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The Suffolk Plaza shopping center that once housed a Waldbaum’s in South Setauket sits half empty, a far cry from where it was just a decade ago. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Town of Brookhaven has proposed a new zoning that officials said could revitalize vacant or underutilized shopping centers or other structures throughout the town.

At their Dec. 3 meeting, the town voted unanimously to adopt a new floating zoning code called Commercial Redevelopment District, which would allow developers to apply for permission to redevelop aging property into a combination of retail and apartment space.

The old section of the Mt. Sinai Shopping Center that housed the King Kullen has sat empty for months, and is just one of several empty former big box stores on the North Shore. Photo by Kyle Barr

“What we’re looking to do is to stimulate the revitalization of abandoned vacant and underutilized commercial shopping centers, bowling alleys and health clubs,” said town Planning Commissioner Beth Reilly. 

She added that this new zoning will “encourage flexibility in sight and architectural design, encourage redevelopment that blends residential, commercial, cultural and institutional uses, and encourage redevelopment that’s walkable, affordable, accessible and distinctive in the town.”

Site requirements would be a 5-acre minimum for such commercial centers and sites that have been previously used but then demolished. It permits uses for all zonings except such things as heavy industrial and auto uses. There would be no setbacks for nonresidential uses, but a 25-foot minimum setback for residential use and 50-foot maximum height.

The special zoning is meant to be kept free of big-box stores and is restricted to anything less than 40,000 square feet of space for commercial properties. Also, the zoning incentivizes certain kinds of development through allowing for increases in density, such as being near the Long Island Rail Road or if a business owner  uses green technology.

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) restated that Long Island does not need new development “as much as we need to develop what we have that has fallen into disrepair.”

The proposal did receive a letter of support from the Port Jefferson Station hub study committee. President of the PJS/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, Jennifer Dzvonar, said she was in support, and that she thinks it will create downtown-type areas in places that might not have that sort of downtown already.

“It will encourage commercial property owners to update and revitalize their establishments, which will entice additional local businesses … instead of leaving their locations vacant to become blighted,” she said.

Mitch Pally, a Stony Brook resident and CEO of the Long Island Builders Institute, said the new zoning should benefit developers. 

“Long Islanders no longer have large tracts of land,” he said. “We must now redevelop — reuse what we already used, whether it’s been a good way or a bad way. The ability to know from the code what you can do, and what you’re going to be able to get, allows for better financing opportunities.”

The Town Board left the issue open for comment until Dec. 17. The Three Village Civic Association sent the town a letter Dec. 12 signed by the civic’s land use chair, Herb Mones, with some critiques of the proposed law, saying the language of what was considered vacant or underutilized was unclear, and that the CRD will incentivize some property owners to neglect their structures to get access to the new “generous terms afforded by the new zoning.” 

“We must now redevelop — reuse what we already used, whether it’s been a good way or a bad way.”

— Mitch Pally

The letter also criticized the height allowance under the code, calling it “too high for most hamlets” in the town. The letter also shared the civic’s anxieties of increased density.

“Considering that there were only two speakers at the public hearing on Dec 3, both representing commercial interests, and no community leaders or members of the civic community participating on such an important proposal, we believe that this new zoning legislation to create a new zoning code for commercial property in the Town of Brookhaven would benefit from more input of Brookhaven’s civic community,” Mones wrote in his letter.

The change also repeals the town’s previous Blight to Light code. That code was passed in 2010 under previous Supervisor Mark Lesko (D), which in a similar vein to the current code was designed to remediate blighted properties by incentivizing development through a scoring system. Based on how a developer scored, they could receive incentives such as building permit refunds and an expedited review process.

Officials said that system had issues, and that the code had only been used twice, once in a Coram redevelopment project, and again with Jefferson Meadows, a project designed for Port Jefferson Station that was never built. That planned 96-apartment building met opposition from residents almost a decade ago. The Port Times Record reported at the time that residents disapproved of Blight to Light’s self-scoring system and that such projects did not conform to the Port Jefferson Station hamlet study. 

“This has been a long time coming,” said Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station). “Port Jeff Station has a number of abandoned vacant and underutilized properties, and the Blight to Light code was not necessarily addressing that, so we’re hoping that this code can now create a different mechanism to address these types of properties.”

Unlike Blight to Light, there is not a special permit, but applicants would have to come to the Town Board to seek approval. There is also a time limit on these approvals, and they are taken away if the developer does not make good on trying to build.

