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Legislator Kara Hahn

The Port Jefferson community lined Main Street in the village Nov. 25 to welcome a very special visitor. The annual Santa Parade saw the man himself riding his sleigh through the streets for hundreds of onlookers, along with floats from local Boy Scout troops, the Port Jefferson Ferry, the Chamber of Commerce, the Village Board, Port Jefferson Fire Department, local businesses and many more. Port Jefferson’s annual Dickens Festival begins Dec. 2.

County Legislator Kara Hahn and Stony Brook resident Cindy Smith at a Nov. 10 press conference to propose a county initiative for Flowerfield in St. James. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Local legislators are paying attention when it comes to the concerns of Stony Brook residents regarding the proposed development of a land parcel in St. James.

At a Nov. 10 press conference held on the steps of Smithtown Town Hall, it was announced that Suffolk County Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) introduced a bill in the Legislature asking the county to begin the process of purchasing more than 40 acres of property currently owned by Gyrodyne LLC. The first step is an appraisal of the land, which runs along Route 25A and borders Stony Brook Road and Mill Pond Road. The goal is to preserve the open space, known locally as Flowerfield, while continuing to lease the few older buildings to small businesses and artists currently renting.

The announcement was made a few days before a public hearing regarding the Gyrodyne subdivision proposal at the Smithtown Town Planning Board’s Nov. 15 meeting. On Nov. 13, the bill was approved during the county Legislature’s Environment, Planning & Agriculture committee meeting and will be voted on in the general meeting Nov. 21.

“We are for smart, sustainable development, and this isn’t sustainable in the area it happens to be in.”

— Cindy Smith

Cindy Smith, founder of the Greater Stony Brook Action Coalition, thanked Hahn, Trotta, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for their support. Smith founded the coalition after the Suffolk County Planning Commission approved the conceptual subdivision of the 62 acres of land owned by Gyrodyne at an Aug. 2 meeting. The proposed plan includes a 150-room hotel, two medical office buildings and two assisted living facilities. There is also the possibility of opening a street behind University Heights Drive that would lead to Stony Brook Road.

“We know already what it’s like when development is done and things happen in your backyard,” Smith said of why she was hosting the press conference. “All of a sudden there’s a tremendous amount of traffic.”

The Stony Brook resident said she doesn’t want to see the same thing  occur in Smithtown, or see things get worse in her area. Due to increased traffic over the years from Stony Brook University and the Wireless Center, which borders the Gyrodyne property, she said residents along Stony Brook Road, where she lives, have witnessed 18-wheelers using the street, drivers littering and historical characteristics in the area disappearing. During rush hour, Smith said emergency vehicles have difficulty traveling down the street.

The coalition founder said no traffic studies or environmental assessments have been conducted by the county and there has been no estimate of the impact on the local infrastructure.

“We’re not against development,” Smith said. “We are for smart, sustainable development, and this isn’t sustainable in the area it happens to be in.”

“This is not the proper use of this parcel, and we would like to see it preserved.”

— Kara Hahn

Hahn, chairwoman of the Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee, said if the land is developed it could harm local bays and waterways, and agreed it would overburden roads and increase the dangers of traveling in the area. The hazards of 25A and Stony Brook Road are something she is acutely aware of after being involved in a head-on collision at the intersection in April 2001.

“This is not the proper use of this parcel, and we would like to see it preserved,” Hahn said, adding that she asked Trotta if she could take the lead on the bill because she felt it was critical to her district.

Cartright, who was in attendance to represent the Town of Brookhaven and spearheaded 25A-visioning meetings in the Three Village area during the last year and a half, said the main concern of Stony Brook residents was traffic congestion in the area, especially at the juncture of 25A and Stony Brook Road.

“Today there is an alternative that is being presented by our county Legislature and that is to preserve this vital open space,” she said. “And we stand in support of the preservation of this land.”

Englebright said he wrote a letter to the New York State Department of Transportation asking it to deny any application for curb cuts on 25A. He said the town needs to change the zoning in Smithtown. While it made sense for the property to be zoned for business when Gyrodyne tested helicopter blades, the assemblyman said it should no longer apply to the residential area.

“If this proposal is allowed to go forward it will paralyze the communities of Stony Brook and St. James,” Englebright said, adding it would bring mid-Manhattan-style traffic to the area. “It will be like driving a stake into the heart of St. James.”

Gyrodyne could not be reached for comments by press time.

Lawyer Edward Flood is challenging incumbent Kara Hahn for the county legislator seat in the 5th district. Photos by Desiree Keegan.

