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Leg. Kara Hahn

Legislators have approved the initial step toward preserving the Gyrodyne property in St. James. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Suffolk lawmakers have taken the first step toward preservation of nearly 41 acres in St. James as open space.

The county legislature voted at its Nov. 21 meeting to approve a bill introduced by Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) for an appraisal of part of the Gyrodyne LLC property in St. James, also known as Flowerfield, that runs along Route 25A. The property contains freshwater wetlands and adjacent wetlands that feed into the Long Island Sound, Mill Pond in Stony Brook and Stony Brook Harbor.

“I am greatly appreciative of my legislative colleagues’ support for our effort to preserve 41 undeveloped acres of the former Gyrodyne property,” Hahn said. “With the owner actively seeking to develop the property, this perhaps is the community’s last stand to preserve one of the last large undeveloped tracts remaining in western Suffolk County. I am hopeful that the owner will understand the property’s overall environmental significance and its potential to negatively impact surrounding ground and surface waters, traffic safety and overall quality of life should it be developed.”

The bill, which now goes to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for his approval, allows for the county’s planning division to assess the owner’s interest in selling the tract to the county for open space purposes. An interest by Gyrodyne would mean the county could follow its initial outreach by obtaining a real estate appraisal and additional legal and environmental reviews that are required for a potential sale from the company to the county. According to county law, if sale of the land parcel can be negotiated, funding will come from the county’s Drinking Water Protection Program.

“With the owner actively seeking to develop the property, this perhaps is the community’s last stand to preserve one of the last large undeveloped tracts remaining in western Suffolk County.”

— Kara Hahn

While preservation of the land is being considered, a conceptual development plan from Gyrodyne was approved by the Suffolk County Planning Committee Aug. 2 and was met with resistance from Stony Brook and St. James residents.

Over the summer, the property’s owner submitted an application to the Town of Smithtown to construct a 150-room hotel with restaurant and day spa, two medical office buildings totaling 128,400 feet and two long-term care buildings that would have a total 220 assisted living units on the property. Many in the area raised concerns about the amount of traffic that would empty out onto Route 25A and Stony Brook Road if an exit to the Brookhaven street was made accessible on the east side.

Trotta said he’s not completely against development as he realizes the community needs businesses such as the proposed assisted living facility. However, Trotta said he understands the community’s concerns about traffic and would like to see a good amount of the property preserved. 

“It’s always about balance,” he said.

Trotta said he believes Gyrodyne will be willing to work with the community.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have it appraised and get into discussions with what the community wants, what can we put up with traffic-wise and meet somewhere in the middle,” Trotta said.

At a Nov. 15 Smithtown Planning Board meeting, Gyrodyne representatives said their own traffic studies proved residents had sound reason to be concerned about increased traffic and pointed to six local intersections that needed improvement. The results were submitted to the Town of Smithtown and New York State Department of Transportation in October 2017 but have yet to be reviewed. Conrad Chayes Sr., chairman of the Smithtown Planning Board, concluded the board would hold off on a decision until an environmental impact study is completed by the town, which he said may take up to a year.

Hahn said the commercial development of the land would “fundamentally change the character of the Stony Brook and St. James communities.”

“Each of us, regardless of which side of the Brookhaven-Smithtown border you reside on, is threatened by this project moving forward,” Hahn said. “For that reason, Legislator Robert Trotta and I put forward legislation to preserve these environmentally and historically important parcels from being destroyed.”

From left, Leg. Kara Hahn and Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant check out the selection of books in the new Little Free Library at Rocketship Park with a young reader. Photo by Kevin Redding

‘Today a reader, tomorrow a leader’ — Margaret Fuller

By Kevin Redding

Port Jefferson’s newest minilibrary has liftoff at Rocketship Park. In a partnership between the Port Jefferson Free Library and the village board, a Little Free Library was recently installed at the family-friendly park, where adults, teens and children alike can reach into the purple-painted wooden box to pick up or drop off a wide array of books. An official ribbon cutting was held last Thursday, Sept. 28.

The library, shaped like a tiny schoolhouse and currently stocked with children’s titles like “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” was built from a kit and installed by Stonegate Landscape. It stands as Port Jefferson Free Library’s second book exchange program, with the other unveiled in front of the William Miller House on North Country Road in Miller Place last month.

From left, PJFL Director Tom Donlon, Leg. Kara Hahn, Mayor Margot Garant and Chris Graf, president, Stonegate Landscape in East Setauket. Photo by Kevin Redding

Director of Port Jefferson Free Library Tom Donlon led elected officials, including Mayor Margot Garant and Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for what the mayor called a fantastic addition to the town.

