition and Summer Britcher, a singles rider for the women, in the relay.

Team USA had every reason to be optimistic, as it had finished second in a similar relay in a World Cup competition in Germany last year.

When all the teams finished, the Americans came in fourth, a mere one tenth of a second behind the Austria team, which claimed the bronze.

“Fourth place was frustrating,” Mortensen said. The team had “an opportunity to get a medal, and didn’t.”

Tavares explained the fourth-place finish was “hard for all us to take.” The team knew it not only had a chance to win a medal, but win a gold one.

Fourth place became an unfortunate pattern for the Americans in South Korea, as Team USA didn’t make it to the medal stands often as the collection of determined athletes had expected in the first week of competition.

Apart from his events, however, Mortensen has ridden some of the same emotions as his countrymen back home.

He watched with concern as teammate Emily Sweeney crashed.

Huntington Station luge competitor Matt Mortinson, on right, with teammate Jayson Terdiman. Photo from USA Luge

“For us, it was a major relief when we saw her stand up and move around,” Mortensen said.

Mortensen was also inspired by snowboarder Shaun White, who returned from an Olympic misfire at Sochi to come through with a gold medal on his final run in the half pipe competition. White was moved to tears after collecting his third gold medal.

“That type of emotion and energy embodies the Olympic spirit,” Mortensen said.

The Huntington Station athlete was also impressed by the gold medal performances of 17-year old Chloe Kim, who won her half pipe competition, and Jamie Anderson, who claimed gold in women’s slopestyle snowboarding.

This is 32-year old Mortensen’s second Olympic appearence. He came in 14th at Sochi with a different partner, Preston Griffall.

Mortensen said the overall experience is the same, with considerable positive energy at both locations.

Mortensen’s parents Jerry and Mary flew across the world to support their son and the team.

Mortensen’s coach was pleased with his effort.

“He came to compete and left nothing out there,” Tavares said.

Mortensen also has dedicated fans back home.

“We are so very proud of [Mortensen] for his incredible passion, talent and perseverance competing for many years on the world’s stage, including the Olympic games,” said Eileen Knauer, a senior vice president and chief operating officer at Huntington YMCA. Knauer has worked with Mortensen’s mother Mary at the YMCA for more than a quarter of a century.

Mortensen has six brothers and sisters.

“We are so very proud of [Mortensen] for his incredible passion, talent and perseverance competing for many years on the world’s stage, including the Olympic games.”

— Eileen Knauer

“The Mortensen family is the epitome of what the YMCA represents; youth development, healthy living and social responsibility,” Knauer said.

In the longer term, Mortensen isn’t sure what will come next in his life. His time in the world class athlete’s program ends in June and he has to decide whether to continue.

In the meantime, he and his girlfriend of the last two years, Alex Duma, who is a chiropractor in New York City, plan to vacation to Hawaii in March.

Duma, who is a former Romanian National Champion and All-American swimmer, relates to the life of a driven athlete.

“I understand him really well,” Duma said. “I understand his lifestyle, which is why this works, because I’m 100 percent on board.”

Duma said she also knows the frustration her boyfriend felt after all the years of training to compete in the Olympics.

She tries to be “as encouraging and supportive” as she can, she said. She believes time can help provide some perspective.

While the 2018 results didn’t meet Mortensen’s expectations, “it doesn’t change who he is or his character,” Duma added.

As a member of the 1156 Engineer Company in Kingston, New York, Mortensen is a “folk hero” to the members of his unit, said Lieutenant William Hayes, who is his commanding officer. “He’s one of our own,” he said. “It’s always exciting to hear his stories.”

Three-day free medical clinic to treat more than 1,000 residents in need

A doctor speaks with patients at the 2017 free medical clinic in Haiti. Photo from Ginette Rows.

It’s easy to be critical of the severe problems Haiti faces, but a group of Huntington residents are taking on the challenge of finding a solution to its health care problems.

Two Huntington residents have organized a group to fly to Haiti Feb. 16 to launch their second free mobile medical clinic to provide basic medical services to those in desperate need.

“Last year was the first time we did a clinic,” Pastor Georges Franck said. “It was so successful that we decided to do it again last year.”

Franck, leader of Huntington Station’s Church of God, is working in partnership with Yam Community Resource Inc., a Huntington Station-based nonprofit that offers quality-of-life services for the Haitian community, to assemble a team of medical professionals to run a three-day medical clinic in Aquin, a city on the southern coast of Haiti.

“We expected we will have maybe 100 people a day, and we ended up at least 300 a day,” said Ginette Rows, president of Yam Community Resource. “By the time we finished, we saw 1,079 people. This year, I expect more.”

