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Three Village Civic Association

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Town of Brookhaven Planning Board will conduct a full site review of Stony Brook Square before representatives come before them again Dec. 17. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Town of Brookhaven Planning Board has once again tabled a decision regarding the future of a Stony Brook shopping center.

“It went under construction, and it turned out it wasn’t going to work and raised traffic and safety issues.”

— Tim Shea

Representatives for Stony Brook Square LLC, the developer of the shopping center across from the train station on Route 25A, are scheduled to return in front of the board Dec. 17. In September, the Planning Board issued a stop work order as a result of field changes from the approved construction plans including widening of a driveway, two buildings’ locations shifting by a few feet, and the addition of 19 parking stalls at the rear of the property.

At the Sept. 17 Planning Board meeting, board members suggested Stony Brook Square’s president Parviz Farahzad and his representatives meet with the Three Village Civic Association to discuss local residents’ concerns. This meeting took place Oct. 15.

The civic association has opposed the field changes and Farahzad’s decision to not install a low-nitrogen septic system on the commercial property.

Farahzad’s attorney, Hauppauge-based Tim Shea, said at the Nov. 5 Planning Board meeting that even though numerous professionals and town officials had previously reviewed the site plans, once construction got underway the new engineer and general contractor realized changes needed to be made.

“It went under construction, and it turned out it wasn’t going to work and raised traffic and safety issues,” Shea said.

Michael Williams, of R&W Engineers, who was brought on board after construction began, said commercial trucks were having difficulty entering the site, often jumping the curb. The original plans called for the entranceway to the center to be 24-feet wide. He said field changes widened the driveway to 30 feet, which was approved by New York State Department of Transportation. Due to this change, one building’s footprint was moved 6 feet to the west and the shift affected another building which was also moved.

Three Village Civic Association board members George Hoffman, 1st vice president; Laurie Vetere, 2nd vice president; and Herb Mones, land use committee chair, attended the Nov. 5 Planning Board meeting.

Hoffman said when residents discussed the development with Farahzad at 25A visioning meetings, the developer agreed that the buildings by being closer to 25A would lend a downtown feel and help to slow down traffic.

“We’re really concerned about the walkability of our community.”

— George Hoffman

“We’re really concerned about the walkability of our community,” Hoffman said. “This was not designed for trucks coming in and out.”

Vetere spoke out on the loss of land banking to 19 additional parking stalls. She said residents whose properties abuts the shopping center in the rear should have been notified of the proposed changes in advance of previous Planning Board meetings. Vetere encouraged the board members to hear from those neighbors before making their decision. The civic association supports land banking instead of the 19 spots because it will insulate the nearby neighbors from the noise of slamming car doors, chirping alarms and nighttime conversations in the lot.

She said if any leniency is shown to the developer in regard to these field changes, the board should ask him to install the low-nitrogen septic system as originally approved, which reduces a percentage of nitrogen in waste water. In a previous interview with TBR News Media, Farahzad said he was hesitant to install a system that he feels is still too new for commercial use.

“It would be a nice legacy for him to leave to the community,” Vetere said.

Shea said his client is likely willing to consent to keeping the land banking. As for the distance of the buildings from Route 25A, he said while the few feet won’t be noticeable to someone walking, it will matter to a truck driver who will be able to enter and exit safely.

Three residents in attendance asked that the Planning Board allows the developer to continue construction as soon as possible. One was Poquott resident Seth Goldstein who has already signed a lease to open a Jersey Mike’s Subs in the shopping center. He said he felt the expansion of the entranceway was a positive change.

“There is a need for that access and egress for trucks to go in and out of that location,” Goldstein said, adding he felt that the walkability is actually improved by the buildings’ new positions.

The board’s decision was held until Dec. 17 despite Shea asking for an earlier hearing. Vincent Pascale, Planning Board chairman, said the board will require two weeks or more for a full site plan review and to go through prior testimony.