“This puts the power in the Town Board level,” Reilly said.

The town is holding its next meeting Dec. 17 where a follow-up public hearing is scheduled.

Suffolk County officials said we are certainly in the midst of the pandemic's second wave. Stock photo

Responding to numerous 911 calls on Monday, Nov. 30, just after midnight, the Suffolk County Police Department arrived at 51 Hawkins Lane in Brookhaven to find an estimated 300 to 400 people arriving for a party.

Police said it took about four hours to break up a gathering that was just getting started. The owner of the 5,000 square foot property, which is listed on Air BNB for $399 per night, was one of the people who called the police.

SCPD Chief Stuart Cameron said the people who rented the house who officials believe came from New Jersey would face civil fines of up to $15,000 and criminal charges that include criminal nuisance in the second degree and section 12-B of the public health law, which are the sections the police have been using for COVID-19-related enforcement.

The “prompt response” by the police and the “effective dispersion of the crowd” enabled the police to avert a “potential supers spreader event,” Cameron said on a call with the media run by County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

“We have gotten significant cooperation from the homeowner,” Bellone said on the conference call. “When they found that the home was being used for this purpose, they did report that. We will be holding accountable the people who did hold this party.”

Bellone cautioned anyone who might consider coming in to Suffolk County from out of town that they will not be allowed to skirt COVID-19 public health rules.

“Renting a home and thinking you will be able to get away with that … that’s not going to happen,” Bellone said. “We’ve worked too hard to allow selfish and reckless individuals to set back our efforts to continue to protect people’s health.”

Bellone thanked the SCPD for their efforts.

Bellone urged people to continue to follow public health guidelines, particularly as the holidays approach. He said there was hope on the horizon with a vaccine and that there is an “end in sight. We need to do the best we can to follow the guidance so we can contain this second wave.”

Across the county, Chief Cameron described the number of 911 calls over Thanksgiving as a “handful,” which was below his expectations. In the cases when the police did arrive at a home, they didn’t notice “any gross deviations,” which the police chief described as a “testament to the people of Suffolk County.”

A Tough Beginning

As for the number of positive tests, the trend continues to provide warning signs to area officials about the return of the spread of a virus the county had originally beat back earlier this year.

Positive tests for COVID-19 stood at 5.2% as of Dec. 1, with 609 new cases in the previous day. The county hasn’t had a rate above five percent since May 17.

Hospitalizations now stand at 248, which is the highest since June 3.

“Those numbers are alarming to say the least,” Bellone said. “There’s no doubt we are in that second wave we talked about for so long.”

The county and state will now incorporate hospital capacity into cluster zone designations in determining yellow, orange and red levels.

As of the beginning of this month, 28% of hospital beds were available, with 32% of intensive care unit beds available.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has indicated that hospitals in the state need to prepare for surges by identifying doctors and nurses, preparing field hospitals and planning for “all the things we did in the spring,” Bellone said.

Bellone reinforced a message about schools he’s been sharing for several weeks, even as positive cases continue to increase. The county executive said Suffolk is not seeing the spread happening in schools in any significant level.

“Keeping our schools open is critical for students, families and for our continued economic recovery,” Bellone said.

Bellone reminded residents that the majority of new cases seem to be coming from small gatherings, where family and friends who feel safer with each other are congregating, often without masks and, at times, within six feet of each other.

“It is critically important that people limit those gatherings,” Bellone said.

The county continues to rely on contact tracing to try to limit the spread of the virus. On the first of November, the county had 30 people in place who were contact tracing, reflecting the smaller number of positive tests. Now, the county has over 200 contact tracers, who are reaching out to positive cases to connect with those who might have been exposed to the virus.

In the last two weeks, the county had 7,948 confirmed cases. Contact tracers reached 6,114 people, with 3,801 of those providing contacts, which represents less than half the total.

Dr. Shahida Iftikhar, deputy commissioner for the Department of Health, said the number of people who didn’t provide contacts included those who weren’t within six feet for 10 minutes or more of other people.

James Misewich Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Even as the pandemic continues to cast a pall over the prospects for the economy, the federal government is finding ways to support science. Recently, as a part of a $625 billion award to a host of institutions, the Department of Energy earmarked $115 million over five years for a part of a project led by Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The science, called quantum information systems, could have applications in a wide range of industries, from health care to defense to communications, enabling higher levels of artificial intelligence than the current binary system computers have used for decades. By benefiting from the range of options between the 0s and 1s that typically dictate computer codes, researchers can speed up and enhance the development of programs that use artificial intelligence.

