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Parks

A new playground is being installed at Gaynor Park in St. James. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Kyle Barr

Town of Smithtown officials will pay out more than $13,000 in past-due overtime pay and offer training to settle labor disputes involving more than 25 town employees.

The Smithtown Town Board approved settlements at the May 8 town board meeting for two labor grievances with unionized town park employees related to overtime pay and hiring a third-party contractor installing its new playgrounds.

Currently, Gibbs Pond Park in Nesconset, along with Gaynor Park and Veterans Memorial Park in St. James are receiving long-awaited renovations including the installation of new playground equipment. When the town bought the equipment in September 2017, it also hired the installation services of Minnesota-based Landscape Structures Inc. The members of Civil Service Employees Association local union Chapter 852 brought the labor grievance to the town board claiming that said town employees were not notified of the hiring of the third-party company and having an outside company install the playground equipment was a violation of the workers’ collective bargaining rights.

Despite repeated attempts, a representative from the union chapter could not be contacted by press time.

 [I]f somebody is ever hurt on that playground equipment the town is covered in terms of liability because certified people installed them, our guys were not certified.
– Ed Wehrheim

Some of the playground work included groundwork and removal of old playground equipment. The town paid Landscape Structures $144,000 for the installation of the Gibbs Pond equipment, $87,050 for Gaynor Park and $94,000 for Veterans Memorial Park for a total of more than $325,000.

Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski said that the notification of hiring the third-party installer was run through the town’s Department of Parks, Buildings & Grounds.

“For the type of playground that was purchased, it requires a certified installer from the company,” he said.

Town officials said that the playground equipment required workers who had Certified Playground Safety Inspector licenses, which are the National Recreation and Park Association produced certifications giving lessons on playground safety issues such as hazard identification, equipment specifications, surfacing requirements and risk management methods, according to NRPA’s website.

“We put that out to bid to furnish and install that equipment,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “The reason we did that is federal standards have changed in what we are required to do for liability purposes in playgrounds. In this case, when [the third party] installs, the equipment is warranteed. So, if somebody is ever hurt on that playground equipment the town is covered in terms of liability because certified people installed them, our guys were not certified.”

Under the settlement, Smithtown officials agreed with the union that, starting in 2019, the town will provide an opportunity for any town employee who wishes to get licensed to take the necessary classes and become certified. Wehrheim said the town will cover for any associated expenses.

Officials also agreed that in the future the town discuss whether any new playground equipment or playground maintenance will be done by town employees or a third-party directly with the chapter president or other chapter officers.

The town also reached an agreement with parks employees on overtime equalization.

In 2017, unionized workers brought to the attention of the town board, problems with the equalization of overtime pay of parks department employees in 2016. Under current agreement, member employees are allowed an overtime equalization equal to 80 percent of the employee who received the highest overtime pay. Jakubowski said that a mistake in the parks department meant several employees were not given those funds.

The town will pay out the sum total of $13,775 divided among 25 employees who did not receive their proper overtime wages.

Surplus funds to be used to redesign Bellemeade Ave parking lot

A new playground is being installed at Gaynor Park in St. James. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A trio of Smithtown parks are finally getting their day in the sun as upgrades are underway for the first time in two decades.

Joseph Arico, Smithtown’s park maintenance director, said town employees are working to finish updates already underway to Joseph Andreoli Park in Nesconset, and Gaynor and Veterans Memorial parks in St. James before schools let out for the summer. The capital projects are expected to come in at or below the approximately $1 million budgeted, according to Arico, and the leftover funds will go toward town’s redesign of the Bellemeade Avenue municipal parking lot.

“It has been a long time in coming,” he said. “I’m going to say that Gibbs Pond park, the last time work was done there was probably at least 15 to 20 years ago at the minimum.”

It has been a long time in coming.”
— Joseph Arico

Joseph Andreoli Park, commonly referred to as Gibbs Pond park, will be receiving a completely new playground set including one specifically made for younger children. The old rubber matting which covered the play space is being stripped and replaced with Classic Turf, which Arico said looks more like a synthetic grass “shag rug” than traditional artificial turf.