By Rita J. Egan

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is seeking re-election for her fourth term Nov. 7. Challenging her is Republican Edward Flood of South Setauket. A lawyer with offices in Smithtown and Port Jefferson, he is the chief of staff for state Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue).

Hahn and Flood sat down at the Times Beacon Record News Media office in October to discuss their stances on various issues, with the county’s growing debt and poor credit rating serving as a backdrop.

Hahn, chairwoman of the Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee, said she has worked on a water quality program that helps homeowners obtain grants up to $11,000 to replace their outdated septic systems or cesspools with advanced wastewater technologies, which are designed to significantly reduce nitrogen pollution. Hahn said older septic systems create nitrogen issues in local waterways since they don’t remove the chemical and can leave between 55 and 80 parts of nitrogen per million — drinking water is acceptable at 10 parts per million.

“We need to come to the table and we need to put a more appropriate budget out there and work to solve some of these crises.”

— Edward Flood

“It degrades our resilience — coastal resiliency — by degrading our marshlands, the nitrogen in the water actually hurts the grasses that grow and protect us and as an island that’s important,” Hahn said.

She said the county secured grants for $6 million over three years for which homeowners can apply.

“I’m fully supportive of that project; it’s just that we have to find ways to pay for it ourselves,” Flood said.

He pointed out the county borrowed $30 million against the sewer stabilization fund and will have to start paying the money back. He said the county needs to work with other levels of government, especially federal, to come up with more money for projects in the future.

Both candidates discussed providing more affordable housing options. Hahn said she is in favor of increasing the percentage of inexpensive options available, which is now 15 to 20 percent, and working with developers to ensure that buildings include more one-bedroom and studio apartments.

Flood said he supports programs where first-time homeowners receive assistance with down payments. He also suggested mandate relief to bring property taxes down by having every organization that receives tax benefits go through their budgets and find state mandates that may not be regionally appropriate.

Flood said to stimulate the county’s economy new businesses need to be attracted to the area. He is supportive of the group Long Island Needs a Drag Strip building a strip in Suffolk County. He said it is estimated it could bring in $40 million in tax revenues due to concessions, ticket sales and businesses that open around tracks such as high-end motor vehicle parts stores and hotels.

“We faced a $500 million deficit when I took office, and we have cut that down significantly by making very difficult cuts to staffs, combining departments.”

— Kara Hahn

Hahn said she believes a convention center near MacArthur airport, Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood or Kings Park would be a boon to the economy because it would bring in off-season visitors.

Flood said the high cost of living and poor economic outlook is his top concern as he has watched friends leave the island for better opportunities. He said the county needs to stem the tide on taxes.

“We need to come to the table and we need to put a more appropriate budget out there and work to solve some of these crises,” Flood said.

The legislator-hopeful pointed to Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy’s (R) auditing receipts, which led him to discover overpayments to one emergency homeless shelter.

“We have a lot of money that we waste, and not just the way we grant and the way we give out grants, and we’re finding [this] out as we audit,” he said.

Hahn said she feels the county legislators have been responsible budget managers.

“We faced a $500 million deficit when I took office, and we have cut that down significantly by making very difficult cuts to staffs, combining departments,” Hahn said. “We have done fiscally responsible things to get a handle on it, and when you have a budget of $3 billion and have a structural imbalance over three years of a $150 million, give or take, it’s reasonable,” Hahn said.

The streets of Stony Brook were filled with more than 300 runners and an estimated 460 walkers participating in the Walk for Beauty and Hercules on the Harbor 10K Run Oct. 22. Cancer survivors along with family members and friends collect donations to support their walk or run, which takes them through the scenic and historic Stony Brook. All proceeds go directly to a targeted research fund at Stony Brook Medicine for Breast Cancer Research and The WMHO Unique Boutique for wigs.

Bob de Zafra, fourth from left, seen here April 21 during a dedication of additional land to Patriots Hollow State Forest, was committed to preserving open spaces and maintaining the historical integrity of the Three Village area. File photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

When he passed Oct. 10 at age 85 from complications following knee replacement surgery, civic leader Bob de Zafra left behind a legacy in the Three Village area that will be remembered for decades.

The professor and scientist

A resident of Setauket for more than 50 years, de Zafra was a former president of what is now known as the Three Village Civic Association and Three Village Historical Society, as well as a co-founder of the Three Village Community Trust. His love for the area began when he moved from Connecticut to start his career in Stony Brook University’s physics department as a professor, according to Linwood Lee, a research professor at SBU.

