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Zoning

Officials say the subcontractor for PSEG/LIPA is violating town code

Material outside Asplundh Construction, located across the street from Mount Sinai schools. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Brookhaven Town leaders are determined to stamp out what they’ve deemed an illegal eyesore in Mount Sinai — a commercial retail area turned industrial facility on Route 25A near the entrance to the school district campus. Officials said by being there, the owners and tenants of the property are willfully violating town zoning codes and damaging quality of life in the process.

During a press conference Aug. 22, town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), along with town officials and a civic leader, stood across from a fenced-in lot where concrete is crushed and dozens of the Asplundh Construction company’s trucks, as well as poles and large spools of cable, are stored.

A lineup of Asplundh Construction trucks on the company’s lot. Photo by Kevin Redding

Romaine said the type of activity on the property, which is owned by Nkp Properties LLC, of Farmingdale, is illegal under J-2 zoning and is restricted to industrial property only — a fact he said Nkp is aware of as it paid a town-issued fine of $4,000 in April. Despite paying the fine and pleading guilty to violating the town code, Nkp continues to use the property. The group was met with more fines July 24, which included a ticket for a second offense of the code violations and for not having site plans to try and legalize the activities on the site.

According to the town’s deputy attorney, David Moran, the attorney for Nkp  at the time “acknowledged that the use was not appropriate and said he was going to try to get all the necessary site plans and approvals in.”

No one from Asplundh Construction returned phone calls for a request for comment, and visits to the site for questions were directed back to the telephone number.

Officials during the press conference called on the company, a subcontractor of PSEG and LIPA, to vacate the property as soon as possible.

“The parents that drop their children off at the school, employees and civic members— residents in Mount Sinai certainly don’t appreciate what’s going on across the street from us.”

Jane Bonner

“The last time I looked, LIPA was a public utility whose subcontractor is willfully flouting zoning laws in the Town of Brookhaven,” Romaine said. “That type of zoning violation is one we will not stand for. We are particularly concerned because this is adjacent to the Mount Sinai schools. We’re asking that they come into compliance or we have to take further action.

The property was previously the site of a party equipment rental business. When Asplundh moved in, a structure on the site was demolished.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said it’s negatively impacting the town.

“One of the things that the Mount Sinai community is desirous of is a corridor that is user-friendly and appealing to the eye,” Bonner said, looking at the Nkp property behind her. “I’ve been in office almost 10 years and for the past eight years, the property behind me has been a constant source of complaints from the community, the parents that drop their children off at the school, employees and civic members. Residents in Mount Sinai certainly don’t appreciate what’s going on across the street from us.”

Bonner said she would like to settle this problem before the start of the new school year. More than 30 Asplundh trucks, she said, drive in and out of the lot every morning, which can become a safety concern once buses join Route 25A traffic.

Ann Becker, president of the Mount Sinai Civic Association, also expressed her concerns.

Mount Sinai Civic Association President Ann Becker talks about her feelings toward the construction company across the street from Mount Sinai schools during a press conference Aug. 22. Photo by Kevin Redding

“The civic, which recently celebrated 100 years, has been working to maintain the quality of life here in Mount Sinai for all that time and we continue to do so, and we continuously get complaints about this location and now it’s becoming even worse than it was before,” Becker said. “We’re really wanting to have nice businesses here and we’ve done a lot of work on beautification … what’s happening behind us is absolutely against everything the civic has stood for.”

She said she hopes the current owners ultimately cease and desist so that the location is turned into something more appropriate for the community.

Moran said he believes the businesses will try to get away with the violations as long as they can in order to maximize every dollar out of it to help fund construction projects.

“From a prosecutorial standpoint these types of flagrant violations will not be tolerated in the Town of Brookhaven,” he said. “You can’t just buy property and use it to your will. We have codes that must be followed and, in this instance, I can assure you that we will ensure that they follow our codes.”