“When [the matting] gets old and you have to repair it, it never looks the same,” the parks director said. “There were patch marks all over the place, you could see the old and the new.

He said his hope is the new Classic Turf will be easier for town employees to fix and maintain in the future. Work at Gibbs Pond is about 80 percent complete, according to Arico, and is anticipated to be finished by mid-May.

In St. James, the construction vehicles sitting in Gaynor Park’s parking lot serve as a clear sign to residents of the nearly $500,000 in upgrades that are underway. The town’s two existing tennis courts are being resurfaced while the adjacent basketball court is getting enlarged from half court to full regulation size. A new playground was in the process of being installed April 20, which must be finished before the grass turf and brickwork can be done. Arico said he hopes construction will wrap up by the end of May.

“We should be close, but it’s hard to say based on how the weather goes from here forward,” he said.

If we are going to make these capital investments, we have to make sure we do it the right way to get the most longevity out of our investments.”
– Tom Lohmann

The town has set aside nearly $310,000 to improve Veterans Memorial Park off Moriches Road in St. James. While the park received updates to its fields recently, it will also be getting a new playground set and artificial grass surface, according to Arico. Construction will be starting shortly, with the aim of finishing by June.

“The water park playground will also be resurfaced so kids don’t get scraped-up knees,” he said. “It’s a big deal.”

Once all three projects are completed, Arico said there should be several thousand dollars left over to go toward the town’s other capital projects including the redesign of Bellemeade Avenue municipal parking lot off Smithtown’s Main Street. Originally slated only for resurfacing, Councilman Tom Lohmann (R) said a quick review of the lot showed drainage improvements and street lighting were needed.

“If we are going to make these capital investments, we have to make sure we do it the right way to get the most longevity out of our investments,” Lohmann said.

Arico and the councilman have pulled several town departments together to engineer plans to redesign the town-owned land to improve conditions and reconfigure the layout of spaces, hopefully, gaining a few.

“I think once it’s said and done, we will have a lot of people taking advantage of the lot,” Lohmann said.

Fire & Ice Hookah Lounge in Smithtown is a short distance away from Paul T. Given County Park. Photo from Google Maps

By Kyle Barr

As the popularity of vaping products grows, Smithtown officials are considering ways to keep the products out of children’s hands.

Smithtown Town Board has plans to consider changing town zoning laws to restrict any store whose primary purpose is the sale of any e-liquid, vape product or indoor smoking from opening up within 1,500 feet of schools, churches or public parks in an effort to dissuade teens from using these types of products.

“For this age group, it’s very unhealthy and easily accessible,” said Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R), who helped sponsor the ordinance. “They kind of market it like candy, and they name the different flavors after candy names. So It’s very appealing to kids.”

If approved, the restriction would not be retroactive, so it won’t  affect any current  businesses near schools, parks or churches. Inzerillo said she hopes that the zoning change will effectively dissuade these shops from opening near commercial districts.

“Lucky for Smithtown, most of our parks, churches and schools all are close to our main streets,” the councilwoman said.

The town is still waiting on an environmental impact study to be completed by the state on the effect of the proposed ordinance. After that, Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said that the town attorney may need to look at any adjustments, but he believes the ordinance will go through.

“I think it’s going to pass, yes,” Wehrheim said. “I believe having [vape and hookah shops] in a close proximity to church or a school is problematic.”

We’ve seen an increase in youth under the age of 21 who use these products, which is very concerning, because that is sometimes seen as a gateway into more serious substance use.”

— Matthew Neebe

Matthew Neebe, director at nonprofit Horizons Counseling and Education Center, said that while there have been limited long-term studies on whether or not vape products have negative health effects, he believes these products can harm children’s development.

“We’ve seen an increase in youth under the age of 21 who use these products, which is very concerning, because that is sometimes seen as a gateway into more serious substance use,” Neebe said. “I think this step a good place to start. Kids tend to participate in things that are convenient for them.”