“I’m so happy that we can provide some reading for our young children because I think reading a book goes a long way to helping educate them and bring them into the world,” Garant said with giant scissors in hand. “[It’ll make for] a true sense of community, and that’s what makes our village great.”

Donlon said when the park reopened in June, he and the library’s board members knew it was a perfect spot for book-sharing for all ages. “We have families that come here and while the kids are running around, mom or dad or the adult with them might want something to read,” he said. “Giving back to the community is our goal. And you never know what you’re going to find in there … and what adventures await.”

Rocketship Park is located in the Village of Port Jefferson on Maple Place between Mill Creek Road and Barnum Avenue, across from the tennis courts. For more information, call 631-473-0022.

Scouts from Boy Scout Troop 70, Leg. Kara Hahn, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, members of Girl Scout Troop 3083, and Port Jeff Village Mayor Margot Garant during a June 1 press conference about Hahn's Passport Parks Program. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

There’s a wondrous world of nature to explore along the North Shore and beyond, and Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Suffolk County Parks are challenging local children to get out of their houses and discover the natural treasures of public open spaces.

Scouts from Boy Scout Troop 70 during a June 1 press conference about Leg. Hahn’s Passport Parks Program. Photo by Rita J. Egan

At a June 1 press conference held at Old Field Farm County Park in Stony Brook, Hahn introduced a new passport program that will combine exploring nature with a bit of technology. Suffolk Parks Commissioner Philip Berdolt, Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant as well as representatives from Boy Scout Troop 70 and Girl Scout Troop 3083 were on hand to show their support.

“Many months in the making, this pilot program expands on my earlier legislation designed to showcase Suffolk County parks,” Hahn said. “One reason I am so excited about it is because now, thanks to cooperation from our state, town and village partners, we have expanded the pilot here in the 5th Legislative District to include all the parks in the district. That means we’re able to introduce children and their families to even more great places where they can go out and get in nature right in our own backyard.”

Hahn said her 2015 sponsored legislation that established a countywide Parks Passport Program created to encourage residents to visit parks focused solely on Suffolk County managed parkland, while the new expanded pilot program includes state, town and village public lands and open spaces in the 5th Legislative District, which covers the northwest section of the Brookhaven Town. Hahn’s hope is that in the near future the county will include all park organizations countywide in a passport program, too.

The legislator said the first step in the park adventure is to obtain passport books that are available at her Port Jefferson office at 306 Main Street, local libraries and staffed county parks. Participants can also download the book by visiting suffolkcountyny.gov.

Hahn said parks in North Brookhaven include hidden “check-in” signage located along trails and elsewhere within the parks. Once a visitor discovers a sign, they can scan a QR code with their smartphone or enter the provided website address into a web browser to check-in. The reward is a printable badge that can be pasted in the passport book, which includes the majority of the parks in her legislative district, including Old Field Farm County Park, North Shore Heritage Park in Mount Sinai, Centennial Park in Port Jefferson and Sherwood-Jayne Farm Nature Trail in East Setauket.

Hahn said there is also a digital option that will issue Open Badges. The legislator’s aide Seth Squicciarino said participants can take a photo of a sign and email it to kara.hahn@suffolkcountyny.gov, and a digital badge, which is compatible with any Open Badge platform, will be emailed back to them.

Once children collect and paste the 25 badges in the passport book, they can bring or email their passport to Hahn’s office to receive a certificate of completion. The legislator compared the new initiative to collecting stamps in travel passports or autographs at Disney World, and she believes children will enjoy the parks adventure.

“I am convinced children are going to love it, and what they love, they will be eager to do again and again,” she said.

The passport local park-goers can pick up to use for Leg. Hahn’s Passport Parks Program. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Cartright said she believes the passport program will be a success with children and is a great opportunity for residents to get outside and meet other families calling it “a networking opportunity in the sun.” The councilwoman said she will be exploring the parks with her eight-month-old daughter this summer.

“I look forward to filling up my book as well,” Cartright said.

Hahn said among her hopes are that residents will appreciate their open spaces and take better care of them, citing recent dumping problems, and that families will become familiar with parks they might not have been aware of in the past.

“I’m always surprised that people don’t know about some of our wonderful treasures,” she said.

The legislator thanked park officials and staff members for installing the signs as well as her staff members, Squicciarino, Zach Baum, Alyssa Turano and May Zegarelli, for all their help in developing the program.