The investment “underscores the confidence the federal government has with respect to how important this technology is,” said James Misewich, the Associate Laboratory Director for Energy and Photon Sciences at BNL. “Despite the challenges of the time, this was a priority.”

Local leaders hailed the effort for its scientific potential and for the future benefit to the Long Island economy.

“I have seen strong support inside of Congress and the administration for funding requests coming out of the Department of Energy for ideas on how to move the DOE’s mission forward,” said U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1). “I have also seen a very high level of appreciation and respect for BNL, its leadership, its staff, its mission and its potential.”

Zeldin said the average American spends more time than ever engaging with technologies and other discoveries that were made possible by the first quantum revolution. “Here we are on the verge of a second quantum revolution and BNL is at the forefront of it,” Zeldin said.

Zeldin sees limitless possibilities for quantum information science, as researchers believe these efforts will lead to advancements in health care, financial services, national security and other aspects of everyday life. “This next round of quantum advancements seeks to overcome some of the vulnerabilities that were identified and the imperfections in the first wave,” he said.

State Senator James Gaughran (D-Northport) expects quantum science to provide a significant benefit to the region. “We believe this is going to be a major part of our economic future,” he said. “It is a huge victory for Long Island.”

The return on investment for the state and the federal government will also materialize in jobs growth. This is “going to employ a lot of people,” Gaughran said. “It will help to rebuild the type of economy we need on Long Island. The fact that we are on the front lines of that will lead to all sorts of private sector development.”

While the technology has enormous potential, it is still in early enough stages that research groups need to work out challenges before they can fully exploit quantum technology. BNL, specifically, will make quantum error correction a major part of their effort.

As quantum computers start working, they run into a limitation called a noisy intermediate scale quantum problem, or NISQ. These problems come from errors that lower the confidence of getting the right answer. The noise is a current limitation for the best quantum computers. “They can only go so far before you end up with an error that is fatal” to the computing process, Misewich said.

By using the co-design center for quantum advantage, Misewich and his partners hope to use the materials that “beat the NISQ error by having the combination of folks with a great team that are all talking to one another.”

The efforts will use a combination of classical computing and theory to determine the next steps in the process of building a reliable quantum information system-driven computer.

Misewich’s group is also focusing on communication. The BNL scientists hope to provide a network that enables distributed computing. In classical computing, this occurs regularly, as computer scientists distribute a problem over multiple computers.

Similarly, with quantum computing, scientists plan to distribute the problem across computers that need to talk to each other.

Misewich is pleased with the combination of centers that will collaborate through this effort. “The federal government picked these centers because they are somewhat complementary,” he said. The BNL-led team has 24 partners, which include IBM, Stony Brook University, SUNY Polytechnic Institute, Yale University, Princeton University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Columbia University and Howard University, among others.

“We had to identify the best team and bring in the right people to fill the gaps,” Misewich explained.

Using a combination of federal funds and money from New York State, BNL plans to build a new beamline at the National Synchrotron Lightsource II, which will operate at very low temperatures, allowing scientists to study the way these materials work under real word conditions.

BNL would like the work they are doing to have an application in calculations in three areas: the theory of the nucleus, quantum chemistry, which explores ways to design better materials, and catalysis.

A quantum computer could help make inroads in some challenging calculations related to electron-electron interactions in superconducting materials, Misewich said, adding that the entire team feels a “tremendous sense of excitement” about the work they are doing.”

Indeed, the group has been working together for close to two years, which includes putting the team in place, identifying the problems they want to tackle and developing a compelling strategy for the research to make a difference.

The group is expecting to produce a considerable amount of research and will likely develop various patents that will “hopefully transfer the technology so companies can start to build next generation devices,” Misewich said.

Along with local leaders, Misewich hopes these research efforts will enable the transfer of this technology to a future economy for New York State.

This effort will also train a numerous graduate and post doctoral students, who will be the “future leaders that are going to drive that economy,” Misewich said.

The research will explore multiple levels of improvement in the design of quantum computers which they hope will all work at the same time to provide an exponential improvement in the ability of the computer to help solve problems and analyze data.