Amar Patel, owner of Fire & Ice Hookah Lounge near Paul T. Given County Park in Smithtown, has had his own troubles with the town. His business is temporarily closed while they renovate the building to bring it into compliance with Smithtown fire codes, but he plans to reopen soon. Patel said that vape and hookah get an unfair reputation from the rest of the community.

“I don’t think [the Town of Smithtown] supports any tobacco product, smoking or anything” Patel said. “I mean my personal opinion, I would say when it comes to hookah lounges it’s more of a hang out, where you go after dinner. Almost like you are going to a cigar lounge, then go about your day.”

Patel said he believes that cigarette use should be a bigger concern than hookah lounges or vaping, stressing that he does not believe hookah use is addictive unlike
smoking cigarettes
.

The zoning ordinance is expected to be voted on at the April 26 town board meeting.

Town's 2018 capital budget of $9.5 million features Lake Avenue revitalization in St. James

A plan for what Lake Avenue would look like post-revitalization. Photos from the Lake Avenue renovation capital project report, prepared by the Smithtown Planning Department

By Kevin Redding

With the adoption of more than $30 million in  capital plans Tuesday, Smithtown officials hope to be looking at a robust future.

Smithtown Town Board approved its 2018 capital budget of $9.5 million — $8.8 million is bonded — and a proposed 2019-22 capital plan — totaling $20.8 million.

The majority of the 2018 capital budget funds St. James downtown business district improvements, with $4.6 million in bonds set aside for the revitalization of Lake Avenue, of which $2.4 million will fund water main replacement.

2018 Capital Budget

For 2018, town officials have set aside funding to completely revise the town code — $300,000 — and update the town’s master plan on a budget of $500,000. Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said these will serve as “blueprints for all downtown revitalization throughout Smithtown.”

We cannot move forward without modernizing the town codes, zoning and planning. It is the first big step in making downtown revitalization a reality.”
— Ed Wehrheim

“Without these two items, downtown revitalization is merely a concept,” Wehrheim said. “We cannot move forward without modernizing the town codes, zoning and planning. It is the first big step in making downtown revitalization a reality.”

Wehrheim said the town’s existing master plan was written in-house at least 10 years ago.

Bouncing off the success of a recent market analysis study by an outside urban planner of what was needed to revitalize downtown Kings Park — that broke down the pros and cons of different sections of the hamlet — the town will issue a request for proposals to bring in a new set of eyes to evaluate and suggest improvements to the existing plan.

“The master plan is essentially going to be that, but times 10 or 20,” town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said. “It’s geared toward figuring out where the town is going to be decades down the line and the focus of progress for this new administration. It’s really the start of making this town more small business friendly and civic minded.”

Once the results of the evaluation are collected, Wehrheim and other council members will pick and choose what improvements work best for Smithtown.

“We want to hear what they think we need to move forward in the business districts and the rest of the town going into the future,” Wehrheim said.

While discussing the recodification plans, Councilman Thomas McCarthy (R) said, “This is going to bring things into the 21st century.”

“There are so many things, and this is just the beginning”
— Tom McCarthy

“It’s going to streamline things and help residents, help small businesses,” McCarthy said. “It’s been decades now and there’s no reason to make people have to — as I like to say — ‘spit blood’ just to get a permit. Right now they have to go to the board of zoning appeals and planning boards for things approved 95 to 100 percent of the time.”

2019-22 Capital Plan 

Among its planned projects for 2019-22, the town will look to fund $2.2 million in improvements at various town parks: Flynn Memorial Park in Commack to turn it into a premiere Long Island sports park; $500,000 in renovations to Gaynor Park in St. James that include new tennis and basketball courts, a playground with improved surfacing, installation of refurbished, handicap-accessible bathrooms; and new surfacing in the waterpark at Veterans Memorial Park in St. James.

The town also plans to add steps leading to the gazebo at Nesconset Chamber of Commerce, install LED lighting in Maple Avenue Park in Smithtown, repave and landscape the Bellemeade Avenue parking area and replace its deteriorating showmobile. New highway equipment will be purchased, including yard generators for Smithtown and Kings Park.

“There are so many things, and this is just the beginning,” McCarthy said.

