Tags Posts tagged with "Revitalization"

Revitalization

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

“Time for a bulldozer.” “What happened to this community?” “Something needs to be done up there.”

As eyebrow-raising stories in upper Port Jefferson — the area on and around Main Street between North Country Road and the train tracks — and Port Jefferson Station keep coming, so too does reaction, available in abundance at community meetings and on social media pages geared toward the Port Jeff area. If these reactions were a person’s only window into the state of an increasingly crime, addiction and poverty-stricken area, an element could surely be lost: the human element.

“You keep putting Band-Aids on bullet holes,” said Darryl Wood, 60, a Mastic Beach resident and employee at Echo Arms Adult Home, a residential facility on Route 112 south of the train tracks that houses adults with disabilities and provides shelter for low-income individuals, within the area designated for revitalization by Town of Brookhaven.

Wood was referring metaphorically and broadly to government’s approach to improving communities showing many of the symptoms characteristic of Echo Arms’ backyard, though his analogy had a tinge of reality. On July 22, a 27-year-old man from Selden was shot to death inside a billiards hall in upper Port. About a week prior, a man was stabbed at a bar just north of the tracks following an altercation. Wood hadn’t heard of the revitalization plans presented by the town July 24.

“They need help — they need someone who cares.”

— Darryl Wood

“They need help — they need someone who cares,” Wood said July 27 on a hot afternoon as he enjoyed his lunch break on a bench near the Port Jeff Station entrance to the Greenway Trail. He shared that he had been homeless previously, addicted to crack and panhandling to survive in Manhattan.

“I thought I would die a crackhead,” he said, adding he has been clean for 12 years, and working at Echo Arms for three. “I owe, because I’ve taken so much.”

Perception has become reality for those who don’t spend much time in upper Port, though personal interactions can serve as a reminder — people live in this community characterized at times only as a hot spot for drug use and violence.

“There’s always a lot going on in Port Jeff Station,” said a woman, who looked to be in her 60s, named Anna Maria, sitting on a bench adjacent to the train station July 27 while she waited for the S60 Suffolk County bus to arrive when asked if she’d heard about some of the recent events in her community.

She pushed a walker to help her reach the bench, coming north from around Maple Avenue and carrying a reusable shopping bag. A brief conversation revealed she spent time teaching American culture in Beijing, China, about 30 years ago, and carried a printed photo with her to prove it. She concluded the conversation saying, “God bless you,” as she boarded her bus.

“You’re doing better than me, I’m shot, the heat and humidity is killing me,” another man likely in his 50s waiting on the same bench for a bus downtown responded to the simple conversation starter “How ya doin’?”

He counted the change in his pocket as he spoke, wearing a gray baseball hat, dirty white T-shirt and gray sweatpants.

“Can you tell which bus is coming, I don’t have my glasses today,” he asked peering south down Route 112. “Be careful kid,” were his departing words.

Later a man who appeared to be homeless with a messy, full head of gray hair and out-of-season clothing sits down on the bench. He wandered over from the direction of Pax Christi Hospitality Center, a homeless shelter on Oakland Avenue. He stayed on the bench for about 20 minutes, halfway between seated and hunched, with his hand on his head and covering his face. Eventually, he stood up slowly, gathering a garbage bag in one hand and what appeared to be a bundled towel or blanket under the other arm. Without checking traffic, he hobbled across Main Street, stopping cars in both directions and turned the corner, disappearing from view.

Brookhaven Town presented its vision for Port Jefferson Station between the train tracks and Route 347 at civic association meeting July 24. Photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson Station’s future is still blurry, but the vision is beginning to come into focus.

Members of the Town of Brookhaven Planning Department were on hand at a Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting July 24 to share a preliminary look and float recommendations for the revitalization of the area of Port Jeff Station between the train tracks and Route 347. Representatives of the department announced, as a result of examining both the 2008 Comsewogue Hamlet Comprehensive Plan and the 2014 Port Jefferson Station Commercial Hub Study, which were largely the product of community input in the form of mailed surveys, demand exists to create a walkable, downtown hub with buildings zoned for retail and/or restaurant use on the first floor and residential use on potentially up to a fourth floor.

The announcement also served to lay out a timeline for the next steps in the process, which will require the formation of a citizens advisory committee, the conducting of a blight study and drafting of an actual land use plan to be brought before the town as a final stage, among many others. Completion of the preliminary steps is expected to occur in 2020, at which point the town would need to approve zoning changes necessary to precede shovels entering the ground.

Town of Brookhaven, as part of its presentation July 24, laid out some of the important dates upcoming for its revitalization plans, most of which will take place in 2019. Graphic by TBR News Media.

“Patience is not a virtue, it’s a necessity for these kinds of matters,” town planning commissioner Tullio Bertoli said. “We did visioning. This is the implementation of that visioning into a full-blown land-use plan.”