Seven students took top honors and 15 others received honorable mentions in the first-ever virtual version of the annual elementary school science fair sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton. Girls and boys in kindergarten to grade 6 entered 129 science and engineering projects for the competition. They represented 38 elementary schools across Suffolk County.

The seven students to receive top honors as well as medals and ribbons are kindergartener Jude Roseto of Cutchogue East Elementary School, Mattituck-Cutchogue Union Free School District, “Friction with Bubbles”; first grader Emerson Spooner of Raynor Country Day School, “Save the Earth: One Plastic Straw at a Time”; second grader Sara Jain of Tamarac Elementary School, Sachem Central School District, “Shrink It Up”; and third grader Mia Trani of Fort Salonga Elementary School, Kings Park Central School District, “Housing the Homeless.”

Top honors also went to fourth grader Rebecca Bartha of Raynor Country Day School, “Dynamic Duckweed: A Solution to Pollution in Local Water”; fifth grader Reilly Riviello of Cherry Avenue Elementary School, Sayville Public Schools, “What Material is the best to protect your property from Flash Flooding” and sixth grader Emma Tjersland of Hauppauge Middle School, Hauppauge School District, “Drug Facts: Impacts of Medicine Exposure on Daphnia Magna Heart Rate.”

“Thinking like scientists and engineers is so important for students — asking questions, testing assumptions, drawing conclusions, and thinking about future research,” said Amanda Horn, a Brookhaven Lab educator who coordinated both the virtual science fair and a new Science Share program. “The Lab has hosted science fairs for years to encourage students and we didn’t want COVID-19 to stop us in 2020.”

Science fairs at Brookhaven Lab were typically held in person at the Lab site and students, their families, teachers, and school administrators were invited to attend. With schools closed and Brookhaven Lab’s site mostly inaccessible to limit the spread of COVID-19, Horn, Scott Bronson and their colleagues in Brookhaven’s Office of Educational Programs (OEP) quickly adjusted plans to hold the 2020 science competition virtually.

As in years past, students first qualified for the Lab’s fair by winning their schools’ “local” science fairs, some of which were also held virtually. Projects completed by individual students and groups were accepted — one project per grade per school.

Instead of bringing projects to Brookhaven Lab for an all-day on-site event, parents and teachers submitted photos of students’ projects. OEP staff then distributed the photographs and a rubric among 23 judges, comprising Brookhaven Lab scientists, engineers, and technical staff as well as teachers from local elementary schools. To maintain objectivity and limit potential biases, information such as students’ names, schools, and districts was not shared.

The 15 students who received Honorable Mentions were kindergarteners Taran Sathish Kumar of Bretton Woods Elementary School, Hauppauge School District, “Strength of Spaghetti” and Evelyn Van Winckel of Fort Salonga Elementary School, Kings Park Central School District, “Are Your Hands Clean?”; first-graders Mason Rothstein of Lincoln Avenue Elementary School, Sayville Public Schools, “3,2,1…Let It Rip” and John Henry of Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School, Rocky Point Union Free School District, “Lego Rubber Band Cars”; and second-graders Agnes Van Winckel of Fort Salonga Elementary School, Kings Park Central School District, “The Flight of a Football” and Cassie Danseraeu and Katelynn Hausmann of West Middle Island Elementary School, Longwood Central School District, “Can Aloe Vera Juice Save Strawberries from Mold?”

Honorable mentions were also given to third-graders Mihir Sathish Kumar of Bretton Woods Elementary School, Hauppauge School District, “Strength of Electromagnets” and Matthew Mercorella of Sunrise Drive Elementary School, Sayville Public Schools, “Think Twice Before Melting the Ice”; fourth-graders Samuel Canino of R.J.O. Intermediate School, Kings Park Central School District, “Riddled With Puck Shot,” Jack Gomez of R.J.O. Intermediate School, Kings Park Central School District, “Infinipower” and Madelyn Kalinowski of Laurel Hill School, “Wash Away Germs”; fifth-graders Alexandra Barry of Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School, Remsenburg-Speonk Union Free School District, “Mutiny on the Bounty” and Gavin Pickford of R.J.O. Intermediate School, Kings Park Central School District, “Is This The Last Straw”; and six-graders Karly Coonan of Raynor Country Day School, “The Last Straw” and Pranav Vijayababu, Hauppauge Middle School, Hauppauge School District, “Save Our Seas.”

“Suffolk County, New York State, the country, and the world need scientists and engineers now and in the future. The students in this science fair are young, but they aren’t too young to have fun with investigative science and engineering processes,” said Scott Bronson, Brookhaven Lab’s manager for K–12 programs.