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Stop & Shop is planning to paint the East Setauket store gray and change the bottle redemption center from the front to the back. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

A supermarket chain’s requests of the Town of Brookhaven Planning Board are creating concerns in East Setauket from a historical and environmental perspective.

“We’re really concerned that this kind of dark color is going to contrast with the historic district, and it won’t be in conformity with a lot of the architecture of the other buildings.”

— George Hoffman

Peggy Kelly, of Kelly’s Expediting Corp., representing Stop & Shop, attended the Oct. 15 planning board meeting asking for a facade color change to three Stop & Shop stores in Brookhaven — Medford, Farmingville and East Setauket — and switching the location of the East Setauket bottle redemption area from the front of the store to the back.

The color change would mean the facade of the Route 25A store in East Setauket would go from sandstone to gray. Kelly said the facade will change at eight Brookhaven stores, and it has already been altered in 21 locations in Suffolk County.

“Currently Stop & Shop is going through a refreshing,” Kelly said. “What they’re trying to do is develop an image which to the customer — the consumer — is going to [be] more fresh, green and a more healthy look.”

George Hoffman, first vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, was on hand for the planning board meeting and said the civic was opposed to the new color scheme that would be painted over the current beige sandstone for the majority of the building. He said the gray the representatives from the civic group were shown seemed to be a dark slate and not a light shade and would stand out. The applicant is also applying to paint the rest of the shopping center gray.

“We’re really concerned that this kind of dark color is going to contrast with the historic district, and it won’t be in conformity with a lot of the architecture of the other buildings,” Hoffman said.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) submitted a letter to the planning board stating that the proposed color change would be contrary to the historic character of the community.

“A dark gray facade would stand out in our retail area and draw attention in a manner that would work against architectural cohesion and continuity,” Englebright wrote.

Hoffman said the civic also had an issue with the changing of the bottle redemption center location since it will be harder to get to.

“A dark gray facade would stand out in our retail area and draw attention in a manner that would work against architectural cohesion and continuity.”

— Steve Englebright

“There’s a small little alleyway — well driveway — that leads to the back,” Hoffman said. “You have to pass by the truck loading zone and the trash compactor and now they’re going to put it in the back parking lot. At a time when we should be encouraging recycling you don’t want to make it harder for people to bring back their bottles.”

Englebright in his letter said the current bottle return location in the front of the store is in an ideal spot as it’s convenient and accessible to customers walking from the parking lot. He wrote that he believes changing the location to the rear of the store would lead to a reduction in recycling since Stop & Shop is the only supermarket in the Setauket/East Setauket area.

Kelly said the bottle redemption center being moved to the back would give customers a larger space and prevent congestion in front of the store. She said if the board didn’t agree to the change, the location could remain in the front.

Kelly added East Setauket was the only location with a question about the color change. All other Brookhaven civic associations or council members who have reached out to their communities have approved the new color scheme.

The board tabled the decision until the next planning board meeting Nov. 5 and asked that Stop & Shop representatives meet with the Three Village Civic Association.

Both the chain and civic are open to the suggestion, and Hoffman said they will meet before the end of the month.

“We are aware of civic concerns regarding a possible color change and bottle deposit relocation at our Setauket store,” said Steve Kienzle, senior vice president of market operations and sales for Stop & Shop. “We are reviewing all options so that we can bring the situation to a resolution.”

Construction has temporarily ceased on the site of the future Stony Brook Square until the owner can provide better site plans to the town’s planning board. By Rita J. Egan

The future of a Stony Brook shopping center has been put on hold until the Town of Brookhaven’s Planning Board members get some answers.

At the town’s Sept. 17 planning meeting, representatives for Little Rock Construction and its president Parviz Farahzad were seeking approval for modifications that were made to site plans to Stony Brook Square, a shopping center under construction across from the Stony Brook train station on Route 25A. A stop work order was issued after town inspectors discovered discrepancies between the site plans and what has already been completed on the construction site.

“It’s so hard to believe that these kinds of major changes would be made to the site plan without any type of authorization or approval.”