The announced timeline and plans come as several violent crimes have garnered media attention, including a July incident in which a 27-year-old man from Selden was shot to death inside a billiards hall in upper Port, as well as what locals would likely characterize as an increase in delinquent activities perpetrated by the homeless population in the area.

“We want to clean the area up, this is the most efficient way right now to try to clean that area up,” civic association President Sal Pitti said during the meeting.

He and other officials in attendance stressed simply building and developing cannot be expected to alleviate all of the area’s ills.

“There are some issues that cannot be solved by building structures,” Bertoli said.

Still, Thomas Chawner, a senior planner with the town who conducted the presentation, said the community’s desire to improve public safety and decrease blight were taken into account in making the plans.

“There’s a need for better enforcement for derelict properties in the hub area,” he said. “Affordable housing — we heard loud and clear in both studies people are feeling that their children cannot afford housing. They don’t want their children to leave Long Island. They need affordable housing.”

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) was also at the meeting and threw his support behind the proposal.

“I’m with the civic on this, because this community is a great community and really deserves all of our effort to make sure that it’s always going in the right direction, not the wrong direction,” he said.

A map identifying the areas set for revitalization and included in subsequent studies, taken from the July 24 presentation by the planning department.

Community members present at the meeting expressed both support and concerns relating to the presented possibilities for redevelopment. Some are worried about coordination between the interested parties — namely the community, the town’s planning department and the private developers — from the planning stage to the actual implementation stage. Others conveyed opposition to increased population density in the area and the possibility of more traffic. Those in support stressed that the combination of residential, retail and restaurant spaces would provide for the desired outcome — a vibrant, walkable downtown with feet on the streets, fostering an environment intolerant of the drug use and violence garnering the headlines in the area at present.

The plan, in addition to the physical building options, also laid out suggestions for aesthetic “streetscape” fixes that could also help to foster that desired environment, like crosswalks decorated with commissioned art and plantings hanging from light poles. Strategically placed pocket parks or passive green spaces, as well as a community center, were also listed as possible addendums to the larger plans.

Charlie Lefkowitz, who owns much of the real estate in the hub study area, said in a phone interview he has worked with the town in visioning improvement in the area and intends to continue to do so.

A blight study is expected to begin and be concluded by early 2019, which will trigger the next steps of the revitalization plan.

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E.H. Rogers Feed and Grain, circa 1910. Photo from Ken Brady Collection

Revitalization plans between the train tracks and Route 347 in Port Jefferson Station have an eye toward the future, but those who have dedicated their lives to the community’s history have a message: not so fast.

Five buildings with historical roots in Port Jefferson Station that fall squarely within the bounds of Town of Brookhaven’s territory slated for redevelopment, as indicated during its planning board’s July 24 presentation during a Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting, could be at risk of being demolished. Two of the buildings, 101 and 105 Main St., adjacent to the south side of the train tracks, could be in more imminent danger, according to Jack Smith, president of Cumsewogue Historical Society, based on a phone call he said he had in March with Charlie Lefkowitz, a real estate developer who owns many of the buildings in the area personally or in part with business associates.

The present day Costigan building, which operates as a law office. Photo by Jack Smith

The buildings, dating from the early 1900s, one of which housed E.H. Rogers Feed Mill, serve as links back to the area’s agricultural roots, according to Smith.

“We worked with the community and town for several years,” Lefkowitz said in a phone interview about the proposed redevelopment as a whole, though he declined to comment specifically on the historical buildings other than to confirm he spoke with Smith in March. “We will continue to work with the community and the town to create the best product and vision for Port Jefferson Station.”

In 2014, the findings of the Port Jefferson Station Commercial Hub Study commissioned by the town to compile community feedback and detailed analysis from professionals to determine what redevelopment of the area might entail were released to the public. Though the study has no legal bindings, it contains recommendations from Port Jefferson-based architects and consultants for the study, Campani and Schwarting Architects founders Frances Campani and Michael Schwarting, as well as longtime Suffolk County planner Lee Koppelman, calling for the preservation and incorporation of the five buildings into future redevelopment plans.

Smith said Lefkowitz told him the two buildings nearest the train tracks specifically are in a state of disrepair and cannot be preserved, despite the fact that they are occupied by businesses currently. Smith said the developer was willing to preserve relics from the historical structures and even establish a museum to memorialize the history, which Smith called “nonsense” and “insulting.” Schwarting said he disagreed with Lefkowitz’s assertion, relayed to him by Smith during a joint interview July 20.

“They’ve got good bones,” the architect said of the buildings.

Schwarting’s partner Campani said she understood the dilemma developers like Lefkowitz face in situations like these, though she agreed she does not see a case for needing to knock the buildings down rather than refurbishing them and incorporating them into revitalization plans.

“These buildings should be celebrated not simply demolished.”

— Nick Acampora

“Part of the problem, which is one of the things we tried to address in the study, is that it’s not a very pedestrian-friendly area right now, and you sort of have to slow down to a pedestrian pace to start to appreciate these things,” Campani said. “If you’re flying by at 40 miles per hour, you’re not going to.”

