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Port Jefferson Village

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.

Rob Gitto and his son Ryan ride The Gitto Group’s float during Port Jefferson Village’s 2016 Santa Parade. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

A prominent Port Jefferson-based real estate development company opened a 38-unit apartment building in upper Port Jefferson earlier in 2016, but the father-son team behind the project is about much more than turning a profit.

Port Jefferson native Tony Gitto, who now lives in Belle Terre, and his son Rob have been in the business of developing communities together since 2002, when Rob joined the family business.

Their apartment building on Texaco Avenue, which opened in July in upper Port, is not only a business venture for Rail Realty LLC, a division of The Gitto Group, but also a major step in a villagewide effort to revitalize uptown and turn it into a suitable gateway for Port Jefferson’s downtown, waterfront community.

For their impact on the Port Jefferson community and dedication to making it a great place in which to live, Times Beacon Record News Media names The Gitto Group as People of the Year for 2016.

Rob Gitto of The Gitto Group. Photo from Gitto

When the company decided to build The Hills at Port Jefferson on Texaco Avenue, the plan was to develop in two stages because they weren’t sure if there would be enough demand to fill the units. A month ahead of the designated opening of the first phase, which housed 38 units, a waiting list already existed for phase two. Thirty-six more apartments will be filled in the summer of 2017 when the building is estimated to be ready.

“I think they took a lot of risk to put the shovel in the ground,” Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant said in an interview. “It’s a huge undertaking to do a project like that.” Garant actually grew up across the street from the Gittos.

Rob Gitto said the group saw an opportunity to try to improve a part of the community that needed attention. Garant said the village is actively seeking state and county grants to aid in the development of Port Jeff, and 74 housing units could have a massive impact in achieving that mission.

“Our whole goal with re-branding upper Port was making sure when you came to the [train] tracks, you have that same sort of gateway that you get down the hill,” Garant said. “You can’t do it by yourself. You need that private sector person to be willing to make the investment and then you as a municipal government, you need to be there to support them if it’s the right project. I think a lot of times ‘developer’ just gets such a negative connotation. We’re building our future.”

Garant said she hopes the influx of residents will have a large impact on businesses in the village.

“Tonight is going to be a cold and quiet night in the village — these merchants still have rents to pay,” she said.

Rob Gitto, who has since moved to Poquott, acknowledged that lifting up a community where he and his family grew up is an added bonus to business success.

“We’re a business and we’re looking to make a profit, but at the same time we’re hoping it jump-starts revitalization up there,” he said. “A lot of our tenants go to [PJ Lobster House] and use the dry cleaner. Hopefully [the businesses] are feeling the effect of people living up there.”

The Hills at Port Jefferson opened in upper Port in July. Photo from Rob Gitto

The elder Gitto, who remains involved with the business, reiterated his son’s sentiments regarding the balance between business success and community service that the group has achieved.

“I believe that the village has the potential to be one of the finest communities on Long Island with all that it has to offer residents, visitors and businesses,” he said in an email. “The Hills development was an appealing option for The Gitto Group as it provided an opportunity to improve the uptown area, and provide facilities for young people to stay in the community and be the future of the community. In addition, the development was a great economic opportunity for our company.”

Barbara Ransome, the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce director of operations, said she appreciates the Gittos for their impact on the village’s business world, but their love of landscaping and dedication to beautifying their properties and other village properties is part of what makes them so special to the community. Rob Gitto said they also contribute donations throughout the year to the village and local charities.

“The family is just first class,” Ransome said in an interview. “It’s not just a flash. It’s consistent. They’ve been very generous to this community and they’re a nice family.”

Ransome said their properties, like the CVS on Main Street near Barnum Avenue, are stunning in the springtime after thousands of flowers are planted.

Garant called the father-and-son team “perfect gentlemen,” and recognized them for embracing Port Jeff’s slogan and their efforts to make it come true. It encourages visitors to stop by the destination village “for a day, or for a lifetime.”

“The only way it’s going to work [in upper Port] is if everybody does their part,” Rob Gitto said. “Hopefully we can make it a better location for people to come visit and live. We don’t want people to just drive through uptown anymore.”

Drivers slow down for rumble strips on East Broadway heading into Port Jefferson Village. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Drivers in Port Jefferson might think the little drummer boy has taken up residence in the village for the holiday season, but in reality the rumbling they’re hearing under their tires is a new initiative to get them to reduce their speed.

Rumble strips and speed tables were installed by the village in December in strategic areas to alert drivers to slow down on roads frequently used to enter Port Jefferson, following a study by an engineering firm which suggested motorists were traveling too fast.