— Herb Mones

Among the modifications were the changing of two building locations, handicap accessible parking, cross access and grading.

Farahzad’s attorney, Hauppauge-based Tim Shea, contacted Three Village Civic Association representatives Herb Mones, chair of the association’s land use committee, and George Hoffman, 1st vice president of the association, Sept. 24 to go over the modifications, according to Mones.

“It’s so hard to believe that these kinds of major changes would be made to the site plan without any type of authorization or approval,” Mones said in a phone interview, adding in the past the town, civic association and community members provided input for the location’s plans.

Mones said a major objection from members of the civic association is the entryway changing from the initially approved 24 feet to 30. This adjustment means the largest building on the property is shifted 5 feet to the west from the original plans and closer to the historic home on the 3-acre site that Mones said during 25A visioning community meetings residents felt was essential to preserve and feature in the project.

At the Sept. 17 meeting, Farahzad’s engineer Michael Williams said his office was contacted earlier this year by the applicant to review claims by the site contractor that there were issues with Americans with Disabilities Act compliance in front of the building. He said the cross slope through the handicap accessible parking and access aisle was too steep pursuant to federal regulations. To alleviate the issue of the ADA ramp’s cross slope, the elevation of the site closest to the driveway entrance was changed, and the site was flattened, which increased the size of the entranceway.

Mones said the civic association also has issues with an area that was designated for land banking now being used for 19 parking spots. He explained that land banking allows for an area to be landscaped until it is proven a business owner needs it for parking.

He said while he appreciates the town was alerted to the changes and put a stop work order on the construction, he believes it still poses problems.

“Is it going to send a message out to developers that you can willy-nilly make changes in the approved site plan and then ask for forgiveness?”

— Herb Mones

“I think the town has a challenge before them,” Mones said. “Is it going to send a message out to developers that you can willy-nilly make changes in the approved site plan and then ask for forgiveness?”

Mones said representatives from the civic association would be attending the Oct. 1 Planning Board meeting.

“We think that the town should adhere to the site plan that was developed, and since the project is far from being completed, it shouldn’t be difficult for [the developer] to adhere to the site plan that they originally planned on with the town, with the town planners and with the community,” Mones said.

The Planning Board members put their decision on hold until the Oct. 1 meeting, and Farahzad was advised to bring updated site plans Oct. 1 and to consult with the Three Village Civic Association about the modifications.

“I would like to see a plan that shows what’s existing — not proposed — and what we had previously approved and what has changed,” said assistant town attorney Beth Reilly at the Sept. 17 meeting. “Because when you look at this it looks like nothing is out there, but that’s not what our inspectors found when they did a stop work order on this job. I feel like the plans still don’t match what we’re being told.”

Farahzad did not respond to requests for comment.

Three Village Civic Association held a forum Sept. 4 during which Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Rich Johannesen, Mary Ann Johnston and Anthony Figliola weighed in on an upcoming referendum in Brookhaven. Photo by Alex Petroski

Brookhaven Town has taken steps to change laws pertaining to terms of office for elected officials, but civically minded citizens are discussing it before jumping on board just yet. The Three Village Civic Association hosted a forum Sept. 4 at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library featuring four experts to discuss the proposal, which will appear on November’s ballot in the form of a referendum to be passed or failed by Brookhaven voters. Audience members came from as far afield as Medford and Patchogue.

The speakers included 1st District Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station); Rich Johannesen, a veteran of local politics considered an expert in governmental workings, who helped lead a citizens initiative to establish council districts in the town more than 15 years ago; MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organizations who also has seen more than her fair share of political races and policy discussions; and Anthony Figliola, former Brookhaven deputy supervisor and vice president of Empire Government Strategies, a company that provides strategic counsel on governmental relations and practices to municipalities.