Sarah Kautz, preservation director of Preservation Long Island, a nonprofit that advocates for the protection and stewardship of historic sites, said the buildings’ location on a state road and proximity to a Long Island Rail Road station would trigger review by New York State as part of the State Environmental Quality Review Act prior to demolition, though getting the sites listed on state or national historic registries would go a long way toward securing their protection.

“It doesn’t prevent [demolition], but it does put it on a longer path, and it can bring private owners to the table in a serious way and kind of leverage a little bit of a negotiation,” she said, adding that public support and collaboration between the two historical sites would ultimately serve as strong deterrents against the approval of any plans ultimately necessary from the town’s planning board when a site plan is eventually weighed. Kautz said the organization would support a push to preserve the buildings. “They’re important buildings. The local community will benefit more from a rehab than it would by a total blitz.”

Nick Acampora, president of the Historical Society of Greater Port Jefferson, pledged to support Smith in his efforts, even if it comes to “laying down in front of a bulldozer.”

“These buildings should be celebrated not simply demolished,” Acampora said.

The Rocky Point site slated for a residential community for seniors. Photo by Kyle Barr

As drivers hurtle down Route 25A from either direction into the hamlet of Rocky Point they are met by a crossroads. If they keep straight, they will link up with North Country Road and head into the Rocky Point business district lined with shops, restaurants and services. If drivers take a right and continue along Route 25A, they circle around North Country Road, bypassing all those businesses.

It’s been the story since the bypass was constructed in the late 1990s, but it’s just one of the challenges facing business owners in Rocky Point’s commercial district as they wait to see much discussed revitalization.

“The bypass really put downtown on life support,” Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said. “You can’t just put a bubble around Rocky Point — you can’t just freeze it in time — but I say you have to have a healthy respect for the history of it and plan your development sensitively.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner and developer Mark Baisch stand near a Rocky Point site slated for a residential community for seniors. Photo by Kyle Barr

Revitalization has been planned for years and small steps taken, but much is left to be desired by those yearning for a vibrant downtown along North Country Road and Broadway, hoping to return back to the prosperity of the mid-20th century, when Rocky Point’s population experienced a boom and new businesses flourished. While new restaurants like the Broadway Market have created a sensation, the memory of stores that have closed down also looms, such as when in April 2017 McCarrick’s Dairy, an utter staple in the community that had been open for 71 years, closed its doors.

While Rocky Point is the only hamlet between Riverhead and Port Jefferson that has a semblance of a real downtown, its small size and limited space have led to unique revitalization issues. As also arises whenever the term revitalization gets thrown around, retaining the historical aspect of the downtown while growing it with a mind toward the future is a delicate balance.

In 2007 the Town of Brookhaven paid Vision Long Island, a nonprofit that advocates for transportation-oriented development, for a charrette about Rocky Point revitalization that was released in 2008. The plan called for a combination of retail, business and residential all in one place, much like what has been attempted in Patchogue, Farmingdale and dozens of other pockets of Long Island. That plan was rejected by the community, which felt it would destroy the small town feel of the area.

“[The Vision plan] was much too aggressive in pro-business and development,” president of the Rocky Point Civic Association Charles Bevington said. “I’m in favor of slow-growth opportunities for small businesses and restaurants. You know you can’t come in and dictate development. We have too many problems with water. We have too many problems with nitrogen in our systems.”

Eric Alexander, the director of Vision Long Island, said his organization’s plans hinged upon sewers, which the community rejected.

“They wanted goods, services and restaurants, something walkable and quaint but that was as far as they wanted it,” Alexander said. “That’s fine, but the numbers didn’t work without the sewers. Revitalization has gone in a few different directions since we left them.”

Some residents said sewers would only be a hindrance to the community’s growth.

“You can’t get the density on Broadway to support the cost of sewers,” said Linda Albo, the owner of Albo Real Estate on North Country Road. “Downtown is just not the right place for sewers.”

In 2012 and 2013 Bonner and Brookhaven secured a $1.2 million grant for road and traffic light improvements along North Country Road. It included setting up new light fixtures and fixing the curb cut along the main road’s intersection with Broadway. Yet real revitalization that would bring business flooding downtown is still a dream, even as some think its advent is just on the horizon.

Mark Baisch, the owner of development company Landmark Properties Ltd., is the latest to attempt to reinvigorate downtown Rocky Point. Its On the Common project promises 40 one-bedroom apartments for seniors inside 10 buildings located along Prince Road and King Road, just north of North Country Road. Also included are plans for a large green space along Prince Road set up for community activities such as the Sunday Rocky Point Farmers Market and a new VFW Memorial Museum right in front of the Brookhaven municipal parking lot. A quarter of the apartments will be reserved for veterans, Baisch said.