A barge used by Northville Industries in Port Jefferson Harbor. File photo

A 2010 “legislative oversight” caused a stir between Port Jefferson Village and an oil company with decades-old roots in the community, though the village announced Aug. 7 during a public meeting the case has been settled.

As part of the settlement, with Northville Industries, a petroleum storage, distribution and wholesale company with property on the shores of Port Jefferson Harbor, the village agreed to amend a previously deleted section of its code. The village held a public hearing to discuss changes to permitted uses of marina waterfront-zoned parcels during the Aug. 7 meeting.

In 1976, the zone where Northville’s dock facility on Beach Street in Port Jeff was housed, and continues to be, was changed from an industrial to a marina waterfront. The change made Northville’s Port Jeff facility, which is used to take in petroleum deliveries by ship or barge that are then transported around Long Island, nonconforming to the village code. During the hearing, Village Attorney Brian Egan explained that the change was fought up to the New York State Supreme Court in 1976, and the site was granted conditional uses within the MW district, which allowed their decades-old operation to continue functioning.

In 2010 the village, to create multiple marina waterfront districts identified as MW-1, MW-2 and MW-3 drafted new legislation. The Northville property is located within MW-1. That legislation identified several permitted uses within marina waterfront districts, including recreational marinas, boat launching facilities, boat storage facilities, charter fishing boat operations, yacht clubs, restaurants and several others. However, it eliminated permitted conditional use of the space for “petroleum products and biofuels, marine terminal and pipeline facilities,” rendering the Northville facility noncompliant with the village code. Northville filed a lawsuit against the village in 2011. Egan said during the hearing the village had reached a settlement with Northville, and a stipulation of the suit was the code amendment.

“What this is really trying to do is, because we settled it I can say this, I would probably say it was a legislative mistake in 2010 to have eliminated a use that was already there and probably will continue forever,” he said. During a phone interview after the meeting Egan walked back “mistake” and instead classified it as a “legislative oversight.” “It’s been there forever, it will continue forever. What Northville said was, ‘Hey guys, we’re here. We were here even before this code was drafted. We’ve had it since 1976, just at least restore to us what you originally had in there before you took it out in 2010.’”

Northville’s is not the only property within the MW-1 district, which is the only one of the marina waterfront districts being granted conditional use pertaining to petroleum or biofuel related uses. So several village residents spoke out during the hearing with concerns that other companies might try to use property within the zone for similar purposes. Egan said the conditional-use status would leave any future proposals of that nature up to the village planning board to approve.

“Our history of this village is, it’s very difficult to do that,” village resident of Beach Street Michael Mart said during the hearing regarding a planning board denying conditional use on a property. “I’ve only heard of one time that they’ve prohibited a request for a conditional use, so I fear that by passing this, I guess we have to if it’s a settlement, because there’s only one street accessing those properties. For the most part that’s Beach Street. It’s shared by residents and to allow all of these uses to go there in the future, not immediately — I’m thinking far into the future when I’m not even here — that raises a significant zoning issue and a safety issue.”

Other members of the public were concerned by the phrase “marine terminal,” which does not have a definition within the village code. Village Mayor Margot Garant asked that a definition of marine terminal be added to the code to avoid unwanted uses from being permitted within the zone.

Egan also said an aspect of the amendment would be to create a “residential buffer” on Beach Street to separate Northville’s property and homes on the street.

He added the settlement was reached at no additional monetary cost to the village.

No vote was held on the amendment.

Public hearing at Town Hall will be Farmingville Feb. 6 at 4 p.m.

Rendering of the shopping center. Image from Brookhaven Town

Setauket developer Parviz Farahzad applied to the Brookhaven Town Planning Board for site plan approval to construct a 24,873 square foot retail center, known as Stony Brook Square LLC. The proposed shopping center is located on Route 25A near the Stony Brook railroad station. The plan includes site improvements for parking, lighting, drainage and landscaping.

