Authors Posts by Leah Chiappino

Leah Chiappino


Farm manager Annalee Holmdahl at Birdsfoot Farm. Photo by Leah Chiappino/TBR News Media

By Leah Chiappino 

Nestled off of Shep Jones Lane in Head of the Harbor, is Avalon Nature Preserve’s newest addition: Birdsfoot Farm.

Increasingly known to locals for its Saturday farmstand, with offerings that include whole chickens, as well as farm-grown flowers and vegetables, its main mission, consistent with the preserve, is to restore the farm’s land to its natural ecosystem.

“I wanted to use animals in the transformation of this land,” Annalee Holmdahl, the farm’s manager, said.

Flowers growing at Birdsfoot Farm. Photo by Leah Chiappino/TBR News Media

The farm was purchased by the preserve in 2018. Its land has been under the Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Act since the 80s, which mandates it be used for agricultural purposes, explained Avalon’s Executive Director, Katharine Griffiths.

“The property had been on our radar for a while,” she said, noting it is adjacent to Avalon.

Farming wasn’t on Griffiths’ radar until Birdsfoot’s land came along, and Avalon was mandated to conform to the terms of its deed.

“We had to shift and come up with a plan and a farming strategy that met our mandate and also fit our philosophy to protect, restore, inspire,” she said. “It fits in that. It’s not exactly what we’ve done historically, but I think what we’re doing on the farm fits that philosophy.”

It wasn’t until July of 2022 that the farmstand was  able to open on Saturdays. In developing the farm, they started with bees and then acquired egg-laying birds. Once Holmdahl, who lives on the property with her Rough Collie, Maisy, got on board, in February of 2022, they brought sheep and goats in, and developed the hoop houses on the property, along with the flower and vegetable gardens.

“We did not want to do too much because we didn’t have a lot of manpower, but just started to dabble and just see what sort of response we were getting,” said Griffiths.

The farm has only a few full-time staff. Holmdahl focuses on the garden and planning projects for the farm. 

Holmdahl earned a degree in Neuroscience and made her way around the country farming. A native of Washington state, she started farming in California, with a focus on goat, sheep, and dairy farming, before moving on to vegetable farming in Montana, and livestock farming in Georgia and in upstate New York. Then, she landed at Birdsfoot. Living on the property “feels necessary,” Holmdahl said. A few additional farmhands work part-time.

Turkey are just one of the animals that live at Birdsfoot Farm.
Photo by Leah Chiappino/TBR News Media

“Every once in a while, in the morning you wake up and you hear the sheep and you’re like that’s the wrong direction, they’re not where they’re supposed to be,” she joked. It’s a 24/7 job for Holmdahl. “I make sure I get away a little bit,” she said.

Livestock Manager Ryan Lertora cares for the animals. 

In staying true to its mission, the farm tries to use its animals however it can. Its Southdown babydoll sheep eat the grass, its Spanish goats eat underbrush along the hedgerows, and its vegetables are often snacks for the chickens. The breed of goats was selected specifically because they are known for land clearing, up to six feet, of brush, and the sheep, who are often used in vineyards and orchards were picked for their grazing abilities as well as the fact that they can’t reach the produce due to their small size. 

The farm’s 13 goats have been moving down the hedgerows of the Birdsfoot’s pasture since they came outside in the Spring. In the winter, they stayed in the hoop houses. They are only female, and as such have no partners to produce milk. They are surrounded by a temporary electric fence to keep them from wandering. Simplicity is key to having the goats maximize their benefit to the land, Lertora said. “Part of the way to use the animal to their best is to keep them in a smallish area and concentrate on their purpose and then move them along,” he added

While there are other ways to clear the brush, the goats offer unique results. “There are definitely faster ways of clearing brush obviously, people and mechanical means, but it is nice to use the goats,” Holmdahl said. “They kind of can do a preliminary clean first where we can see what’s really in there.”