Speed tables are on some village roads to curtail drivers’ speeds. Photo by Alex Petroski

Upon the recommendation of the firm, the strips were placed in the westbound lane of East Broadway between the Village Center and Belle Terre Village on Cliff Road. They were also added to both sides of Myrtle Avenue near Infant Jesus Roman Catholic Church. The speed tables are located on Brook Road near Caroline Avenue on the western side of the Port Jefferson high school campus. More speed tables and rumble strips may still be added to other areas in the village.

“I think the resident community was a little off put when they first hit them, but now they’re slowing down,” Mayor Margot Garant said in an interview. “Most of the local people in the neighborhood get it — you can’t just fly through the neighborhoods. I’ll put the rumble strips in just about anywhere people want.”

The village board of trustees passed a motion Nov. 28 approving spending for the project up to about $5,800, though the actual cost is not yet clear.

Garant and village Code Chief Wally Tomaszewski each referenced deadly crashes in recent years at the sites of the new speed reduction measures as evidence that something needed to be done to curtail speeds in the village.

In December last year, 48-year-old Belle Terre resident Glen Nelson was killed while driving on East Broadway after his car crashed into a telephone pole near High Street.

“Everything is done to exercise as much notice and caution to the general public utilizing the roadways.”

— Wally Tomaszewski

“On East Broadway the rumble strips were necessary because the cars that are coming down the hill, there are many that were speeding both going down and up the hill,” Tomaszewski said in a phone interview. The strips, which are painted white and cause a rumbling sound inside the car when tires roll over them, are spaced a few hundred yards apart over a half-mile stretch on East Broadway.

The code chief also said the measures are having the desired effect.

“Absolutely they’ve worked so far,” Tomaszewski said. “Everything is done to exercise as much notice and caution to the general public utilizing the roadways.”

Garant said she received some push back initially because the speed tables were not adequately identified according to some users of the village roadways, though the mayor said the plan is for the tables to be painted in the near future for better visibility. She added that other measures were considered, like narrowing roadways in some spots, but ultimately the strips and tables made the most sense.

The speed tables are elevated speed bumps that are wider than typical ones and can do damage to the bottom of a car if drivers go over them too fast.

“I’m sorry that people in the first week got caught off guard, but I think the long-term intent is to slow everybody down,” she said.

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Meters in Port Jefferson. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The holidays have come early for anyone who has experienced the frustration of circling Main Street, to Arden Place, to East Main Street, to East Broadway and back to Main Street countless times in search of Port Jefferson’s most sought-after natural resource — a free parking space.

In keeping with annual tradition, Mayor Margot Garant announced the suspension of metered parking in village lots effective Dec. 5 through March 15, 2017, in a video posted on Port Jeff’s website, which had more than 27,000 views at the time of publication. Parking in a village-metered lot ordinarily costs 25 cents per half hour and is enforced from 10 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. Parking on village streets is free, though there are varying time restrictions in most areas. Port Jeff Village residents always park for free in metered lots with special stickers on their cars, and for the time being, non-residents are afforded the same luxury.

Garant said, at a board meeting earlier in December, the idea behind suspending metered parking is to encourage visitors in the winter months to shop at and patronize Port Jeff businesses in the traditionally warm-weather destination. She added that in previous years the suspension of metered parking has extended into April if the weather in the area is particularly damaging for businesses in a given winter season.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant announces the suspension of metered parking through March 15 in village lots. Photo from Port Jeff Village website

In the video, Garant watches kids ice skate at The Rinx located outside the Village Center. She then slides a blue cover over the meter in the parking lot adjacent to the ice rink.

“During the holiday season and during the winter months, come on down to the Village of Port Jefferson, come visit us, park for free, visit our restaurants and please support our local merchants,” Garant says in the video.

Revenue raised from metered parking is reinvested into various village projects, according to Garant. Deputy Mayor Larry LaPointe, who is also the board’s liaison to the parking committee, estimated the fund from parking meters has about $900,000 in it currently.

If it were unclear how big an issue parking is in Port Jefferson, on the village’s Port Jefferson Facebook page, the pinned post featuring the video had 480 shares and more than three times as many likes as any other post on the page in December. Comments on the post indicate most visitors to the village wish parking were free year-round, and others are more likely to visit because of the suspension.

“Love being down Port in the off season,” Yvette Ortiz-Baugh said.

One commenter suggested the difficult parking deters her from visiting the area.

“Parking has become a big nuisance and we go less often to shop there now,” Sue Korpus Ditkowsky said.