“He helped establish experimental physics in our physics department, which was very heavily theoretical at the time, and he was really a leader in doing that,” Lee said.

He added that de Zafra conducted research in atmospheric physics, which led to him studying the Earth’s ozone layer. During trips to the South Pole and McMurdo Sound in Antarctica, de Zafra and his SBU colleagues discovered in 1986 that chlorofluorocarbon, a type of hydrocarbon, was a cause for the expansion of the ozone hole. In honor of his revolutionary climate-change work there, an Antarctic rock ridge now bears his last name.

The civic leader

Bob de Zafra at a recent civic association meeting. File photo

In the 2002 Men and Women of the Year issue of The Village Times Herald, in which he was named Man of the Year in Civics as a “steadfast preservationist,” the professor emeritus said he saw his hometown in Connecticut “ruined” by development.

“I was sure that wherever I lived, I was going to do my best to make sure that sort of destruction didn’t happen,” he said.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said de Zafra accomplished his goal. When Englebright was running for county legislator 35 years ago, he said the Setauket resident approached him and told him there was a need to protect Detmer Farm, across from the Setauket Post Office on Route 25A. The property was eventually saved from development.

“It was the centerpiece of good planning,” Englebright said. “If we won the effort to protect that open space it would mean that we had protected an important part of the watershed of Setauket Harbor and the viewshed of everyone who visits our community, or we would have taken a step toward becoming something like Queens.”

The assemblyman said the importance of saving the Detmer Farm property was only the first of countless lessons he learned from de Zafra. Englebright said a traffic island once existed at North County Road and Ridgeway Avenue adjacent to Gallery North, and with de Zafra’s encouragement, he secured the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department to cover the road with truckloads of soil.

“It was one of the first restorations that rolled back the development wave, and it was Bob that said this should be accomplished,” Englebright said.

The assemblyman said he was impressed by how de Zafra, who was instrumental in the preservation of Forsythe Meadow in Stony Brook, used his own resources to buy older houses in the area and renovate them including his own home. With the woodlands behind his property, he bought the land parcel by parcel to protect the trees; the land includes a meadow of flowers. Most recently the civic leader bought the historic Timothy Smith House, recognized as the first town hall in Brookhaven, to renovate it.

“The model of what he did with his own personal resources to enhance our community is a heroic profile,” Englebright said. “He did it quietly without fanfare but in my mind he is a civic hero of the first order. He lived what he preached and was absolutely genuine.”

Bob de Zafra in his Stony Brook University office in 1976. File photo

Three Village Historical Society historian Beverly C. Tyler and de Zafra met in 1974 when the Three Village Bicentennial Committee formed. Tyler said de Zafra was responsible for the greening of 25A by having 222 trees planted along the road from the Stony Brook train station to East Setauket, and he was instrumental in convincing local shopping centers to use unified signs.

In The Village Times Dec. 30, 1976, de Zafra was named Man of the Year for his greening efforts. The professor said during his commute to SBU he became frustrated with what he felt was the destruction of Route 25A. While he was part of the civic association, the organization had other priorities at the time, so he saw the forming of the bicentennial committee as an opportunity to beautify the road. Through letter writing and fundraising, de Zafra raised more than $13,000 for the planting.

“You only get a chance to do something like this once every 100 years,” he said during the 1976 interview. “I’m glad I grabbed hold of mine when it came my way.”

The success of the project and many others of de Zafra’s didn’t surprise Tyler.

“Bob was very well organized and relentless,” Tyler said. “He just took on a project and was a bear about it. He just kept at it no matter what the problem was until he got a successful conclusion. He was very good at talking to people and getting them to see his point of view without overwhelming them.”

Herb Mones, a former president of the Three Village Civic Association, met de Zafra 25 years ago through the organization and praised his friend for working with builders and local elected officials to curb development and maintain the historical and architectural integrity of the area. Mones said right up until de Zafra passed, he attended any event that was for the benefit of Three Village residents. Mones said his friend felt a responsibility to make the area a better place to live in.

“The thing that always impressed me is that Bob had a tremendous amount of energy and interest in preserving, protecting and enhancing the community in every way possible,” Mones said.

Current Three Village Civic Association President Jonathan Kornreich, who considers de Zafra a friend and mentor, echoed Mones’ sentiments.

“I can’t think of three people together who could fill his shoes, so great was the depth of his energy, passion and knowledge,” Kornreich said.

