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Margot Garant

Village Mayor Margot Garant, left, and John Jay LaValle, right. File photos

As signs for both candidates are loudly displayed across the village in preparation for the June 18 vote, mayoral challenger John Jay LaValle and incumbent Mayor Margot Garant stepped into the TBR News Media offices June 10 to share real policy about the ongoing issues in Port Jeff.

Staff issues

LaValle has made clear his issues with some village employees. Specifically, he referenced Parking and Mobility Administrator Kevin Wood. He has compared it to Patchogue, where two parking meter officers are each paid just under $65,000 annually to write tickets and manage the meters. 

Wood is paid a similar salary to the two officers, though Garant said he is in charge of repairs and IT work involving the way the meters send information to the code enforcement in regard to timed meters. She added Wood has been involved in other village programs, such as the Jitney and cameras around the village.

“He runs around the village in addition to what he oversees in our parking,” she said.

LaValle called that a false equivalency between Patchogue and Port Jeff’s parking administrations. He called Wood “your [public relations] guy” — there’s not a moment I don’t see him following you around with a camera.”

Garant said in addition to his duties as village employee, he creates video for the village with his company FPS Inc. at $12,000 a year.

“He never does that when he’s on the clock, he’s always off the clock.” Garant said.

LaValle said he does not believe Wood was qualified for the position.

Crime

LaValle said the uptown area has become intense in its illicit activity and said there has not been enough done to rectify it. He cites prostitution, drug dealing and a murder that occurred in July of last year just outside the Port Jefferson Billiards BDM.

He said in speaking to law enforcement that numerous buildings are fronts for drugs and prostitution, and they are currently collecting data.

“We literally have a slum right in front of us,” he said. “It’s literally a ghetto, and that’s the kind of thing that occurs there.”

The mayor said she talked consistently with the Suffolk County Police Department about illicit activity in Upper Port. She called her current relationship with the SCPD “the best it has been,” and added the security cameras having been hooked up to the county’s Real Time Crime Center is making strides in enforcing a police presence.

Garant said code enforcement is up at the station for every train and has helped bring in MTA police into the station, but she added they have no powers of arrest and can only create a presence and deal with immediate situations while waiting for police.

LaValle said the major issue with why crime has become so bad in Upper Port is due to the lethargic rate of the area’s revitalization.

Upper Port Jeff revitalization

Garant said part of the issue in redeveloping Upper Port comes down to the developers and owners of the uptown properties to manage their buildings. She said they had assisted in getting certain property owners government grants to demolish a particular property, but the negotiations with other developers stalled that progress and the grant funds were timed out, adding the problem is owners need to amass enough property in order to start real construction.

“We’re doing everything we can between revising the code, getting state grant money and partner to make applications to state agencies,” she said. 

As a last resort, she said the village would have to use eminent domain on these particular properties.

The mayoral challenger said in speaking with developers they are upset with the village, mostly in terms of getting permits for their properties. He said the planning staff have been restrictive in getting their applications through, except for specific developers.

“It shouldn’t take 10 years to take what is clearly an eyesore and turn it into a thriving uptown,” he said. “We need to bring the project to a finish, give the individuals their permits.”

The mayor said none of the developers are currently in the application process for permits. 

“The fact that people keep throwing the planning department under the rails … if he doesn’t have an application in,” she said.

She added the village is waiting for the Conifer Realty property, located in the old Bada Bing parcel, before putting in Station Street as part of her administration’s Uptown Funk project.

“You have to be careful with the density you give them, we’re only talking about four small blocks here,” Garant said.

The mayoral challenger said he does not support the Conifer development, citing an experience with them in Brookhaven Town and a need for “workforce housing, not affordable housing,” saying that affordable will eventually become Section 8 housing. He said village code should be changed to mandate affordable units in any new apartment complexes.

How the village will resist floods

With the potential for future storm surges and the threat of rising tides, Garant said the village is currently bringing a presentation to the Long Island Economic Development Council to request grant funding in terms of flood mitigation and stormwater runoff. 

