Tags Posts tagged with "Mayor Margot Garant"

Mayor Margot Garant

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Some residents and village officials object to a reduced recreation fee for private facilities at The Shipyard, here seen originally in construction. File photo by Alex Petroski

The Village of Port Jefferson has a lot of apartments on its plate, both those developments already settled into their foundations and those still in the hopper. 

So far, the experience for Port Jeff community members and officials alike has not left the greatest impressions.

Some points have become so contested that village officials voted to change the code to prevent similar experiences in the future.

The village held three public hearings Sept. 3 to propose changes to the village code. Two code changes were in direct response to complaints of the development of separate apartment complexes. One code change was for payment in lieu of parking and the other on what counts for reducing the recreational space fee owed to the village.

In the latter case, the village has moved to excise rooftop decks, patios and other common areas not accessible to the general public from being considered park or recreational facilities for the purposes of developers reducing the parkland fee paid to the village.

Mayor Margot Garant said the change has come after review of comments from the community, especially in regard to the fee paid by Tritec Real Estate Company, of which the mayor said is over $50,000, is still owed to the village.

“As we cannot enjoy the rooftop deck at Shipyard, we don’t think that should be taken into consideration when taking a calculation of the fee,” she said.

In August 2018, the village passed a resolution reducing the fee levied on Tritec for not including sufficient public green space, with the mayor arguing at the time the desire to have developers build amenities and green space for use by their tenants. At that time, Trustee Bruce Miller vehemently disagreed with the decision.

Just over a year since then, at the Sept. 3 meeting, Garant argued for a “bright line” code for the planning board to take into account in future developments, this time specifically pointing to the Tritec development for the code change.

Not all Port Jeff residents saw this as a complete victory. Michael Mart, a longtime Port Jefferson resident and regular watchdog, said he applauded the change, but argued the code as it previously stood could have been interpreted to prevent developments like Shipyard from getting recreation fees lowered for private amenities. 

“The planning board members shouldn’t make the difference because the code governs what the planning board does,” Mart said.

Garant disagreed. 

“[The recreation fee] was meant to make sure the village was getting an appropriate recreation fee for the stress that it puts on our public amenities,” she said. “Not to subtract the private amenities. I don’t think the language is strong enough as it exists to make that a protocol.”

Barbara Sabatino, a member of the planning board, said it had been informed the facilities would not be off limits to nonresidents.

“At the time we made that decision we were informed by Tritec that those outside decks that have view of the harbor could be accessed by the public, that it wasn’t Tritec residents only,” she said.

Representatives of Tritec did not answer multiple phone calls for comment.

Mart said the onus should not be just on Tritec for “pulling the wool,” but on the village and planning boards for not enforcing their vision of the code. 

The mayor said the village is still owed the fee from The Shipyard, which she added they can only pursue after the developer files the deeds with the Suffolk County Clerk’s Office. 

“I can’t really say when those deeds are recorded, but as far as I’m concerned, I want my money,” she said.

Also discussed in the meeting was a change to the code on payment in lieu of parking, citing another apartment development in the space that Cappy’s Carpets once occupied.

In a March public meeting, attorney’s representing Brooks Partners LLC, a subsidiary of Port Jefferson-based Gitto Group, said the Cappy’s Carpets project, known as Brockport, would have to pay for four spaces in payment in lieu of parking. The project is set to have 78 spaces of parking for its residents and for those working in the retail stores set to be located under the new apartments. 

The New York State Department of Transportation recommended removing two on-street parking stalls along Main Street for safer access to the property on Main Street. This did not sit well with some community members who saw it as a loss of parking spots in a village desperate for more lot space.

Garant attended that March meeting and agreed with those who criticized the project for the loss.

“But for that project we would still have two on-street parking spaces,” she said.

Bruce D’Abramo, the only board member to vote “no” on this code change, said it was out of the developers’ hands, having been ordered through the state DOT.

“In the case we are talking about the applicant who had no choice in this matter, it was the DOT who removed two on-street parking spaces on a state road that the village has no real control over anyway,” he said.

Mart, again, asked why the planning board did not make it a condition of their approval of the building’s site plans to mandate paying for the loss of the on-street spots.

“The planning board had the opportunity to make it a condition on the approval,” he said.

Chris Bianco, an attorney working on behalf of the village alongside Village Attorney Brian Egan, said the planning board would be on shaky ground if it made that a condition under the current code.

Garant acknowledged the change in code could present legal trouble down the road.

“I know everybody’s hands are kinda tied,” she said. “Somebody can certainly challenge me on that and take me to court, but I would rather be on the upside of that than downside of that.”

