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Port Jefferson Station

Michael Calvin and coach Thomas Cooper spar before the big fight. Photo from Michael Calvin

For amateur boxers, making it to the finals of the Daily News Golden Gloves tournament is a huge achievement. Recently fighters from Port Jefferson Station’s Royals Boxing Gym had their chance for glory in the ring, and one of them brought home the gold.

Two days before the fights the energy was high and the excitement was palpable at the gym as co-owner Michael Calvin of Setauket was balancing work and training to compete in the welterweight finals of the tournament at Manhattan Center’s Hammerstein Ballroom April 21. Golden Gloves finalist and Stony Brook resident Michael Misa was also at the gym that night. He was sparring in preparation for his light heavyweight match that was held at the Aviator Sports and Event Center in Brooklyn April 22. 

Calvin proudly wears his Golden Gloves shirt and necklace. Photo from Michael Calvin

Calvin, 26, a Ward Melville graduate, made it to the semifinals in 2013 but had to bow out due to an injury. He was looking forward to fighting in the finals this year.

“It’s a surreal feeling,” Calvin said. “I guess it will sink in more when the experience is over. Right now, I am so immersed in the circumstances.”

Misa, 26, was also excited and said he was preparing to face his competitor Matt Klingerman with his trainer Adam Willett.

“It’s always a challenge, the finals,” Misa said. “I know my opponent. He has really good cardio. He always comes forward. We’re just working on using range and everything we worked on in the gym.”

Misa, who just started boxing last year, said this would actually be his third fight in the tournament, as opposed to his fourth like others in the Golden Gloves, because his opponent didn’t show up for the semifinal fight.

“It was kind of bittersweet,” he said. “You know it’s nice to get into the finals but I really wanted to earn my way into the finals. We worked really hard on it.”

Calvin said the two were training at least 20 hours a week in the lead-up to the tournament. Hard work is nothing new to them.

Besides running Royals Boxing Gym with his partner, Calvin is a personal trainer at Remedy Gym in Setauket and works with Giant Step Services, which educates and assists adults with developmental disabilities.

Calvin said he has been involved with boxing since he discovered it at the age of 16 when he saw children competing outside of the Boys & Girls Club of Suffolk County. He said working with boxers seven days a week in addition to training keeps him in top form. He said whether practicing, training others or leading demonstrations, he’s always going over his technique.

“My biggest weapon is this constant reinforcement of my fundamentals — it has gotten me exponentially better,” he said.

Misa, who grew up in Mount Sinai and is a liberal arts student at Suffolk County Community College, said years ago he became involved in jiujitsu and mixed martial arts at a competitive level. It was after a four-year stint in the Navy that he first tried his hand at boxing, even though he always followed it as a kid. He said he believes his training in the martial arts helps him when it comes to boxing. Misa also played hockey growing up but he said he prefers competing on his own like he does in boxing.   

“It’s an individual sport so it’s more on you,” Misa said. “Obviously you have your coaches and teammates that are pushing you in the gym, but at the end of the day, it’s only you and the other guy in the ring. That’s why I love it so much.”

Besides physical dedication, the sport takes a strong mental attitude.

“It takes a lot of mental preparation,” Calvin said. “I stay pretty calm. I never really get nervous. I’m not nervous until the walk to the ring, and that walk to the ring is the most heart-wrenching thing. It’s terrifying. Everything in you is telling you to turn around and walk away because you know there’s a 100 percent chance you’re going to get hit, but all your training and everything and your ego tells you to keep trucking
forward.”

As for punches, Calvin said when he’s fighting, he doesn’t register them coming.

“When you’re in the ring everything happens so fast,” he said. “It’s all reactive. You don’t have time to process anything in the ring at all. You have to react … all a result of training.”

Before the match, Thomas Cooper, co-owner of Royals who also trains Calvin, was optimistic about the fight and said that the boxer is a “special talent in the sport” and felt he was the top fighter in the competition.