Brookhaven’s board voted unanimously Aug. 2 to establish a referendum on the ballot Nov. 6 asking town residents to weigh in on changes to terms in office for elected officials, specifically increasing terms from two years, as is currently the law, to four years for councilmembers, the supervisor and highway superintendent, which would put it on par with the other Suffolk townships. The referendum will have a second component as part of the same, single “yea” or “nay” question: limiting officials to three terms in office. That component would impact the above positions, as well as town clerk and receiver of taxes. Both components will appear as part of a single proposition, according to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto. If passed the law would go into effect for terms beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

In 1993, residents voted to implement a limit of three terms of four years each on elected officials, though that law was no longer applicable following a 2002 public vote to establish council districts since state law dictates councilmembers in towns with council districts serve two-year terms, according to Emily Pines, Romaine’s chief of staff and a former New York State Supreme Court justice, who spoke during the Aug. 2 town hearing.

Some of the speakers at the Sept. 4 civic forum took issue with Brookhaven’s interpretation that the law of the town isn’t already limiting elected officials to serving three terms, calling on politicians to solicit an opinion from the state attorney general. Others pointed to language which could allow sitting board members to start their term clocks afresh, despite having served several terms already on the board, as particularly objectionable. Some suggested the referendum felt rushed saying, waiting a year would ensure full community awareness about the town’s intentions.

Below are some of the comments from the civic association’s invited guests in a session moderated by the civic’s Herb Mones:

Johannesen: “I’m going to be very clear — I oppose four-year terms. The longer we allow elected officials to serve without putting them before us, the more likely it is that they are going to become corrupt. I think if you look at the history of corruption in this town and you look at the history of corruption in this county, one of the reasons why our elected officials have gone south is because there were no checks and balances. There hasn’t really been the kind of political diversity we were hoping for.”

Johnston: “The founders thought it was good enough for our congressmen to be two years; the state constitution provides for our assemblymen and our senators to be two years. And if the problem is raising funds for political campaigns, then the issue isn’t the length of term, because we have no guarantee they’ll ever stop raising funds and do it continually for four years. This is what the voters want: We chose councilmatic districts and the Town of Brookhaven fought us tooth and nail all the way down the line. And now they’re telling us that the 1993 referendum that we enacted was repealed by council districts. That’s not true. We already have term limits. It can’t be repealed by implication.”

Figliola: “To be perfectly candid, whether it’s two years or four years, you can’t legislate human conduct. So, if people are going to be corrupt, they’re going to be corrupt. I think that’s what prosecutors are for. It’s very hard to get elected if you’re a challenger unless it’s an open seat. It’s possible … but it’s difficult. That doesn’t have anything to do with corruption. I believe term limits can help, they can’t completely stop it, but can help because it will open up an opportunity for citizen legislators to be able to run. What this will do is, this will say ‘you have consecutively or nonconsecutively three four-year terms and then you’re out.’”

Cartright: “As you all know, two town board meetings ago, I voted in support of putting this on the ballot for a vote. This has been something that me and my colleagues have been discussing for quite some time — at least four years or so. I think this is an important discussion that needs to be had. Am I advocating one or another? I am not. I understand both sides. My personal opinion is that for good governance, I do think that four years would be better than two years, based on my experiences.”

Owners of the Shell gas station on the northwest corner of Route 25A and Jones Street have submitted variances to the Town of Brookhaven's board of zoning appeals to construct a gas canopy and install a 72-square-foot lighted sign. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Three Village Civic Association is taking action to prevent a gas station from “changing the scenery” in the area.

Magid Setauket Associates LLC, owner of Shell gas station on Route 25A and Jones Street, applied for variances to the Town of Brookhaven Board of Zoning Appeals in the beginning of March. The company submitted proposed plans to construct a large canopy and a lighted electric sign at the gas station.

Members of the civic association have expressed concerns over the proposed plans to build the fuel canopy, which would measure 79 feet in length, 26 feet in width and approximately 25 feet in height, setback 14 1/2 feet from 25A, which is less than the distance required by the town. The company has proposed plans to install a 72-square-foot freestanding ground sign that exceeds the 24 square feet permitted by Brookhaven, with a maximum illuminance that also surpasses the town’s requirements.

“The large canopy proposed by the Shell station is unusual and out of place in our historic downtown Setauket.”