 

The Mount Sinai Jetty will see reconstruction early September. Photo by Kyle Barr

After a decade delay and wringing of hands, the Mount Sinai Jetty project is going to start construction within a week as the end of summer closes in.

The ramp up East Beach in Port Jefferson is splashed with waves at high tide. Photo from Margot Garant

Ed Morris, the Brookhaven Town Parks & Recreation  commissioner, said construction is ready to start the project within the week. The contractor Bay Shore-based H&L Contracting is already in the process of gathering supplies. Materials will be stored at the Cedar West Beach Parking lot, which is down the road of the main town beach parking lot. 

“H&L will be starting up a staging area sometime in the next few days — [and will] be mobilizing everything,” he said.

H&L’s $7.4 million contract to rebuild the east and west jetties, which has been crumbled mess for close to a decade. The jetties rocks collapsed and submerged at the seaward ends during  high tide, and lower than 4 feet in some places. Holes in the jetty have also caused erosion to surrounding bluffs and beachfronts. The western jetty has been of particular concern to neighboring Port Jefferson village and its beaches.

Matt Miner, Brookhaven Town chief of operations, said an outside engineering firm did an underwater review of the jetties, which confirmed that sand is slipping through it. The rocks that will be placed in the jetties will match the size as the ones currently used and will restore the structure’s integrity.

In addition, Melville-based surveying and engineering firm Nelson & Pope is being paid $86,000 for full-time construction inspection services. 

The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year, with a finalization hopefully by spring, Morris said. Construction will be done on opposite sides of the inlet, which the commissioner noted, to allow boats through in both the on and off season.

The jetties are expected to increase in height and become slightly wider. The west jetty will extend slightly further south than the east jetty.

One element of the project that is still to be determined is the outcome of the sand sitting at the bottom of the inlet. Suffolk County has promised to dredge the sand from its bottom once the jetty project is concluded. Port Jefferson Village officials have been chomping at the bit looking to get sand back to repair its rapidly diminishing East Beach. Morris could not confirm where the sand would end up.

“Ideally, sand would be going on both sides of the jetty,” he said.

In the meantime, Port Jefferson officials have plans to piggyback the town’s contracts to aid their own beach restoration efforts.

Mayor Margot Garant said the village will be entering into contract with H&L to drop off materials at East Beach and to use the village’s East Beach parking as a staging area. She said it was still unclear how much of the parking lot they would be using. With the massive amount of rocks the company will be hauling, it could mean several trucks traveling down the steep driveway on a consistent basis. 

“I don’t know to what degree they’re going to be using the east end parking lot as a staging area for some heavy equipment, maybe not at all, but it’s mostly for access,” Garant said. 

As of Sept. 3, the village attorney was set to go over the details with the contractor.

Port Jefferson has plans of its own to revitalize its easternmost beachfront. The contract with H&L allowing them use of the beach will give them stone for use in rebuilding its cracked concrete access ramp. Plans are for a steel wall to cut back 200 feet tied into the hill along the country club property. The mayor said they originally looked at 356 linear feet to run along the tennis courts area, but New York State Department of Environmental Conservation restricted them to the 200.

However, the mayor said the state has promised to allow them to create a rock revetment wall around that tennis courts area to help offset erosion.

The village is still waiting on its permits from the DEC before going out to bid on those projects.

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Vilage officials have been paying attention to the Port Jefferson Country Club lower parking lot. Photo by Kyle Barr

Port Jefferson village officials hope $12,000 is enough to cover the Port Jefferson Country Club parking lot and area around the golf pro shop with camera surveillance.

At its Aug. 19 meeting, village officials agreed to put together $12,000 from various budgets to replace seven cameras around the country club parking lot. These cameras will be at 4K resolution to better enable reading license plates in case that data needs to be forwarded to village constables or Suffolk County Police. The money will also go toward adding a new system to use the upgraded cameras at the country club.

“The system we got there is five years old — the cameras have always been cloudy there,” said Kevin Wood, the Port Jefferson parking and mobility administrator. 

At the meeting, the village officials went back and forth on the cameras’ price tag, but Wood argued 4K is the way of the future.

“The 4K costs have gone down tremendously, even since we did Texaco a year ago,” he said. “We’re at the point where we don’t consider anything but 4K, it’s that close to the cost.”

The board unanimously voted to install the new cameras, and Mayor Margot Garant said she is looking to take some money out of the country club, the parking and main budgets.

In previous meetings, trustee Stan Loucks made a point of trying to stop people from parking in the country club’s lower parking lot and walking down to the beach to fish.

