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Northport-East Northport school district

A sketch of Del Vino Vineyards is displayed at the Huntington Planning Board meeting on Dec. 2. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Huntington residents left a recent planning board meeting with a bad taste in their mouths, thanks to a proposal to build a Del Vino Vineyards winery directly next door to Norwood Avenue Elementary School.

Frederick Giachetti, owner of the 10-acre property, said in June that he wanted to grow grapes and open a 94-seat wine tasting room instead of subdividing the land into seven residentially zoned properties, which was the original proposal. Community members and the Northport-East Northport School District said they strongly disapproved of the plans due to safety and health concerns for students at Norwood Elementary during a Huntington Planning Board meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 3.

Attorney Carrie-Anne Tondo spoke on behalf of the school district and accused the applicant of not being “neighborly” by skipping several parts of the site plan review process typically requested by the planning board. But Attorney Anthony Guardino, who was representing the applicant, said Del Vino Vineyards is not required by the state to even submit a site plan. He said the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets does not recommend site plan approval for farm operations, including wineries.

“However, if a town does not follow that recommendation, and requires site plan approval, the dept. suggests that the site plan review process for farm operations be streamlined and expedited,” Guardino said in an email.

Attorney Carrie-Ann Tondo speaks at the Huntington Planning Board meeting on Dec. 2. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.
Attorney Carrie-Ann Tondo speaks at the Huntington Planning Board meeting on Dec. 2. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Guardino said that the school district was referring to requirements from a different type of classification under New York State’s Environmental Quality Review standards.

“Based on a NYS Dept. of Agriculture and Market’s publication…the application should be classified as a Type II action under SEQRA, which would make it exempt from the SEQRA review process altogether,” Guardino said. This includes a traffic study.

“The fact of the matter is we didn’t have to submit anything,” he said. “We’re here before you because we agreed to do the site review but we don’t have to be.”

Guardino said he suggested that if the planning board really wants these extra studies done, they should take it up with the state. But he said Del Vino Vineyards is “fully complaint with the law.”

The district’s biggest concerns included the winery’s hours of operation, pesticide uses, traffic problems, and student safety.

“The board of education takes very seriously the protection of the 365 students who attend the school,” Tondo said.

She also said a traffic study is currently missing from the vineyards site plan approval, and with a proposal of 60 parking spaces, a traffic study is “clearly warranted.”

According to Tondo, the school has bus traffic patterns on the weekdays, and on weekends, the school is used for many different events including soccer games and various club activities. So additional traffic in this area could have an adverse impact, she said.

Tondo also said the school would have a better understanding of how much traffic would be affected if the vineyard released its hours of operations, but they have yet to do so.

“All we’re asking for is full disclosure and transparency, which shouldn’t be issues if you’re looking to be a good neighbor,” she said. “I don’t know why there can’t be some compromise to alleviate concerns for hours of operations.”

Guardino said that the board does not have any power over the deciding for closing and opening hours.

“Hours are at the discretion of the owner within…this board can’t control that,” he said.

The property on Norwood Avenue where Del Vino VIneyard wants to set up shop. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.
The property on Norwood Avenue where Del Vino VIneyard wants to set up shop is currently vacant. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Student interaction with patrons at the vineyard was another concern, and Tondo asked if the vineyard is exploring security services. To this problem, Guardino said that building plans included a landscape buffer between the vineyard parking lot and the school, as well as a 10-foot deer fence, and he said he saw no instance where students would be able to converse with patrons.

29-Norwood-June-2015_14wTondo also said the district would also like a notification of when Del Vino will be spraying pesticides on their crops because schools themselves are not usually allowed to apply pesticides to their grounds to prevent students from unnecessary exposure.

Guardino said that Giachetti plans to use “state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly pesticide applicators” that recycles whatever pesticides aren’t directly sprayed on a plant and has very little overspray.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he thinks this vineyard could be valuable to the town by providing more open space.

“We need open space and for someone from the outside to pay for it is a gift,” Trotta said. “Is this perfect? I don’t know. But I think that you have an opportunity here to work with this gentleman…and for us to preserve open space because once he sells that and builds houses it’s gone forever.”

Alice Abbate, a 25-year resident of Norwood road, presented a petition with more than 350 signatures against the vineyard. All four of her children walk to school everyday at Norwood Elementary.

“My children shouldn’t be afraid that there are 60 parking spaces they’re passing where people have been coming in and out after they’ve been drinking,” Abbate said. “When we bought our home 25 years ago, as did our neighbors, we bought it because it was in a nice quiet neighborhood on a street with a school. Maybe a winery is a good idea some other place.”