“Once again, the students who participated were exceptional. Their projects showed it. Congratulations to each of them. And, ‘Thank you,’ to every parent, teacher, mentor, and volunteer who helped them — and will continue to help them along the way.”

For more information, visit https://www.energy.gov/science/.

Photos courtesy of BNL

Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) and Democrat Sarah Deonarine are asking for residents votes Nov. 5. Photos by David Luces

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), a longtime civic leader and six-term council member since 2007 is facing a challenge from Democratic Sarah Deonarine, a marine biologist out of Coram with years of working in state and local government.

In an October debate at the TBR News Media offices, candidates went back and forth over questions of development on the North Shore, clean energy initiatives and keeping young people on Long Island.

“What I’m hearing is that people want to stay in their homes — age in place.”

— Sarah Deonarine

Deonarine said she sees Brookhaven at “full carrying capacity” in terms of development and is calling for a study on capacity to see if the town is at “full build-out.” She added that another issue which leads to the Island’s brain drain is a lack of affordable or millennial housing, compared to states like Colorado.

“What I’m hearing is that people want to stay in their homes — age in place,” she said.

Other issues for her is the lien put on a property after a derelict house is removed, making redevelopment expensive. She asked that the list of zombie homes in town be made public, as well as refocus Brookhaven Code Enforcement Division which she called aggressive in “trying to make money for the town.”

Bonner instead cited the Route 25A corridor study, and which started in the first years of her first term, which she boasted has been picked up by the Town of Riverhead and continued by Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) in the Three Village area. The study led to “massive rezonings” which limited further build-out. She said all current large-scale developments were grandfathered in before the outcome of the study. 

One of those includes the senior living facility development going up along Route 25A in Mount Sinai, which came about after the Mount Sinai Civic sued the town to stop another “Ranches style” development. The Mount Sinai Meadows project was reconfigured from retail space into majority millennial-geared rental/part commercial.

“Mount Sinai Meadows is going to change the face of Mount Sinai,” Bonner said. “It’s also going to stimulate the [Mt. Sinai] shopping center that’s right next to it.”

She disagreed with Deonarine’s statement on code enforcement, saying the division was more focused on the well-being of people in their homes. She said Suffolk County police asked the town not to publicize the list of zombie homes.

The town has boasted of its clean energy initiatives, including solar farms and wind farms at Town Hall in Farmingdale. Bonner called the solar farm developments in Shoreham a way of reducing the impact of farms and grass products on the aquifer while growing green energy in the town. She mentioned the electric car charging stations at sites like Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. 

“We’re doing our part to reduce our carbon footprint.”

— Jane Bonner

“We’re doing our part to reduce our carbon footprint,” the incumbent said.

The Democratic challenger said she thinks it’s time Long Island as a whole moves away from being hesitant on new green energy initiatives, especially with complaints over aesthetics. 

“People are afraid of their views being blocked — it’s a time we need to move past that, and it’s time to think about the environment and move away from fossil fuels,” she said.

If elected, Deonarine said she would bring a different viewpoint to the board, six of whom are Republican with one lone Democrat. She also pushed her opponent on proposition 1, the referendum given the green light by voters last November, saying it had been poorly worded, giving town council members term limits while at the same time extending terms from two to four years. She said the Republican members of the board largely supported it, and though Cartright had at first supported it, she later pulled back her support.

“The current board makeup, and current Republican Party makeup, it is very biased,” she said. “With only one Democrat on the board, that’s not a representation of the Town of Brookhaven.”

Bonner said the board has been bipartisan in getting things done, with no lack of ability or willingness to cross party lines and help each other in daily duties. In terms of proposition 1, “we all supported to go to referendum for the four-year terms,” she said. “It was overwhelmingly supported by nearly 60 percent.”

Ed Romaine (R) and Will Ferraro (D) are looking for town residents’ votes come Nov. 5. Photos by Rita J. Egan

The race for Town of Brookhaven supervisor sees one candidate with years of electoral experience facing a young newcomer who says he’s representing those in town who have been ignored by government the past several years.

Seven-year town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) is facing Democratic challenger, first-time candidate and Selden political activist Will Ferraro. While the incumbent cites his efforts over the past seven years, including his work on getting control of Brookhaven’s budget and the push toward clean energy, Ferraro is pushing hard on recycling and trash issues, as well as keeping young people on Long Island.