She added that her administration is spending money to scope out the village’s drainage system, and the village is looking to find ways to absorb the water so it does not flood onto the village’s hardscape. 

“We’re in a bowl … these are low-lying marshland areas, it’s a great challenge,” she said. “There’s no magic bullet.”

LaValle said the village needs to look globally when it comes to flood mitigation.

“You got to bring in the best of the best, and I don’t know if we’re doing that,” he said.

Port Jefferson residents can vote on mayor and trustee candidates Tuesday, June 18, at the Village Center from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Daniel Dunaief

It’s an opportunity for a reunion, a celebration of a major employer on Long Island, and a chance to recognize the role residents played in a landmark achievement from the 1960s all rolled into one exhibition.

Kicking off tonight with a discussion and reception, the Port Jefferson Village Center will present an exhibit titled Grumman on Long Island, A Photographic Tribute featuring photographs and memorabilia from Grumman. The company, which became part of Northrop Grumman in 1994, started in 1929 and was involved in everything from the design of F-14 fighter jets to the lunar excursion module that carried astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the moon 50 years ago this July.

Sponsored by Port Jefferson Harbor Education & Arts Conservancy, the exhibition will run through February. Port Jefferson Village Historian Chris Ryon will kick off the evening and John Hiz, who is the Belle Terre village historian, will serve as the master of ceremonies.

Special guests include former Grumman employees Vinny DeStefano, vice president of manufacturing; Hank Janiesch, vice president (F-14 Program); Rodger Schafer, technical adviser; Joe “Ruggs” Ruggerio, director of electronic warfare; Harold Sheprow, a flight test manager and former mayor of Port Jefferson; Jim Reynolds Sr., an ILS engineer; and Cmdr. Jim Roth, a combat pilot and aviation test pilot who was an instructor for the first Grumman A-6 Intruder squadron.

The exhibition boasts approximately 100 photos, which former Grumman employees provided to celebrate the company’s legacy. “People are coming in every day with boxes,” said Ryon in a recent interview.

In addition to the photos, the exhibition includes a test pilot helmet and several models that are 1/10th the scale of planes, including the X29, an F-14 and the Hawkeye.

“We are anticipating a huge turnout for this exhibit,” said Margot Garant, the mayor of Port Jefferson. “Grumman was an important economic engine for Long Island.” The aerospace company attracted many people to Long Island, Garant said, and she expects that many of them will visit the exhibit to share their experiences with former co-workers. The mayor said Ryon and Hiz have received a “massive response from people” who are proud of their role at the company.

Grumman designed and produced the lunar module that helped Capt. Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert return safely from the troubled Apollo 13 mission. “We have [pictures of] Apollo 13 astronauts speaking to Grumman employees,” Ryon said.

When he was bobbing up and down after returning to Earth, Lovell recognized that Grumman helped save their lives, Hiz said. “That was a defining moment in what it meant to fly a Grumman aircraft, which was reliable, rugged and dependable,” he added.

Grumman alumni also shared their appreciation for the way the company treated them, including the yearly picnic complete with carnival rides and providing turkeys to their families during Christmas and Thanksgiving. “What’s really hit me is the emotional response people have when they talk about Grumman,” said Ryon.

Reynolds, who worked at Grumman for 40 years and retired in 2005, said the exhibit highlights all the vehicles that were tested and the ones that landed on the moon, adding he appreciated how management cared for the people who worked at the company. 

He recalled how he put his youngest son John Thomas Reynolds into the cockpit of an F-14 and told him not to touch anything. Reynolds asked his technicians to run the gear and fold the wings in and out. His son was so excited that his “eyes were tremendous,” Reynolds recalls. “For a young boy, it was really quite an experience.” 

A resident of Selden for 52 years, Reynolds said he recently ran into Vinny DeStefano, a former Grumman manager and the two former co-workers “shook hands for about an hour.”