The apartments hold a distinction from other residential projects meant to stimulate downtowns. While projects in Patchogue and Ronkonkoma have tried to get young people living in space that is part residential and retail, Baisch said he hopes to do the same with the 55-and-older community.

“There is a huge need for it,” Baisch said. “There’s so many 90- to 100-year-old people living up in the hills of Rocky Point, and nobody even knows they exist. They sit in their house with the rooms closed up not knowing if they’re going to have a way to get out of the next snowstorm. It’s not a great way to live out your twilight years.”

Businesses on North Country Road have pointed to the construction of the Route 25A bypass as a detriment to growth. Image from Google Maps

Some residents are looking forward to the On the Common project with the possibility of leaving home ownership behind.

“I think it is a great idea,” Rocky Point resident Claire Manno said. “I am a senior citizen and have lived in Rocky Point for 20 years. I will have to sell my house eventually because we can’t afford it for much longer. I’d like to stay in the area if possible.”

Other community members questioned why there will only be one-bedroom apartments available.

“I became disabled two years ago,” Rocky Point resident Christine Cohn Balint said. “I have a three-story home and I cannot manage stairs. So we will be selling. But this ‘community’ will not be built for me — they won’t be ready. One bedroom only? They should offer two bedrooms also, if so I’d consider it.”

Baisch said he hopes to start construction around October.

There is hope in the community that good things are coming. The Broadway Market, which opened in March, has made a big splash. Some also looking point to plans in 2019 to start construction on the Rails to Trails project, which will create a biking and hiking path along the old rights-of-way and train rails that run parallel to the North Shore. That path will run north of North Country Road and give people walking and bike access directly into the heart of the commercial district.

“The Rails to Trails is going to have the biggest positive impact,” Bevington said. “It’s going to be along the line of walking and bicycling, and we have two bicycle shops in town that can be aided by the project. That’s really something.”

Alexander said he believes while there wasn’t community support for his organization’s plans, these upcoming projects could result in something good for the area.

“The community has to trust the change, any change that occurs,” Alexander said. “There are a lot of good people over there working in good faith — people who care deeply about the community — that’s what’s most important.”

Rob Gitto of The Gitto Group, representative from the Long Island Rail Road Ryan Attard, grant writer Nicole Christian, Tony Gitto of The Gitto Group, Leg. Kara Hahn, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, village Mayor Margot Garant, village Trustee Larry LaPointe, Trustee Bruce Miller, and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright during a groundbreaking for an upper Port Jefferson revitalization project May 9. Photo by Kyle Barr

After years of planning upper Port’s redevelopment to deal with blighted buildings, traffic and a lack of parking space, Port Jefferson Village officials are finally ready to say, “Don’t believe me, just watch.”

As part of the village’s revitalization efforts — a project dubbed “Uptown Funk” — village, Suffolk County and Brookhaven Town officials held a groundbreaking ceremony May 9 for a new parking lot in the space at the corner of Texaco Avenue and Linden Place. The lot should allow for another 74 parking spaces, largely for Long Island Rail Road commuters using the Port Jefferson train station.

“The village is thrilled to partner with the county, Empire State Development and the Long Island Rail Road on improvements in upper Port to enhance pedestrian connectivity and safety, revitalize blighted commercial properties, and promote safe living and economic growth,” Mayor Margot Garant said.

The revitalization of upper Port is part of the Connect LI project of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The plan behind the initiative is to use both existing and new public transportation options to connect people to commercial centers and main streets as in Port Jefferson.

“This is a model of what we need to be doing around the region,” Bellone said. “My administration is committed to providing funding to assist our towns and villages with these revitalization projects. The project we broke ground on today is a major step in continuing our efforts to make Suffolk County a great place to live, work and raise a family.”

Phase one of the project will cost $850,000 to be funded by grants from the county’s Jumpstart program and other financial contributions. Along with the parking lot the first phase of the project will improve sidewalks that lead to the train station from The Hills at Port Jefferson apartment complex.

Phase two of the project will include a renovation of the north, east and south LIRR parking lots with new pavement, lighting and plaza entryway.

Phase three will create “Station Street,” a new one-way road that will provide access to the new renovated parking lots. Garant said the road should also reduce congestion on Main Street and allow for smoother access into the train station parking lots.

Part of the hope for the project is that students coming from Stony Brook University and other commuters will help create interest in the area, which in turn should incentivize businesses to invest in upper Port and remedy the blighted property seen on Main Street, according to Garant.

“We want feet on the street,” Garant said.

Last year Nicole Christian, a consultant at law firm HB Solutions and grant writer for the village, helped apply for several grants for the Uptown Funk project. Last year Port Jefferson Village was awarded $250,000 in Jumpstart money to start plans on the project and the village also applied for a grant from the Empire State Development Corporation, a state entity, for $500,000.

“Empire State Development is excited to support this roadway realignment that will foster this transit-oriented development and revitalize this community to create a true linkage from upper Port Jefferson to the waterfront,” Howard Zemsky, ESD president, said in an email.