Local author John Broven also met de Zafra through the civic association and said the former president’s accomplishments were admirable as he fought random development rigorously, unknown to most residents.

“If Bob had been born in England, like his wife Julia, he would assuredly have been granted a knighthood for being such a dedicated community gatekeeper, let alone his incredible scientific achievements,” Broven said.

Bob de Zafra, second from right, with Norma and Walter Watson and his wife Julia at a Three Village HIstorical Society event. Photo by Maria Hoffman

Cynthia Barnes, co-founder of the Three Village Community Trust with de Zafra, said he knew a great deal of municipality and zoning code laws and was a skillful researcher. His contributions were vitally important to the trust’s mission of preserving local properties, which included moving the Rubber Factory Houses to the trust’s Bruce House headquarters.

“He was able to grasp the whole picture yet delve into the details to see where the trouble lay, and point to the areas of weakness to try to strengthen them,” Barnes said.

“He certainly brought us a long way toward [preserving],” Barnes said. “Because I think everything we saved, with the help of our elected officials as well, he was definitely a motivating force.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said de Zafra worked with her and her team on various issues and initiatives over the last few years. Most recently he was part of the Citizens Advisory Committee for Route 25A.

“Bob’s untimely passing is just before the acceptance of the 25A community visioning document later this month,” Cartright said. “Bob cared so deeply for community land use issues and for this project, and we would like to find a way to honor and recognize Bob’s massive body of work and contributions during the process and in the future.”

The person

On top of his accomplishments, those who knew him praised de Zafra as a modest man.

“He wouldn’t want to be called ‘doctor,’ he wanted to be called Bob,” Mones said. “He never referenced his degree, his status within his field, his experiences that he had. He never used that as criteria in determining what he had to say or what he was doing. It was always based upon on the merits of the case.”

Englebright said de Zafra will be remembered by many as a man of action.

“He was the leading voice for protecting the essence of this place,” the assemblyman said. “It wasn’t just his voice, it was his action as well.”

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who worked closely with de Zafra while she was president of the civic association, summed up how his family and friends were feeling the day of his funeral Oct. 17.

“The loss of Bob de Zafra leaves a hole in our collective heart,” she said. “He played a vital role in so many organizations as a watchdog for our community. Meticulous, passionate, diligent, generous, persistent and charming in his own way — he will be missed.”

The area east of Comsewogue High School and south of Route 112 will be protected under new legislation. Image from Google Maps

A Suffolk County legislator is looking to protect Port Jefferson Station and Terryville’s groundwater, and if her plan reaches completion, it will also preserve a massive chunk of green space.

The county passed a bill sponsored by 5th District Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) Oct. 3 that allows Suffolk to begin seeking appraisals from landowners of 62 separate properties within the Terryville Greenbelt, an approximately 75-acre plot of land, of which about 40 acres has already been preserved by Town of Brookhaven through open space land acquisitions.

The town is allowed by law to acquire open space based upon environmental sensitivity. Hahn’s bill allows for the appraisal of about 17 acres of the remaining unprotected land within the parcel, designated as a special groundwater protection area, located south of Route 112 and adjacent to the rear of Comsewogue High School. The bill requires signing by County Executive Steve Bellone (D) before it becomes law; then further legislation will be required to complete the purchases.

“For the past 50 years the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville community has worked to offset its rapid growth with safeguards of its quality of life and environment,” Hahn said in a statement. She also serves as the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee. “Protecting these parcels, located within a special groundwater protection area in perpetuity highlights the continued commitment of Suffolk County to being a partner in this careful balance that ensures not only the local environment but also our resident’s quality of life.”

The plan has been in the works since 2003, when Terryville resident and preservation proponent Louis Antoniello began advocating for the protection of the greenbelt. After years with minimal action, in 2010, with support from former Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko (D) and former Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld (D-East Setauket), Brookhaven purchased 16 parcels of open space within the Terryville Greenbelt for $648,000.

“The dream of creating a greenbelt around Comsewogue High School started back in 2003 — we never gave up on the dream and now the dream is going to become a reality,” Antoniello said in a statement. “The preservation of the property helps to protect our drinking water; creates an ecosystem for the many species of animals that make the greenbelt their home and it creates a living biology classroom for the children in the Comsewogue school district.”

Antoniello, who thanked Hahn and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for their efforts in advancing the legislation during a phone interview, said the preservation of the land is important because it filters more than a million gallons of water per year that then proceeds into an aquifer, which holds much of the area’s drinking water. Antoniello also served as chairman of the Land Use, Parks and Open Space Committee for a 2008 Port Jefferson Station/Terryville hamlet study done in cooperation with the town.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, nearly all of Long Island’s drinking water comes from underground aquifers.