“He has speed and power and that’s an excellent combination to have in boxing,” Cooper said. “He has fast feet, fast hands. He always listens to what you have to tell him. He’s always trying to do things better.”

“I stay pretty calm. I never really get nervous. I’m not nervous until the walk to the ring, and that walk to the ring is the most heart-wrenching thing. It’s terrifying.”

— Michael Calvin

Willett coaches both fighters and had great faith in them before they met their opponents in the ring. He met Misa a couple of years ago in the world of mixed martial arts. 

“He transitioned very well because he has an open mind,” the coach said. “I always tell everyone I gave him a map, and he followed it to the ‘t.’ So, it’s why he’s at where he is now. It’s kind of unheard of for someone who was in mixed martial arts to go into open class, because open class is semi-pro.”

On the night of April 21 Calvin was unanimously declared the 152-pound open title champion in the welterweight division. The next day Misa lost his match in the 178-pound open title bout. Calvin said making it to the finals, for a new boxer like Misa, is a great achievement in itself.

Cooper was extremely proud of Calvin after the fight, and said the boxer dominated his opponent, Michael Hughes, a 2012 Golden Gloves champion, with his in-and-out movements and speed and power in the three, three-minute rounds.

“He did all the things we’ve been working on, and it really seemed in that final fight that a lot of things came together,” Cooper said. “He put it all together. He was in and out, he was moving. It was fantastic.”

He was excited to see his business partner and teammate win after years of hard work.

“When he got those golden gloves around his neck, I was extremely happy for him because it changes his life,” the coach said.

A couple of days after the fight, Calvin was still shocked as he prepared for the national tournament, which will be held in Lafayette, Louisiana’s Cajundome the first week of May.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet because I’m so focused on nationals,” the boxer said. “But the feeling of having those gloves around my neck was really spectacular … and getting my hands raised in front of all those people.”

The 10-mile route that the Port Jefferson Station to Wading River Rails to Trails project will take. Image from Legislator Anker's office

As hundreds packed the auditoriums of Shoreham-Wading River and Miller Place high schools the same sentiment reverberated off the walls — there’s not only a want, but a need for a safe place for children to ride their bikes.

After the deaths of two local children, the desire for the Rails to Trails project to push forward was prevalent among the Port Jefferson Station, Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Sound Beach, Rocky Point, Shoreham and Wading River residents who live along the proposed 10-mile trail.

“I don’t know if this trail is going to move forward 100 percent, but so far it’s picking up momentum,” Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said to the March 29 group in Shoreham. “We need the ability to ride bikes in a safe place, the ability to take a walk or push a baby carriage in a safe place.”

Residents listen to questions and answers during the meeting at Shorheam-Wading River High School. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The legislator, who is propelling the project, brought members the Suffolk County Department of Works and engineering company NV5 to her first general meeting to gather public input and answer questions.

“I need to hear what you want, because I’m here to make it happen,” Anker said.

Steve Normandy, project manager with NV5, discussed the flat surface and location being conducive to a trail.

“There’s over 1,600 rail trails nationwide over 20,000 miles,” he said. “They’re good for biking, hiking, walking, safe travel to school, and studies have shown businesses thrive and home values increase, it improves air quality and enhances sense of community.”

On March 28, the county Legislature unanimously approved a negative New York State Environmental Quality Review Act determination for the proposed 10-foot-wide trail, which would be opened from dawn to dusk. The adoption of negative SEQRA determination means that there is no anticipated environmental impact for the project.

The path will have paver markings and mile-markers for county miles, as well as emergency services to locate those in need. It will also meet Americans with Disabilities Act slope requirements. The design report was submitted to the state Department of Transportation in February. If design approval is received this summer, final design plans will be prepared in the next year in the hopes of received final design plan approval from the NYSDOT in winter 2018.

Currently, the plan is that construction will begin in spring 2019, for a fall 2020 finish.