Village kayak racks at Centennial Park beach don't provide enough space to meet demand. Photo by Elana Glowatz

By Alex Petroski

Many kayak users in Port Jefferson Village were left without a paddle during the summer of 2016, and as a result, the board of trustees is examining ways to accommodate more aquatically inclined residents.

Signs detailing the Village's kayak policy are visible year round. Photo by
Signs detailing the Village’s kayak policy are visible year round. Photo by

The village currently supplies four wooden racks, which hold six kayaks each at two different beaches. Use of the racks is determined after applications are submitted and a lottery is held in April each year. About half of the applicants were not granted permits because of limited space for the 2016 season, according to Village Clerk Bob Juliano at a recent board meeting. Storage is provided so that kayakers can safely and conveniently leave their vessels near the water, rather than having to transport them every time they are to be used.

The lack of available storage resulted in about two-dozen vessels being left locked to trees or simply strewn across the beach without permission this past summer. There is no cost to obtain a permit if a resident is selected in the lottery.

“My goal is to expand the number of people able to store kayaks,” Trustee Stanley Loucks, who also serves as the board’s liaison to the recreation department, said in a phone interview. He said the village is actively working on changes to improve policies for the 2017 boating season. “What I want to do is put enough racks in for any Port Jeff resident who wants to have a kayak.”

Permanent signs have been in place warning beachgoers to remove kayaks and other small boats from the racks, and by extension, the surrounding areas, by Nov. 1 or be subject to fines. The signs also warn those without permits to refrain from leaving vessels altogether. Juliano said stickers were placed on the remaining boats Nov. 2, warning the owners to remove them within a five-day period, though the village didn’t act until about two weeks later. To retrieve their kayaks, owners are required to visit the Port Jefferson Department of Public Works and pay a $100 fee.

Loucks said kayak storage and the dumping of vessels without permits got “out of control” this year.

Port Jefferson residents Lois O’Donnell Kilkenny and Jodi Casciano said in Facebook messages that they would like permits to store their vessels, but they avoid the lottery altogether because they don’t think the chances of being selected are great. Demand for spaces may be greater than the village realizes.

“We sure would enjoy having more of them, so those of us who don’t have could obtain one,” O’Donnell Kilkenny said. “It gets harder to transport them as we get older! I know I would use it a lot more if we only had to pull it off the rack and go.”

“I have, like, a boatyard in front of my house.”
—Dorothy Court

Dorothy Court, Waterview Drive resident, which is adjacent to the Crystal Brook Hollow Road beach, said, at a public hearing on the matter in June, that she supported tougher rules.

“I have to deal with these kayaks every single day,” Court said. “I have, like, a boatyard in front of my house.”

Loucks said he is sympathetic to village residents who get shut out by the application process. “It’s a shame we have to limit the number of people,” he said.

According to Juliano, a Port Jefferson family had five kayaks tied together and locked around a tree that were seized by village personnel in November. They submitted a letter asking for leniency from the village when they learned of the $500 in fees required to retrieve the boats. The board approved a motion Nov. 28 to cut the fees in half.

Village Mayor Margot Garant was in favor of reducing the fine for the family, though she said at a recent board meeting that the fees are in place to discourage the practice of abandoning kayaks.

“It’s not really about the money, it’s about cleaning up the area,” she said.

Loucks said the board of trustees is considering moving existing racks to East Beach and removing them from the beach at the end of Crystal Brook Hollow Road, while also adding more to comply with demand. He said an experimental contraption was used on East Beach this year, though moving the racks there and adding more would be ideal. Garant added she would like to see the existing racks moved because of a lack of parking in the area.

The village provides racks with space for 24 kayaks at the beach at the end of Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Mount Sinai Harbor, and the same amount of spaces at the beach near the Village Center in Port Jefferson Harbor.

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Road work will begin in Port Jefferson and will continue for the next four months as PSEG will strengthen the area’s electrical grid. File photo by Kevin Redding

An arm of the federal government and a Long Island utility are working to ensure North Shore residents who lost power in their homes for weeks in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 won’t go through that again.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is working with PSEG Long Island as part of its Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program to fortify electrical infrastructure in Port Jefferson Village and other areas in Brookhaven Town in the hopes of avoiding the widespread and lengthy outages associated with the 2012 storm. The project entails replacing existing wiring with more weather-resistant wire, installing new and more durable poles in several locations and installing or replacing equipment to help reduce the number of customers affected by an outage, according to PSEG.

“By putting in the storm-hardened equipment, the stronger wires, and the more weather-resistant poles, it will help to reduce the number of customers affected during a storm,” said Elizabeth Flagler, PSEG Long Island’s media relations specialist. “So when we get the high winds, the equipment will hold up better.”