J. Timothy Shea Jr., a partner in the real estate group of Certilman, Balin, Adler & Hyman LLP, represented Farahzad and Stony Brook Square at a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing Dec. 14. The developer requested front yard setback variances for three of the proposed buildings as well as an addition to an existing building, from the required 25 feet to 11.5 feet; and a height variance for one of the buildings, from a permitted 35-foot height to a 60-foot height. The extra height will be used to raise a clock tower in the middle building at the rear of the center.

“We thought it was a nice feature,” Shea said during the proceedings.

A list of 10 recommendations made by the 25A Corridor Citizens Advisory Committee were read into the hearing record.

Eight homeowners or residents spoke in the public comment portion of the hearing. They expressed concerns regarding traffic safety on the busy road, environmental issues and the viability of adding retail space when there are so many unoccupied stores in the area.

“My first concern is safety,” Professor Erez Zadok of Stony Brook said. “On this stretch of road … people drive fast; over the limit. It’s dark. Additional traffic will make things worse.” He spoke of environmental concerns as well and questioned the need for additional retail space. The nearby Three Village Shopping Plaza currently has four available spaces according to Kristen Moore, spokesperson for Brixmor Properties, and there are three vacant units just down the street.

Several people spoke out against the granting of a variance that would nearly double the permitted height of the proposed clock tower.

Michael Vaeth viewed the tower as a marketing ploy.

“Currently, especially in the winter months, I have a view of the university and the train station,” he said. “I’m objecting to the 60-foot height. That would be the tallest building in all of the Three Villages — including Ward Melville High School.”

Vaeth’s neighbor Maureen Bybee said she didn’t see the need for the clock tower.

“I want to express my objection and opposition to the clock tower. It doesn’t seem to add anything … and it certainly will have an effect on the neighbors,” she said.

David Pauldy also asked the board to reject the height variance for the tower.

“It would have an effect on the neighborhood behind it,” he said. “It would be extremely visible and it would change the character of the neighborhood.”

The zoning board is allowed 62 days to rule on the request for variances, which gives the board until Feb. 14 to make its decision whether or not to grant the variances.

A public hearing is scheduled Feb. 6 at 4 p.m. at Brookhaven Town Hall in the board meeting room for residents and business owners to continue to voice their opinions on this development.

The property sits just south of Lake Avenue in St. James, where a potential rezoning has residents wary. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Phil Corso

It’s as literal as “not in my backyard” can get.

A zoning change request for half of a piece of property in St. James has residents worried that they will not only lose a buffer between their homes and nearby businesses, but also that they would see an unwanted increase in property taxes. A representative of Aldrich Management Co. LLC, of East Meadow, stood before the Smithtown Town Board at its March 17 meeting to make its case for changing the residential half of the property — located on the south side of 6th Street near Lake Avenue, close to Caligiuri’s Patio Pizza — to business zoning, but residents and some elected officials said it could do more bad than good for neighbors.

The other half of the property is already zoned for business, and the change would allow for a larger building and a parking lot to be built across the entire parcel.

“It seems to me that the property owner is being a hog,” Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) said of the proposal at a work session on Tuesday morning. “Why would we do that?”

David Flynn, Smithtown’s planning director, said the potential zoning change could result in a building roughly 900 square feet bigger than the current one on the property, if approved. At the end of the March 17 night meeting, Smithtown Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) asked Flynn to come up with alternatives that would allow the property owner more use within existing zoning rules. Flynn delivered his proposals to the board at Tuesday’s work session.

He recommended the town board rejects the proposal because it went against a board-approved plan decades ago that called for a roughly 50-foot buffer between businesses and homes already present at the site. But under the proposal, that buffer would be reduced to about 10 feet, Flynn said.

“It would impact the neighbors,” Flynn said Tuesday. “It isn’t in concert with the town’s plan. … The only benefit I could think of is that the building would be 20 percent bigger, and therefore the tax ratable would be more.”