“We believe that a lack of cameras at the lower lot creates additional problems down at the east beach,” he said at the Aug. 19 meeting.

In May, the village announced it had hooked up its camera system to Suffolk County Police Department’s real-time crime center. The system is used by police to tap into local cameras and use that data in conjunction with databases to catch criminal activity.

Wood said they expect the cameras to be installed by mid-September.

While not as bad as last year, village continues plans to reduce water’s impact

The area outside Theatre Three was under 2 feet of water July 22. Photo from Brian Hoerger

July 22 was a sudden reminder of a certain day last year in September, when water ran down Main Street like a river, and parts of Port Jefferson were drowned in water.

The area outside Theatre Three was under 2 feet of water July 22. Photo from Brian Hoerger

Instead, July 22 was a moderate rain by comparison, only hit with 2.35 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service, instead of the more-than 4 inches it received in that last major storm.

Still reeling from massive flash floods that inundated Port Jefferson village last year, those who were most impacted by the September waters said they were more prepared for the high waters this year. 

Brennan Holmes, the chief of the Port Jefferson Fire Department, said they had learned from their mistakes last year, and for the first time put into practice their new flood protocols.

“Last night was a good test,” Holmes said the day after the flooding. “Although there was a lot of water, it went by real quick.”

Last year waters reached nearly 5 feet in the main firehouse, though this year the fire department moved its emergency vehicles from the department building up to the higher ends of Maple Place, but waters didn’t enter the firehouse. The department also made use of a recently converted high-water rescue vehicle, donated by the Miller Place Fire Department. That was available as well as department members in water rescue suits, according to Holmes.

In addition to dealing with the flooding, the department responded to two automatic alarms caused by lightning, three welfare checks on the businesses of Ruvo East, Old Fields Restaurant and Theatre Three, all of which had been hard hit last year. The department also assisted in removing a person from a vehicle which was situated in about a foot of water.

The fire department closed off Main Street for about an hour from around 7 p.m. to a little after 8 p.m. Holmes said this resulted in much less traffic into and out of the village, making it much safer for motorists.

“We fared much better than last September, which we’re really happy about,” the fire chief said.

Mayor Margot Garant was adamant that last year’s high of 4 inches of rain dropped in under an hour plus the high water table led to the described devastation. She said she is especially concerned the idea of Port Jefferson as a flooding town will impact the village’s image and its businesses.

“I think everybody has to think that was such an exceptional event,” she said. “It’s all about the tide. If there had been a coastal storm surge, it would have been a different scenario. It’s a coastal resiliency issue.”

Last September one of the most heavily impacted by the flooding was Theatre Three, which received nearly 4 feet of water in its downstairs area, causing thousands upon thousands of dollars in damage to props, costumes and electrical equipment.

“Nothing like a little flash flood to trigger the old PTSD from the last flood.”

— Brian Hoerger

Brian Hoerger, the facilities manager for the theater, was at the head of last year’s cleanup, coordinating close to 50 volunteers in cleaning up the mess left by that storm. On his Facebook page, Hoerger said seeing the waters roll down Main Street reminded him of the harrowing September flood.

“Nothing like a little flash flood to trigger the old PTSD from the last flood,” Hoerger wrote.

The back doors by Theatre Three had waters rising close to 2 feet, according to the theater facilities manager, though only around 3 inches made its way through the lower doors since he was able to stack sandbags at the breach. Still, pictures showed water was making its way through cracks in the brickwork like sprinklers.

Hoerger, along with Steve Ayle, an actor in the theater, moved the precious theater items to higher ground while helping to vacuum up the muddy liquid in the theater’s lower floor.

Garant responded to Hoerger on Facebook showing him potential flood resistant door panels to resist rain, though Hoerger said much of the water came up from under the building as they sit on a below-ground creek.

What is currently being done to prevent flooding

Three months ago, Port Jefferson officials approved a scoping of the water line that runs and empties into Mill Creek, though Garant said while they wait for the engineers report to return to the village, they believe there is a low point in the line underneath the grass by the basketball courts where a pumping system might be able to help that water flow faster, and not get caught up in and around the low point by those nearby restaurants and Theatre Three.

In June, Campani and Schwarting Architects released a draft version of the Watershed Management and Storm Surge Study. Though the architects have yet to publish a full report, the draft discussed potentially daylighting Mill Creek, along with the culvert at the Brookhaven parking lot by the harbor and the Meadow parking lot. It also mentioned a permeable pavement system in municipal lots, along with rain gardens at low areas such as an expansion of the pond by Old Fields and the Brookhaven parking lot.

