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Port Jefferson Station

Brightview Senior Living is looking to construct a 170-unit facility on about nine acres of land off Route 112 in Port Jeff Station, illustrated above within the red box. Image from Google Maps

Another large-scale development project is in the works for the Port Jefferson Station area.

Brookhaven Town approved a zone change at its July 12 meeting paving the way for the construction of a 170-unit assisted living facility on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station on a parcel near The Meadow Club banquet hall. With plans already progressing in recent months to construct a 244-unit residential complex for senior citizens on North Bicycle Path just off of Route 112 and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s allocating of $8 million in funds for a roughly 100-unit project for affordable and homeless housing on Route 112 near East Grove Street, this will be the third property set for massive development in a roughly mile and a half stretch of the state highway.

Baltimore-based developer Brightview Senior Living will be building and operating the assisted living facility, as it does with each of its 35 properties, according to Vice President of Development David Holland, who spoke during a town public hearing on the zone change July 12.

“We intend to be long-term citizens of Brookhaven and strive to be good neighbors to all who are around us,” Holland said.

The VP said the company expects the majority of its tenants to be in their 80s and 90s and in need of regular, daily care. Brightview’s current site plan for the approximately nine-acre plot of land includes a three-story building with dining venues, a theater, a pub, a library, indoor and outdoor lounges, as well as its own sewage treatment facility for the site.

The property was previously owned by area resident Jeff Kito and his family dating back to the 1950s, he said during the hearing. Kito is the former president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and lives on the nearby Canal Road currently. He said he and his brother decided to sell the property about three years ago and sought to find a developer interested in building something along the lines of what Brightview proposed. He said he has met with neighbors in the vicinity to discuss the plans.

“I think we’ll have a great facility for the community,” he said.

Kito’s former colleagues in the civic association submitted a letter to Brightview dated Jan. 25, 2017, stating the members had no objections to the project.

“We look forward to working with your firm as this assisted living facility proposal is further developed in our Port Jefferson Station Terryville Hamlet,” said the letter, signed by then-President Ed Garboski, who is now the vice president.

Current President Sal Pitti said in an email the civic association still has no objections related to the project. Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Anthony Guardino, an attorney representing the applicant at the July 12 hearing, each said they had received a single letter from a community member in opposition of the development in addition to several in favor, including one signed by all homeowners on Patty Ann Court, which is also nearby the boundaries of the parcel. The property is expected to have a significant buffer from other residential properties that will include sizable evergreen trees.

Holland indicated a demand for such a facility exists in the area, as Brightview determined about 1,500 assisted living beds are currently available in the town.

About 16 percent of Suffolk County’s population is 65 or older, according to the website www.censusreporter.org, which is slightly higher than the New York state and United States rates. Port Jefferson Station’s 80-plus population is substantially larger — about 20 percent — than that of the state and surrounding region, according to the site.

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File photo by Victoria Espinoza

A dispute inside a Port Jefferson Station pool hall resulted in the shooting death of a 27-year-old man July 22.

Suffolk County Police Homicide detectives are investigating a fatal shooting that occurred inside Billiards DBM, located at 1604 Main Street in Port Jefferson Station at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday night, according to police.

Following an altercation, Albert Luis Lopez Rodriguez was shot inside the hall, police said. Rodriguez, 27, of Selden was pronounced dead at the scene by a physician assistant from the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner.

The investigation is ongoing. Detectives are asking anyone with information about the incident to call the Homicide Squad at 631-852-6392 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS.

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By Anthony Petriello

Comsewogue High School will be rockin’ for a good cause July 19 with John Elefante, former lead singer of the American classic rock group Kansas.

A concert — called A Night of Hope — is being presented by the Warriors of Faith Christian Club, a group of Comsewogue students who organized the event to benefit the family of Brian McGuire, a district resident, former NYPD detective and 9/11 first responder who died suddenly April 30, leaving behind three children and his wife Karin, according to a GoFundMe page set up on behalf of the family. The event is meant to raise money for the family and for attendees to gather for prayer and discussion, according to a flyer promoting the concert.