The property sits just south of Lake Avenue in St. James, where a potential rezoning has residents wary. Photo by Alex Petroski
The property sits just south of Lake Avenue in St. James, where a potential rezoning has residents wary. Photo by Alex Petroski

Vincent Trimarco, who represented the applicant at the March 17 meeting, said there were no set plans for any particular business to take the current structure’s place if the zoning change, which could include almost any commercial purpose, were to be approved.

“If it’s retail that is going to go there, the parking requirement would be one parking space for every 100 square feet of building area,” he said. “So, that would be a standalone parcel that right now has no parking and would probably enhance the ability for cars to park.”

But Sean Durham, who lives on Sixth Street, said the current setup results in cars parking on his residential road, making the potential of more parking daunting to neighbors.

“I’m a concerned neighbor,” he said. “You’re going to be adding parking; what’s going to be there, no idea. It’s already visibly shaken with the infrastructure there that can’t take it.”

His neighbor also stood up against the plan.

“It’s not about the parking, it’s about the increased traffic,” Anthony Martino said. “And No. 2, I don’t see how we can grant something when we don’t know what is going to be there. This gives them an open book. I don’t want an automotive garage there dumping oil and stuff right in my backyard.”

Beyond the parking woes, Martino also said he was concerned about the effect a bigger commercial building would have on his wallet.

“I pay $14,000 in property taxes and can’t go in the back part of my yard. The only savior was these little bit of trees that were going to be left. Now you’re going to have to put a septic in if it’s a commercial building,” Martino said. “It’s going to have be a bigger septic. It’s just more and more use of the property that it’s not [equipped] for. It’s not going to work in that corner.”

The Smithtown Planning Department recommended approval for the proposal, so long as the applicant preserved one large tree that stood in the back parking area of the property. Trimarco said he did not have an issue with such a proposal.

Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) suggested that the property owner works with the existing structure, a house, instead.

“That house could be fixed up and used,” she said. “This [proposal] just allows them to go bigger, which really is not in character with the area.”

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The McDonald’s in Port Jefferson has closed. Photo by Reid Biondo

A longtime fixture in downtown Port Jefferson closed last week, leaving a business next to Village Hall empty.

The McDonald’s fast food restaurant on West Broadway had been controversial when it first moved in more than a decade ago, but what has been perceived as its abrupt closure has left some scratching their heads. Visitors were met with a sign directing them to a different franchise location in Port Jefferson Station.

“I was totally shocked,” Barbara Sabatino said about when she found out the harborfront restaurant had closed.

The owners and operators of the business, franchisees Peter and Katie Hunt, said in an email statement through a McDonald’s spokesperson on Monday, “It’s been a pleasure to serve this neighborhood and we appreciate the support of the local business community, elected officials and community partners. We are very happy to report that all of our employees have accepted jobs at nearby McDonald’s locations. We remain committed to serving Port Jefferson, and we look forward to continuing our work in this community.”

Sabatino, who runs the Port Jeff Army Navy in upper Port and serves on the village planning board, was a member of the now-defunct civic association at the time McDonald’s was trying to locate in lower Port more than 15 years ago.

“They really had a difficult time,” she said. “[Some people] felt that a McDonald’s did not fit their view of Port Jefferson.”

There were also people on the other side of the argument, she added, who had an attitude of “what’s the big deal?”

While village officials said they were concerned about how the restaurant would look, Sabatino said, the owner was “cooperative” on the architecture and finishing touches, giving it that “seafaring town look, with the dormers on the top and the little trim.”

And the business owner noted that the restaurant has been a good neighbor, cleaning up trash and keeping the property looking nice.

The controversy over it coming in was enough to spur the village board of trustees to take precautions for the future.

According to the village code, officials amended Port Jefferson’s zoning laws in June 2000 to prohibit “formula fast food establishments” in both the C-1 and C-2 central commercial districts, which are located along the main drag in the downtown and uptown areas, respectively.