Theatre Three suffered damaged to costumes, props and other mechanical equipment back in September 2018. File Photo by Kyle Barr

In June, Port Jefferson Village presented its Waterfront Revitalization Plan to the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, describing its intention to perform immediately needed maintenance of the storm drainage system and provide emergency equipment to deploy in a rain event to protect properties in the village in catastrophic flooding. 

The village would also look to implement long-term projects, including daylighting Mill Creek, reducing impermeable paving throughout the village, introducing bioswales and rain gardens as part of the storm drainage system and redesigning the parking areas at the waterfront to mitigate flooding.

“There’s proactive measures and there’s mitigation measures,” Garant said. “We’re throwing the kitchen sink at the state to help us with these coastal resiliency issues.”

At its July 15 meeting, the village voted unanimously to apply for grant funds not to exceed $1 million from the state Division of Planning’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, Empire State Development and any other applicable state agencies. 

In this case, the village would have to put the money upfront and be paid back from the grant funds at a later date. The deadline for those grants is Friday, July 26.

Garant said that soon the village will be partnering with the Long Island Explorium in Port Jeff in constructing three rain gardens using $43,626 in grant funds from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund initiative. These will be located in front of Village Hall, at Village Center and a final one in the traffic barrier next to the loading ramp for the ferry.

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The boarded-up house at 49 Sheep Pasture Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

The vines inch up the side of the house at 49 Sheep Pasture Road. The grass was recently mowed, but only enough to keep the shrubs and the weeds from overtaking the lawn, and a unsecured Christmas tree light strand dangles from the front porch like a loose appendage. To the right-hand side of the one-acre property is a small, gazebo-like structure where old faded paintings cover the windows in flowers, hearts and what seems to be the names of children. Inside that structure, debris is strewn about, windows are broken and the back wall is caving in.

An outside building at 49 Sheep Pasture Road is filled with debris. Photo by Kyle Barr

On Long Island, zombie homes like this are a dime a dozen tragedy, but local historians look at the home along Sheep Pasture and see an even greater misfortune, since the house has real historical significance, having been built in the pre-Revolutionary War period by the famous Tooker family, which gave the house its name. 

“It’s one of the oldest homes still on its original location in the village,” said Nick Acampora, the president of the Port Jefferson Historical Society. “We have zombie problems with the Island, of course, and if it’s a house that was built later on, that has no historical value, people are quick, let’s get it out of here. When you have a 200-year-old building, it’s a little different.”

At a May 20 village board meeting, village officials voted to have the house at 49 Sheep Pasture Road demolished, citing the general state of the building and complaints of the residents.

At the May meeting, acting Chief of Code Enforcement Fred Leute helped present a number of pictures to those who attended the meeting. This included images of needles, used alcoholic bottles and other obvious signs of vagrancy. 

The village has yet to put out bids for the demolition, and Mayor Margot Garant said the village has paused in any further action on the building while continuing to take care of the grass and state of the property, all the while hoping to see what may come out of trying to communicate with the property owner.

“I’m glad we’ve brought awareness to the property because it hasn’t been in good repair for 18 months,” Garant said. “If they can purchase it, that would be great.”

The largest issue at hand is the property is privately owned, and it does not exist on any current historic registries. The village has reached out to the current owners, Jericho-based Tab Suffolk Acquisitions LLC, with no success. 

“I don’t think anybody’s been ignoring this, it’s just been a difficulty with the owner,” the historical society president said.

In the book “The Seven Hills of Port” by the late Robert Sisler and his wife Patricia, the house is referenced as “the only 18th century house still intact today in our village sitting in its original footprint on its original foundation,” being dated back to the 1740s.

In fact, the manner in which the book, written more than three decades ago, describes the house could not be any more distinct than how the home looks now. The book references Roman numerals on the attic rafters of hand-hewn post-and-beam construction. The building also contains a beehive domed oven in the fireplace and an old coat cellar in the east end of the building and an additional 20th-century modification to the living room for hiding liquor during the prohibition era, according to the book. Additional later modifications include added dormers and a porch. The book says even the original windows exist on the building’s north face. 

“We do have a couple of houses from that time that have been moved, but this one is still on its original property,” said Catherine Quinlan, historical society trustee. 

However, comparing then to now is staggering. A number of local residents who attended the May meeting asked for the building to be razed, saying they knew it had been broken into and used by vagrants in the past.

“To have a house from the 1700s, with this kind of context, is extraordinary.”