Joining Elefante will be Kevin Chalfant, former lead singer for the Alan Parsons Live Project and former member of the world-renowned 1980s rock group Journey.

A benefit concert is being held at Comsewogue High School July 19 at 7 p.m. to benefit the family of a late community member.

Chalfant said he is eager to perform and was dedicated once he was informed about the circumstances surrounding the benefit.

“When John Elefante asked me to join him on Long Island for this wonderful family get together I was very happy,” Chalfant said. “I never knew the officer but when I heard that he was a first responder on 9/11, that’s all it took for me to be committed to this wonderful event.”

The money donated through ticket sales and a silent auction will go toward paying for college educations for the McGuire’s three kids. Their oldest son, Thomas, graduated from Comsewogue June 21, and will be attending Suffolk County Community College in the fall. Their son Michael will be entering 11th grade this upcoming school year, and their daughter, Danielle, will be heading to eighth grade.

Local businesses including Chick-Fil-A, School of Rock, and Wahlburgers, among others, as well as clergy from Axis Church of Medford, Harbor Church of Patchogue, Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle, and the Christian Cultural Center in Smithtown are working together to promote and organize the event along with the Comsewogue students. All of the funds raised will be directed to the McGuire family.

Pastor Anthony Pelella of Axis Church is one of those coordinating the event, and said he wanted to be involved just to help a family in need.

“We just wanted to give them something to make them smile,” he said.

Pelella will be delivering a message of hope prior to the concert. He said he believes in the notion that the Port Jefferson community is an extremely interconnected and faith driven place to reside.

“I believe that the Port Jefferson community hurts together,” He said. “When one person hurts we all hurt together, and when one person smiles we all smile together.”

Comsewogue school board President John Swenning also said he is looking forward to the event and raising funds for the cause. While Swenning is not the main coordinator of the concert, he said he is putting his full effort behind it and working to maximize the aid the concert generates for the McGuire family.

“It is humbling to see a community come together to help a neighbor in their time of need,” Swenning said. “There is no place I would want to raise a family other than the Comsewogue community.”

The silent auction will consist of gift baskets and guitars autographed by Elefante and Chalfant.

Assigned seat tickets can be purchased at www.comsewoguehs.seatyourself.biz. Special tickets are also for sale for a meet and greet and dinner with the band, with food provided by Wahlburgers. Tickets for the meet and greet dinner are being sold by Axis Church, which can be reached by emailing info@axisny.org. The event begins at 7 p.m. at Comsewogue High School. Standard admission tickets will also be sold at the door.

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County police 5th Squad detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that seriously injured a 53-year-old Port Jefferson Station man in Bohemia early July 3.

Eric Cohen exited his 2015 Ford F350 on the right shoulder of westbound Sunrise Highway, just west of the Oakdale-Bohemia Road overpass, when he was struck by an unknown vehicle at approximately 4:30 a.m.

Cohen was transported to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore for treatment of serious injuries.

Detectives are asking anyone who witnessed the incident to call the 5th Squad at 631-854-8552.

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Suffolk County Police Department Highway Patrol Bureau, assisted by the New York State Police, arrested seven people during an overnight sobriety checkpoint in the Port Jefferson Station area June 29-30.

Police officers conducted a sobriety checkpoint at the corner of Route 25A and Hallock Avenue in Port Jefferson Station. The checkpoint was conducted as part of ongoing July 4th holiday enforcement operations for the prevention of injuries and fatalities associated with driving while ability impaired by alcohol and drugs. A total of 603 vehicles went through the checkpoint.

The following people were charged with driving while intoxicated:

  • Michele Best, 40, of East Islip
  • Roger Piacentini, 55, of Coram
  • George Gallo, 49, of Rocky Point
  • Blanca Escobar-Avalos, 32, of Washington, D.C.
  • Christian Ramos, 21, of South Setauket

The following were charged with driving while ability impaired:

  • Tariq Rana, 27, of Coram
  • David Vargas, 53, of Hauppauge

The above individuals were scheduled to be arraigned at 1st District Court in Central Islip June 30.