“This summer there will be children on a summer-long scavenger hunt,” she said. “Some day they will be grandparents bringing their grandchildren to the same parks, boasting gently about the summer they filled their passport book with badges.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn joined residents at the Setauket Neighborhood House for a conversation about pedestrian and cyclist safety. Photo by Rita J. Egan

One of the goals of the Three Village Community Trust is to identify the needs of local residents. Since March, with that objective in mind, the trust has been inviting residents to their Join the Conversation events at the Setauket Neighborhood House the fourth Thursday of every month.

At a May 25 meeting, led by Cynthia Barnes, president of the trust, the third of these conversations was held, this one about sharing the road safely. It was co-sponsored by Sidewalks for Safety, a grassroots organization dedicated to making the Three Village roads safer. Local residents were encouraged to discuss concerns about the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists both young and old in the area.

While Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Dr. Nancy McLinksey and David Calone, former chair of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, were on hand for brief presentations about proposed enhancements for walkers and bikers as well as the health benefits of walking, the main event was the conversation of concerned residents.

A few attendees said they have witnessed many young people, especially Stony Brook University students who live off campus, not walking against traffic along Quaker Path and Christian Avenue. Many said they have seen children distracted while walking with headphones on, or texting. Another concern was expressed about cyclists who do not travel in the same direction as traffic, or have no rear lights on their bicycles.

Another attendee said the newly-paved Quaker Path, with 11-foot-wide lanes, has seemed to become an invitation for drivers to speed. He said the lines along the side of the road are very close to the edges, which pushes pedestrians and bicyclists into the grass at certain spots. He suggested that narrower lines be painted to create a protective space.

Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, suggested in addition to restriping wide roads such as Quaker Path, that crosswalk graphics be painted as a better alternative to traditional signs on poles that can sometimes add to the dangers of the road by causing an obstruction.

“There is something, to me, very physical and powerful about graphics on the road, and in the case of Quaker Path, there are numerous key intersections where a crosswalk or a cross-street could be fine,” Reuter said. “Now this probably runs counter to all kinds of engineering sensibility about keeping traffic moving, but with paint, one can signal that there is something going on here that you should be aware of.”

Sidewalks were another issue of concern that had residents in support and against the idea in particular places. Jennifer Martin, Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright’s (D-Port Jefferson Station) chief of staff, said having feedback from the community could help the town decide where to add them.

“There seems to be a general consensus about the need for sidewalks along 25A, but as of yet,  there’s not a community consensus about sidewalks in other parts of the community, especially when you get deeper into the residential areas,” she said.

One woman in attendance asked if there was a way for legislators to persuade residents to be more open to sidewalks, especially since the town owns six feet in front of each piece of property and can do whatever they want with it.

Another resident said while she respected the opinions of those who wanted sidewalks, she felt they needed to look at the historic reasons for not having them. 

Barnes diffused the debate though, saying there is more than one solution to the problem.

“Sidewalks are one of several solutions; it’s not the only solution,” Barnes said. “Some of it is the people who are driving in cars not paying attention. When you get behind the wheel you are a driving a huge weighty tank that can kill people if you’re not careful and paying attention.”

The Three Village Community Trust’s next Join the Conversation meeting is June 22 at 7 p.m. The talk will focus on Plum Island and will include a virtual tour by Louise Harrison, a conservation biologist and the New York natural areas coordinator for Save the Sound.

Local legislators and members of the Three Village Community Trust unveil sign for the newly acquired portion of Patriots Hollow State Forest in Setauket. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Thanks to the efforts of elected officials and a decision by a legacy family on the North Shore, Setauket has gained additional preserved land in the hopes of being able to protect local waterways, among other environmental benefits.

April 21, a day before Earth Day, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and local elected officials held a press conference to announce the state’s acquisition of 17 acres of woodlands stretching from the corner of North Country Road and Watson Street in Setauket. The property expands the already 28.3-acre Patriots Hollow State Forest, which runs adjacent to Route 25A and is located across from Setauket’s Stop & Shop.

DEC’s regional director on Long Island, Carrie Meek Gallagher, who grew up in Setauket, started the press conference by welcoming everyone who gathered in the woodlands. She also thanked  Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket); Peter Scully, deputy county executive for administration and former DEC regional director;  Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket);  Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station); and Robert de Zafra and Cynthia Barnes from the Three Village Community Trust for their efforts in securing the land.

Gallagher said the preservation of the land, which was once utilized for potato farming, plays a part in safeguarding the Long Island Sound watershed, and supports forest health while providing a habitat for wildlife.

Many in attendance recognized Englebright for his determination in acquiring the property in the Old Setauket Historic District. The land is where the Fitzsimmons family established their farm in 1939, and through the decades, they began acquiring more land parcels. Once farming ceased, the parcel remained open land where red cedar, gray birch, poplar, black locust and Norway maple trees now stand. Descendants still live in the family home today, and Englebright commended them for choosing preservation over selling the land to developers.