The project’s $729 million in funds was secured in 2014 through an agreement between New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program, which helps communities implement hazard mitigation measures following a major disaster declaration. PSEG licensed and approved contractors will be doing the work for approximately the next four months in areas along Old Post Road, Hulse Road, Sheep Pasture Road, Main Street, Stony Hill Road and Belle Terre Road in Port Jefferson.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant is glad to see improvements being done to help residents in the event of another major storm.

“Working on these lines and hardening the grid I think is something that should be done constantly,” Garant said during a phone interview. She added she knew of people who live in the village that were without power for up to two weeks after Sandy. “In the modern day I think that’s pretty unacceptable.”

Garant also said the abundance of large and old trees on the North Shore pose another problem for electrical lines when wind gusts get powerful.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) stressed the importance of being ready for another disaster.

“The reliability of our electrical infrastructure is paramount,” she said in an email through Legislative Aide Jennifer Martin. “Communities, including residential customers and businesses must be able to depend on uninterrupted service. In the last few years we have seen many unprecedented extreme weather events and these events are expected to continue. As such, upgrades under the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program will be critically important to my district, much of which is on the North Shore, and to other districts throughout Long Island.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) took over his post a month after Hurricane Sandy hit. He said that in his first few weeks in office he was overwhelmed trying to recover from all of the damage it caused.

“All poles and wires were down, water was about knee high throughout all the streets — if not higher — and obviously, you want to be able to withstand the next storm,” he said.

Romaine did, however, suggest PSEG bury wires to further minimize damage.

“Costs for burying wires is about the same that you would pay to recover from a series of storms in a 30-year period,” he said. “It’s more costly in the short run, but in the long run there’s no difference, and you will be much better protected by buried wires.”

PSEG representatives say that they anticipate minor traffic interruptions, as well as some localized, short-duration power outages related to the project. The crews will generally work Monday through Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with limited evening and Sunday work.

Kevin Redding contributed reporting.

The North Country Peace Group attends Port Jefferson’s Dickens Festival for a sixth consecutive year to share their message about social injustices. Photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson’s 21st annual Dickens Festival brought together members of the community and neighboring areas for a weekend full of events based off Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Christmas Carol” Dec. 3 and 4. But for a group of local activists, the event was a reminder about social consciousness.

The North Country Peace Group, established in December 2002, has been periodically visible on the corner of Route 25A and Bennetts Road in Setauket to share its message. For the last six years members of the group have used the village’s holiday festival to expand their audience.

Myrna Gordon, a member of the group since its inception, was among the people passing out informational flyers and holding props in front of their faces to simulate being behind bars, which included the message “Debtor’s Prison — Justice for some, not for all,” among others with similar themes.

The group believes in nonviolent activism as a means to combat social injustice, poverty and inequality. They use the festival as a platform to highlight analogous issues in Charles Dickens 19th century London and present-day America.

“It’s important that people don’t forget while they’re moving around and being festive and being joyful, that we have a lot of things in our country that are filled with social injustice, economic injustice, class injustice — and we’d like to bring attention to it to let people think about it,” Gordon said while standing on the corner of East Main Street and Main Street in Port Jeff Village, where the group set up shop for the afternoon. “While they probably have thought about it for the last 18 months, it’s something that we’ve been doing here for six years now, and we feel it’s important to be part of this event. I’m a Port Jefferson resident, so I feel that this is my way of making a statement but in a different way.”

Gordon referenced the outcome of the presidential election as evidence that instances of social injustice may be heading in the wrong direction in 2016 America. She said she was concerned about the future of the Supreme Court, health care for women and education, among other issues going forward as a result of Donald Trump’s (R) surprising victory.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said she had no problem with the group’s message or desire to use a popular village event to spread their message, given that they are conscious of keeping sidewalks and streets clear for festival attendees.

“That’s democracy at its highest form of expression,” she said during a phone interview. “I applaud them for taking time out of their day to come down and relay their message.”

Gordon has lived in Port Jefferson for almost 50 years, she said, and called the area a microcosm of the United States.

“I think Port Jefferson does have things that can be better, as in any small community,” she said.

Despite the celebratory nature of the event, which features performers in Dickensian attire, and the group’s use of props, Gordon said she wasn’t worried their message would be construed as part of the festival.

“They may not get the full scope of it, but I think once they see the signs a connection is being made,” she said. “Especially when they see the words ‘debtor’s prison,’ and then they read the contemporary statements underneath the signs. The same things went on then that are going on now.”