Rabbi Aaron Benson of North Shore Jewish Center speaks during an interfaith prayer vigil June 24. Photo by Alex Petroski

Normally various religious leaders getting together at the same place and time sounds like the lead-in to a joke, but an event at North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station June 24 was far from a laughing matter.

United States immigration policy, specifically the recently instituted “zero tolerance policy” by President Donald Trump (R) and his administration, which has resulted in the detention of several thousands of people and the separation of families attempting to cross the border together, was the topic of discussion during an interfaith vigil of prayer and unity at the Synagogue Sunday.

Reverend Richard Visconti of Stony Brook Community Church performs “Give Peace a Chance” with help from Haven Sellers at an interfaith prayer vigil regarding United States immigration policy June 24. Video by Alex Petroski

Rabbi Aaron Benson of NSJC, Reverend Richard Visconti of Caroline Church and Cemetery in East Setauket, Reverend Chuck Van Houten of Stony Brook Community Church, Irma Solis of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, Yousuf Sayed of the Islamic Association of Long Island, Rabbi Steven Moss of B’nai Israel Reform Temple and Reverend Kate Jones Calone of Setauket Presbyterian Church were among the speakers collectively denouncing the policy at the event.

“The goal is to inspire our community to advocate for national border and immigration policies guided by a basic sense of human dignity and worth for all people involved,” a press release announcing the event said. “America should be a country leading the world in compassion and human rights. In this moment, where our country falls short of that, the religious community continues to lead with morals and hope that our followers will stand together for these families.”

Moss, who also serves as chairperson for the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, said the leaders of the represented faiths — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — were brought to the event through the foundations of religious traditions.

“We must stand firm, together — stand tall against these laws and rules, orders and directives that fail to protect the poor, the needy, the homeless, the immigrant — both legal and illegal — and their children from being mistreated, demonized, dehumanized and brutalized,” Moss said. “A government that fails to protect all people is not a government at all.”

Jones Calone, in addressing the dozens gathered at NSJC, likened what she described as the rising tensions brought about by the political otherization of migrants seeking refuge at American borders to sitting in a tub of water gradually getting hotter, adding it’s finally reached a boiling point.

It seemed unbelievable at first, reports that read like bad dreams — desperate mothers and fathers; transports in the middle of the night; cages; warehoused, crying children.”

— Kate Jones Calone

“This is, appropriately, a confession, because if it takes the horror of hearing warehoused children crying to make many Christians uncomfortable with what is usual, then it has taken too long,” she said, turning to her bathtub comparison, and saying the temperature has continued to rise every time the nation is silently complicit with the demonization of certain religions, with limits or bans on certain people from certain places or with violence against people not in power. “’How awful,’ we say — a response I’ve said, heard, felt many times over the past weeks to stories that seem like bad dreams trickling out slowly at first and then printed in line after line, video segment after video segment. It seemed unbelievable at first, reports that read like bad dreams — desperate mothers and fathers; transports in the middle of the night; cages; warehoused, crying children.”

Benson and the leaders, many of whom are members of the Three Village Clergy Council, indicated on a pamphlet handed out at the event that there are ways to help, directing those in attendance to familiesbelong.org, hias.org/take-action among others. He said the group is also planning on holding future events.

Trump signed an executive order last week designed to end family separations as the national attention to the story reached a critical mass, though as of press time around 500 of 2,300 separated parents and children detained apart at the U.S.-Mexico border have since been reunited. The policy has been both denounced by members of the Trump administration as a holdover Obama-era procedure and publicly cited as a new strategy intentionally instituted to deter asylum seekers from trying to come to America.

The Comsewogue High School Class of 2018 said its goodbyes June 21 at the annual graduation ceremony June 21 on the football field. Valedictorian Luke Begley and Salutatorian Charles Clark addressed the crowd in attendance and the class of nearly 300.