The exhibit will also feature a test pilot section, which contains stories from Amy Tuttle, the program director at the Greater Port Jefferson-North Brookhaven Arts Council, whose father Bruce was a test pilot. Tuttle had to ditch his plane in 1951 outside of Port Jefferson Harbor (see sidebar).

Through several decades when Grumman employed over 20,000 people on Long Island, the company and the area were inextricably intertwined. “There was probably not a day that went by during the period prior to 1994 that you weren’t faced with” a Grumman connection, said Hiz, whether on WALK radio advertisements or seeing trucks on the Long Island Expressway.

Hiz described Grumman as being at the apex of the nation’s defense for so many years. At its heyday, Grumman built 70 percent of all the aircraft that flew from aircraft carriers, Hiz said. Part of what made Grumman so effective was the way the company designed each vehicle like a Swiss watch. 

“They created these fantastic flying machines with their hands. Most of the machinery, they had to build from day one,” said Hiz, adding that the work ethic of the employees and the ability to promote from within added to its resourcefulness.

Reynolds took “great pride in what I did on the program,” he said. He started as a technician in 1965 and received numerous awards, including a 10-day trip to Hawaii that he took with his wife.

“Don’t underestimate how important Grumman was to these guys who worked there and women that worked there,” Tuttle added. “They were incredibly devoted to the company. It was a corporation which was pretty unusual even then.”

The Port Jefferson Village Center, 101A East Main St., Port Jefferson will present Grumman on Long Island, A Photographic Tribute on its second- and third-floor galleries through Feb. 28. An opening reception will be held tonight, Jan. 10, from 6 to 9 p.m. with entertainment by Jazzopedia, a Grumman video tribute and light fare. For more information, call 631-802-2160. 

Sidebar:

Test pilot Bruce Tuttle brought ‘The Right Stuff’ to Long Island

By Daniel Dunaief

Bruce Tuttle

“The Right Stuff,” a phrase made famous by the late Tom Wolfe book about fighter pilots and astronauts, also thrived on Long Island.

On Dec. 10, 1951, Navy test pilot Bruce Tuttle took an F9S to varying altitudes, where he was asked to turn off the engine and then turn it back on. At 5,000 feet, everything worked as it should. Doubling that to 10,000 caused no problems. It wasn’t until 30,000 feet that the plane refused to reignite, causing a flame out.

Needing to ditch the plane, Tuttle directed it toward the Long Island Sound, ejecting into the thin air at over 5.5 miles in the sky.

Tuttle reached the frigid water, where he waited for eight minutes for help to arrive. When it did, the initial report indicated that he looked slightly better than expected. Tuttle told the Navy the only physical consequence of his fall was a scratch to his nose but he had fractured several vertebrae. Rather than take himself out of the running for future flights, Tuttle dealt with the pain and slept on a board for a year.

“All of these pilots looked at that as not only their calling, but they felt very strongly that this was important as Americans,” said Amy Tuttle, Bruce Tuttle’s youngest child and the program director at the Greater Port Jefferson-North Brookhaven Arts Council. “They were all patriotic guys.”

The plane Bruce Tuttle flew is still at the bottom of the Long Island Sound. 

The new Grumman exhibit at the Port Jefferson Village Center features several details from the test pilot’s work at the company and on behalf of the country, including a sonar image of the plane, which over the years has moved with the current under the Sound and is about two miles out from Old Field Point and the mouth of Port Jefferson Harbor. “If you take the Port Jefferson/ Bridgeport Ferry, you’re going right past the spot where dad’s plane crashed,” said Amy, whose father died in 2014.

Like other test pilots, Bruce Tuttle received a request to gauge his interest in joining the space program. He turned down the opportunity to be an astronaut because he didn’t want to be “in anything he couldn’t control,” explained Amy.

A Saks-34th Street advertisement from Oct. 11, 1953, reads, ‘Now you can own a jacket just like Bruce Tuttle’s … Chief Test Pilot for Grumman Aircraft Corp.’ Image courtesy of Amy Tuttle

Her father did, however, contribute to the space effort. When a crippled Apollo 13 was hobbling back from its ill-fated mission to the moon, he worked feverishly with other executives at NASA, Grumman and elsewhere to help guide the astronauts home.