“We’ve met with quite a few partners and discussed a bunch of different aspects of maintenance, but the biggest issue we anticipate is really going to be cutting the grass,” said county Department of Public Works chief engineer, Bill Hillman. “We’ll be asking the community for help, to pitch in with a lot of the different maintenance aspects.”

The hope is that a not-for-profit like the Friends of Greenway, which maintains the Setauket to Port Jefferson Greenway Trail, will form to beautify and preserve the attraction.

Kaitlin Brown, who moved to Wading River five years ago, said she entered the area because she loved the trees.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker responds to questions from the audience. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I want to pledge my support because I think it’s a wonderful component that our community doesn’t have, and it needs,” she said, adding she is willing to help mow and maintain the piece of property, which is owned by LIPA. “I found my house on the map, and it looks like one day when I have kids, they’ll be able to get from our house through back roads to the trail, and then take the trail to the high school.”

Judy Black, who has lived in the area for 47 years, said she’s been hoping the trail would become a reality from day one, back in 2001 before plans derailed, and again in 2011 when Anker tried to revive the idea.

“I so hope we can come together and make this happen,” she said. “With a son that rode his bicycle all over the place I was always worried about him.”

She explained how she once saw a cyclist fall on North Country Road trying to maneuver around a construction sign. She was in need of medical attention, and when examiners arrived, they asked her why she was riding along a major road.

“But where else do you ride your bike?” Black said. “We need a safe place to ride, to walk with friends, to expand our community connection, and I’m so for it.”

The ideas weren’t without opposition.

There were some like 10-year Rocky Point resident Mary Anne Gladysz, who said she’s felt like she’s been kept in the dark.

“I’m not in favor of this at all,” she said, although adding she would probably be in favor of Rails to Trials if she didn’t live near it.“This is in my backyard 24/7; you come for an hour-and-a-half walk and then you leave. I’m here all the time.”

Some of her concerns included if the trail will take property from homeowners, if cesspools will be affected and what issues her dogs barking toward the trail could bring.

Hillman and Anker reassured her that she will not be losing property, and cesspools will not be affected. As for dogs barking and noise ordinances, Hillman said it’s an issue Gladysz would have to take up with Brookhaven Town.

The trial currently doesn’t have any guardrails, fences, beautification elements, toilets or lights budgeted into the $8 million plan.

Those who would like to see where the trail will be located in relation to their homes could view individual hamlet maps during the meeting. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Anker said she is working on a plan to protect privacy along the path, and said Eagle and Girl Scouts typically do beautification projects, which could include adding benches and other useful things along the trail.

Others still worried about safety and other crime-related issues, were soothed by Sgt. Walter Langdon of the Suffolk County Police Department, and 7th Precinct COPE officer Mike Casper, who said there has been “little to no crime” at Setauket-Port Jefferson Greenway Trail, but added that there will still be a police presence along the path.

By the end of the first meeting, those like Rocky Point resident Cory Fitzgerald were heard loudest, and supported by other community members for their opinion of the trail.

Fitzgerald has daughters aged 8 and 6, and both love riding their bikes.

“We take trips to Cape Cod every summer and the rail trail up in Cape Cod is phenomenal,” he said. “My girls ride their bikes more in that one week than during the entire year in Rocky Point. The roads in Rocky Point are very narrow and hilly, so I want to give my girls that opportunity to ride whenever they want. We’ve been waiting for so long — I’ve been told this was coming and I’ve been so excited and the girls really want this to happen. It’s going to be great for our community.”

Residents in favor of the trail, which some like Wading River resident Bruce Kagan are naming the “Tesla Trail,” because it will lead to the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham, were unanimous on the biggest topic of discussion: kids.

“This is the most deadly county for injuries and deaths for pedestrians and cyclists,” Kagan said. “There’s no place for our kids. Let us do this for our children and our children’s children.”

Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County Police arrested one person during multiple New York State Liquor Authority inspections at various Town of Brookhaven businesses.