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Port Jefferson’s 21st Annual Charles Dickens Festival was Dec. 3 and 4 across the village. Visitors came out and experienced all of the sights, sounds and activities during Port Jefferson’s annual Charles Dickens Festival Dec. 3 and 4. Street performances, parades, a gingerbread house contest and several showings of A Christmas Carol at Theatre Three were just some of the fun attractions during the two-day holiday festival.

The Port Jefferson community lined Main Street in the village Nov. 26 to welcome a very special visitor. The annual Santa Parade saw the man himself riding his sleigh through the streets for hundreds of onlookers, along with floats from local Boy Scout troops, the Port Jefferson Ferry, the Chamber of Commerce, the Village Board and many more. Port Jefferson’s annual Dickens Festival begins Dec. 3.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. File photo by Erika Karp

The divisive and inflammatory nature of the 2016 presidential election has raised concerns across the country about Americans’ ability to “come together” now that the dust has begun to settle. One Suffolk County organization was concerned enough to send a letter to school districts with a warning for administrators and teachers.

“We are concerned for the safety and well-being of the students of Suffolk County as we know you are as well,” the letter dated Nov. 10 from leaders of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission and Anti-Bias Task Force read. “We are reaching out to ensure that all school climates are one where students feel safe and supported physically, emotionally and academically.”

The Human Rights Commission has existed in Suffolk County since 1963 and it focuses on investigating claims of bias and discrimination. Rabbi Steven Moss has been the chairman of the organization for more than 20 years. He said they were compelled to write the letter in light of incidents, both local and across the country, that have been reported in the aftermath of Election Day.

“New York is, and will always be, a place of acceptance, inclusion and a bastion of hope for all people. We will never allow fear and intolerance to tear at the fabric of who we are.”

— Andrew Cuomo

“I’m sure [people] realize bullying has occurred before the election and will continue onward,” Moss said in a phone interview. He said most incidents reported to the commission thus far have involved elementary-level students making references to deporting classmates.

Moss said he believes incidents involving younger students can easily be traced back to conversations at home, and because of this the commission plans to send a similar letter to local Parent Teacher Associations in the hopes of spreading the conversation beyond classrooms.

At Northport High School swastikas were drawn in spray paint on the walls of a theater storage room this week, according to Suffolk County Police. Moss said it is important for school administrators to act decisively and harshly with incidents like these, even if they fall short of constituting a crime, and Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer is taking the action seriously.

“Our primary objective as a school district is to educate our students in a safe and respectful environment,” Banzer said in an email. He added an investigation is ongoing. “The recent events in our high school have challenged us and make us realize that, although our students participate in many opportunities to build a respectful and safe environment, work remains.  Our high school principal Dan Danbusky is meeting with the student leaders to generate ideas about how best to address not only the recent incident but to help the school community further enhance dignity, respect and acceptance for all.”

Banzer also said the administration plans to meet with local religious leaders to gather their input and insights and assess programs to help the district meet its goals of being a more inclusive school community.

Port Jefferson Village organized a peaceful vigil that was held Nov. 20 at the Village Center designed to show community support for “all segments of society,” according to a press release.

“In response to the fear and hurt felt by so many, Suffolk County needed the opportunity to show everyone our support and commitment to ensuring their freedoms, and to reassure them that they have a safe space here,” Cindy Morris, a Suffolk County resident and co-organizer of the event said in a statement.

Moss said he is hoping much of the inflammatory conversation during the election season, especially from the campaign of President-elect Donald Trump (R), was rhetoric designed to dominate news cycles and spike polling numbers and eventually it will die down.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) shared many of the same concerns as Moss and the Human Rights Commission. He announced several actions Nov. 20 to protect civil rights and combat hate crimes in the state, including the creation of a State Police unit to investigate such crimes. He also plans to advance legislation that would expand protections of the state’s human rights law to all students, and to establish a legal defense fund to ensure immigrants have access to representation regardless of status.

“New York is, and will always be, a place of acceptance, inclusion and a bastion of hope for all people,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We will never allow fear and intolerance to tear at the fabric of who we are.”

The commission’s letter also called on school districts to share programs they already had in place designed to promote unity and togetherness. Some of those include a Gay/Straight Alliance, the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate campaign, the No One Sits Alone Campaign and suicide awareness and prevention programs, to name a few.

Banzer indicated Northport has several programs aimed at promoting inclusive school communities through unity and respect, and the district plans to continue that effort going forward.

Those who have experienced incidents of hate or discrimination are encouraged to reach out to the Human Rights Commission by calling 631-853-5480 or emailing humanrights@suffolkcountyny.gov.

Additional reporting contributed by Victoria Espinoza.

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