Sheep graze in the meadow at Birdsfoot Farm. Photo by Leah Chiappino/TBR News Media

The livestock, which also includes both meat and laying hens, as well as turkeys, also frequently rotate their locations in the pasture. While surrounded by the same temporary electric fences to keep them from wandering,  they can follow their natural behavior. The meat and laying hens are in separate sections of the farm. The laying hens share their space with two roosters, and despite the uptick in local roosters needing homes, it’s difficult to acclimate more into the flock. They along with the turkeys have freshly built coops in the pasture. 

The farm doesn’t have quite enough turkeys to sell, so last year they gave them all to Avalon staff, for Thanksgiving. 

Despite the animals giving back to the land, and the land giving back to the animals, the work to care for them is still substantial, said Lertora. “It might be misleading because there’s mostly open empty space here,” he said. “But it turns out that it’s quite a bit of work for everybody, collecting eggs, giving everybody the right amount of feed and then moving them to pasture,” he said.

The sheep have also been sheared, though the wool needs to be sent to a mill after the farm decides on what its final project will be. Holmdahl wants to eventually train Maisy, who was purchased for the farm from a breeder in Pennsylvania, to formally herd the sheep. They also graze without damaging the grass.

“They rip what they’re eating,” said Holmdahl. “They don’t bite the way we bite. But it’s actually really good for the grass that it’s not being bitten.”

The rotational grazing allows goats and sheep  to experience new foods and helps prevent them from overindulging. It also helps restore the soil, which is in poor condition on the property, by increasing its carbon levels.  The animal’s benefits feed off each other. When the sheep eat the top of the grass and put down manure, it gives the poultry the opportunity to distribute the manure, and spread it throughout the pasture, transplanting the carbon into the soil.

“We’re working very hard to restore the soils on the property that are quite poor,”  Griffiths said “So, the animals are a nice way for us to do pasture maintenance and help improve our organic matter.”

Goats at Birdsfoot Farm. Photo by Leah Chiappino/TBR News Media

The improvement in soil health won’t just be shown by tests, but rather by the farm’s ecological health such as the numbers of different wildlife, products, and plants on the farm, said Holmdahl.

Rescue Jumbo Pekin Ducks also call the farm home, though they stay more stationary due to needing protection from predators, and occasionally lay eggs. They also have golden-layer ducks that do lay eggs.

“It’s slowed down significantly recently,” Holmdahl said. “I think it’s because of the hot weather or they’re old or they’re laying their eggs and we can’t find them.”

On the farm they also practice cover cropping, covering soil when not in use, and low-till farming, as well as using compost and rotting plants. The garden products include eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers,  peppers, carrots, berries, and farm-fresh flowers. The flowers make up a large portion of the farm’s inventory, and Holmdahl tries to grow good pollinators. They have ramped up production of vegetables, like squashes and kale, and lettuces, with the goal of donating the excess. Local churches, through Island Harvest, are able to pick up a cooler of the vegetables each week. 

The challenge growing vegetables on the property, Holmdahl said, is that while the farm is a large chunk of land, the garden is “barely a third of an acre.” She loves growing tomatoes, a huge part of her background, she said, and they have been successful on the farm. Other products took trial and error.

“We did hot peppers last year and this year we’re trying sweet peppers, which have varying degrees of success,” she said. “We tried watermelons this year. They didn’t do so well…I try to focus on the things that I can get a lot out of in this area.”  

Holmdahl has tried to grow some pumpkins for the fall, but is limited due to the space. So, products like lettuce, which can grow in succession, are the most practical.

The poor soil health has also been a challenge, Holmdahl said. “You see it when you have a lot of bug damage because the soil isn’t actually healthy enough to keep the plants healthy,” she added.

The decline in soil quality is due to the fact the land hasn’t been farmed consistently since the 80s, Holmdahl said, so nothing was really being done to keep up its quality.

“We’re lucky because overall the quality of soil on Long Island is great,” Holmdahl said. “So there’s total potential. By planting things and adding more compost and trying to do the best we can with what we have, and then adding soil when necessary, hopefully, we can get the quality up and we can also cultivate a good environment where beneficial bugs are around and that will help everything.”