Officers from the 6th Precinct Crime Section and 6th Precinct Community Support Unit conducted underage alcohol checks March 9 at 24 businesses throughout the precinct.

Buenaventura Benitez, 43, of Smithtown, employed by NY Food & Drink Inc., located at 2505 Middle Country Road in Centereach, was arrested for unlawfully dealing with a child in the 1st degree under the state penal law, and prohibited sale to a person under 21, which falls under the NYS ABC law.

Benitez was issued a field appearance ticket and a summons and is scheduled to be arraigned at First District court in Central Islip at a later date.

Twenty-three additional businesses in Centereach, Coram, East Setauket, Port Jefferson Station, Stony Brook, Miller Place, and Mount Sinai were inspected and refused to sell alcohol to a minor.

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Alain Jean mugshot from SCPD

A 23-year-old homeless man was sentenced to 17 years in state prison Feb. 27 for stabbing another homeless man in an abandoned house in Port Jefferson Station last summer, according to a spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. Alain Jean pleaded guilty to first-degree assault. He told police he confronted the victim, Joseph Panettiere, 23, because he believed Panettiere was spreading rumors about him. On June 11, 2016, Jean shot the victim four times with a .22 caliber pistol leaving him seriously wounded.

In addition to sentencing the defendant, Judge Timothy Mazzei issued a permanent order of protection for the victim.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, Jean shot the then 22-year-old victim multiple times shortly after 12:30 p.m. on Union Street, which is between Hallock Avenue and Route 25A, and the Long Island Rail Road tracks in Port Jefferson Station.

Panettiere was treated for serious injuries at Stony Brook University Hospital.

File photo

A Rocky Point man was ejected from his vehicle as a result of a crash in Port Jefferson Station Feb. 22 and transported to Stony Brook Hospital for treatment of serious injuries, according to Suffolk County Police. Sixth Squad detectives are investigating the two-vehicle crash.

Brian Carter was driving a 1975 Jeep westbound on Route 347 when he attempted to make a left turn onto Crystal Brook Hollow Road and his vehicle was struck by an eastbound 2009 Chevrolet at about 8:20 p.m.

Carter, 25, of Rocky Point, was ejected from the vehicle and was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of serious injuries. The driver of the Chevrolet, Zachary Pisoni, 24, of Medford, was not injured.

Both vehicles were impounded for safety checks and the investigation is continuing. Detectives are asking anyone with information on this crash to call the 6th Squad at 631-854-8652.

Blighted buildings and empty storefronts in upper Port Jefferson could soon be addressed through various grants. File photo by Kevin Redding

Port Jefferson Village’s vision for upper Port revitalization became a little clearer this week. The village was awarded a $500,000 grant from Empire State Development, the state’s economic development arm, as part of the Restore New York Communities Initiative, which was created to support municipalities in rehabilitating blighted commercial properties.

The money will be used for infrastructure and demolition needs on five adjacent parcels near the intersection of Perry Street and Main Street, about a block north of the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station. This comes on the heels of the village receiving a $250,000 grant from Suffolk County earlier in January as part of its Jumpstart program for transit-based improvements around the train station. The village is calling the multiphase project Uptown Funk.

“I think the momentum is picking up behind us.”

— Margot Garant

“Now being recognized by New York state regional economic development dollars, that’s the exclamation point at the end of the sentence,” Village Mayor Margot Garant said in a phone interview. “I think the momentum is picking up behind us.”

The ultimate plan is to transform the area into a mixed-use, housing and retail area.

“This combined New York state and Suffolk County funding will be the turn-key to bring Uptown Funk alive, attracting young professionals, families and visitors to the area, spurring regional economic growth,” the village’s grant writer Nicole Christian said in a statement.

In an interview after receiving the Jumpstart money from the county, Garant stressed the importance of inter-municipal cooperation in trying to reach her goal of turning upper Port into a suitable gateway for the harborfront village.