“These beautiful woods that disappear in an eternity behind us could have been more suburbia, could’ve easily been converted into something other than preservation,” he said. “The consequences of that — more traffic, poor air quality, and even worse, a compromised water chemistry in our nearby shores and harbor.”

He said creeks in the area drain into Conscience Bay, which is part of Setauket Harbor, and the bodies of water form the most western part of the Port Jefferson Harbor complex. He also added that the land was the missing link to the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail.

“We are connected to history, to water chemistry, to wildlife diversity and our sense of place,” Englebright said. “This is an important acquisition.”

Scully, who has worked on land preservation projects with Englebright in the past, including the original acquisition of property for Patriots Hollow from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center diocese in 2010, thanked Englebright for his leadership.

“I know that your interest in this property was a motivating factor in the state of New York’s decision to move forward,” Scully said.

Hahn echoed the importance of acquiring the property as well as praise for Englebright. 

“Steve, really our community’s thanks is to you,” Hahn said. “Your dedication, your commitment, your persistence on this piece of property, I know how long this has been in your vision.”

Cartright said Brookhaven Town has been committed to preserving open spaces, and she appreciated the cooperation from all levels of government on the issue.

“We are grateful to be in partnership with the state as well as the county as it relates to the preservation of open spaces,” she said.

She also alluded to key initiatives when it comes to preservation in the future.

“We ask you keep your eyes and ears open as it relates to that,” she said. “But this is an amazing announcement on such an appropriate day as we approach Earth Day.”

Before the unveiling of the new park sign which stands on the new acquisition, Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, thanked the elected officials in attendance calling them a “rogue gallery of people who really make a difference” and expressed gratitude to the Fitzsimmons family, who were unable to attend.

“Nothing reinforces the integrity of a historic district like open space,” Reuter said. “In so many cases, I sort of have this joke about preventing the future — we’re protecting the past, we’re preventing the future. In this case, it’s really quite apt, except the future is our environmental health, and this is a huge triumph.”

CHECK PRESENTATION: From left, Dr. Lina Obeid, Leg. Kara Hahn, Dr. Yusuf A. Hannun, Gloria Rocchio, Dr. Scott Powers, Carol Simco and Dr. Jun Lin. Photo from WMHO

On March 27, Stony Brook University’s Cancer Center received a donation of $40,000 from the Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO), which were funds raised from WMHO’s 23rd Annual Walk for Beauty and Hercules Run held on Oct. 23 of last year in historic Stony Brook Village.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and co-chair, Walk for Beauty; Gloria Rocchio, president, Ward Melville Heritage Organization and co-chair, Walk for Beauty; and Carol Simco, co-chair, Walk for Beauty, officially presented the check to Dr. Yusuf A. Hannun, director, Stony Brook Cancer Center, and vice dean, Cancer Medicine. Joining them were Dr. Jun Lin and Dr. Scott Powers, cancer researchers whose projects received funds raised from the 2015 Walk for Beauty, and Dr. Lina Obeid, dean for research, Stony Brook University School of Medicine.

Also present, but not shown, were Councilwoman Valerie M. Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), WMHO Trustee Anna Kerekes and Walk for Beauty committee members. Since its inception in 1994, Walk for Beauty has raised over $1.365 million toward breast cancer research. Funds raised also help to supply items such as wigs and prostheses for SBU Cancer Center patients. The event is an all-volunteer initiative with no administrative costs.

Registration is now open for the 2017 Walk for Beauty, which will take place on Sunday, Oct. 22. Visit www.wmho.org/wfb for more information.

From left, “Tobias” played by Darren St. George; “Thomas” played by Jordan Gee; Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn; “Dorcas” played by Carolyn Brown; and Lori Andrews, WMHO development director. Photo from WMHO

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Empire National Bank are this year’s generous sponsors of Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s riveting live theatrical drama, “Running Scared, Running Free … Escape to the Promised Land.” Performed by St. George Living History Productions, it tells the story of slaves escaping through the Underground Railroad from the south to Long Island and north to Canada. Native Americans, Quakers, free blacks and Abolitionists assisted them through the fascinating use of secret codes in quilt patterns as a means of communication.

The show, currently in production at the WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook runs through Feb. 28. Tickets, by reservation, are $12 per adult; $12 per student (up to 35 students); $8 per student (over 35 students). To order, call 631-689-5888. For further information on this and other WMHO educational programming, call 631-751-2244 or visit www.wmho.org.

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