— Herb Mones

After receiving news of the proposed variances, the civic association informed its members via email and stated that between a seven-mile stretch along 25A, from St. James to Port Jefferson, there are no gas station canopies.

“This canopy and the associated digital sign would make this a precedent-setting project which would open the door for all the other stations along 25A to do the same,” the email read.

Representatives from Magid Setauket Associates were originally scheduled to
appear before the board March 21, but due to inclement weather, the meeting was postponed until March 28. The company’s
petition was then scheduled as a holdover for the board’s April 18 meeting.

Herb Mones, chair of the civic’s land use committee, said he is hopeful the postponement may mean the applicant is rethinking their proposals. He said state Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) and town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) wrote letters to the town’s Board of Zoning Appeals to oppose the station’s request for variances.

“The large canopy proposed by the Shell station is unusual and out of place in our historic downtown Setauket,” Mones said. “Simply put — it overwhelms the sense of place we have worked so hard to preserve and protect in the Three Villages. The electronic sign, positioned close to the roadway, may be well suited for a four-lane highway, not for our historic Main Street.”

The civic association was one of the key organizations involved in the Route 25A resident visioning meetings that were spearheaded by Cartright in 2017, and its officers have discussed changes at the Shell station with Magid Setauket Associates in the past, including the addition of a convenience store, according to George Hoffman, the civic’s first vice president.

“As far as our position on this, we’re basically about how it affects our community, how it affects our children, how it affects the traffic.”

— Omar Ishtiaque

“We opposed the plan, citing the location and limited parking space on the property,” Hoffman said. “The civic association hopes the current plan is not a way to gain approval by seeking several variances from the ZBA and, once in hand, seeking the final approval for the convenience store.”

Omar Ishtiaque, who owns Cupeez Drive-Thru less than a quarter of a mile west from the Shell station, said he and a few of his customers also have concerns. The business owner said he has seen many changes along the roadways since his family opened the store 35 years ago. He said he feels the historical aspect of the village is something that draws people in and makes residents appreciate their surroundings.

“As far as our position on this, we’re basically about how it affects our community, how it affects our children, how it affects the traffic,” he said.

Ishtiaque said while he’s not against development, a sense of place is important to him, and with his own business, he has taken down signage that was near the roadway and has tried to keep the store as traditional looking as possible.

“When a lot of the newer changes come in with corporations funding these type of businesses, yes, it’s great in a lot of ways, but at the same time I think it takes away a piece of our community,” he said.

A representative for Magid Setauket Associates did not respond to inquiries for comments.

The reverse of the 2017 Election Day ballot will feature a proposition regarding a Constitutional Convention. Image from Suffolk County Board of Elections

By Donna Newman

As amended in 1846, the New York State Constitution includes a mandatory requirement that every 20 years state voters be offered the opportunity via a ballot proposal to convene a constitutional convention — called “Con Con” by those familiar with state politics — to review and revise the existing document. If a majority votes “yes,” delegates are elected to serve at a convention held in Albany.

A recent meeting of the Three Village Civic Association was devoted to informing the public about the proposal to be presented to New York State voters on Election Day with the debate titled “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?”

Two guest speakers were invited to present opposing views of Proposal 1, the first of three proposals that will appear on the reverse side of the ballot listing the candidates for office Nov. 7. The civic association’s Vice President George Hoffman moderated the debate at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket.

The ballot question was last posed in 1997, when a majority of those voting said “no.” The last Con Con was held in 1967 and the voters later rejected all of the proposed changes. If a majority votes “yes” this time around, three delegates from each state senatorial district and 15 at-large statewide delegates will be elected in November 2018, according to the State Board of Elections website, www.elections.ny.gov.

“The delegates will convene at the Capitol in April 2019,” according to the website. “Amendments adopted by a majority of the delegates will be submitted to the voters for approval or rejection in a statewide referendum to be held at least six weeks after the Convention adjourns. The delegates will determine whether to submit proposed amendments as separate questions. Any amendments that the voters approve will go into effect on the January 1 following their approval.”