By Alex Petroski

It was like Christmas in June for kids in Port Jefferson, as an iconic village park is finally ready for a new launch. Rocketship Park, located on Maple Place between Mill Creek Road and Barnum Avenue, had been closed since the fall for a massive renovation project that saw funds pour in from private donations, fundraising events, grants and taxpayer dollars. At least 200 kids lined the fences June 15 eagerly waiting for the official ribbon cutting to try out the new equipment for the first time, which now includes a tree house, pirate ship and of course, a rocket ship.

The refurbishment effort was done thanks in large part to a three and a half year mission by the Port Jefferson “Treasure Your Parks” campaign, an initiative created to help give a facelift to the more than 50-year-old Clifton H. Lee Memorial Park, which has commonly been known as Rocketship Park. Suffolk County Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket); Jennifer Martin, a representative from Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright’s (D-Port Jefferson Station) office; the 2016 New York State championship runner up Port Jefferson High School girls basketball team, and droves of excited local kids joined members of the Port Jeff Village board and Mayor Margot Garant to cut the ribbon and officially open the park for the summer.

Garant also recognized two Port Jeff kids, Cooper and McKenna Negus, who collected change in a jar and periodically went to village hall to contribute to the fundraising efforts for the park. The mayor said she planned to use the money to purchase a tile to commemorate the generous young donors.

“Everyday we were building this park we’d have kids hanging out on the outside of the fence saying ‘when can we come and play,’” Garant said. “It’s all about the kids right?”

Garant added the park will be under video surveillance and asked that all those who visit the park help to ensure it remains clean, and free of graffiti, vandalism and litter.

The total cost of the project was about $900,000, with $500,000 coming from taxpayer dollars, $265,000 from a New York State parks grant and about $120,000 from donations, according to Barbara Sakovich, assistant to the mayor.

This version was updated June 16 to include the total cost and breakdown of funding for the park renovation. It was edited June 19 to correct that it will still be officially called Clifton H. Lee Memorial Park and commonly referred to as Rocketship Park.

Daniel Stratton (center) speaks at a press conference about a resolution to ban smoking at athletic fields with Legislator William Spencer, (left) and Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (right). Photo from Jennifer Mish

By Wenhao Ma

It’s official: You can no longer smoke on any athletic field in the Town of Huntington.

The town board unanimously passed legislation at an Aug. 16 meeting to prohibit smoking on athletic fields across Huntington.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) originally brought up the resolution in June and was supported by Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport).

“I am pleased that we have passed a common-sense measure to limit exposure to secondhand smoke at our athletic fields,” Cuthbertson said in an email.

Smoking in town parks and beaches has been banned for years — but athletic fields have not been specifically addressed in town laws. The new legislation, according to Spencer’s office, is a response to residents who have expressed concerns about being exposed to secondhand smoke at sporting events.

“Our youth, parents and coaches all deserve to breathe air free from secondhand smoke when visiting local sports fields,” Spencer said in an email. “This is critical to protecting the health of our residents and I applaud Councilman Cuthbertson and the rest of the town board for moving quickly to close this apparent loophole in the smoking policy.”

According to the legislation, no person shall smoke a tobacco product, herbal product, marijuana, cigarette, electronic cigarette, pipe, cigar, vapors, e-liquids or other legal marijuana derivatives in an outdoor playground or athletic field that is town-owned property.

Facts from the American Lung Association show how secondhand smoke affects children’s health.
Facts from the American Lung Association show how secondhand smoke affects children’s health.

Spencer thanked Cuthbertson for drafting the new legislation, which he called “a bold step” in helping to reduce the rate of smoking among the youth and ensuring clean air for all who visit the town’s sports fields.

“Everything counts,” Spencer said in a statement. “Even a child becoming conditioned to see cigarettes out in public or out at a ball field has an impact. [The legislation] is something that in the long term will save lives.”

Daniel Stratton was one of the concerned residents, and he said he brought the proposed code amendment to Cuthbertson’s attention.