Comsewogue High School students clean headstones at Calverton National Cemetery May 30 as part of Joe's Day of Service. Photo from CSD

Stories of Comsewogue School District students and staff engaging in acts of kindness are hardly rare, but an event conceived by a teacher and several students carried out May 30 somehow raised the bar.

High school teacher Andrew Harris said he thought of the idea of a full day of community service projects last school year, and in talking with some of his colleagues, a larger idea was born. By this school year, the event had a name — Joe’s Day of Service, after Superintendent Joe Rella — and students were making pitches in Harris’ class for how the student body should spend the day.

“There are major problems everywhere — addiction, depression — and the thing is, they say one of the best things to do is to help other people,” Harris said in an interview at Brookhaven Town Hall, where the students were recognized for their efforts by the town board June 14. “I wanted the students to understand that, because they don’t always have the opportunity. I wanted them to get a taste of that just in one day and understand that when you give to others you feel rich.”

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella with students who participated in Joe’s Day of Service. Photo from CSD

Ninth-grade students Julia Ratkiewicz and Rachel Plunkett proposed the idea of visiting Calverton National Cemetery, where members of the United States armed forces are laid to rest, to spend the day cleaning gravestones. By May 30, nearly 200 Comsewogue High School students headed to the Calverton cemetery — on seven buses donated for use that day by Suffolk Transportation Service.

“I was in such a good mood, my mom asked, ‘Are you sure you were out cleaning gravestones?’” Julia said.

Rachel, who said she and Julia thought of the idea because they both have veterans in their family and wanted to show their appreciation, said she never imagined their small idea presented in class as a way to give back would turn into a districtwide day of service.

“It’s just the least we could do for them since they did so much for us,” she said.

Eleventh-grader John Quartararo, who also helped organize the trip, called his experience at the cemetery a beautiful day, and marveled at the mood and response from his classmates who participated on the trip.

While the high school students were at Calverton, other Comsewogue kids were at Save-A-Pet animal shelter in Port Jefferson Station, cleaning cages and spending time with the rescued animals. John F. Kennedy Middle School students visited Stony Brook University Hospital to sing in the lobby, then went over to the Long Island State Veterans Home on SBU’s campus to sing patriotic songs and spend time with the veterans living at the facility. Others collected toiletries to donate to the homeless. Some painted rocks as part of The Kindness Rocks Project, an initiative which calls on people to paint inspiring messages on rocks and leave them in places where they will be found by someone in need of a boost.

Comsewogue students are recognized during the June 14 Brookhaven Town board meeting. Photo by Alex Petroski

Local businesses even got wind of Joe’s Day of Service and contributed to the cause. Chick-fil-A, Wahlburgers, Bagelicious Café, Walmart, McDonald’s and Applebee’s Grill and Bar in Miller Place all offered support in one way or another.

Harris and the students involved each credited Rella for setting the tone at Comsewogue and in the community.

“All I did was go to the events and just get blown away at every single one,” Rella said. “It was an unbelievable show on the part of our students. I’m better for having been here. I’m a better person for just having been at Comsewogue. And that’s the way it is.”

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) commended Harris and the students involved for their efforts.

“I think it’s important that we highlight all of these [acts] because on one day, they provided all of this service to our community, to those in need,” she said. “I just want to say thank you so much for all that you do, Comsewogue, and keep up the great work.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. File photo by Erika Karp

Homeless people living in Suffolk County might soon find a roof over their heads in Port Jefferson Station.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced May 10 that $25.6 million has been awarded to four housing developments on Long Island to create 239 affordable homes.

There is $8.1 million set aside for construction of six two-story buildings on vacant land off Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station, north of East Grove Street and south of Washington Avenue. Phase One of the project would create 77 units, while a potential second phase would add an additional 31 apartments, according to Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) speaking during a May 22 Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting. The site plan application for the project was listed as
“in-review” in Brookhaven documents as of April 30, though the property is already properly zoned for the requested use and it doesn’t require any variances, according to town spokesperson Kevin Molloy. The Port Jeff Station project would include 45 units for homeless individuals, half of which would be reserved for veterans, Cartright said.