Part of the purpose of the new parking lot is also to help facilitate foot traffic from The Hills at Port Jefferson to the train station across the street. “All of the apartments in two separate buildings, which were completed in 2016, have already been rented out and there is already a long wait list to get in,” said Tony Gitto of The Gitto Group, the real estate development company behind development of the apartment complex, during the event.

The Town of Brookhaven and Port Jefferson Village worked with Gitto and his company to create the two-building complex. To incentivize the creation of the apartment complex, Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, an arm of municipalities dedicated to funding projects to stimulate job creation and economic growth, gave Gitto and his company sales tax exemptions on construction items, a mortgage tax exemption and a 10-year property tax abatement.

Gitto said that they provided money toward the funding of the new parking lot.

“They hired the contractors and we made a financial contribution,” Gitto said.

This post was updated May 15.

A rendering of the Gateway Plaza development on the left, and on the top right, the envisioned artist residences on the corners of New York Avenue and Church Street. Image from Renaissance Downtowns

A proposed change of plans for a $22 million Huntington Station revitalization project is being met with resistance by community residents.

Huntington Station revitalization master developer Renaissance Downtowns and developer G2G Development submitted a request April 24 seeking to change the composition of apartments that will make up the Gateway Plaza building to be constructed on the corner of Olive Street and New York Avenue.

The original plans for the 61,000-square-foot building called for a mix of 33 one-bedroom apartments and 33 studio apartments in a mixed-used building over restaurant, retail and office space.

A graph showing the redistribution of apartments proposed for Gateway Plaza. Graphic by TBR News Media

Now, the developer seeks to create 11 two-bedroom apartments, increase it to 45 one-bedroom units and construct only 10 studios.

“The pre-approved square footage was redistributed into a new mix based on voiced community requests for two bedrooms, market research and feedback to Northridge realtors on what local residents are searching for,” reads a statement on Source the Station, Renaissance Downtown’s online portal on the revitalization projects for Huntington Station residents.

Renaissance Downtowns and Huntington Town officials celebrated the grand opening of Northridge apartments, the first concrete project of Huntington Station revitalization, earlier this week. The mixed-use building has 16 one-bedroom apartments for rent on the second and third floors.

“When we started leasing [Northridge], the agent got a lot of inquiries from people looking for two-bedroom apartments,” said Ryan Porter, Co-CEO and president of Renaissance Downtowns.

Deborah D’Ambrosio, a Signature Premier Properties agent who is leasing Northridge’s apartments, said Monday at Northridge’s grand opening she had not personally gotten requests for any two-bedroom units, but that her company had marketed the property for one-bedroom only.

Huntington Station resident Matt Harris said he objected to the request to construct two-bedroom units, pointing out that the change is anticipated to bring seven school-aged children into the school district.

A pie chart showing the proposed redistribution of commercial space for Gateway Plaza. Graphic by TBR News Media

“The people of Huntington Station have been lied to for 48 years,” Harris said. “Developer after developer after developer has lied to us and now Renaissance is doing it.”

Porter admitted as public awareness of the requested apartment development has risen, he’s heard out several concerns raised by other community members.

The proposed changes were only received by the town’s Department of Planning and Environment after the board approved transferring of the town-owned parcel at 1000 New York Avenue to the developer 4-1 at its April 10 meeting, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo. Councilman Ed Smyth (R) had been the sole objector to the land transfer calling it a “betrayal of public trust.”

“I voted into [Gateway Plaza] for the studio apartments,” said Councilman Eugene Cook (R). “I’m asking the town attorney to look into this and see what’s happening. That to me, is entirely uncalled for.”

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said the town attorney’s office is currently reviewing the developer’s request and market demand is one factor that can be taken into consideration. The town attorney may consult a real estate expert if it is deemed necessary, according to Lupinacci.

Renaissance Downtowns expects to close on the land sale of 1000-1026 New York Ave. properties needed to construct Gateway Plaza this month, according to Porter, with a hope of starting demolition of the existing structures this summer.

Huntington Town Board approved the transfer of 1000 New York Ave. to Renaissance Downtowns April 10. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A Town of Huntington councilman sharply criticized his fellow board members’ willingness to transfer town-owned land to a private developer for Huntington Station’s revitalization as a “betrayal of public trust.”

Huntington town board voted 4-1 to give 1000 New York Ave. to Renaissance Downtowns, the master developer behind Huntington Station’s revitalization, at its April 10 meeting.

Councilman Ed Smyth (R) was the only one to vote against, blasting his colleagues that giving the property away for free was “unconscionable.”

“Giving away this property without knowing its current fair market valuable is grossly irresponsible,” Smyth said. “Our roads have potholes, marines and docks are in disrepair, the main floor of this building is covered by rubber matting that’s held down by tape. … The town cannot afford to give away this real estate for free.”

The town had acquired the former Tilden Brakes site through use of eminent domain for about $700,000. Since then, the town has spent funds to demolish the former auto care center and clean up the land, Smyth pointed out.