“I noticed some of my children’s coaches leaving the dugout to smoke a cigarette just outside the fence of the field,” Stratton said in an email. “Aside from this being an obviously unhealthy behavior to model for the children, it seemed very counterintuitive when we are trying to get our children outside to be active and healthy.”

Stratton, who is a former health teacher, said he started researching laws and regulations for smoking at athletic fields and that is how he got involved with Cuthbertson.

“I discovered [there] was already a ban at Huntington beaches and playgrounds and I saw that this was spearheaded by Councilman Cuthbertson. So I contacted him to find out if there was already a law that encompassed [athletic fields] and if not, how I could pursue a resolution to this situation,” Stratton said.

“This new regulation extends my no-smoking legislation to include playgrounds, beaches and athletic fields,” Cuthbertson confirmed.

The village has scaled back a plan to stripe its basketball courts for pickleball after one resident said it would be a big dill to hoops players. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Village officials are making a compromise to avoid a pickle.

The basketball courts at Rocketship Park in downtown Port Jefferson were due for a redo, and while a Long Island company was repairing the court surface, village Trustee Stan Loucks had arranged for workers to also add stripes for people to play pickleball when the four hoops were not being used. But that plan has changed.

Pickleball is a sport that involves paddles and a net and has similarities to tennis and badminton. Officials added pickleball striping at the basketball courts at the park, between Barnum Avenue and the municipal parking lot behind Village Hall, to other work — which included repairing cracks, and dips in the surface that attract puddles — to embrace the growing sport trend.

But one resident was half-soured on the idea of basketball players potentially turning green with envy as they lost out on court time while others were playing pickleball.

Myrna Gordon called the courts a spot that “attracts many people from surrounding communities” in a letter to the editor last month, an opinion she also expressed to Loucks in person during board of trustees meetings in recent months.

“Culturally diverse people come to play pick-up games,” she wrote. “Converting this area for dual purposes would be an especially negative act when there are alternative sites for pickleball in the village.”

Gordon has suggested using the park on Texaco Avenue in uptown Port Jefferson, across from the upcoming apartment complex, for pickleball to avoid taking away court time downtown and to potentially attract people to the blighted uptown area.

Loucks announced at the board meeting on Monday that the pickleball proposal would be bumped back to keep ballers cool as cucumbers.

Instead of putting down lines for the sport on the basketball courts at Rocketship, the village is going to start by running a one-hour pickleball program on the court with removable nets and stripes, as a method of gauging resident demand for a venue for the activity.

The program will take place in the middle of the day, while young players are in school, the trustee said.

Park rangers would monitor Huntington Station parks to give a greater sense of police presence to the area. Stock photo

After a slew of violent incidents in Huntington Station, town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) has proposed using park rangers to help monitor the area and improve security.

In the past two months, Suffolk County Police Department has publicly reported two dead bodies found in Huntington and three shootings in the area. Residents have asked officials at town board meetings for resolutions to the safety issue.

According to town spokesman A.J. Carter, the town plans to hire three to four park rangers, who would be recently retired or active but off-duty policemen and have the same powers as peace officers.

Although their jurisdiction specifically would be town parks, Carter said the park rangers would be allowed to intervene if they see activity on the roads or other areas outside the parks.

Huntington Station borders the Froehlich Farm Nature Preserve, where the body of a young woman was found in 2013, and includes the following parks within the neighborhood: Gateway Park on New York Avenue at Lowndes Avenue; Manor Field Park on East 5th Street; Depot Road Park; and Fair Meadows Park on East Pulaski Road and Park Avenue.

According to New York State criminal procedure law, peace officers can make warrantless arrests, use physical force to make an arrest or prevent an escape, carry out warrantless searches with probable cause and issue appearance tickets, among other powers. They can also carry firearms and take away weapons from people who do not have the proper licenses to carry.

All peace officers in New York need to go through a special training program.

Carter said Petrone has spent months researching the idea.

Many other towns on Long Island use systems like this, including Smithtown, which has a park ranger division comprised of “law enforcement personnel” acting as peace officers in town-owned facilities to “enforce town codes, parks rules and regulations, as well as state and federal laws,” according to Smithtown’s website.