“We’re working with all of these different agencies — largely state agencies — but to have the county executive and the county behind us giving us this kind of money, they’re investing in what we’re doing here,” she said. “They see the big picture, and I think that’s one of the things that made Steve [Bellone] a little unique in his role as county executive. He’s done this before in other areas and he knows what needs to be done.”

Village Grants for upper Port Revitalization

–$500,000 from New York State Empire State Development to address blighted/vacant buildings

–$250,000 from Suffolk County Jumpstart program for parking improvements at LIRR station

–$50,000 in state funds to finalize Urban Renewal Plan

The village took the step to commission a blight study in May 2016 in order to qualify for an urban renewal plan, which is required by New York state general municipal law. Because the study concluded the cluster of parcels was indeed a blighted area, the village will have the option to impose eminent domain over property owners should an agreement not be reached for the village to purchase the property, or if owners do not comply with the revitalization plans, according to Garant. The Mayor has said throughout the process she does not foresee the need for eminent domain to be used, but it is a “tool in the toolbox” should the village find it necessary. She added that she has spoken to property owners in upper Port who are excited to get the process started.

At a public hearing to discuss the urban renewal plan earlier in January, some people in the community were concerned about a lack of affordable housing in the area.

Barbara Sabatino, a Port Jefferson resident who owns Port Jeff Army Navy, a retail store in the blighted area, said she is in favor of revitalization, but acknowledged that redevelopment could push out hardworking families who can’t afford an increase in rent.

“Other than the people who rent a room out of their house — and there’s an awful lot of those in Port Jeff Station — I don’t see any safety net for those people,” she said. “If you want to clean up the area and make it more attractive, we need to change the mixture of tenants.”

Garant responded to Sabatino’s concerns.

“I think it’s a careful balance between wanting to keep young families and senior citizens and people who want to afford to live in the village as a family unit or individually, and other situations where you have people who bring other people in to help them pay the rent,” she said.

Other members of the village board have voiced their support for the project and desire to improve upper Port.

“I’m really happy to see the village moving forward on this particular issue,” trustee Bruce D’Abramo said during a board meeting in September. “It has been a clear goal of mine since I became a trustee to do something about upper Port, and this is one of the mechanisms that I’m happy we can embrace.”

The village has put out requests for qualifications to begin the process of selecting a private developer or developers, and they expect to begin the project sometime in the spring.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone presents a $250,000 check to officials from Port Jefferson Village for a revitilization project at the railroad station. Photo by Alex Petroski

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) stopped by Port Jefferson Station Jan. 19 to drop off a very generous gift. As part of the county’s Jumpstart program, an initiative established to fund infrastructure improvements for transit-oriented areas, Bellone presented a check for $250,000 to Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant for renovations slated for the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station.

“We have to make our region more attractive [to young people],” Bellone said in an interview. “If we’re going to bring young people back to this region, we have to deliver the things that they need and want.”

The plan for the Jumpstart money is to redevelop parking lots around the train station to increase spots and improve safety in the area. To receive the actual grant money the village must first spend $250,000 on the project before receiving a full reimbursement, according to Nicole Christian who is responsible for writing and obtaining grants for the village. Port Jefferson Village is also in the process of an urban renewal project that would address vacant and blighted buildings on Main Street in Port Jefferson Station. Both projects are part of Garant and the village’s master plan to revitalize upper Port Jefferson and turn it into a more appealing “gateway” for the harborfront village.

Bellone and Mayor Margot Garant look over the area set for improvements. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We’re working with all of these different agencies — largely state agencies — but to have the county executive and the county behind us giving us this kind of money, they’re investing in what we’re doing here,” Garant said in an interview. “They see the big picture and I think that’s one of the things that made Steve a little unique in his role as county executive. He’s done this before in other areas and he knows what needs to be done. This isn’t a lot of money coming from the county level, but it’s a lot. Every little bit helps us. Just getting this is extremely important.”

Bellone commended Garant for her leadership and vision in Port Jefferson Station.