— Steve Englebright

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said he had been in touch with both the village and historical society, adding the preservation of such a venerable home would be a top priority for him and his staff. He said there should be a chance to bring in a historical architect to verify the real historical nature of the location, and he would be working to identify funds necessary to take over the building from the current owners and creating stewardship over the building with a nonprofit.

“To have a house from the 1700s, with this kind of context, is extraordinary,” the assemblyman said.

Preservation Long Island, a nonprofit historical preservation organization, posted June 6 about the house to its Facebook page.

“Instead of a village-funded demolition, perhaps the village could fund an independent engineering assessment for a second opinion on the condition?” it reads. “Long Island’s oldest houses are surprisingly resilient thanks to old growth timber-frames and incredible craftsmanship.”

The mayor and other officials were hesitant to allow people into the building since she said the engineers who studied it had told her there was major structural defect in the building.

“We’re really concerned about people going into the premises and literally falling through the floor,” she said.

In the book, it references the owner as of 1992 when the book was written as Tony Chiarini, saying he was rewiring the house at the time. 

Acampora said he understood the position the derelict property has put the village in, and only hopes that the historical society is contacted before the building is demolished or condemned in order for them to see if they can acquire any and all historical items from the house.

“They have to answer to the folks around it,” Acampora said.

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From left, Kathianne Snaden, Margot Garant and Stan Loucks just after learning the election results Photo by Kyle Barr

The results are as follows:

Unity Party candidates

  • Margot Garant (Incumbent) 1519
  • Stan Loucks (Incumbent) 1387
  • Kathianne Snaden 1383

Residents First Party candidates

  • John Jay LaValle 1013
  • Thomas Meehan 1230
  • Tracey Stapleton 1009

Two separate restaurants and bars in Port Jeff told two different stories the night of June 18, election night in the village. In Tommy’s Place, where the Residents First Party candidates learned of results, the air buzzed with cool conversation throughout the room, offering condolences and thinking about next moves.

In Old Fields Restaurant, with the Unity Party candidates, the room exploded with noise once the results came through. Mayor Margot Garant stood up on a chair, her brow sheened in sweat from the packed bar area and addressed the crowd.

“I have chosen unity and community for the last 12 years, and I’m so proud that everyone who lives here, who comes and plays in our parks, who visits our restaurants, who comes and visits for a day is always welcome and always will be welcome in this village,” she said to cheers of the gathered crowd. “I am going to tell you right now, every store that’s vacant, let’s get it rented tomorrow.”

Mayoral challenger John Jay LaValle was considerate once the results came through, saying they ran their case on the issues.

“This was going to be a race of a referendum on Donald Trump or a referendum on the uptown and downtown of Port Jeff and unfortunately that was their game; we were focused on uptown and downtown,” he said.

He said he wishes the best for Garant, adding he hopes she focuses on uptown revitalization and starts working with business owners to get businesses back into downtown.

“Stan Loucks and Kathianne Snaden are real class acts, they ran a nice race and I really gained a good deal of respect for them,” he said. “At the end of the day we’re all residents and we want to see Port Jefferson succeed
and thrive.”

Incumbent trustee Loucks said the vote was a mandate to move forward with current plans.

“The village has spoken, I think the village is happy with the administration, and they came out today to support them,” he said. “They know we are on the right track, and I think in two to three years we will have proven it to them.”

Newcomer candidate Snaden was close to tears as she spoke to the crowd in Old Fields, saying she looks at Loucks as a father figure and Garant as a “wonder woman.”

“Thank you to everyone who believed in me and supported me” she said. “I plan to do what I said all along, and that is to be the voice of the families in the village.”

Trustee candidate Tracey Stapleton said she wishes the best for those elected, and that hopefully the village can come together after what was a divisive time for a few months.

Mayor Margot Garant addresses the crowd at Old Fields Restaurant the night of June 18. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I hope everyone can be a little together now,” she said. “Just work to get Port Jeff on a good path.”

Garant has been mayor of Port Jeff for close to a decade, and in that time has been head of the village through numerous hurdles, from Upper Port being declared with blight to the settlement with the Town of Brookhaven and the Long Island Power Authority over the Port Jefferson Power Station.

LaValle was councilperson and supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven from 1996 to 2005. Afterward he became Suffolk County Republican Party chairperson, advocating for Republican causes for over a decade before stepping down at the beginning of this year. 

The Port Jefferson Village Center bustled with activity June 18 as thousands braved the rain, streamed through the doors and huddled over election ballots.