Romaine said the town has made huge strides toward clean energy in the past several years, including incorporating wind and solar technology at Town Hall in Farmingville. 

“You had a year, a year and a half, where that market had been collapsing and the town just waited.”

— Will Ferraro

Recently, a new offshore wind project, Sunrise Wind, has plans to create an offshore wind farm off Montauk, and plans to have a home base in Port Jefferson Harbor. Romaine claimed he had been a big proponent of that project and will have a large impact on it going forward.

“I’m not a proponent of fossil fuel,” Romaine said.

Ferraro criticized the town’s movement on the Caithness II plant, which has since stalled, though Romaine said he had voted against the plant.

More eyes have turned toward Brookhaven’s waste management and recycling since the market crashed in 2018, leading the town’s recycling contractor, Green Stream Recycling, to void its contract. Brookhaven has switched from single-stream to dual-stream recycling and has asked residents to drop glass off at 21 points in the town instead of picking it up at curbside.

The Democratic challenger criticized the supervisor for not seeing the writing on the wall when it came to the recycling market and single-stream recycling.

“Where I find problem is that [the Town] waited and tried running out 20-plus year contract with Green Stream,” Ferraro said. “You had a year, a year and a half, where that market had been collapsing and the town just waited.”

He advised the town should look into a pay-as-you-throw program, which would lessen the cost of people’s trash bill for those who turn out less trash. He said he would cap the cost of people’s bills to where it currently sits at $350, enticing people to throw out less. He added he would want to return to glass pickup once every two weeks or once a month.

Romaine said such a program might work in the long term, but believed it would lead to illegal dumping, which he added was already a huge problem in Brookhaven. 

The town’s landfill has long been a hot spot for controversy. The landfill currently only accepts ash and construction debris. All garbage is taken to a plant outside of town, while the ash is returned to the landfill. Current plans see Brookhaven capping the landfill by 2024. Romaine said closing the location will be a net loss for the town but suspects they will not take a large hit. Otherwise, Brookhaven, along with other townships that dump their ash at the Brookhaven landfill, still needs to decide where that trash will go once the last landfill on Long Island is closed.

“This is not a Brookhaven problem, this is a regional problem,” Romaine said.

People around the landfill have long complained about the odor from it, and many claim they have experienced negative health effects from living close to it. Ferraro criticized the town for not doing more to research what could be causing such effects or doing air testing during an odor event and called for an air quality task force for the area.

Romaine said a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation does testing every day, and they have no research that qualitates the landfill has resulted in these negative health effects at the nearby school district.

“Health to me is the most important thing,” Romaine said. “If we knew there was something, we would have stopped.”

Recent years have shown people, both young and old, moving off the Island due to high property taxes. While both candidates agreed the majority of taxes come from the local school districts, Ferraro said the most important thing is to attract industries that provide jobs, while working on town infrastructure to get people to those jobs. He suggested that Brookhaven should look into some sort of limited public transportation system, similar to Huntington’s Area Rapid Transit system.

“Health to me is the most important thing.”

— Ed Romaine

He agreed with Romaine on a lack of multifamily housing but said some residents are being heard more than others. 

“A lot of NIMBY [not in my backyard] is being pandered to,” the challenger said. “A lot of their concerns are valid, some are not … We need a comprehensive approach. It’s one thing to have $1,800 rent, but when you talk about transportation costs, other factors than just rent that play into that.”

Romaine said he and fellow council members have done a good job in securing large industries to the town, such as Amneal Pharmaceuticals, which brought a facility to Yaphank with several hundred jobs earlier this year. He added the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency has been key in bringing jobs like these to the area. He also cited intent to lessen the cost of gas and electricity by allowing the town to purchase those resources on behalf of its residents through a Community Choice Aggregation program.

Ferraro said many of those jobs created through the IDA were temporary construction jobs. Though some residents have complained about some of the tax breaks some of these developments have received, such as the Engel Burman-owned senior facility currently going up in Mount Sinai for only providing around 50 full-time employees after the facilities finally open. Romaine agreed that the IDA should avoid multifamily housing unless its “affordable.” He said he was opposed to the IDA giving tax breaks to the Heatherwood apartment complex in Port Jefferson Station and South Setauket, which were ultimately rejected. 