Additional projects are ahead. Honey is going to begin to be sold, and restoration of barns on the property will begin. They are also building an animal barn, and a head house, for staff to wash and pack vegetables, as well as to arrange flowers.

Though it will take several years, they hope to connect the access roadways in Avalon so the public can walk through and see a working farm, which is presently only open to the public on Saturdays during farmstand hours. 

“It’s a lot of trying to control the flow of people and also keep them so that they can see animals but not accidentally have interactions,” said Holmdahl.

The community has been receptive to the farmstand so far, with frequent flyers from the park, and from the neighborhood coming on Saturdays, picking up eggs, vegetables, flowers, and fresh chicken.

“I love that there hasn’t been a week where I haven’t had somebody who’s new who says, ‘I’ve never been here before. I’ve seen the signs a lot,’” said Holmdahl.  “That’s really cool. Because I haven’t stressed too much about  a lot of advertising. We have a newsletter. We have signs out. People have talked about us, I think,” she said. “ I kind of let the word of mouth do its thing.”

Avalon’s yellow trails currently border the farm. Their maintenance staff helps with big projects, and some of Avalon’s summer camps have come to tour the farm. The farm is still young, and Griffiths is taking it day by day in terms of expansion. 

“We are fortunate in that we’re not trying to make a livelihood,” said Griffiths, who noted they still do want the farm to be financially successful. “We’re very lucky that we can focus on making this property healthy, rather than having to really focus on the return. The goal is clearing out all the invasive species and getting a healthy agricultural habitat.”

For more information on Birdsfoot Farm, call 631-689-0619.

By Leah Chiappino

Like most nonprofit organizations, the Smithtown Children’s Foundation, since the pandemic, is helping more families with less funds. 

Christine Fitzgerald, executive director and one of the founders of the Smithtown Children’s Foundation, said calls of housing insecurity especially are coming in large numbers to the nonprofit, which assists Smithtown-area families in need.

“I’m sure if you ask people who are not paying attention, they will say, ‘Oh, no, everything’s fine,’” she said. “It’s not. It’s really not.”

Fitzgerald said she received a call from a Commack homeless shelter last year about a 22-year-old woman who was raising her three teenage siblings, seeking to provide them with more stable housing. The young woman had her home health aide license, but her car was dead, so the foundation raised the funds to fix it.

After that, Fitzgerald told the shelter to call her and “vouch” for other moms in need.

“We get a lot of frequent flyers in the system, and we just don’t have the resources for that, to be throwing money around,” she said.

The next call came for a single mom with three kids working several jobs while caring for a baby with health issues. She was close to getting into an apartment but needed help paying the $1,700 deposit fee.

“She does sound like a real hustler, a gig employee, she does DoorDash, does hair, does balloon arches, does everything,” Fitzgerald said.

The woman didn’t live in Smithtown, so Fitzgerald couldn’t write the check from foundation funds. However, through Hart to Hearts, a chapter of the Smithtown Children’s Foundation named in memory of a local single dad who adopted several children, she started a fundraiser through Facebook. 

They wound up having enough funds to cover movers and are offering the mother school supplies, backpacks and gift cards for clothing.

Through the foundation’s Anthony’s Hope chapter, the foundation came across another young mom sleeping in her car. She works full-time and delivers for Uber Eats and DoorDash on the side while trying to save up for an apartment deposit. The foundation is also raising funds for her, Fitzgerald said, who said she vetted the women in need before agreeing to help with the social workers who referred her. 

“I said ‘I can’t just throw good money after bad if I’m going to pay a deposit, and then she’s going to move in and she has no way to support herself and she’s going to get kicked out,”’ she said. “I need to know more.”

These stories have been common since the pandemic, according to Fitzgerald.

“We’re getting people in shelters or people saying I need housing, and I can’t pay the security deposit,” she said.

Yolanda Robano-Gross, CEO of Ronkonkoma-based Options for Community Living, said she does come across homeless people in Smithtown and the surrounding areas.