“He’d come home from Bethpage to Stony Brook at 11 p.m., get up at 4 a.m. and go back out to Bethpage,” Amy said. “I remember asking him, ‘Dad, are you going to be able to get them back?’ He said, ‘Well, we’re working on it.’” She appreciated how her father couldn’t, and wouldn’t, guarantee a positive outcome.

Her father “worked on the lunar excursion module. They were using everybody’s knowledge that had ever worked on it to try to find a solution,” she said.

Amy thinks Apollo 13 was especially nerve wracking for test pilots like her father, who had been in combat, because it was “so important for them to get these guys on this mission back in one piece. The mindset was: no guy left behind.”

Bruce Tuttle’s interest in flying started on May 20, 1927, when his mother took him to a hillside in Port Jefferson to see Charles Lindbergh’s plane as it attempted to cross the Atlantic. Tuttle saw Lindbergh fly along the North Shore, head back as he reached Port Jefferson because of fog, and then head east again when he reached a clearing in Setauket.

“That made a big impression on him,” Amy said of her father, who won the Distinguished Flying Cross medal and who worked for Grumman from 1946 until the mid-1980s.

While Tuttle isn’t sure whether her father inspired anyone to fly jets, she said he was in an advertisement for a flight jacket from Saks-34th, which cost $15.95 in 1953.

Amy said her father was skeptical of the overuse of the word “hero.”

“He would say, ‘I’m not a hero,’ and I’m thinking to myself, you crashed a jet so that it wouldn’t land on anybody else and kill them. That’s pretty heroic.”

A view of the southern side of The Shipyard apartment building. File photo by Alex Petroski

Some things in life are priceless, but Port Jefferson Village has settled on what’s an appropriate cost for not providing green space when new developments are built.

The village board passed a resolution Aug. 20 reducing the fee levied on developer Tritec, who constructed The Shipyard at Port Jefferson Harbor, for not including sufficient public green space in the apartment complex. It establishes a new precedent for future developments that private parkland can be used to satisfy village’s green space requirements — at least in some small part — as determined on a case-by-case basis.

As a condition of the site plan approval granted for the 112-apartment complex on West Broadway, Port Jefferson’s Department of Building and Planning had required that Tritec be responsible for paying a parkland fee.

Alison LaPointe, special village attorney for building and planning, said a parkland fee is commonly imposed by municipalities. Town of Brookhaven utilizes a multiplier formula that requires 1,500 square feet of public green space per unit in a housing development or $1,000 fine per unit if that space can’t be provided.

The fee is intended to require real estate developers to consider preserving or creating green and recreational spaces when building large complexes. It has been imposed on other projects in the village, like The Hills at Port Jefferson, built by The Gitto Group, on Texaco Avenue. The Gitto Group, rather than paying a fee or including public parkland on its property, invested in renovations to a nearby, village-owned park on Texaco Avenue to satisfy village code requirements.

The issue has been unresolved pertaining to The Shipyard, according to LaPointe, as village attorney Brian Egan has been corresponding with Tritec Vice President Rob Kent to determine if private recreation areas provided for tenants of The Shipyard could qualify to satisfy some of its requirement. The Shipyard offers a rooftop recreational space and a ground-level plaza area for its tenants, which LaPointe and staff from the town’s building and planning department ruled could satisfy the parkland requirement for about 21 of the complex’s 112 units based on square footage.

“In the past we have utilized the Town of Brookhaven’s [formula] as they have a multiplier — either 1,500 square feet per unit or $1,000 per unit,” she said. “The square footage I don’t really have a problem with. I believe that $1,000 is a relatively antiquated number in this day and age. You can’t really buy 1,500 square feet of anything for $1,000. Our multiplier that was proposed was $1,500, so not a massive increase. And again, our calculations came down to that they provided enough green space for a portion of their 112 units, but still did not have parkland for the remaining 91, which results in a fee of about $136,500 in parkland.”