Proposal would add community notice, input

Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington Town residents looking to create two-family homes could face new requirements for approval, if a proposed law gets the green light.

Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) is behind a new measure that would change the process for residents to create two-family homes in the R-5 Residence District. Currently, residents are permitted as-of-right to create or convert properties into owner-occupied two-family homes in R-5 without going through any planning or zoning board review. This legislation would mandate owners apply to obtain a special-use permit from the Huntington Town Zoning Board of Appeals, which would review the application on a number of criteria and would also consider community input.

Those criteria include aesthetics, like ensuring the house looks like a single-family home of no more than two stories, and restricting features like exposed cellars, large attics, tall roofs, multiple driveways and decks and
prominent secondary entrances, according to the proposed law. The owner also has to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the board that he or she would sustain “severe hardship” if the application was denied and that the hardship wasn’t self-created.

The goal of the law, Edwards said, is to afford neighbors the chance to comment on the application. Edwards said she was inspired to create this legislation after speaking with a Greenlawn resident who came home one day surprised to find a two-family home in the community.

“You shouldn’t be able to go to work one day thinking that the house being built next to you is a single family and come home from work and find it’s a two-family house,” Edwards said. “Intuitively, that just doesn’t sound like something we want to do.”

It’s not a great number of properties this would affect, according to Edwards. Since 1992, the annual number of permits issued for two-family homes averages about .8 a year. 

Edwards added that the new requirements would bring creating two-family housing in line with the public notice requirements for residents looking to create
accessory apartments.

“I’m not anti-two-family housing, so don’t get me wrong,” she said. “The only thing that I want this to do is to give the property owners the same right they have today, meet the same requirements, but add the fact that a community in your neighborhood that you are building a two-family house [in] should be able to
receive notification.”

When polled about their thoughts on the legislation, which will be up for a town board public hearing next month, Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and Councilman Gene Cook (I) offered differing views.

Berland said she doesn’t think property owners should have “an unfettered right” to convert a one-family home into a two-family home.

“I’m more concerned about the community than I am about the property owner in this instance.”

The councilwoman said she supports the legislation but hasn’t made up her mind yet on how she’d vote, and she looks forward to hearing what people say at the public hearing.

Cook said he was researching the law. He expressed concern about the legislation being burdensome. “I just think it’s another way of overregulating.”

Richard Koubek, the president of the Huntington Township Housing Coalition, said his group is vetting the proposal at an Aug. 31 steering committee meeting, but at a glance, it appears the that the code change is “a smart move” to involve community input.

“The coalition supports multiple modes of housing and we understand that when you change from the single family to different housing modes, it creates some real nervousness,” he said. “And so the more that we can dispel and control that nervousness on the part of neighbors, with sound, sensible regulations, the better.”

The public hearing will take place on Sept. 16 at 2 p.m.

A gas station and convenience store is proposed for the corner of Route 25A and Woodbine Avenue in Northport Village. Photo by Rohma Abbas

The entrance to Northport Village off of Route 25A could be in store for a face-lift.

Long considered an eyesore by some, the corner of Woodbine Avenue and Route 25A is the subject of a zoning board application for a gas station and convenience store.

Applicant Edward Clark, of Babylon, and his architect Harold Gebhard, of Lindenhurst, are seeking area and use variances to move forward with the plan, but the zoning board wants more information — particularly on traffic impacts — following a public hearing on the proposal last week.

Currently, a vacant white building that was once a gas station and auto repair shop sits on the property. The applicant is seeking to rehabilitate the current building, add a canopy, gas pumps, a convenience store and eight parking spaces. If approved, a maximum of six cars could gas up at a time. Clark said he’s been in discussions with BP to be the new gas station. 

The convenience store would sell soda, coffee, packaged foods, bread, milk and more, but there would be no food preparation on site, Clark said. He said he needs the convenience store to offset the cost of gas.