“There’s a lot of families out there,” she said. “There are people that kind of manage and float under the radar. They couch surf from friend to friend. They are able to maintain their cars. They have a low-end gym membership, which allows them a place to shower.”

But, she added, “The large majority of the general population has a very skewed picture. They picture that person when they get off the train at Penn Station, see the show and have dinner, who has the cardboard sign and is sitting on the corner. And while that’s certainly a part of the population, it’s not the majority.”

Homelessness isn’t always visible in areas like Smithtown, according to Mike Guiffrida, associate director of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, which runs several outreach and direct service programs, including a street outreach team.

Giuffrida has seen homelessness increase among the elderly, who are being priced out of the housing market and generally have medical debt, and young mothers between the ages of 25 to 35, who cannot afford the cost of living and do not have established careers. 

The backlog of evictions put on hold during the pandemic has recently started to pick up.

“I think an area like Smithtown is a really good example of an opportunity to bring awareness to an issue like homelessness while it might not be overly seen and visible within the community,” Giuffrida said.

Some homeless people throughout Long Island live in their cars but do not have a consistent space to park their cars, making it difficult to track them down. It often takes good Samaritans calling and reporting the person for the coalition to offer them services.

“We really rely on the community to be the eyes and the ears because homelessness looks different on Long Island than it does in other areas, not only in the sense that you don’t see it but also in the trends of how people are living specifically,” he said.

In Smithtown, libraries have helped serve and identify the homeless, Guiffrida said. He added that giving them a place to use the computer to access resources has been instrumental. Police have also played a role.

“We’ve seen this encouraging trend where police are kind of seeking an alternative and more supportive way to engage people that are in that situation,” Giuffrida noted. “They’re contacting us and partnering with the outreach teams and other support.”

With some exceptions, such as veterans, youth or victims of domestic violence, households have to go through the Department of Social Services to access shelters in Suffolk County, said Giuffrida. When people call and ask for the nearest shelter, the coalition cannot give them an answer because the nearest shelter may not be available or the person may not be eligible. 

Data on the number of homeless people in the area is difficult to interpret, according to Guiffrida.

A spokesperson for the Suffolk County Police Department said they could not “quantify calls about homeless people.” When asked about the number of calls received about the homeless in Smithtown this year, due to the fact they are classified as a disturbance, a code used for several issues such as parking problems, dogs barking, loud parties, loose animals and neighbor disputes. 

Smithtown Public Information Officer Nicole Garguilo said the Town supervisor’s office had not received calls from residents about the homeless.

Data for last year on the number of homeless on Long Island from the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless include 9,687 total people, 3,692 single adults and 6,005 households with children.

If you see someone you think may be homeless, call the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless helpline at 631-464-4314, ext. 118.

U.S. Congressman Nick LaLota. Photo from LaLota’s website

Sound Beach residents are searching for answers regarding the closure of their post office, located at 25 New York Ave., but are receiving the support of U.S. Congressman Nick LaLota (R-NY1). A spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service confirmed the location has been closed since May 26.

“Sound Beach Post Office remains closed awaiting necessary repairs,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We continue to work with the building’s owner to complete the work and do not have a time frame to reopen.”

When asked to provide further detail on the repairs that are needed, the spokesperson referred TBR News Media to the building’s owner, who rents the facility to USPS.

An agent for the corporation which owns the facility, according to the Town of Brookhaven’s property records, did not respond to an email request for comment.

The spokesperson for USPS directed residents in need of “retail services” to Rocky Point Post Office located at 346 Route 25A Ste. 84, and confirmed P.O. Boxes have been relocated to Miller Place. 

A spokesperson for LaLota sent TBR News Media a copy of a letter the congressman wrote to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, Aug. 8, demanding answers and a resolution to the closure. 

LaLota noted in the letter that his constituents have been severely inconvenienced and urged DeJoy to “strongly reconsider the current mail forwarding plan in place,” in reference to the relocation of retail services and P.O. Boxes. The letter further stated that USPS has asked LaLota’s office to “check back in September for more details” on a time frame to reopen.