The Aug. 20 resolution effectively set a $1,500 fee per square foot of green space not provided. Trustee Bruce Miller was the lone village board member opposed to the resolution.

“I am appalled at this,” he said. “We are taking recreational space that every luxury apartment has to provide if they’re going to attract tenants and we’re dedicating that to the specific use of the tenants only and we’re calling that public space or green space. It’s not public space.”

Village Mayor Margot Garant disagreed with Miller.

“I think it’s appropriate to give a credit because you also want to encourage these [developers] to build nice places that have the amenities, that have certain areas that are green space, that are attributable to the living area,” she said.

A spokesperson for Tritec did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

File photo

By Alex Petroski

What’s old will be new again.

Port Jefferson Village residents took to the polls June 20 with few options, as incumbent Mayor Margot Garant; incumbent trustees Larry LaPointe and Stanley Loucks; and judge John F. Reilly each ran without opposition. Garant received 427 votes, LaPointe 410, Loucks 394 and Reilly 371. No write-in candidate for any of the four seats received more than 10 votes according to Village Clerk Bob Juliano.

Garant will begin her fifth term in office while LaPointe embarks on his fourth and Loucks his second. Terms last for two years.

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The abandoned train cars on the railroad line along the west side of Main Street are covered in graffiti. Photo by Alex Petroski

In the midst of a massive beautification process in upper Port Jefferson, village officials and residents have voiced displeasure over two abandoned train cars sitting on the railroad line on the west side of Main Street between Linden Place and Wilson Street. The cars are no longer in use on the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road line and have sat near the train station since January, according to Mayor Margot Garant.

In an email, Garant called the abandoned cars a nuisance, a “complete and total eyesore,” and an “invitation to deface public property.” The cars are covered in graffiti, including some profanity, and Garant said she and the village board are concerned the area might be an attractive spot for homeless people or “individuals possibly involved with drug use.”

Port Jefferson resident and business owner Barbara Sabatino voiced concerns about the cars during a village board meeting April 3.

“There’s a lot of vulgarities on there, and when I walk back to my car I’m looking at the sign for Mr. Gitto’s property that says he’s taking applications for the apartments, and they’re looking directly at these cars that have a lot of ‘F’ words on them,” she said. The Gitto Group, a real estate development company, constructed The Hills at Port Jefferson, which are two apartment buildings in upper Port that opened in 2016 and overlook the train tracks.

Another resident, Marge McCuen, spoke out during the meeting about the cars.

“You’re getting the grant money to make all of these improvements, and then they come and dump that garbage here — it’s a disgrace,” she said.

In January, the village received a $250,000 grant from Suffolk County’s Jumpstart program to improve parking at the railroad station and other cleanup efforts. They also received $500,000 from New York State through Empire State Development, the state’s economic development arm, as part of the Restore New York Communities Initiative, which was created to support municipalities in rehabilitating blighted commercial properties. That money will be used to beautify businesses near the train tracks. In addition, Garant said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has dedicated about $1.8 million in funds to contribute to the train station’s main parking lot.

Garant said representatives from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have told her the plan is to take the cars to a “scrap yard” in Yaphank.

The Port Jefferson Frigate became the center of a controversy over a pro-Donald Trump sign last weekend that read “In Trump we trust.” Photo by Courtney Biondo

A decades-old Port Jefferson Village candy and ice cream store became the subject of a heated political debate over the weekend, after the business owner hung a large sign reading “In Trump we trust” from the building’s façade in anticipation of President Donald Trump’s (R) inauguration Jan. 20.

The Port Jefferson Frigate, also called Roger’s Frigate, is owned by George Wallis and has been a staple in the Port Jeff community for generations. Wallis authorized for the banner to be hung at his business Jan. 20 as a sign of support for the incoming president on Inauguration Day, according to Roger Rutherford, the general manager of the business who also maintains the property. Rutherford, who has worked at the Frigate for 20 years, said in a phone interview that Wallis declined to comment on the banner, but authorized Rutherford to comment on his behalf.