“I think, clearly this is a model and every time you see a project like this it is [the] local leadership driving it forward that is indispensible to making it happen and making it a success,” he said. “Local leadership is indispensible and partnerships between different levels of government, the private sector, universities — coming together and working together to do something that’s important for the local community and for the region.”

Fifth District Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) also praised Garant’s dedication to the revitalization of Port Jefferson Station.

“She’s been working a long time to make this happen,” Hahn said. “To have the dedication and commitment to work on a project for the amount of time and to keep at it, to see it through to now at a point where things are going up, things are getting built, we’re breaking ground on the whole vision and it takes someone special to see something through to the end.”

Hahn said she is also excited for the progress being made within her district.

“I think it’s critically important the county is investing in these types of projects, especially a transit-oriented development where we are focusing our redevelopment in an area that has access to public transportation, that makes much needed housing available for the university one stop away, that supports economic development on a number of levels,” she said.

Garant said the plan is to put the project out for bid and to begin work in the coming months.

While millions across the globe took part in the Women’s March on Washington and other sister marches Jan. 21, hundreds met on the corner of Route 347 and Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station to make their voices heard.

“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized and threatened many of us — immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault — and our communities are hurting and scared,” a website established to organize the marches states in its mission.

Community members who attended the event from across the North Shore reiterated many of those concerns during the march in Port Jeff Station, which according to the site was the only affiliated sister march on Long Island.

“I wanted to say something today to make all of the anxiety, the anger and fear go away, but that’s not going to happen. It shouldn’t happen because times are rough and the current circumstances call for anxiety, anger and fear.”

—Kathy Lahey

“Getting out here in unity and letting our voices be heard is crucial,” Port Jefferson resident Kathy Lahey said over a megaphone to those in attendance. Lahey said she was responsible for organizing the sister march, getting the word out and getting it officially recognized as an affiliate on the website. “We are all in this together. Together we will fight for equality, for fairness and for justice. I wanted to say something today to make all of the anxiety, the anger and fear go away, but that’s not going to happen. It shouldn’t happen because times are rough and the current circumstances call for anxiety, anger and fear.”

Women, men and children of all ages, races and backgrounds were represented at the march. The March on Washington and all of those affiliated were set up intentionally to coincide with President Donald Trump’s (R) inauguration Jan. 20 as a means to combat what they view as his alienating rhetoric during the campaign, and since his election victory, as well as to voice opposition for several policies on his agenda and nominations for his cabinet positions. Health care, equal rights, demanding the release of the President’s tax returns and immigration policy were among the topics most frequently referenced by signs and chants by attendees.

President Trump addressed the worldwide marches through his personal Twitter account.

“Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views,” he said Jan. 22, though he later added if all present had gone out and vote they may have been heard sooner.

Many in attendance said they weren’t sure what to expect when they decided to attend, but were blown away by the unity and solidarity they felt upon arriving.

“My initial reaction when I pulled up was I burst into tears because I’m sad that we have to be here, but in the end I’m left feeling very empowered because even though the road to progress is a jagged road, in the end love will always win,” Daniela McKee of Setauket said. McKee said she is a teacher, and brought her own kids with her to experience the event. “I think it’s important that they learn from a very early age that they have to fight for what they believe in and for their rights and equality.”

Joyce Edward of Jefferson Ferry, who is in her 90s, shared her reasons for marching.

“We’re going so far back, it’s sad,” she said. “I think it is important and I hope that maybe our congress people will pay attention. I don’t think Mr. Trump will. He pays attention to one person: himself.”

“My initial reaction when I pulled up was I burst into tears because I’m sad that we have to be here, but in the end I’m left feeling very empowered because even though the road to progress is a jagged road.”

—Daniela McKee

Edward added that her deep concern for where the country is headed for her children and grandchildren inspired her to get out and participate.

She questioned if 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who has been a vocal Trump supporter since he emerged as the likely Republican Presidential candidate, would be an advocate for those unhappy with the President’s beliefs and proposed policies.