“I urge the USPS to find an immediate solution that provides relief to my constituents and consumers of the Sound Beach Post Office,” the letter read. “My office and I stand ready to assist the USPS resume retail and P.O. Box operations in Sound Beach and help facilitate a work around that will best serve constituents.”

LaLota said in a separate email through his spokesperson that he sent the letter after “initial staff-level dialogue proved unfruitful.” 

“The Postal Service’s lack of urgency and poor communication falls short of my constituents’ reasonable expectations,” LaLota said in the email. “Specifically, the Postal Service telling thousands of customers and my office they won’t have any more information on this issue until after September 1 demonstrates a lack of leadership and accountability at the Postal Service’s management level. I encourage my constituents to focus their frustrations on management, not the hardworking letter carriers, retail clerks and warehouse workers. I will continue a dialogue with management until this issue is resolved to my constituents’ satisfaction.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), who represents Sound Beach, said she has spoken to LaLota’s office, and while he is trying to seek answers for residents, she confirms the federal USPS has been difficult to deal with.

“The post office is not being terribly forthcoming with information, and the congressman is not happy about that at all,” Bonner said. “He knows that it’s terribly inconvenient, especially for our senior citizens, to have to drive to Miller Place to get their mail. There doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency from the postmaster general to resolve this.”

Bea Ruberto, president of the Sound Beach Civic Association, confirmed residents have been left in the dark about a reopening date, and a timeline for the repairs.

“We have not been able to get much of an answer to what’s happening,” she said. “The concern is given the fact that the work has to be done, they use this as an excuse to shut down our post office.”

Ruberto said she heard there was an initial problem with the ceiling, which then turned into a larger repair. One day, there was a notice on the front door of the post office directing residents to go elsewhere. 

The post office is central to the business district in Sound Beach, Ruberto said, which already struggles due to not having a downtown.

“The only thing that Sound Beach has is the post office,” she said. “That’s almost like the center of our town. We lose that and we lose part of where our business district is.”

Miller Place Post Office, which is where Ruberto said people are being sent for their P.O. Boxes, and Rocky Point Post Office are 1.9 miles, and 2.1 miles away, respectively, from the Sound Beach Post Office. Ruberto said these reassignments are “not a minor inconvenience.”

In one instance, according to LaLota’s letter, a “permanently disabled combat veteran did not receive a temperature-controlled medication from the VA, which must remain refrigerated, due to mail forwarding. The VA advised this constituent the medication was being returned as undeliverable. This is a completely unacceptable failure.”

Ultimately, the post office closure, Ruberto said, is yet another example of Sound Beach being forgotten and left behind. 

“We’re off the beaten track,” she said. “So our businesses already lose customers because people have to go out of their way to get to us. The post office is really an important part of how all of this works.”

By Leah Chiappino 

[email protected]

Photo by Kelly DeVito

Horizons Counseling and Education Center, a nonprofit organization run through the Town of Smithtown that provides drug- and alcohol-related counseling and prevention services, is launching a new workshop series for LGBTQ+ youth. The curriculum comes from the nationwide Proud and Empowered program, which according to its website is an “intervention designed to help empower LGBTQ+ youth and improve school climate.”

Kelly DeVito, the Youth Services coordinator at Horizons, said the idea was born from a focus group through Smithtown’s Youth and Community Alliance in March 2022, with participants from Horizons along with​​ the Smithtown Youth Bureau. The consensus from the youth group was that the town was lacking a space for the LGBTQ+ community to gather for discussions.

The NYS Office of Addiction Services and Supports, one of Horizons funding agencies, provided the name of Proud and Empowered on a list of programs. DeVito saw it as a perfect fit to meet the needs of the local LGBTQ+ youth in the surrounding community.

“I had emailed the developers of Proud and Empowered, and they had sent it over to us and showed us how to work it and all that kind of stuff,” she said. “And so now we’re going to try and emulate it.”