After a weekend of expressions of support and opposition from the community by phone and in the store, according to Rutherford, the banner was no longer visible as of the morning of Jan. 23. Rutherford said Wallis had planned all along to remove the banner after the weekend, despite a statement by email from Barbara Sakovich, a representative from Village Mayor Margot Garant’s office, which said an “order to remedy” was sent to the business Jan. 20 because the banner was in violation of section 250-31D(2)(iv) of the village code. Rutherford also called responses to the banner from the community “overwhelmingly positive.”

Rutherford said he and Wallis didn’t believe the code prohibited the banner, and opposition to its positioning could be attributed to an effort to target Wallis based on his political beliefs.

“Throughout the election I can drive around this entire village and see signs for presidential candidates, senators, local government — and that’s completely okay,” he said. “I think it’s targeting Mr. Wallis for his political views. I think we have a little bit of a double standard here.”

Garant, who said the phone was “ringing off the hook,” with complaints at village hall over the course of the weekend, addressed the claim the violation was issued because of the political message of the sign.

“We wrote the violation based on our code,” she said in an interview. “We try and get anybody — resident, commercial business owner, commercial property owner — to comply with the code. Putting up a sign like that knowing that it’s not going to comply with the code, the village did its job. I stand behind the village for writing the violation based on the material, the size and the way the sign was hung.”

Garant said the sign was removed in a timely manner and no further action would be required.

Rutherford added he and Wallis hope Trump “could successfully move the country forward,” and that the Inauguration Day should have been a time for the country to come together towards reaching common goals.

“It was up there in a congratulatory way,” Rutherford said of the banner.

A Facebook page was set up over the weekend calling for the community to boycott the establishment, and as of Monday morning the page had been liked by 88 people. After reaching out to the creator of the page for a comment, the page was deleted. It is not clear who was responsible for creating it. Rutherford said he and Wallis had a busy weekend business-wise, so they didn’t have a chance to see any social media response to the banner, nor did he feel the business felt any effects from the calls for a boycott. Garant said she encouraged the creator of the page to take it down.

“We’re really not concerned about it at all,” Rutherford said of the possible impact the political statement might have on business.

Another page was created Jan. 22 in support of the business.

“This page is solely intended to support the PJ Frigate and their right to political freedom without fear of repercussions, which is an American right and freedom,” a post on the page said.

A sign in support of Trump also hung from the building in the days leading up to the election, and Rutherford said the response was similarly mixed at that time.

This version was updated with comments from Margot Garant Jan. 25.

Rob Gitto and his son Ryan ride The Gitto Group’s float during Port Jefferson Village’s 2016 Santa Parade. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

A prominent Port Jefferson-based real estate development company opened a 38-unit apartment building in upper Port Jefferson earlier in 2016, but the father-son team behind the project is about much more than turning a profit.

Port Jefferson native Tony Gitto, who now lives in Belle Terre, and his son Rob have been in the business of developing communities together since 2002, when Rob joined the family business.

Their apartment building on Texaco Avenue, which opened in July in upper Port, is not only a business venture for Rail Realty LLC, a division of The Gitto Group, but also a major step in a villagewide effort to revitalize uptown and turn it into a suitable gateway for Port Jefferson’s downtown, waterfront community.

For their impact on the Port Jefferson community and dedication to making it a great place in which to live, Times Beacon Record News Media names The Gitto Group as People of the Year for 2016.

Rob Gitto of The Gitto Group. Photo from Gitto

When the company decided to build The Hills at Port Jefferson on Texaco Avenue, the plan was to develop in two stages because they weren’t sure if there would be enough demand to fill the units. A month ahead of the designated opening of the first phase, which housed 38 units, a waiting list already existed for phase two. Thirty-six more apartments will be filled in the summer of 2017 when the building is estimated to be ready.

“I think they took a lot of risk to put the shovel in the ground,” Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant said in an interview. “It’s a huge undertaking to do a project like that.” Garant actually grew up across the street from the Gittos.