“If he’s behind Trump then I’m not behind him,” Jeff Schroeder of Greenport also said of Zeldin. “It scares me that someone so far off from the ideologies of people I know is running our district.”

Zeldin addressed the march in an emailed statement through a spokeswoman.

“2017 presents new opportunities to improve our community, state and nation,” he said. “To move our country forward, unity amongst the American people is the most critical necessity. Ideological differences will always exist, but the pursuit of common ground must be the highest priority. In Congress, I have always been and remain willing to work with absolutely anyone to find common ground on anything wherever and whenever possible.”

New York State Sen. and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) was among those marching in New York City.

“Thank you to all the New Yorkers, Americans and people in NY, Washington, and all over the world who laced up your shoes today,” he said in an email. “It was only the beginning.”

Several marchers said they were encouraged by the overwhelming support the large crowd provided for them.

“We just need to be heard — the frustration about what’s going on. I have a daughter. I have a wife … it can’t get worse in my mind.”

—Mitchell Riggs

“It’s so heartening that people realize that they can actually be involved in changing things in government,” Sherry Eckstein of Huntington said.

Allyson Matwey of Wading River expressed a similar sentiment.

“I did not know what to expect coming here today, and I’m just in awe that there’s men, women, children — all ages, all everything here today, and it’s amazing,” she said.

Mitchell Riggs of Middle Island attended the march with two of his children, while his wife attended the New York City march.

“We just need to be heard — the frustration about what’s going on,” he said. “I have a daughter. I have a wife … it can’t get worse in my mind.”

While addressing the crowd, Lahey stressed the importance of seeing the march as the beginning of a movement, and not a solitary event.

“President Obama also said at his farewell speech that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged and come together to demand it,” she said. “And here we are — hundreds, maybe thousands — standing together on a street corner in solidarity, a group of ordinary people getting involved, getting engaged, demanding that our servants do what we hired them to do. … Contact your representatives on a regular basis. … Let them know we are here, we are involved, we are engaged and we are not going away.”

Edna White offers a section of clementine to her granddaughter, Alexandria McLaurin. Photo by Donna Newman

In today’s world, the loudest voices often preach a message of divisiveness and look to create an environment that excludes rather than accepts. This message runs contrary to the one preached by Martin Luther King Jr. and [his] vision for a just and peaceful future.

The invitation extended to community members was made in those words for an event titled We Thirst for Justice at the Bates House in Setauket Jan. 16 — the designated commemoration of the birth of the civil rights leader.

The event was organized by Michael Huffner, co-founder of the Community Growth Center with locations in Smithtown and Port Jefferson Station, in partnership with the All Souls Episcopal Church in Stony Brook. A newly formed service organization, The Spot — a new service group that provides resources, community and mentoring— and artist Alex Seel of the Center for Community Awareness facilitated a collaborative art project for the multifaith gathering. Each person was invited to record his/her vision of justice on a small square of colored paper. Seel, assisted by Vanessa Upegui worked to merge the squares into a colorful mosaic.

Huffner said he hoped the celebration would inspire people to work collaboratively for justice.

Vanessa Upegui and Alex Seel pause to display their art project. Photo by Donna Newman

“What seems like a small piece of paper can become a beautiful work of art when combined with others,” he said at the event. “What seems like a small voice becomes a sound capable of changing the world when combined with others … Dr. King’s message is simple. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. We must be the light; we must be the love that Dr. King spoke about.”

The Rev. Farrell Graves, spiritual leader of the All Souls Church, an associate chaplain at Stony Brook University and a founder of The Spot, added his take on the day’s significance.

“This is the joyful part of our work,” he said at the event. “We also have some more difficult work — to stand up for the common good. Freedom is for everyone, or it’s for no one. The cost of our freedom is constant vigilance, and by that I mean awareness, and I include in that self-awareness … If we don’t have the courage to look ourselves in the face, then fear and scapegoating take over. We start blaming others for our inadequacies … This is not yet the world that Martin Luther King envisioned. If we want to change the world, we must have the courage to change ourselves.”    