Anyone may run to be a delegate.

Anthony Figliola, vice president of Empire Government Strategies of Uniondale, a governmental consulting firm representing a variety of clients seeking liaisons in Albany, New York City or local municipalities, recommended a No vote.

Figliola’s primary argument is that a constitutional convention is an extremely expensive and risky way to affect change, especially when the document itself provides an alternative.

Anthony Figliola and Al Benninghoff participate in a debate about the constitutional convention at a recent Three Village Civic Association meeting. Photo from Jonathan Kornreich

“The referendum process has been more successful as compared to Con Con,” he said. “There have been 600 amendments passed by the voters in our history. This year there will be a question on the ballot as to whether pensions should be taken away from any state legislator convicted of a felony. In 2013 there were six constitutional amendments proposed. Five of them were approved. The good government groups are coming from a good place. They are [working] to enact change and they are trying to move the legislature and get the public at large involved in the process.”

He also spoke about the last Con Con, held in 1967, calling it “an utter failure.”

“Of the delegates elected 80 percent were politically connected,” he said. “And 45 percent were either sitting [or retired] elected officials … collecting — or in the pension system. This allowed them to take two salaries, as there is no prohibition against it in the constitution. In addition to doubling their income, pension credits accrued by doing this raised their pension payouts.”

In the end, all of the proposed amendments to the constitution were submitted for voter approval in one package — which the voters rejected.

Al Benninghoff is a campaign manager for the Committee for a Constitutional Convention and also with New York People’s Convention. A longtime political strategist and reform advocate, he recommended a Yes vote.

Benninghoff’s case can be summed up in two words: It’s time.

The last time a Con Con question was proposed to voters in 1997, the New York City Bar Association called for a “no” vote and suggested: “Let’s give the legislature a chance to reform itself. We gave it 20 years and nothing has happened,” he said.

“Frankly, enough is enough,” Benninghoff said. “The legislature holds all the power. If the legislature doesn’t want to find it within itself to give us the opportunity to vote on an amendment to the constitution, then they can absolutely withhold it. And they have done that a lot.”

He went on to list things he believes should have already been addressed.

“There have been no ethics reforms; independent redistricting in name only, not in actuality; no term limits; and no campaign finance reform,” he said. “There’s still a tremendous loophole with LLCs [limited liability companies]. If a person running for state legislative office wants to take campaign donations from an infinite number of LLCs created by one person, or one company, they can do so. That’s a campaign finance loophole big enough to drive a truck through. What it does is empower the political status quo. It takes all the power away from the people — and that is exactly what a New York State Constitutional Convention changes.”

In New York State history there have been nine constitutional conventions. The longest gap between conventions has been since the last one in 1967. It’s been 50 years. The last one did not produce any changes, arguably because all the proposals were lumped together in a single vote.

As moderator of this informational session and the Q&A period that followed it, Hoffman remained clearly impartial. But in supplying additional data after the event he said he formed an opinion.

“I take the question to hold a constitutional convention very seriously and I am leaning to supporting it,” Hoffman said. “I see it as a solemn responsibility to periodically review our state constitution. I think it’s clear to most that many things need to change in Albany and a constitutional convention might be the only way to bring that change. I would seriously consider running for delegate if the constitutional convention is approved.”

For more information on the New York State Constitutional Convention, visit www.rockinst.org/nys_concon2017.

Past Greening of 25A volunteers gather at the Stony Brook railroad station in 2013. File photo

The Annual Fall Cleanup at the Stony Brook railroad station will take place Oct. 8 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., rain or shine.

Volunteers are needed to trim bushes; pick up trash; rake leaves; sweep salt, sand and dirt; weed; spread mulch and plant flowers. If you can help, please join in.

The Greening of 25A Committee is part of the Three Village Civic Association.

Bagels and coffee will be provided by Fratelli’s Bagel Express of Setauket, a member of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce.

For more information call the office of Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) at 631-854-1650.

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