Giving away this property without knowing its current fair market valuable is grossly irresponsible.”

—Ed Smyth

A Town of Huntington councilman sharply criticized his fellow board members’ willingness to transfer town-owned land to a private developer for Huntington Station’s revitalization as a “betrayal of public trust.”

Huntington town board voted 4-1 to give 1000 New York Ave. to Renaissance Downtowns, the master developer behind Huntington Station’s revitalization, at its April 10 meeting.

Councilman Ed Smyth (R) was the only one to vote against, blasting his colleagues that giving the property away for free was “unconscionable.”

“Giving away this property without knowing its current fair market valuable is grossly irresponsible,” Smyth said. “Our roads have potholes, marines and docks are in disrepair, the main floor of this building is covered by rubber matting that’s held down by tape. … The town cannot afford to give away this real estate for free.”

The town had acquired the former Tilden Brakes site through use of eminent domain for about $700,000. Since then, the town has spent funds to demolish the former auto care center and clean up the land, Smyth pointed out.

The land is one of four parcels Renaissance Downtowns needed to acquire to move forward with Gateway Plaza redevelopment. The approved site plan for 1000 to 1026 New York Ave. calls for the construction of a mixed-used building consisting of 16,000-square-feet of retail space and 66 apartments — 33 studios and 33 one-bedroom units. The existing Brother’s Barber Shop will remain in place.

Smyth said the developer has paid more than $3 million to private owners to acquire the three neighboring properties, yet the town will not receive any funds for 1000 New York Ave.

“It’s not a free transfer by any stretch,” said Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D).

Cergol said that the town-owned property was appraised two years ago when the master development agreement for Huntington Station was negotiated. Renaissance Downtowns has invested funds into the revitalization project that was levied against the property’s value or “baked into the transaction.”

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said he found himself in a difficult position in voting on the contractual agreement negotiated by former Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) to give the land to Renaissance Downtowns under Huntington Station’s master plan. If the transfer was voted down, Lupinacci said he knew the town would be immediately hit with a lawsuit and face tens of thousands in legal fees.

We owe it to Huntington Station, revitalization is important.”

— Chad Lupinacci

“I care too much about the town and taxpayers to waste this type of money,” he said.

The supervisor suggested the funds could be better spent by improving the town’s parks, offering childcare services or keeping the town’s tax rate low. His proclamation that he would support the measure and encouragement to his fellow board members to do the same, was met by a round of applause from residents.

“We owe it to Huntington Station, revitalization is important,” Lupinacci said. “We want to restore it. It’s an excellent area.”

Renaissance Downtowns had initially projected a time line of groundbreaking on the Gateway Plaza in fall of 2017. The developer hopes to be able to begin demolition within 60 to 90 days once proper permits are in order, according to Renaissance Downtowns Community Liaison Andrea Bonilla. A groundbreaking ceremony on construction is projected for this fall.

“This is the next stage in the overall development,” Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said. “I think it’s a good stepping stone.”

The developer has already completed construction of Northridge, a multiuse building consisting of 6,200-square-feet of retail space and 16 one-bedroom apartments further south on New York Avenue.

A Huntington resident signs the steel beam. Photo by Kevin Redding.

By Kevin Redding

When it comes to revitalization, Huntington Station is building a future as solid as steel.

Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) could barely contain his excitement June 8 as he, along with town board members and developers, kicked off Huntington Station’s long-planned revitalization phase with the signing of a steel beam to be installed over the entrance of a new, mixed-use building currently under construction at the intersection of Northridge Street and New York Avenue, a site on which the town has been trying to develop a property for decades.

“Finally, this is happening,” Petrone said to cheers and applause from at least 50 residents and local leaders standing in front of the construction site. “All of you who are here have been inspirational in his whole process and we know it’s taken a long time, but it’s happened…and thank goodness it’s happened.”

The mixed-use building, under construction since January and expected to be completed in October, will be made up of 6500 square feet of retail space on the first floor, with May’s Gourmet Delicatessen signed up as the first and only commercial tenant so far, and a total of 16 one-bedroom apartments, eight on the second floor and eight on the third, for a total cost of $5.5 million. According to the town, it’s projected to “generate $55,007 in tax revenue the first year, rising to $132,016 (at present rates) in 15 years.”

Huntington officials and community members smile. Photo by Kevin Redding.

This will serve as the first concrete project in Huntington Station’s next phase of youth-friendly revitalization and was developed in partnership with Renaissance Downtowns, a nationally-renowned development group chosen by the town to be a master developer in 2011. Blue & Gold Holdings, a Huntington-based contracting business, is in charge of construction.

“We’re going to attract millennials to this facility, and that speaks highly because the station is a hub, the station is a nucleus of people that commute, especially, and that’s who we are looking to attract,” Petrone said. “There was considerable money put into this, and commitment, because that’s the commitment necessary to start the engine of economic development. The collective work with the communities, with Renaissance Downtowns and with the town has paid off.”