This year’s mayoral race has been contentious, as camps of supporters for Garant and LaValle butted heads over a number of issues, including the blight in Upper Port, empty storefronts downtown and the tax assessment settlement between the Town of Brookhaven and the Long Island Power Authority over its Port Jefferson Power Station.

Garant said she was looking forward to another two years as village head.

“I’m elated I get to work two more years for the village,” she said. “Just want to thank the people who trusted me, I wish my opponents well, and we’re going to carry on.”

 

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.

From left, John Jay LaValle, Margot Garant, Tom Meehan, Stan Loucks, Tracy Stapleton and Kathianne Snaden at the June 6 meet-the-candidates night. Photo by David Ackerman

A crowd packed itself as tight as sardines into the Village Center June 6, all to have the six people looking to be the village’s next mayor and trustees show just what makes them worthy of residents’ votes.

Four people are looking to fill two trustee seats, while two heavy hitters are asking for residents’ vote for mayor. The Resident’s First Party includes candidate John Jay LaValle and newcomer trustee candidates Tom Meehan and Tracy Stapleton. The Unity Party includes incumbent Mayor Margot Garant, trustee Stan Loucks and newcomer candidate Kathianne Snaden.

Turn to Page 5 to read  a number of highlights from the near-three-hour debate.

Impact of the LIPA settlement and glide path

With the settlement between the Town of Brookhaven, Port Jefferson Village and Long Island Power Authority into its second year, candidates disagree just how much of an impact the loss in tax revenue from the power plant will have.

Unity Party candidates said that while the Shipyard apartments still have a few years to go before their Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement is up, that, and new and incoming apartment complexes, will help offset the loss of revenue from the LIPA settlement while they look for means to repurpose the plant in the near future.

“The average home is only paying $35 per year more in taxes, and that’s in year two of the glide path,” Snaden said.

Port Jefferson candidates say their piece. Photo by David Ackerman

The incumbent trustee added the village has already started attempting to take over some school programs to help offset their revenue loss, including sports programs.

Meanwhile, Residents Party candidates say increased taxes will hurt some residents more than others.

“Fortunately, I can afford them, but I have a 90-year-old mother in the village, and I’m not sure she can,” Meehan said.

LaValle said the glide path will only do more harm to the village, which will need to cut spending. He added that “it’s not a glide path, it’s a free fall.”

Wages of Port Jefferson employees

Residents First candidates targeted some $10,000 raises that certain employees received in this year’s budget. Meehan said they would need to look at those employees and other programs would “need to be looked at” to help offset lost tax revenue.

Garant fired back saying those employees got raises that need to compete with wages they could receive in the private sector. “They all work hard, and as far as I’m concerned, we would pay them more if we could,” she said.

School safety

Snaden was adamant that not enough has been done to facilitate communications between the school district and village officials in case of an emergency. She cited a school shooting threat for the Port Jefferson high school that was posted to social media in February 2018.

“There was zero communication between the school district and village residents,” she said, especially in knowing where children would be located if they were evacuated. 

The district had sent an email to parents that night of the scare, though Snaden said she had contacted the mayor’s office and said they were unaware the investigation was ongoing. She said the district should have some sort of information pipeline to the village in case of emergencies. She says nothing has been done since she brought this proposal to the district.

Meehan, the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School principal, took exception to this. 

“I’ve been involved in many emergency situations,” he said. “We do have plans, we don’t make them public. We do not want the bad guy finding out about them.”

He added, in terms of evacuations, the district did not want to initially reveal where students would be evacuated in order to aid in their safety and the parents’ safety.

“We can’t have the parents all rushing up to the schools,” he said.

Business in Port Jeff

LaValle and his party have made empty storefronts a big part of their campaign, saying during the debate the number of businesses filing tax grievances will lead to higher taxes for residents. He specifically hit on issues of blight uptown.

“It does not take 10 years to do that project,” he said. “Like I did in the Town of Brookhaven, I will establish an architectural and historical review board that will maintain the integrity … of our heritage.”

Garant responded it has not taken 10 years, but the village had constructed a master plan that was adopted in 2016, not to mention the blight review study and other state-mandated tasks a municipality must complete before an area can be redeveloped after it is declared blighted.

“We don’t have a lot of space, and we’re trying to encourage the right developer, a careful developer, someone who is going to be in tune with the Village of Port Jefferson.”

Port Jefferson candidates say their piece. Photo by David Ackerman

She specifically cited The Hills complex in Upper Port.

The candidates largely agreed on the importance of these new apartment complexes for incentivizing walkability and patronizing businesses, though Stapleton in particular emphasized the need for finding ways to speed up the permitting process for new businesses coming into the village.