Town wins two court decisions against utility

The Northport power plant. File photo

Huntington Town is touting two court decisions boosting its case against the Long Island Power Authority in an ongoing challenge over the assessment of the Northport power plant and the amount the utility pays in property taxes on the facility.

The decisions, issued by State Supreme Court Justice John C. Bivona, were dated earlier this month and received by the town’s special counsel on Sept. 25. The first decision dismissed LIPA’s standing as a plaintiff in the case, since National Grid, and not LIPA, owns the plant, according to the decision.

The second decision granted a stay in the assessment case until there is a final court determination of the town’s argument that National Grid should be held to a 1997 pledge by LIPA not to challenge the plant’s assessment. So far, the town has won pretrial decisions in that case, according to a town statement.

LIPA is suing Huntington Town to recover some $270 million in property taxes it paid since 2010, arguing the aging Northport power plant facility is grossly over-assessed. Northport-East Northport school district is also a party in the lawsuit.

If LIPA wins, Huntington Town taxpayers could see a 15 percent increase in town property taxes and a 60 percent increase in school taxes, according to the town’s website.

The judge dismissed LIPA’s standing as a party initiating tax certiorari proceedings. In one of his decisions, Bivona said that while LIPA believes its financial interests are adversely impacted currently by a wrongly overstated assessment of the power plant, “the result is still remote and consequential and certainly does not constitute a direct loss because the property taxes levied upon the Northport Power Station are actually and directly paid by National Grid Generation, LLC.”

In the second decision, Bivona granted a stay to the town on each of the four tax certiorari proceedings National Grid commenced challenging taxes from 2010 to 2013. The stay was granted until completion of a case involving the town’s contention that National Grid, as the successor to LIPA, should be held to the 1997 pledge.

In previous decisions, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court cited both a letter then-LIPA chairman Richard Kessel sent to the town and statements Kessel made to the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association, during which he said he would drop any pending tax certiorari cases and not initiate any further ones at any time in the future. In return, the town promised not to increase the assessment on the plant. The town has not done so.

Most significantly, Bivona’s second decision means the court needs to consider the validity of the town’s 1997 pledge argument before embarking on a trial on the actual tax challenges — which promises to be complicated, lengthy and expensive.

“These two significant decisions help clarify the process for resolving these cases by first addressing the town’s key contention: that at the heart of the case is our belief that promises made by both sides should be kept,” Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone said in a statement. “In the long run, resolving that question first should save taxpayers money by potentially obviating the need for a lengthy and expensive trial on the technical question of the assessment.”

A spokesman for the Long Island Power Authority said the utility didn’t have a comment on the issue.

Irene McLaughlin to take the reins of new post in November

Northport High School Principal Irene McLaughlin is stepping into a new role as the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources.

At the Northport-East Northport school board meeting on Sept. 10, board President Andrew Rapiejko announced McLaughlin’s new role. He said both he and the board were “very excited,” and to that, the audience offered a long round of applause.

McLaughlin is just as excited.

Northport High School Principal Irene McLaughlin. File photo by Rohma Abbas
Northport High School Principal Irene McLaughlin. File photo by Rohma Abbas

“I’ve had chances to pursue administration roles in other districts, but I didn’t want to,” the principal said in a phone interview this week. “Northport is such a great place for teachers, students, and parents, and I wanted to stay here.”

McLaughlin has been at the district for 31 years. She kicked off her career with the district straight out of college as a part-time health education teacher at Northport Middle School in 1984. From there, she worked at Norwood Avenue Elementary, Fifth Avenue Elementary and Pulaski Road Elementary schools until she became a teacher at the high school in 1992. She was promoted to principal of Northport High School in 2003 from assistant principal. This year marks the start of her 13th year as principal of the school.

“I will miss the high school,” she said. “Even when I worked at other schools, I was coaching here. My roots are deep here at the high school.”

McLaughlin is following Rosemarie Coletti, who stepped down from the position in June of this year. Lou Curra is currently the interim assistant superintendent of human resources.

“I am looking forward to getting more involved in district wide decisions,” she said. “I want to expand my scope, and learn more about how the entire district works and not just the high school.”

The responsibilities for assistant superintendent of human resources include recruiting, hiring and maintaining the nearly 1,000-person staff of the Northport-East Northport school district.

McLaughlin’s official start date is November 2, however she said that if the process of finding a new principal for the high school takes a bit longer, she may stay at her post past the beginning of November.

“I want it to be a smooth transition for the students and staff,” she said.

McLaughlin moved her family to the district when they were young because she said she knew Northport was a special place for kids to grow up. She currently resides there with her daughter, Kelly. Her son Michael graduated from Northport High School this May.

“My love for the district is really evident,” she said. “I am committed to the success of the district, and making an impact on more than just the high school.”

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