Charles McAteer, chairman of the Setauket to Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail and also advocate for the preservation of open space, spoke in favor of Hahn’s bill.

“It is good to see more acres set aside to remain as Long Island woods for future generations to enjoy,” he said in an email. “This will allow the treed land to filter down rainwater to our Long Island aquifer system. It is a win-win for all of us in the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville hamlet.”

Task force inspires local governments to join forces

Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn, Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Laurie Vetere and George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, sign a memorandum of understanding to protect Setauket Harbor Sept. 23. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Cooperation between members of government, especially from differing political parties, is a scarce natural resource these days, but don’t tell that to leaders from Brookhaven Town, Suffolk County and New York State. Setauket Harbor and the surrounding area is set to be the beneficiary of that cooperation, as leaders from each of the three municipalities formed an agreement Sept. 23 aiming to protect the historic and natural resources of the harbor.

“The Parties are committed to conserving, improving, protecting and interpreting Setauket Harbor’s historic and natural resources and environment through preservation of historic sties, wildlife areas and viewsheds to enable appropriate uses of harbor resources,” the agreement read in part. It also stated that preventing, abating and controlling water, land and air pollution will be a part of enhancing the health and safety of the people who live within or visit the Setauket Harbor Watershed.

The agreement is a Memorandum of Understanding, meaning it is not law, but rather a set of guiding principles or a moral commitment to follow in the years ahead.

On Sept. 23, North Shore residents enjoyed Setauket Harbor Day. Photo by Alex Petroski

The cosigners of the document, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station); Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket); state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket); and representatives from the Department of Environmental Conservation and Setauket Harbor Task Force left the agreement open-ended in the hopes that other branches of government and organizations will follow suit. The Setauket Harbor Task Force, a three-year-old community organization dedicated to improving water quality and the marine habitat in the harbor, spearheaded the agreement after finding local levels of government share a common interest in protecting and improving the harbor, though they were working concurrently rather than coordinately in some ways.

The memorandum was signed on a town dock off Shore Road in Setauket as part of the third Setauket Harbor Day, an annual event established by the task force in 2015.

The first mission laid out by the document is to develop a natural and cultural resource inventory of the harbor, which will be a springboard toward creating a management plan designed to achieve the preservation goals of Setauket Harbor and the roughly three-square miles surrounding it, known as the watershed, by acquiring lands within it, preserving historic sites, sharing ideas, engaging in open, ongoing discussions and contributing funds.

“You need to have a starting point and a vision for how all these pieces come together, and I think that’s what’s so great about this designation,” said George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force.

Englebright credited the task force with getting everyone involved and focused on the problems associated with Setauket Harbor, which among others include nitrogen pollution and the presence of coliform bacteria, mostly due to storm water runoff into waterways. The harbor falls within the larger Port Jefferson Harbor Complex, which lets out into the Long Island Sound.

In Sept. 2016, state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) announced he had secured a $1 million grant from the state to be used on enhancing the quality of the harbor’s waters, and the town dock on Shore Road. Englebright thanked Flanagan for his leadership in bringing issues regarding the harbor to light, but a recent annual study completed by Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences still shows the body of water is an area of concern.

“Some of the parcels we’re trying to protect are very vulnerable,” Englebright said. He added although the agreement is only an understanding and not law, he hopes that will change in the future. “What I’m hoping we can do within the context of a completed plan is that we can revisit that question at the state legislative level and write something that may have broad applicability. I think this whole plan has the potential to be a model.”

Romaine said he was excited for the possible benefits to the environment the agreement could bring, but also for the potential economic benefit of a healthier harbor.

On Sept. 23, North Shore residents enjoyed Setauket Harbor Day. Photo by Alex Petroski

“The Harbor has been closed to shell fishing for more than 10 years,” he said. “We’d like to see it open up. We’d like to see some of the contaminants eliminated from this harbor so that it can restore itself. It’s very important to the town. I want to thank Steve because he’s done tremendous work, and we’ve worked together as colleagues for more than 35 years.”

Hahn suggested homes in the watershed could be prime candidates for Suffolk County’s Septic Improvement Program, an initiative that offers funds to homeowners within the county to replace outdated cesspools and septic system, which are major contributors to nitrogen pollution in waterways.