Brookhaven’s single-stream recycling facility in Yaphank. File photo by Clayton Collier

By Karina Gerry

The Town of Brookhaven returned to a dual-stream recycling model — where paper, plastic and metals are separated —at the end of November to alleviate problems in the recycling market, but the switch has left some Brookhaven residents confused and frustrated.

The Three Village Civic Association hoped to ease residents’ worries and concerns at its Jan. 7 meeting by inviting Chris Andrade, commissioner of Brookhaven Town’s Department of Recycling and Sustainable Materials Management, and Erich Weltsek, town recycling coordination aide, to speak at Emma S. Clark Library in Setauket about the new dual-stream recycling schedule and explain why the change was necessary.

“We decided to focus our monthly meeting on changes in the town’s recycling program because the changes are significant,” George Hoffman, vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, said. 

An aerial view of Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling plant in Yaphank is surrounded by recyclables in August 2018. Brookhaven has since returned to dual stream recycling. Photo from Town of Smithtown

In October 2018, Green Stream Recycling, Brookhaven’s recycling contractor, terminated its 25-year agreement to operate Brookhaven’s recycling plant in Yaphank. The recycling market was deeply affected by China’s National Sword policy, implemented in January of last year, which bans the import of 24 types of solid waste and has set strict contamination limits on recyclable materials. 

China has been the leading world importer of waste, at one point taking in more than 50 percent of the world’s plastic recyclables. As a result of National Sword, recycled material has piled up at recycling facilities across the country, like Brookhaven’s in Yaphank.

“Switching from single stream to dual stream was not something we wanted to do,” Andrade said during his presentation Monday night. “But it was a product of circumstance.”

Andrade went on to explain recent changes to the recycling marketplace were unexpected, noting that no one thought it would happen on the scale that it did and so quickly, too.

“In my opinion, the buyers need to own some of it,” Andrade said. “There were domestic mills when I started in this business. There were domestic processing plants. They started paying less money than the overseas plants and so everybody started shipping material overseas. People put all their eggs into one basket and then when China shut down there were no homes for us anymore.”

While Andrade notes the future for domestic mills seems likely to turn the market around, he doesn’t believe it will happen for at least a year.

As the markets took a downturn, cross contamination of recycling became an issue. For Old Field resident and Sierra Club Long Island Group chair Jane Fasullo, the problem isn’t surprising. Fasullo took a tour of the single-stream facility and was surprised by what she saw.

It was an “eye-opening experience,” Fasullo said. “It wasn’t as lean of a separation as I thought it would be.”

While Fasullo noted single stream did encourage more recycling overall, she said she believes dual stream produces a cleaner stream, yet she insists the problem we should be concerned about isn’t single stream versus dual stream, the real issue plaguing our country is plastic.

“The biggest industry going that prevents major changes is the plastics industry,” Fasullo said. “We’re being overrun by plastic. Even our clothing now is plastic. And all of this stuff is just building up our garbage piles.”

When Brookhaven announced its decision to move back to dual stream the town placed ads in a number of papers including TBR News Media newspapers. Later the town broadcast its new policy through radio, television, social media and newspaper ads. Still, many residents said they were not properly contacted and informed about the changes. 

“You know, there are so many forms of media now to communicate to,” Andrade said. “So, it’s a challenge.”

‘We’re being overrun by plastic. Even our clothing now is plastic. And all of this stuff is just building up our garbage piles.’

— Jane Fasullo

A popular concern that was continuously brought up at the meeting was the issue of glass, which is no longer being picked up curbside, much to the dismay of residents. Instead, satellite locations have been set up throughout the town where glass can be dropped off free of charge. So far there are seven locations, including the town’s parking lot across from the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook, the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai and Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartwright (D-Port Jefferson Station) expressed her appreciation for the commissioner coming to speak to the community and providing background information to help people understand the switch from single stream to dual stream.

“This education is key to the success of recycling with the town,” Cartright said. “This office will continue to promote further education and work with residents to address any complaints or concerns they may have during this transition.”

After the meeting was over, Andrade expressed a positive outlook on the results from the meeting and future meetings that he and his colleague Weltsek hope to hold with civic associations around the town.

“I think overall people want to do the right thing,” Andrade said. “And I think they will do the right thing. It’s just a matter of giving them enough time and enough information to do the right thing.”

Voters heading to the polls Nov. 6 who live in the Town of Brookhaven will find this proposition on the back of their ballots.