Rob Gitto said the group saw an opportunity to try to improve a part of the community that needed attention. Garant said the village is actively seeking state and county grants to aid in the development of Port Jeff, and 74 housing units could have a massive impact in achieving that mission.

“Our whole goal with re-branding upper Port was making sure when you came to the [train] tracks, you have that same sort of gateway that you get down the hill,” Garant said. “You can’t do it by yourself. You need that private sector person to be willing to make the investment and then you as a municipal government, you need to be there to support them if it’s the right project. I think a lot of times ‘developer’ just gets such a negative connotation. We’re building our future.”

Garant said she hopes the influx of residents will have a large impact on businesses in the village.

“Tonight is going to be a cold and quiet night in the village — these merchants still have rents to pay,” she said.

Rob Gitto, who has since moved to Poquott, acknowledged that lifting up a community where he and his family grew up is an added bonus to business success.

“We’re a business and we’re looking to make a profit, but at the same time we’re hoping it jump-starts revitalization up there,” he said. “A lot of our tenants go to [PJ Lobster House] and use the dry cleaner. Hopefully [the businesses] are feeling the effect of people living up there.”

The Hills at Port Jefferson opened in upper Port in July. Photo from Rob Gitto

The elder Gitto, who remains involved with the business, reiterated his son’s sentiments regarding the balance between business success and community service that the group has achieved.

“I believe that the village has the potential to be one of the finest communities on Long Island with all that it has to offer residents, visitors and businesses,” he said in an email. “The Hills development was an appealing option for The Gitto Group as it provided an opportunity to improve the uptown area, and provide facilities for young people to stay in the community and be the future of the community. In addition, the development was a great economic opportunity for our company.”

Barbara Ransome, the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce director of operations, said she appreciates the Gittos for their impact on the village’s business world, but their love of landscaping and dedication to beautifying their properties and other village properties is part of what makes them so special to the community. Rob Gitto said they also contribute donations throughout the year to the village and local charities.

“The family is just first class,” Ransome said in an interview. “It’s not just a flash. It’s consistent. They’ve been very generous to this community and they’re a nice family.”

Ransome said their properties, like the CVS on Main Street near Barnum Avenue, are stunning in the springtime after thousands of flowers are planted.

Garant called the father-and-son team “perfect gentlemen,” and recognized them for embracing Port Jeff’s slogan and their efforts to make it come true. It encourages visitors to stop by the destination village “for a day, or for a lifetime.”

“The only way it’s going to work [in upper Port] is if everybody does their part,” Rob Gitto said. “Hopefully we can make it a better location for people to come visit and live. We don’t want people to just drive through uptown anymore.”

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Meters in Port Jefferson. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The holidays have come early for anyone who has experienced the frustration of circling Main Street, to Arden Place, to East Main Street, to East Broadway and back to Main Street countless times in search of Port Jefferson’s most sought-after natural resource — a free parking space.

In keeping with annual tradition, Mayor Margot Garant announced the suspension of metered parking in village lots effective Dec. 5 through March 15, 2017, in a video posted on Port Jeff’s website, which had more than 27,000 views at the time of publication. Parking in a village-metered lot ordinarily costs 25 cents per half hour and is enforced from 10 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. Parking on village streets is free, though there are varying time restrictions in most areas. Port Jeff Village residents always park for free in metered lots with special stickers on their cars, and for the time being, non-residents are afforded the same luxury.

Garant said, at a board meeting earlier in December, the idea behind suspending metered parking is to encourage visitors in the winter months to shop at and patronize Port Jeff businesses in the traditionally warm-weather destination. She added that in previous years the suspension of metered parking has extended into April if the weather in the area is particularly damaging for businesses in a given winter season.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant announces the suspension of metered parking through March 15 in village lots. Photo from Port Jeff Village website

In the video, Garant watches kids ice skate at The Rinx located outside the Village Center. She then slides a blue cover over the meter in the parking lot adjacent to the ice rink.