The federal government is not currently on board as part of the agreement, though DEC Regional Director Carrie Meek Gallagher said she expects that to change once a plan is in motion. The significance of the collaboration across party lines and municipality lines in lockstep with a community group like the task force was not lost on Cartright.

“This should be a prime example of how government on all levels should work together with the community,” she said.

Kevin McAllister, the founder of the nonprofit Defend H20, said while the agreement is a positive step, it will be largely symbolic if it is not followed up with action, and more importantly, funding.

“Providing greater funding for a host of projects, land acquisition, more protective zoning, denying shoreline hardening permits — these type actions, individually and collectively will define the resolve as put forth in the MOU,” he said in an email.

Englebright implored members of the public and community groups to not only get on board, but to take the additional step of holding elected officials to the terms of the agreement, including those who come after the incumbent lawmakers.

Setauket Harbor Day was held Sept. 23. Attendees had the opportunity to participate in free kayak tours, harbor and maritime history tours and hands-on harborside activities. There was also a sea creature touch-tank, children’s face painting and music.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) were on hand at the event hosted by the Setauket Task Force to sign a memorandum of understanding regarding a partnering to plan to conserve the historic and natural resources of the Setauket Harbor Watershed.

Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning representative Kevin Luzong mans his station at the BRT first public information meeting. Photo by Donna Newman

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is hoping to modernize the way Long Islanders get around.

A proposal from the county executive to create Suffolk’s first north-south multimodal transportation corridor to feature dedicated lanes for rapid transit buses running along Nicolls Road between Stony Brook and Patchogue, was presented for public information and comment Dec. 13 at Suffolk County Community College in Selden. Interested residents attended to gain an understanding of the concept of a Bus Rapid Transit service, which unlike traditional buses are not constrained by traffic, and the possible ways the roadway might be configured.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) attended the event and said she supports upgrading public transportation on Long Island.

“Suffolk County is working to create a 21st century economy,” she said. “This requires a modern transit system that alleviates the burden of traffic and provides more transit options for a less car-dependent workforce. This is a first look at a proposal for a plan. We need community input to flesh it out more and see where the ‘buy-in’ could be.”

Hahn said she believes the idea would have multiple positive economic and environmental outcomes.

“Bus Rapid Transit offers many of the advantages of a light rail system, but at a fraction of the cost — both for the passenger and to the municipality,” a statement from Hahn announcing the county’s first BRT public information meeting said.

The BRT system would feature state-of-the-art Wi-Fi equipped buses; use dedicated “bus only” lanes, with priority traffic signaling; provide boarding at modern, comfortable, secure stations; accept fares with prepaid fare cards or electronic passes; and connect the commuter or traveler to transit hubs, such as other bus systems, railways and airports.

The purpose of the meeting was to provide information about the proposed road conversion in order to interact with three Long Island Rail Road branches, Port Jefferson, Ronkonkoma and Babylon, and facilitate public transportation access to Long Island MacArthur Airport. Visitors to the exhibit were encouraged to submit feedback in the form of comments and questions via mail-in comment cards or by email to LIinnovationzone@suffolkcountyny.gov.

Representatives were on hand from both the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning and engineering firms that have worked on the planning stage to further explain the project and answer questions.

Debbie Brown and Stephanie Larkin, self-described PTA moms from Selden, had several concerns.

“Are they adding a lane or dedicating one of the existing lanes,” Larkin asked, adding the road is crowded enough without losing one of its lanes.

“Who, exactly, is going to use these buses?” Brown asked.

Kevin Luzong, a spokesperson for the project, addressed the residents’ concerns.

“The bus lane will be created within the existing roadway in the median or through a repurposing of the shoulder,” he said. As for people who might be interested in using public transportation, he mentioned millennials, like himself, who utilize services across Long Island, including colleges, research facilities, and new housing options, like the Ronkonkoma Hub being developed near that railroad station.

Brown was skeptical that Long Island could be converted from a “car culture.”

“We, as parents, would have to get our kids used to buses at an early age,” she said, adding that parents might be hesitant to do so in today’s world.

BRT systems exist in more than 190 cities around the globe, allowing passengers to arrive at their destinations faster, while reducing road congestion.

The proposal did not include a potential cost for the project, though the county is examining grant-funding possibilities to help taxpayers cover the bill if the project comes to fruition.

‘Tis the season for tree lightings and holiday festivals.

Stony Brook Village and the Ward Melville Heritage Organization hosted the 37th annual Holiday Festival and Holiday Tree Competition Dec. 4 at the Stony Brook Village Center.

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