Brookhaven Town residents will have to flip over their ballots Nov. 6 to respond to a referendum pertaining to councilmembers’ terms in office, but they’d have to do backflips in the voting booth to be able to respond to the two-part question which allows for a single “yes” or “no” answer.

After a public hearing featuring speakers mostly in opposition in August, Brookhaven’s board unanimously moved to proceed with establishing a referendum on the back of this year’s ballot, an off year for Brookhaven’s representatives.

“Should the town code of the Town of Brookhaven be amended to establish term limits of three (3) four-year terms for elected officials, and amend the length of term of office from two (2) years to four (4) years for all elected officials commencing January 1, 2020?” the referendum will read verbatim.

Despite there being two components to the question, voters can only respond “yes” or “no.” The wording of the referendum was written by the town’s Law Department, according to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto.

When asked why they wanted to expand terms from two to four years councilmembers and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) in interviews and during the hearing offered similar, admittedly understandable explanations for the change. Having to campaign and fundraise for elections every two years is laborious, and makes getting things done difficult once in office, they said — both the Republicans and the board’s lone Democrat. While we can see how this would be a problem, we’d prefer to see adjustments to campaign finance law, requiring less fundraising and allowing more time for actual legislative work, before going with a solution that results in voters having less frequent opportunities to express their opinions.

Issues could be raised and conspiracy theories crafted for the motivation of the Town Board to advance a referendum like this during an otherwise ordinary August meeting based on the fact more than one member of the current board is nearing 12 years in office. If passed, based on the wording, term limits would begin to be instituted on councilmembers beginning in 2020, meaning years already served will not have started their clocks. Fair or unfair, the process did nothing to squash those theories. And even without those issues, there is still no way to reconcile that putting a referendum with perplexing verbiage before town voters will somehow yield the will of the people.

This is not to mention an additional element — that in 1993, residents voted to implement a limit of three, four-year terms on elected officials in Brookhaven thanks to a referendum, though that law was no longer applicable following a 2002 public vote to establish council districts, as 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 August hearing. That interpretation has been questioned by many and could conceivably lead to a lawsuit if the referendum passes.

Add it all up and the answer became clear to our editorial staff: We’ll be voting “no” on Proposal One.

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.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Erika Karp

Although politicians in Brookhaven Town are not up for election this cycle, voters will be asked a question with long-term implications for town government in November.

Brookhaven Town board voted unanimously 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. The referendum will have a second component as part of the same 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. Putting the issue up to a vote was established as a result of an Aug. 2 public hearing. If passed the law would go into effect for terms beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

“[The voters] have, in the past weighed in, and whatever they weighed in to is not being listened to now,” Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during the hearing. “Maybe that’s fine with them, maybe it’s not, but I would like to go back and ask them, ‘what do you think?’”

In 1993, residents voted to implement a limit of three, four-year terms on elected officials, though that law was no longer applicable following a 2002 public vote to establish council districts, as 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 hearing.

Several members of the public commented in opposition of various aspects of the referendum, saying the two components should be separated to be voted on individually; there’s not enough time to untangle issues with the language of the law, like what to do with an individual who served as a councilperson for 12 years and then is elected to another position such as supervisor; and how to handle time already served by current members. Others cited shorter terms as fostering more accountability for elected representatives.

“I think it’s too complex to be one resolution,” said Jeff Kagan, a resident and representative from Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization. “I think you’re asking the voters to vote on somethings they like and somethings they may not like.”

Anthony Portesy, the Democrat candidate for town highway superintendent in 2017 and a private attorney, spoke against extending terms to four years, but said he would be in favor of three years because having to campaign every two years can be “arduous.”

“While I’m not opposed to the extension of terms per se, four-year terms is an eternity in politics, too long for hyperlocal town races,” he said. “We don’t want to create electoral feudalism in Brookhaven through the coercive powers of incumbency.”

Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri spoke in favor of going to four-year terms during the hearing about having to run for office every two years, saying it can get in the way of accomplishing goals set forth at the beginning of a term. Romaine and councilmembers Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) each expressed similar sentiments when asked if they intend to support the idea in early July when the public hearing was set.

“You don’t have the constant churning in politics that can sometimes undermine the system,” Romaine said. “It allows for long-range planning and programs. It takes the politics out of local government.”

Eaderesto said the town’s law department will draft the wording as it will appear on the ballot in November and share it with the town board prior to submitting it to the Suffolk County Board of Elections by Oct. 1.