The program is geared toward middle school and high school students. It consists primarily of open discussion, paired with small group activities and education, to help youth learn different coping skills and how to deal with social issues that may surround them.

Photo by Kelly DeVito

One of the goals of the program is to teach youth how to cope with stressors unique to the LGBTQ+ community, such as social marginalization, family rejection, internalized homonegativity, identity management, homonegative climates, intersectionality, negative disclosure experiences, negative expectancies and homonegative communication. These stressors, which can occur at school, home or within the youth’s community, are shown to increase the risk of behavioral health issues such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide and substance abuse. The program aims to teach coping skills and avoidance strategies to help reduce these risks, the website said. 

“We just want it to be something that they can come to and feel safe, not stressed, and learn about these topics,” DeVito said. “There is open discussion, and then there’s some activity as well just to keep them moving along and there’s video clips and all that kind of stuff, but generally it’s for us, for them just to be able to talk to us.”

Some of the topics discussed are friendships, family, stress, health, spirituality, coping skills and social justice. Coming out, decision making and resilience are also mentioned.

“It’s all related to teens in general because these are all topics that any teen should have stronger skills on,” DeVito said. “But then it also focuses on their community as well.”

The program is designed to be held for 10 weeks and in approximately 45-minute sessions, but Horizons has chosen to conduct two sessions in one day, shortening the program to five weeks for an hour and a half, as it can be difficult for students to get transportation during the summer.

The Proud and Empowered curriculum was developed by “scholars, advocates, practitioners, methodologists and lifelong learners” at universities throughout the country, who are “dedicated to performing high quality research” relating to “behavioral health outcomes for LGBTQ+ youth.” The program also aims to gain an understanding of the stress LGBTQ+ youth face in schools and how to adequately address it from a research standpoint.

The program hasn’t had any teen sign-ups as at press time but Horizons would push the start date forward a week from July 17. Despite the negative turnout to date, DeVito still believes there is space and a need for the program in the community.

“Unfortunately we did not get any registrants,” she said. “We will extend the program though if we have some interested participants.”

The students at the focus group “said they did feel it was something that was lacking in this area, and that’s why we wanted to run it because we want to give them another alternative for people to go to,” DeVito said. “And this particular program has been shown to help young people with various different mental health struggles they may be having if they’re feeling depressed or anything like that. This program has been shown to help them.”

The sessions are free of charge and open to students 13 to 17. Up to 15 students can participate. To register, contact the center at 161 E. Main St., Smithtown, or call 631-360-7578. 

Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich. Photo from Brookhaven Town website

By Leah Chiappino

[email protected]

Recreational marijuana has been legalized in New York state since 2021, allowing for adults 21 and older to possess up to three ounces of cannabis.

Despite Brookhaven being one of just four Long Island towns to allow sales, with conditions, no locations have opened shop within the township. The first recreational cannabis shop on Long Island opened last month in Farmingdale in the Town of Oyster Bay, Nassau County. 

The Town of Brookhaven zoning restrictions include bans on recreational cannabis shops within 500 feet of homes and 1,000 feet of schools, as well as a “church or other place of religious worship, park, playground, or playing field, library, hospital or similar public or semi-public place of general congregation, or non-degree-granting instruction/programs, including self-defense, dance, swimming, gymnastics, and other sports.” Stores must also be at least a mile apart and aren’t permitted in downtowns. 

Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) said in a recent phone interview he can’t think of locations in his Council District 1 — extending from Stony Brook to Port Jefferson Station and Terryville — that would fit these requirements. However, he has received calls from those eager to open cannabis shops, but in order to do so, need an exemption to the zoning rules. 

“There are already people who are contacting us saying, ‘We found a property … it meets most of the requirements, but not all of them. Can we get an exception?’” he said. “And people are already looking for exceptions to a brand new rule and there’s a lot of pressure.”

Kornreich isn’t keen on granting exemptions, in large part because the rules are new, he said. He also worries that once one exemption is granted, the town will have to approve the next person who comes along wanting the exemption.