“Our biggest concern, besides the tax part that they’re not bringing any kind of revenue to our community, is also the amount of kids that may come out of this facility.”

— Sal Pitti

The May 10 announcement ignited a strong reaction from the Port Jefferson Station community both on social media and at the May 22 meeting. Civic association President Sal Pitti said he, Cartright and representatives from Concern for Independent Living Inc., the nonprofit agency seeking to construct the facility, met in March to discuss the potential project, concerns of the community and the agency’s efforts to gain tax exempt status for the project from the state. Cartright and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) both said May 22 they were caught off guard by the governor’s announcement about the funding.

“As soon as I found out anything about it, I ran into the supervisor’s office asking him what he knew about it and wanted to make sure that I had all the information necessary,” Cartright said. “Immediately afterwards we contacted the civic association … it was news to us as well.”

Pitti said he thought the organization had been less than forthcoming about its plans, suggesting Concern for Independent Living initially didn’t mention the potential second phase, which is also not referenced in Cuomo’s announcement.

“Our biggest concern, besides the tax part that they’re not bringing any kind of revenue to our community, is also the amount of kids that may come out of this facility, because more kids in our school district means more taxes on top of the taxes we’re already paying for that location,” he said.

Elizabeth Lunde, Senior Associate Executive Director for Concern for Independent Living said leadership of the civic association had been invited to visit one of the organizations other facilities, and the invitation remains on the table.

“Concern for Independent Living is a local organization that has been providing quality housing in Suffolk County for decades,” she said in an email. “We were founded in 1972 and our first office was located in Port Jefferson Station. We currently operate over 1,000 units of affordable rental housing that has made a very positive impact in Suffolk and Nassau Counties as well as Brooklyn and the Bronx.”

Several attendees of the May 22 civic meeting expressed displeasure about the project, suggesting Port Jeff Station already has its fair share of facilities for homeless people.

“Homeless families need a place to live — our community is a very giving community.”

— Edward Garboski

“Homeless families need a place to live — our community is a very giving community,” civic association Vice President Edward Garboski said May 22. A resident at the meeting responded, summing up a sentiment seemingly shared by most of the attendees: “We don’t want to be the only community giving.”

The Port Jefferson project is receiving only a small part of more than $200 million the state is awarding to build or preserve more than 2,800 affordable apartments across New York, according to a press
release from Cuomo’s office. The governor called the $200 million investment a “giant step forward to increase access to homes for families, seniors and our most vulnerable men and women across the state.”

RuthAnne Visnauskas, commissioner of New York State Homes and Community Renewal program, said the investment would address the crisis of homelessness among other benefits.

“By delivering affordable homes to Long Island, we continue to grow its economy,” she said in a statement.

Romaine said the town is concerned about the governor’s announcement and suggested other ways he thought the money could be better used. He also instructed concerned residents to start a petition and direct it to Cuomo’s office.

“We’ve been begging the state of New York to give us some money to fix up zombie homes, and to make them available to first time home buyers and veterans,” he said. “We’d like that money going toward that housing, instead of building something new, how about we rebuild some of the neighborhoods that we lost during the Great Recession to foreclosures and zombie houses. How about giving homes to our veterans and first-time home buyers who are leaving the area.”

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Kota, a therapy dog used to comfort patrons at Moloney’s Family Funeral Homes, owned by Peter Moloney, pictured with daughter Erin Moloney, who rescued Kota while in Arkansas. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

Joined by his closest family, an elderly man sits amid a solemn ceremony, overcome with sadness over the loss of his wife of 72 years.

The 94-year-old World War II veteran pauses during service at the Moloney Funeral Homes’ Center Moriches location long enough to spot a Labrador-Weimaraner mix named Kota, who slowly approaches him.