Zoning board members expressed some concern about the appearance of the project, especially the size of the convenience store and the height of a proposed canopy atop the gas pumps. Clark and Gebhard said from its peak to the ground the canopy would be about 18 feet high.

Zoning board member Arlene Handel said she was concerned about the height of the canopy obscuring a “historic entry point” to the village.

“It’s very much an important part of the character of the village,” she said. She added that a tall canopy “is really going to cut upon the view.”

ZBA Chairman Andrew Cangemi had a flurry of questions about the project that were mostly traffic-related. He wanted to know the number of cars the project is anticipated to generate during hours of operation and its peak hour volumes, and how the lighting would look.

Some residents in the audience expressed dissatisfaction with the proposal and questioned whether the community needed another gas station. But Cangemi pointed out that the site needs work and a gas station had already existed there.

“We understand something’s got to go in there,” Cangemi said.

Clark said he’s been trying to move forward with developing the site for several years and called the long process a “nightmare.”

“I’ve been paying rent, real estate taxes on this property for three years to get to this point now,” he said.

The public hearing will be held open until Sept. 16. Cangemi asked the applicant to come back with a traffic study.

Town officials are limiting development at the former site of Lawrence Aviation Industries. File photo

By Elana Glowatz & Erika Karp

Brookhaven Town will restrict development at a polluted site in Port Jefferson Station using a special zoning district.

The town board approved the new zoning for the former property of aircraft-parts manufacturer Lawrence Aviation Industries on Thursday night, several months after approving a land use plan for the site off Sheep Pasture Road that called for the special district.

Adjacent to a stretch of the Greenway Trail and some residences in the northern part of the hamlet, the site requires closer inspection because of its history — Lawrence Aviation dumped harmful chemicals at the site over years, contaminating soil and groundwater. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have been working for several years to undo the damage through the federal Superfund program, which cleans up such contaminations of hazardous materials, but it could still take two more decades to completely clean local groundwater.

Brookhaven’s land use plan recommended the special zoning district to limit potential commercial uses at the contaminated site in the future — for instance, some uses that would be permissible in light industry zoning elsewhere in town will not be permitted at Lawrence Aviation, like agriculture, churches, day cares, recreation halls or schools. It does not support retail uses, but does not rule out office uses like laboratories and other research space.

The new district includes two zones — at the property and at nearby residential sites — and seeks to “protect those who occupy the site,” according to Beth Reilly, a deputy town attorney.

In addition to restricting some uses and prohibiting residential development in the former industrial area, it provides incentives such as speedier environmental reviews and eased requirements for lot setbacks and sizes to promote alternative energy production there, particularly solar energy.

To further protect residents, no new homes constructed in the neighborhood area of the special district could have basements, due to the contamination to local soil and groundwater.

Reilly was quick to point out that this didn’t mean the town was moving backward —all existing basements could stay.

The basement ban goes hand in hand with legislation the town passed last year that requires all new homes built near contaminated properties like Lawrence Aviation to be tested for soil vapors before they can receive certificates of occupancy.

The Lawrence Aviation zoning district passed, following a public hearing, with an abstention from Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), who reiterated his opinion that the site should remain undeveloped. He also renewed his call for Suffolk County to add the property to its land bank or use it for open space so it could “heal itself.”

When Romaine first made that suggestion in the fall, he pointed to the $12 million lien the county had on the site, resulting from all the property taxes owed on the site. The EPA has another $25 million lien on the property due to the cost of the cleanup.

Councilmembers Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Dan Panico (R-Mastic) have supported the idea.

“I really think the county should consider this for an acquisition into their land bank,” Panico said Thursday.

The Suffolk County Land Bank Corporation, established in 2013, aims to rehabilitate contaminated properties, known as brownfields, to get them back on the county’s property tax roll. The county pays property taxes on abandoned parcels, which causes the tax liens on the properties — and thus their sale prices — to increase, but the land bank lets the county sell the properties for less than the taxes owed, making it easier to get them cleaned up and redeveloped.

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