Huntington resident Ginette Rows, far right, and Pastor Georges Franck, far leg, with volunteers at the 2017 medical clinic in Haiti. Photo from Ginette Rows.

Since Hurricane Matthew devastated the island in October 2016, Rows said it has been a struggle to rebuild as the hurricane was the first of a chain of natural disasters that has led to high unemployment rates. Word of the medical clinic is spread primarily via word of mouth, according to Rows. Locals from the surrounding villages will travel long distances — often walking for hours — in hopes of being seen by a physician.

“The people we are seeing do not have the financial means to pay for medical care,” she said. “If you have money, the priority is feeding the family, shelter and paying for school.”

Donations are collected from the approximately 120 members of the Huntington parish to purchase basic medical supplies, such as scales, and over-the-counter medication, according to its pastor. Franck said medications like Advil, which may cost $6 or $8 in the U.S., may wind up costing $12 to $13 in Haiti due to increased costs of shipping and accessibility. Each volunteer pays his or her own travel costs and expenses.

The hundreds who line up to visit the clinic each day are screened by a team of nurses, Rows said, who is a nurse herself. The nurses take their blood pressure, pulse, medical history and check blood sugar to screen for diabetes. Among the most common issues are malnutrition, maternal care, dental issues and high blood pressure.

“There are 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds that are severely underweight,” Rows said. “Last year we weren’t prepared to weigh them, so we’ve shipped down our own scales, so we can see how big of an issue it is.”

Her goal, as a Haitian immigrant whose father was among the first to come to Huntington in the 1960s, is to collect organized data on the specific medical issues treated to recruit specialists to join the team at future clinics to improve Haitians’ quality of life. She hopes to eventually build a permanent partnership with local hospitals and medical organizations to improve the standards of preventative health care for residents.

“I consider myself a member of the Haitian family,” Rows said. “Regardless of religion, I am there to assist them in some way.”

To learn more about Yam Community Resource, visit its website at www.yamcommunity.com.

Celso Garcia Mendez. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County police arrested a Huntington Station man for allegedly stalking a teen while she was walking to her bus stop for more than a month.

Celso Garcia Mendez approached a 13-year-old female and allegedly handed her a note as she was walking to her bus stop on Sixth Avenue in Huntington Station on Feb. 8 at approximately 7:30 a.m. Garcia Mendez, 25, left in a silver Chrysler sedan. Officers obtained a description of the man, surveyed the area and identified the suspect.

South Huntington School officials said they were informed of the incident Feb. 8. They issued a stranger danger alert on the school district’s website and encouraged the community to report any further suspicious activity to the district and the police.

An investigation by 2nd Precinct Crime Section officers determined Garcia Mendez had approached and attempted to communicate with the teen, who previously asked him to stop, near her bus stop for approximately one month.

Garcia Mendez was charged with fourth-degree stalking and endangering the welfare of a child. He was scheduled for arraignment at First District Court in Central Islip on Feb. 9.

Following the arrest, the school district posted an update announcing Garcia Mendez’s arrest on their website.

“We are pleased to inform you as a result of the cooperation between South Huntington schools, 2nd Precinct, and the family, the individual described in yesterday’s stranger danger message was arrested this morning,” read the district’s post. This is an important reminder that the strength and safety of our community rests on the communication between all constituents.”

Superintendent David Bennardo and Stimson Middle School Principal Edwin Smith also thanked local law enforcement for their quick response. They asked South Huntington parents to make sure to discuss personal safety and the importance of reporting suspicious activity with their children.

This post was updated Feb. 9 at 10:45 a.m. with additional information. 

 

Suffolk Comptroller's audit of Walt Whitman Birthplace Association cites trouble with financial practices

Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center. Photo from Facebook.

Suffolk County is seeking more than $21,000 in repayments from the nonprofit Walt Whitman Birthplace Association after an audit allegedly found multiple issues with its financial practices.

Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy (R) performed an audit of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association, a nonprofit organization that operates the state historic site and interpretive center in Huntington Station, after receiving an anonymous hotline complaint and tips from people he described as “those familiar with its operation.” The Jan. 19 report alleged the birthplace association overbilled the county by $24,365 in 2015.

“I have the utmost respect [for nonprofits]; they put in a tremendous amount of hours for benefit of the local community and educational community,” Kennedy said. “There is also a select segment who seem intent on gaming the system.”

We have a curator who was submitting his hours on the back of looseleaf paper.”

— Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy

The comptroller said he found it “absolutely horrendous” the organization’s executive director doesn’t keep time sheets or oversight of employee hours, which were byproducts of the audit. Kennedy said despite selling tour tickets and running a gift shop, the organization had no point of sale system or manual bookkeeping. He said his staff also found an active credit card still in the name of a former trustee.