Peter Moloney, owner of the funeral homes and Kota’s personal handler, gives the grieving man a treat for Kota, which the docile dog gladly accepts before gently resting his head in the man’s lap.

“The man came into the funeral home with his family and his daughter and he was brokenhearted at the loss of his wife,” Moloney said. “Kota provided him with a sense of comfort and he was very appreciative.”

Kota, a therapy dog used to comfort patrons at Moloney’s Family Funeral Homes. Photo by Chris Mellides

The owner explained the thought process behind having Kota on-hand in the right situations.

“Pets are known to reduce stress and anxiety and take people to another dimension in the grief process,” he said.

Moloney’s daughter, Erin, rescued the dog while she was studying at the University of Arkansas, and when Kota was introduced to the family one Thanksgiving Erin’s father knew that Kota would be a perfect candidate as a therapy dog.

Aptly nicknamed “Kota the Comfort Dog,” the young canine travels with Moloney wherever he is needed and has made appearances with his owner across all seven family run funeral homes located throughout Suffolk County, including in Port Jefferson Station.

“He’s a wonderful companion and he’s provided tremendous comfort to families that have encountered him that have a fondness for pets,” Moloney said. “He’s not for everybody, and I would never introduce him to a family without at least having some type of conversation surrounding pets and animals. We would not want to invade someone’s privacy [who] perhaps was afraid.”

While Kota is currently the only certified therapy dog to be used for support in funeral homes on Long Island, according to Moloney, dogs like him have long since been used for similar purposes.

Therapy dogs have been implemented for those in need of comfort as far back as the 1700s, primarily for those people suffering from mental health problems, said Mary Burch, American Kennel Club spokesperson and director of the Canine Good Citizen program, which is used as a prerequisite for many groups that use therapy dogs.

“In the 1970s there were several large organizations that registered therapy dogs and currently, there are hundreds of organizations across the country that register therapy animals,” Burch said.

The AKC spokesperson said facilities tend to contact therapy dog organizations that have “tested dogs and determined where they are best placed.”

A quiet toy breed might be better utilized in a hospital setting where it can be placed on a bed, while larger sporting breeds might do well in a residential program for teenage boys, according to Burch.

“He loves to be petted and he’s very obedient. So, with those characteristics, I felt that he was a very good candidate to assist families within our funeral homes in providing comfort.”

— Peter Moloney

“In a funeral home, a dog would be needed that can provide comfort while remaining under control in this quiet setting where people are upset and in emotional pain,” she said.

Moloney said he saw the success funeral homes throughout the country have had when employing therapy dogs and that a friend in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, used a grief therapy dog with triumphant results, so Moloney thought he’d try to do the same on Long Island.

Kota is certified through Sublime K9 Dog Training, a Wantagh-based organization that among other things, provides dog obedience training and therapy dog services.

“He’s been certified and has passed the test, an obedience test, and needs to be calmer in crowds and he’s passed all of those requirements,” Moloney said. “Kota gets groomed on a regular basis so he’s clean and he’s very well maintained and he has all of his shots. We keep him up to date of course.”

Anne Moyer, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, said while more conventional forms of therapy generally involve interaction with a skilled professional, there is evidence suggesting animal interaction can be beneficial.

“Animals are considered useful as facilitators because they create a sense of safety, perhaps because they are nonjudgmental and do not require verbal interactions to connect with,” Moyer said. “Humans form emotional bonds and attachments to animals and these can be therapeutic.”

Kota has been visiting Moloney Family Funeral Homes where he has provided comfort since February and will typically work with families for 20 minutes at a time. Moloney said he is confident his dog will become a fixture at his funeral homes for the foreseeable future.

“Some people have aversions to pets so you know we’re very careful with our approach in introducing him to families,” Moloney said. “But he loves to be petted and he’s very obedient. So, with those characteristics, I felt that he was a very good candidate to assist families within our funeral homes in providing comfort.”

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