“I am extremely reluctant to immediately start walking back the rules that we’ve just finished establishing,” he said. “I think for now we should probably stick with no exceptions.”

A self-described progressive, Kornreich said he understands the benefits to legalization, from a “personal liberty” point of view, as well as the benefits of the town gaining tax revenue from sales, which is why the Town Council chose to opt-in in the first place. 

“If people want to smoke this stuff, it’s probably not as dangerous as alcohol, which is legal,” he said. “We also have to figure out how to balance that out against things like traffic safety, and how do we monitor for people driving under the influence because it does affect reaction times.”

The Drug Prevention Coalition, an advocacy group in Kornreich’s district that is focused on drug prevention for youth, is trying to advocate and educate against underage cannabis consumption, and is doing as much outreach as possible. 

Kornreich said he is concerned that allowing cannabis stores in downtowns and smoking in public will normalize cannabis smoking for children.

“I don’t think it’s going to be healthy for our kids to create this permissive environment where people are just doing it all over the place,” he said.

The look of having cannabis stores around them, much like vape shops, he said, is “not great.” Another concern Kornreich has is the public being inconsiderate, and smoking in parks and other community spaces.

“I think most [cigarette] smokers are pretty considerate and they will go off to the side and they stay out of the way,” he said. “But people who are smoking weed, they just seem to be OK with walking down the street and doing it.”

In order to shore up the regulations and compliance, Kornreich would like to see enforcement from New York State and Suffolk County on stores illegally selling cannabis.

“This was never meant to turn into a free-for-all,” he said. “We were just trying to legalize it.”

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At the July 5 Smithtown BOE meeting, new president Stacy Murphy was sworn into office. Photo from Smithtown Central School District

By Leah Chiappino

The Smithtown Central School District Board of Education held its reorganization meeting Wednesday, July 5, with shake ups in board leadership and committee assignments. 

Trustee Stacy Murphy was elected board president, and trustee Karen Wontrobski-Ricciardi was elected vice president.

Former BOE president Matthew Gribbin and trustee John Savoretti were sworn into their new terms on the board, both having won re-election. Trustee Kevin Craine, who was elected to replace outgoing trustee Jerry Martusciello, was also sworn in.

The leadership changes mark a shift in the board’s dynamic. 

Board members expressed their preferences for committee assignments and the appointments were discussed. The final appointments are listed on the school’s website.

NYSSBA resolutions

The board voted on whether to support six propositions to be brought forward to the New York State School Board Association to consider implementing at its October convention.   

Wontrobski-Ricciardi said Smithtown and other districts showing their support for the  propositions would “carry more weight” in NYSSBA deciding to implement them.

The first proposition would have NYSSBA  “oppose any legislation or budget initiatives that would allow New York State to overrule local zoning ordinances.” The rationale is in opposition to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) housing  plan to build 800,000 new homes in the next decade.  

Catalanotto said the resolution itself would “never pass,” as it is too vague, and he can’t support it.

“We can’t dictate when the government decides to step into local zoning regulations on certain occasions, so to make it that broad and say ‘never’ doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.

Savoretti, a realtor, said  he supported the resolution to “tell the government where
we stand.” 

“We can’t tell the government what to do and what not to do but they’re up in Albany, they’re not down here on Long Island,” he said. “Suffolk County is Suffolk County. It’s not a big Metropolis. … That’s why we have the town supervisor and Town Board to make those decisions for what is locally best for our community.”

Gribbin said he supported the “intent” of the resolution, but the language was too vague, and in the past they have been more expansive. Murphy said NYSSBA will develop more expansive resolutions and send them to districts to vote on based on the resolutions districts vote to support.

“It’s more about getting the rationale out there to let the state know where we as Smithtown stand on certain issues,” Wontrobski-Ricciardi said.

Crane said he would support it due to “the increased pressures of increased enrollment on budgets,” and after Catalanotto reiterated the resolution was too vague, suggested the board tweak the language. 

“All seven of us are comfortable with this sentiment, but just want to clean up the language to make it stronger,” Saidens added.