Smithtown park rangers work in conjunction with Suffolk police, and Carter said Huntington plans to do the same. Duties for Smithtown rangers include preserving town property, deterring crime, arresting offenders and assisting in searches for missing persons.

“It’s another presence in the community with the ability to make arrests,” Carter said in a phone interview.

The town spokesman also said the money to hire peace officers would be taken from the part of the budget set aside for additional seasonal hires.

As for information on uniforms, salary, shift schedules and more, Carter said the program is still in the works and no other news is available at the moment.

Eric Powers holds a great horned owl. Photo from Carole Paquette
Eric Powers holds a great horned owl. Photo from Carole Paquette
Eric Powers holds a great horned owl. Photo from Carole Paquette

Biologist and outdoorsman Eric Powers will conduct a birding walk at Caleb Smith State Park Preserve on Jericho Turnpike in Smithtown on Saturday, May 14, from 9 to 10:30 a.m.

Preregistration is required as space is limited. Call 631-265-1054.

The free event is part of the 2016 Lecture Series sponsored by the Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve, and will involve walking about two miles. Walkers are urged to wear sensible footwear and bring binoculars and a camera with a telephoto lens, if they are able.

Having extensively explored the historic Caleb Smith park, “Ranger Eric” — as students know him — will lead attendees to some of his favorite locations to see birds and other wildlife, as well as highlighting plants and freshwater springs, the lifeblood of the park. Ranger Eric suggests bringing any bird feather you would like to share with the group.

See more of Ranger Eric on his new television show “Off the Trail” at www.myNHTV.com. For more information, visit his website at www.YC2N.com.

For more information about Friends activities and events, visit www.friendsofcalebsmith.org.

Roosevelt Avenue’s park is tucked away in the woods. A path leads from the road to the field, which is next to the railroad track. Photo by Elana Glowatz

A hidden park in the corner of Port Jefferson could soon expand, as village officials line up paperwork on a few small properties they were supposed to take ownership of 45 years ago.

Roosevelt Park, tucked away at the end of a grassy path beyond Roosevelt Avenue in the village’s southwestern corner, is as big as the ball field it contains — but it was meant to be larger. A corporation that built houses in the village in the 1970s, as a condition of project approval, was supposed to give three parcels on the western side of Roosevelt Avenue, opposite the ball field, to the village for recreational use. It was also supposed to contribute $5,000 to the village so it could acquire a fourth piece of land, which is pinned between the existing park, the three adjacent parcels and the Long Island Rail Road track that borders the park’s southern end.

But the deed transaction was never completed, although no taxes have been paid on the group of three parcels since the 1970s, according to Port Jefferson Village Attorney Brian Egan.

Roosevelt Avenue’s park is tucked away in the woods. A path leads from the road to the field, which is next to the railroad track. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Roosevelt Avenue’s park is tucked away in the woods. A path leads from the road to the field, which is next to the railroad track. Photo by Elana Glowatz

The village board of trustees, in a legal action at a board meeting on Monday night, called the discrepancy a “scrivener error.”

It is not clear what happened to the $5,000; the village does not own the fourth piece of land either.

At the meeting, the trustees gave Mayor Margot Garant authorization to record three quitclaim deeds, which would transfer the titles of the properties to the village.

Egan said he has spoken to the family of the construction corporation’s owner, who has since died, and “they don’t want to have anything to do with this property.”

The fourth piece of land might be a little trickier — property taxes have been paid on that lot, and Egan said the village might have to acquire the sliver through eminent domain, an action in which a municipality claims private property for a public benefit and compensates the owner.

When combined with the existing Roosevelt Park, the land could make a spot larger than 2 acres, Garant said at a previous meeting. She has also said that she would like to see the expanded spot become a “dedicated space for peewee programs,” because older players sometimes dominate the Caroline Avenue ball field up the road.

While the mayor had said she doesn’t want to impact the surrounding residences, in the village neighborhood off Old Post Road known as the “presidential section,” she had suggested adding some parking at Roosevelt Park.

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