Town Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and Councilwoman Susan Berland (D), both integral players in the town’s revitalization efforts, were equally excited about the progress being made on the site.

“Today is a great day for Huntington Station,” Cuthbertson said. “Anytime we can see brick, mortar and steel [in Huntington Station] with housing going up is a good sign. We have beautiful mixed-use buildings like this going up in Huntington Village that really, really add to the downtown area…but when we can have a building like this, when the economics are right, when government and the private sector come together and are able to do this in Huntington Station, we’re certainly on the right track.”

Berland assured the crowd that although it’s been long in the making, the project will be worth the wait.

“The businesses that are going to happen here and the people who are going to be able to move in to the heart of the station and live here and prosper here and shop here —it’s going to be fantastic,” Berland said. “It’s a beautiful design and it’s going to be a beautiful project when it’s done and we wish everybody who’s going to move in here lots and lots of happiness and years of shopping in Huntington and spending your money. They say the best things in life are worth waiting for and, well, this is absolutely worth waiting for.”

Don Monti, chairman of Renaissance Downtowns, referring to Petrone, said, “Huntington Station is something he’s wanted to see developed for many years and I’m happy and proud that prior to the supervisor departing that the dream has come true…and this is just a beginning… the first of many to come.”

“We’re going to attract millennials to this facility, and that speaks highly because the station is a hub, the station is a nucleus of people that commute, especially, and that’s who we are looking to attract.”
— Frank Petrone

Future projects proposed by Renaissance Downtowns, currently in the approval process, include a mixed-use building at the intersection of New York Avenue and Olive Street that will include 66 apartments and ground-level retail, a hotel and office building at New York Avenue and Railroad Street, and artists’ studios in what is currently a municipal parking lot at New York Avenue and Church Street.

Dolores Thompson, a community activist for more than 70 years and the mother of Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D), said she’s been trying to bring back Huntington Station since it was “taken away in the 1950s.”

“This is one of the things that I wanted to see before I leave this world and to be here today and be able to witness the fact that we actually have started is like a blessing…I’m so pleased to be here,” Thompson said. In terms of what she hopes will come to Huntington Station, she laughed, “We need a hair salon, then a shoe store, we want a gathering place and a community room…we want everything, okay?”

Robert Rockelein, a member of the civic group Huntington Matters, called this “progress in the right direction.”

“The revitalization has been backsliding for decades, it’s long overdue and it’s going to help populate and reflourish the downtown area,” Rockelein said. “I’d like to see more neighborhood-established businesses rather than regional chains obviously, and give people that live and work here an opportunity to establish something here and build their American dream.”

Local leaders, developers and residents each took turns signing their names on the last piece of steel to be installed on the mixed-use building, which will be placed at the entrance.

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

Smithtown is moving ahead with plans to beautify its downtowns, this time with St. James.

The town board voted May 9 to amend the 2017 capital projects plan and budget to add a $2 million reconstruction to enhance the St. James business
district.

The project, adopted in a 3-2 vote, will renovate approximately 4,300 feet of Lake Avenue, from Moriches Road to Woodlawn Avenue, by restoring its sidewalks and putting in new street trees, street lighting, curbs, concrete gutters and crosswalks, driveway aprons, asphalt, driveway aprons, benches and other decorative amenities.

The project, spearheaded by Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) in collaboration with the traffic, engineering, highway and planning departments, aims to make Lake Avenue the focal point of the St. James community, improve business activity in the downtown area, and encourage private investment in adjacent properties.

“It’s about time we step up to the plate, swing the bat, and make St. James Village and all our other villages the light of Suffolk County,” McCarthy said to the board during the work session Tuesday morning. “We have the best budget of all towns in the county and some of the most affluent people in the county … and I think we have to lead the way for the community to fix our infrastructure that’s aged and decrepit and if we don’t, then shame on us.”

According to Town Planning Director David Flynn, Lake Avenue was last reconstructed with a crown and base and street trees, concrete curbs, sidewalks and gutters in the 1930s. The work done at the time served the hamlet well for many years but new surfacing is desperately needed today, Flynn explained to the board.

“The sidewalks in St. James today would be rated the lowest in terms of walkability, smoothness, and crookedness, and the trees have been cropped severely by utilities to the point where they are more like weeds,” Flynn said. “The vacancy rate in the business district has increased the past few years and our approach is to bring downtown back to what it was, add amenities, put some trees back, rebuild what’s there … restore the pavement and make the pedestrian environment better, safe and more attractive.”

To further improve the aesthetic of the streetscape, according to the project proposal, the species and locations of street trees will be selected based on overhead wires, underground utilities and other urban conditions.

When asked by Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) why St. James should be the first of the hamlets to be worked on, as opposed to Kings Park and Smithtown, Flynn said it is the only one not sitting on a state highway, so state approval wouldn’t be necessary. The state of repair is also better in other hamlets, he added.