“During the holiday season and during the winter months, come on down to the Village of Port Jefferson, come visit us, park for free, visit our restaurants and please support our local merchants,” Garant says in the video.

Revenue raised from metered parking is reinvested into various village projects, according to Garant. Deputy Mayor Larry LaPointe, who is also the board’s liaison to the parking committee, estimated the fund from parking meters has about $900,000 in it currently.

If it were unclear how big an issue parking is in Port Jefferson, on the village’s Port Jefferson Facebook page, the pinned post featuring the video had 480 shares and more than three times as many likes as any other post on the page in December. Comments on the post indicate most visitors to the village wish parking were free year-round, and others are more likely to visit because of the suspension.

“Love being down Port in the off season,” Yvette Ortiz-Baugh said.

One commenter suggested the difficult parking deters her from visiting the area.

“Parking has become a big nuisance and we go less often to shop there now,” Sue Korpus Ditkowsky said.

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Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant shows attendees at a public hearing Sept. 26 plans for the revitalization of Port Jefferson Station. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson Village is looking to bring Uptown Funk to Port Jefferson Station, but it’ll need some help.

The Port Jefferson Village board of trustees plans to submit a funding proposal to the Empire State Development Corporation to breathe new life into upper Port Jefferson.

The plans are part of the Restore New York Communities Initiative, which was funded in the 2015-16 state budget for the sole purpose of supporting municipalities in rehabilitating blighted commercial properties.

If awarded, the funding proposal would grant the village up to $500,000 to be used to clean up five adjacent parcels near the intersection of Perry Street and Main Street, about a block north of the Long Island Rail Road station. The village is calling the multiphased project Uptown Funk.

Mayor Margot Garant said during a public hearing on the matter Sept. 26 that the village plans to apply for the grant yearly in the hopes of redeveloping multiple areas in upper Port over time. The grant will also require the village to match at least 10 percent of the $500,000 toward the project, according to Garant.

“The $500,000 can be used for sidewalk restoration, demolition, redevelopment, parking lot improvements — all the things that would be necessary to help a developer make an improvement to this area.”

— Margot Garant

The location was selected following a blight study in May, which targeted several areas in Port Jefferson Station in need of attention. The buildings named in the funding proposal were ultimately chosen because of the village’s belief that the property owner will cooperate. The grant requires a willing participant from the private sector. Currently the buildings on the property are vacant.

Village grant writer Nicole Christian said she expects to hear back regarding the application by the spring of 2017, and at the moment no concrete parameters have been established for how exactly the money would be put to use.

“The $500,000 can be used for sidewalk restoration, demolition, redevelopment, parking lot improvements — all the things that would be necessary to help a developer make an improvement to this area,” Garant said. “The $500,000 is sort of loosely prescribed, and what I mean by that is we’re not told we have to put it into sidewalks, or told we have to put it into one aspect of the project. So as far as we see it, it enables the village to bring $500,000 to the table to help incentivize a project that will give back to the village perhaps more of what it would like to see, which is a strong, anchor retail establishment on the main floor, or a restaurant with housing above.”

Trustee Bruce D’Abramo expressed his excitement to get the project started.

“I’m really happy to see the village moving forward on this particular issue,” he said of the revitalization of Port Jefferson Station. “It has been a clear goal of mine since I became a trustee to do something about upper Port, and this is one of the mechanisms that I’m happy we can embrace.”

Trustee Larry Lapointe also voiced support for the plan.

“I think this particular corner is perhaps the worst corner uptown,” he said. “The two buildings that are on site were deemed to be so unsafe that we had to vacate and board them up. Two of the lots behind are magnets for homeless people, and we’re constantly working with the owners to get camps moved out of that area when they spring up. It’s sorely in need of redevelopment.”

Barbara Ransome, director of operations for The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, addressed the proposal during the hearing.

“The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce certainly supports this potential funding and really feels it’s very important, especially in upper Port, in our business community there, and as a gateway coming into the village,” she said. “It’s critical for this type of development to continue.”

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