“It’s too difficult and it takes too long,” she said.

Garant said they have had multiple projects go up in less than two years’ time from start to finish, and pointed to places like Chandler Square, where she said a previous board had allowed buildings with a lack of parking spaces.

“When a building is put down by a board that just expedites, they have 12 parking spaces for that entire building right on a three-lane road,” she said.

LaValle said businesses are leaving because the village is not business friendly, pointing to Brewology which moved to Huntington.

“We’ve got to clean this place up first,” he said. “We have to improve our image.”

Loucks said the major issues come in the form of rents, which he said can be as high as $37,000 like it had in the case of the now-empty Gap building. Unity Party candidates said the board was working with the landlord to help in acquiring a new tenant. They also cited a new business, an Italian restaurant, coming into the old Graceful Rose property.

“Things aren’t as bad as they sound,” Loucks said.

Check back later today for a one-on-one breakdown of the mayoral candidate’s positions.

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Voting for the 2019 village elections will take place 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Village Center. File Photo by Heidi Sutton

The race for Port Jefferson mayor has heated up, and like an overfilled spaghetti pot has boiled over and started to burn the table we eat from.

Conversation online has started to grow toxic in several places. There is room for discussion about the past history of both candidates, but it has to be based in the realm of fact. The Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a meet-the-candidates night this Thursday, June 6, from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Village Center. It is the perfect time to ask the pertinent questions, but there should be a number of facts that every villager is on the same page with before the start of the meeting.

Falsehood: “[X] candidate does not live within the village!”

Both candidates live within village limits and have for several years. Mayor Margot Garant lives in the westernmost portion of the village, while newcomer John Jay LaValle lives in The Highlands at Port Jefferson.

Falsehood: “John Jay LaValle was indicted of corruption while town supervisor!” 

This one is often a confused topic. LaValle was the Brookhaven Town supervisor from 1996 to 2005, when he stepped down from his position and later moved on to be Suffolk County Republican chairman. While others in the Republican Party were indicted for corruption around that time, no official charges were ever brought against the candidate.

Falsehood: “Garant took out a campaign ad against LaValle trying to discredit him!”

The May 30 edition of The Port Times Record newspaper contained an advertisement from Taking Action Suffolk County, a nonprofit that is involved in electing Democrats over Republicans. The ad asked for people to vote for Garant, but the ad was paid for by TASC, which stated on the ad it was not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Falsehood: “Village officials are specifically targeting LaValle signs!”

After certain Residents First Party candidates got heated over issues involving their signs several weeks ago, acting Chief of Code Enforcement Fred Leute Jr. looks to set the record straight.

He was originally told by an official in the village that signs were not allowed on public property, which is correct according to Village Attorney Brian Egan, but he was also told that anything 3 feet from the curb is prohibited as an easement.

“They did not want me to take signs off easements,” he said, admitting it was a mistake not to ask another village official first. 

The acting chief said he uses Tuesdays to do paperwork and other administration duties, and usually dresses in plain clothes to do that work. He also takes his personal vehicle to Village Hall on Tuesdays, as he said he doesn’t wish to waste taxpayer money using a public safety vehicle.

On his way to work he drives around the village interacting with homeless populations, but he also noticed several signs along his way that were on public property, and others on residential property right next to the road near St. Charles Hospital. Another sign was in front of The Steam Room seafood restaurant in the garden facing the road, which he originally thought was public property. He said once he learned it was not village property, he took that sign and replaced “in the same holes I took it.”

He added that he did not know where the signs removed in the residential section were precisely, and those signs were instead picked up by trustee candidate Tom Meehan, of the Residents First Party. Leute said the event became a big misunderstanding.

“There was no malice against LaValle,” he added.

Garant and Leute have confirmed signs are not being taken down from private property by village officials.

The story that appeared in the June 6 edition of the Port Times Record stated Margot Garant lived near the country club. Her mother, Jeanne Garant, lives in that portion, while Margot lives in the western portion of the village.

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Mayor responds saying both parties should be aware of code

A Residents First Party sign in front of a Port Jeff home. Photo by Kyle Barr

This post was updated June 5 to add comments by Fred Leute Jr.

After certain Residents First Party candidates got heated over issues involving their signs several weeks ago, acting Chief of Code Enforcement Fred Leute Jr. looks to set the record straight.

He was originally told by an official in the village that signs were not allowed on public property, which is correct according to Village Attorney Brian Egan, but he was also told that anything 3 feet from the curb is prohibited as an easement.