“We have a curator who was submitting his hours on the back of looseleaf paper,” he said. “It’s crazy, absolutely crazy.”

The association receives roughly half of its funding through Suffolk’s hotel motel tax, which sets aside 8 percent of the tax revenue for “the support of museums and historical societies, historic residences and historic birthplaces.” The organization receives 1.5 percent of that 8 percent set aside, under county law, for a total of $138,789 in 2015.

“We had hoped this would be a collegial and cooperative enterprise when they said they would audit us,” said William Walter, president of the organization’s board of trustees. “We thought we would find some improved procedures and not this type of report where they want to take money back from us that we need to run our programs.”

Kennedy said the nonprofit has 30 days to come up with a plan to repay the funds.

In response to the county, the organization has admitted to overcharging more than $2,000 in expenses but disputed most of the audit findings.

We had hoped this would be a collegial and cooperative enterprise when they said they would audit us.”
— William Walter

Walter said Executive Director Cynthia Shor is a salaried employee, not subject to time sheets under state law. The $2,587 disallowed by the audit for paid lunches to its part-time staff has been a standing company policy, according to the board president.

“We have no health insurance for employees, no pension, no benefits, no vacation,” he said. “The one thing we thought we could give them was a paid lunch hour, which is a half hour.”

The nonprofit board president also pointed to several policy changes enacted since 2015. An audit committee was formed in September 2017 to provide oversight of the organization’s finances and a point of sale system has been installed in recent months. That credit card in a former trustee’s name Walter said is slowly being paid off so the organization can close it out and replace it with a debit card.

The comptroller said he will be forwarding the county’s audit both to Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D), as both provide funding to the organization. Huntington spokesman A.J. Carter confirmed the town gave $21,000 to the birthplace in 2017, an amount that has remained consistent since 2015.

Walter said the organization has hired an attorney, Melville-based Tenenbaum Law, to defend itself against the county’s allegations.

“We’d rather not have to take it to court or get into an adversarial position with them,” he said.

Suffolk County Police arrested a man for allegedly endangering the welfare of a child after he allowed his 13-year-old daughter to drive with a 3-year-old child in the backseat.

Alejandro Noriega. Photo from SCPD

A 2nd Precinct community support unit officer observed a 1995 Toyota Camry being driven erratically while traveling northbound on Oakwood Road in Huntington Station Jan. 27 at approximately 6:30 p.m. The officer initiated a traffic stop of the vehicle and noticed a young girl was driving. The girl’s father, Alejandro Noriega, was in the front passenger seat. The 3-year-old male child was in a child safety seat in the back of the vehicle. Noriega had been entrusted by a friend to baby-sit the boy.

Noriega, 45, of Huntington Station, was arrested and charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. He was also issued a summons for permitting unlicensed operation. The 13-year-old girl was released to her mother at the scene. The 3-year-old boy was released to his mother at the 2d Precinct.

Noriega was held overnight at the 2nd Precinct and was scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 28 at First District Court in Central Islip.

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Four people were arrested in the Town of Huntington during the evening Jan. 27 for allegedly selling liquid nicotine for electronic cigarettes to minors, according to Suffolk County Police.

In response to community complaints, 2nd Precinct Crime Section officers and representatives from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services Tobacco Regulation Enforcement Unit conducted an investigation into the sale of e-liquid nicotine to minors at 10 businesses between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

The following people were arrested and charged with Unlawfully Dealing with a Child 2nd Degree:

  • Sandipkumar Bhatiya, 42, of Ronkonkoma, employed at Mr. Tobacco Shop II, 2031 East Jericho Turnpike, East Northport
  • Joanna Oh, 25, of Malverne, employed at Whatever Vape Shop, 675 East Jericho Turnpike, Huntington Station
  • Diville Moss, 20, of Smithtown, employed at East Coast Psychedelics, 6124 East Jericho Turnpike, Commack
  • Dean Papas, 34, of South Huntington, employed at Huntington Village Vapes, 4 Elm Street, Huntington

The owners of the above businesses were issued a notice of violation by the Suffolk County Department of Health.

The following businesses complied, and refused the sale of e-liquid nicotine to minors:

  • FMS Vapes, 825 Walt Whitman Road, Melville
  • Long Island Vape, 469A East Jericho Turnpike, Huntington Station
  • Gotham Smoke & Novelty Shop, 681 East Jericho Turnpike, Huntington Station
  • Karma Vapes, 217 Walt Whitman Road, Huntington Station
  • Abbey Road Tobacco & Vapor, 63 Larkfield Road, East Northport
  • Liquid Lyfe Vapor Shop, 6160 E. Jericho Turnpike, Commack

The four people arrested were issued field appearance tickets and are scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip at a later date.

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