Nowick said during the work session she was in agreement with the project.

“We need to take care of our downtowns, whether it’s Smithtown or Kings Park or St. James,” she said. “There is no foot traffic in St. James … it’s a little sad.”

According to Superintendent of Highways Robert Murphy (R), renovations to Lake Avenue will begin as soon as possible, in coordination with schools and local businesses.

The cost estimate total of $1,994,836.60 — for asphalt, concrete, trees, amenities, surveying, drainage and lighting — will come out of the town’s general fund balance and will not be bonded.

“It’s a great project and we’re moving in the right direction,” McCarthy said.

During the vote, Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R), McCarthy and Nowick said yes. Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) and Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R), saying they support the project but request it be tabled for a couple weeks, voted no. The two opposed said they wanted more time to review the plan in its entirety.

Miller Place art teacher Julia Vogelle helped form The Brick Studio and Gallery nonprofit. Photo from Julia Vogelle

Who better to bring vibrancy and revitalization to downtown Rocky Point than a group of local artists? With the support of elected officials, a new nonprofit organization is leading the charge to help enrich, educate and electrify the Rocky Point community and surrounding areas.

The Brick Studio and Gallery is an art collective of more than 20 local artists and instructors with aspirations to grow and develop into a full-fledged community studio and hub.

Spearheaded by Miller Place High School art teacher Julia Vogelle and professional ceramicist Justine Moody, the group blossomed around the time Stony Brook University’s Craft Center and ceramics studio closed for renovations in January 2016, leaving potters and artists without a space to do what they love.

Pottery making will be offered at The Brick Studio and Gallery. Photo from Julia Vogelle

Vogelle and Moody, who shared dreams of opening up a cooperative to bring art back into the community, met in the wake of the Craft Center shutdown and enlisted the help of the “homeless” artists to form the organization.

Since then, the project has grown, culminating in a Kickstarter campaign with an ambitious goal of $18,000 to turn a dream into a reality. With 120 backers, their goal has already been exceeded, raising a total of $18,150.

The money will cover the start-up costs to find a location and equip and supply the studio with 14 pottery wheels, two electric kilns, kiln shelves, clay, glazes and ceramic tools. According to the fundraiser page, the studio “has the potential to begin a renaissance in historic Rocky Point, with other artists and artisans joining in bringing life to other empty buildings” and plans to open in early spring.

“My vision is to have this cultural center energize and bring all the money back into the hamlet,” Vogelle said. “Rocky Point has a lot to offer. People 16 and up can come; we’d have services for students, seniors, veterans and anyone who would like to work. I want to look at Broadway in Rocky Point as ‘artist’s row.’”

In addition to pottery, glass and jewelry making, the studio will be a venue for documentary showings, live poetry, trivia nights and  live music.

Moody expanded on the grand vision.

“I think it’s going to become a destination place … I don’t know that Rocky Point has one, and there are a lot of towns here with a tremendous group of creatives who don’t really have a place to call their own,” Moody said.

She’s hoping it could be a place to attract locals during the summer to take lessons, and others from outside the community on Friday nights, saying she envisions big events on weekends and other pop-up events throughout the year.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) believes The Brick has the potential to be a tourist attraction that could boost Rocky Point’s foot traffic and revenue — much-needed since the state built the bypass, which encourages traffic to go around the area, hitting downtown businesses especially hard.

“There are a lot of towns here with a tremendous group of creatives who don’t really have a place to call their own.”

— Justine Moody

“So many of our residents come in from the Long Island Expressway, from Sunrise Highway, and they look to go east from the North Fork, and my hope is that maybe they’ll turn left and go west to experience what Rocky Point and Shoreham have to offer,” Anker said. “There are so many high-level artists that live in the area and this will hopefully give them a way to stay local and promote their craft to the public.”

Anker has been involved in North Shore revitalization plans since 2011, participating with the Rails to Trails project and the clean-up of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, and said that art is not just trendy.

“We underestimate how important art is, it needs to be cultivated,” she said. “It’s part of our culture and it has an educational component. It will definitely benefit downtown Rocky Point.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), who contributed $100 to the art collective’s Kickstarter campaign, said she’s so excited about the studio and points to Vogelle and Moody’s hard work and dedication.

“They’re very dedicated and committed and they’re not looking for somebody else to solve their problem … grass isn’t growing under feet at all and it’s hard not to pay attention to that,” Bonner said.

As a 30-year Rocky Point resident, the councilwoman is hopeful that the artists can bring people back to downtown Rocky Point and trigger change.

Vogelle feels the same, stating that she believed that the art can bring value to homes and surrounding businesses.

“If you put art into a community, people want to move in,” she said. “If you put music in town, people want to gather around and enjoy it. A cultural center like this always connects with schools in the district and it will also help people realize there’s so much culture that’s hidden. And anyone can get hooked on ceramics — the elderly, veterans, teens. Once you touch mud, you never go back.”

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