Seel stressed the importance of the fact that the civil rights movement of the ’60s was a collaborative effort and that such an endeavor is needed again to further the cause of justice in our country in our time.

“What we need now is leadership,” he said. “We need leaders who will bring different faith communities together. There needs to be a call to engage in a clear and effective goal.”

The event included live music and a diversity of foods. More than 65 people attended and, while the host organizations encouraged mixing and mingling, when approached, most people admitted they were sitting with people they already knew.

Jill Gallant of the engineering company VHB explains Port Jefferson’s urban renewal project at a public hearing at Village Hall Jan. 3. Photo by Alex Petroski

Plans to bring new life to upper Port Jefferson are in effect, as residents and village officials weighed in on the proposed renewal project this week.

Revitalization of businesses and infrastructure in upper Port, the area of Main Street south of North Country Road and north of the Long Island Rail Road train tracks, has been on the mind of the village board of trustees for more than a year. The community had the chance to voice its opinion on the proposed urban renewal project at a public hearing Jan. 3, when a representative from VHB, an engineering and planning firm, presented the findings of a blight study and laid out the plan.

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

A blight study was ordered by the village in May 2016 in order to qualify for an urban renewal plan, which is required by New York State general municipal law. Based on the findings of the study, the board determined the area was appropriate for an urban renewal project. The village hopes to eliminate substandard conditions identified in the blight study, redevelop vacant and deteriorating properties, create new housing opportunities, improve public safety, and generate economic activity and support for retail and service establishments through development of new housing in the area. VHB recommends a mix of ground-floor retail and commercial uses and upper-floor living spaces as a way to address several concerns in the blight study.

The study found the upper Port area has a number of poor building and lot conditions, a cluster of vacant lots and storefronts, lots that don’t conform to zoning regulations, building code violations and public safety issues.

As a result of the blight study, if necessary the village can now impose eminent domain on property owners in an effort to promote growth and development, meaning the village government now has the right to take land from a property owner in exchange for compensation. Village Mayor Margot Garant has repeatedly said the board has no plans to use eminent domain currently, but called it “another tool in the toolbox,” adding she hopes to have full cooperation from owners in the area.

Several community members voiced concerns about a lack of affordable housing in the area as a result of the plan.

Barbara Sabatino, who owns Port Jeff Army Navy, a retail store in the blighted area and lives in Port Jefferson, said she is in favor of revitalizing the area, but acknowledged that redevelopment could push out hardworking families who can’t afford an increase in rent.

“Other than the people who rent a room out of their house — and there’s an awful lot of those in Port Jeff Station — I don’t see any safety net for those people,” she said. “If you want to clean up the area and make it more attractive, we need to change the mixture of tenants.”

“Just getting people interested in redeveloping uptown is no easy task.”

— Margot Garant

Garant responded to Sabatino’s concerns.

“I think it’s a careful balance between wanting to keep young families and senior citizens and people who want to afford to live in the village as a family unit or individually, and other situations where you have people who bring other people in to help them pay the rent and it’s an uncontrollable rental situation,” she said. Garant reiterated the village’s preference would be to have a private developer revitalize the area in partnership with property owners without requiring the use of eminent domain.

Village resident John Koehnlein also expressed concerns about the project and the affordability of living in Port Jefferson upon its completion.

“To make it work you have to have families in there and it has to be affordable,” he said. “You’re also going to displace a lot of the families that are there right now.”

Garant explained the difficult position the village is in with trying to revitalize the area while maintaining a level of affordability.

“We’re trying to partner with Stony Brook University, we’re trying to partner with a lot of different entities to get more interest in redeveloping uptown,” she said. “Just getting people interested in redeveloping uptown is no easy task.”

The plan will still require official board approval in the coming weeks to proceed.

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