“They did not want me to take signs off easements,” he said, admitting it was a mistake not to ask another village official first. 

The acting chief said he uses Tuesdays to do paperwork and other administration duties, and usually dresses in plain clothes to do that work. He also takes his personal vehicle to Village Hall on Tuesdays, as he said he doesn’t wish to waste taxpayer money using a public safety vehicle.

On his way to work he drives around the village interacting with homeless populations, but he also noticed several signs along his way that were on public property, and others on residential property right next to the road near St. Charles Hospital. Another sign was in front of The Steam Room seafood restaurant in the garden facing the road, which he originally thought was public property. He said once he learned it was not village property, he took that sign and replaced “in the same holes I took it.”

He added that he did not know where the signs removed in the residential section were precisely, and those signs were instead picked up by trustee candidate Tom Meehan, of the Residents First Party. Leute said the event became a big misunderstanding.

“There was no malice against LaValle,” he added.

Garant and Leute have confirmed signs are not being taken down from private property by village officials.

Original Story:

It’s a sign the Port Jeff mayoral and trustee race is heating up as signs, specifically political signs, lead to friction between candidates.

John Jay LaValle, who is running for mayor alongside trustee candidates Thomas Meehan and Tracy Stapleton, said he and Meehan received calls the morning of May 14 saying a black Ford SUV was traveling around the village taking political signs from people’s lawns.

Later, while at Village Hall, LaValle said he saw the SUV, a black Ford Escape, in the parking lot and learned it belonged to acting Chief of Code Enforcement Fred Leute.

“We’re pretty upset, we’re trying to play fair, and it really kind of bothered me.”

— Tom Meehan

“We find out he was driving his personal car, in civilian clothes, not his uniform, driving around on government time taking down his boss’s opponents signs,” LaValle said.

Brian Egan, the village attorney, said village code disallows residents to place signs on the right-of-ways of a public street or walkway. It also allows residents to put up political signs on their public property for 30 out of a 60-day period and can be placed anywhere on said private property.

Village Clerk Bob Juliano confirmed that signs may be placed anywhere on private property and that some of the signs should not have been taken.

In an interview, Leute said that two of the signs were on public property, but another few were on private land. He admitted to making the mistake in taking those signs, and code enforcement would no longer be enforcing political signage, instead referring them to the public works department.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said her campaign and LaValle’s received an email from Juliano May 6 about the need to keep signs from public property. She added code enforcement removed signs from both candidates and put notes on each one explaining why they were taken. 

“Both of our signs were taken,” the mayor said. “I had a conversation with John [LaValle], and I said you got guys volunteering, I got guys volunteering. We both got guys who are overzealous — it’s going to happen … it’s about keeping the village from looking like a war zone right now.”

Meehan confirmed hearing about a number of signs taken down near where he lives, and had received calls that the car was a black Ford Escape. People calling him had reported a man picking up their signs and putting them into the back of the car.

“We’re pretty upset, we’re trying to play fair, and it really kind of bothered me,” Meehan said. “For him to take the signs … it takes a lot of brass. Him, in his private car, and I don’t know if he was working at the time and who directed him to do this.”

Though people involved did not agree on the number of signs, among them were a few Unity Party signs — the party featuring Garant, trustee Stan Loucks and trustee candidate Kathianne Snaden  — and one or two additional school board candidate signs.

“Fred is the chief — he’s the chief all the time, 24/7.”

— Margot Garant

The signs were brought to Juliano, who later returned them to the residents. 

Meehan said he was told the removed signs “were on right-of-ways, and two were too close to the road.”

“The courts have said political signage has wider protection than commercial signage,” Egan said.

LaValle took particular exception with Leute using his personal vehicle to remove the signs, instead of a code enforcement vehicle. Garant, meanwhile, said there was nothing necessarily wrong with how the acting chief did it. The acting chief said he uses his personal car on Tuesdays as he spends most of that particular day doing paperwork.

“Fred is the chief — he’s the chief all the time, 24/7,” the mayor said.

The mayoral candidate said he has reason to believe Leute acted under the current mayor’s orders to target his signs directly.

Meehan, Edna Louise Spear Elementary School principal, said he and his party had been efficient in removing signs from where they were not supposed to be, such as in right-of-ways. He added he has heard recent reports of people, not necessarily code enforcement, removing their signs from people’s lawns.

“I wasn’t looking for this kind of a fight, and I’m not saying I’m going to fight dirty,” Meehan said. “Just makes me even more sure I want to win this thing.”

Updated May 23 to correct name of trustee candidate to Kathianne Snaden.