The board agreed to change the language to include, “For the last two years the governor has attempted to enact policies that would give the state control over local towns and village zoning, to force construction of high-density housing plans or to allow accessory dwelling units. Forcing rapid expansion of housing would have a detrimental effect on schools, leading to overcrowding, increased class sizes and increased taxes to our residents,” and passed the resolution unanimously.

The next resolution was for NYSSBA to advocate for the reinstatement of the religious exemption to immunization. The board passed this 6-1, wth Craine voting against the measure. The third resolution stated that NYSSBA will advocate for the “adoption of Parental Rights Legislation.”

“Parents have the right to determine the upbringing of their children, which includes but is not limited to matters of education, medical care and character education,” the rationale of the  resolution reads. “The legislation must protect the parents’ right to make decisions for their children in addition to opt their children out of any non-academic instruction that they morally or religiously object to.”

Saidens said he was uncomfortable with the broadness of the resolution. “It specifically targets character education, so if you’re talking about being empathetic, if you’re talking about teaching children to share, if you’re talking about if somebody is bothering somebody … there’s so many variables,” he said. 

Murphy said she believed the resolution is intended so that parents could opt their children out of this kind of instruction.

Catalanotto said the resolution is unrealistic, bringing parent involvement too far into the fray.

“You’re cutting the legs out of every teacher, off of every teacher in the district,” he said. “You’re talking about group lessons, when kids get together in groups and an opportunity to teach kids how to cooperate and work together.” 

He added, “When you’re dealing with kids who are arguing in class and you’re essentially saying each parent gets to choose for their child whether that’s acceptable for the teacher. It’s impossible and it would destroy a school district. You can’t operate like that.”

An educator and administrator, Saidens agreed that the resolution is not practical. 

Craine, who is an elementary school teacher, also said the resolution is unrealistic. “It’s something that would be hard for an educator   to teach with, especially in an elementary classroom with respect to honesty, kindness and empathy,” he said. 

Craine, Gribbin and Saidens voted against the resolution while Murphy, Savoretti and Wontrobski-Ricciardi voted for it. Catalanotto, who was joining remotely, had his connection cut out.

The next resolution was to oppose “any mandates from the New York State Education Department regarding matters not pertaining to academic standards/subjects (i.e. math, science, reading, writing, social studies) that have not been approved by an up/down vote of the NYS Legislature.”

Saidens said NYSED are the experts, not elected officials, and they should be determining curriculum. Murphy said elected officials are accountable to the people, and the Department of Education officials do not have that same accountability.

The board did not pass the resolution. 

The fifth resolution states that NYSSBA would advocate for “Local Control by School Boards and/or County Executives.” It passed unanimously.

The final resolution was to “oppose any legislation or NYSED regulation mandating comprehensive K-12 gender and sexuality education.” Saidens said these decisions should be left to experts.

“I think there’s conversations that are appropriate based upon age levels, and I think that if we put a room of 100 people we may have a hundred different opinions of what that may be,” he said. “The health curriculum is developed by experts in health.”

Murphy said the resolution had nothing to do with gender identity and politics but was about local control. The resolution did not pass, with Craine, Saidens and Gribbin voting against it.

If anyone is interested in getting more detailed information on what was discussed at the meeting, there is a video of the meeting on the school’s website.

Northport hosted it’s first annual Pride Flag Raising Ceremony last week at village hall. Photo courtesy of Joe Schramm

By Leah Chiappino

Northport Pridefest kicked off its month-long celebration of Pride Month June 1 with a ceremonial Pride flag raising at Northport Village Hall.

The flag raising was accompanied by four churches ringing their bells for two minutes, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic congregations, as “a celebration that God loves us all,” according to Pridefest’s co-director Joe Schramm whose company, Schramm Marketing Group, is producing the event in partnership with the village.

Northport hosted it’s first annual Pride Flag Raising Ceremony last week at village hall. Photo by Leah Chiappino

“There’s often been a lot of pushback from religion, religious groups, and the church bells basically told us that those groups don’t necessarily represent the organized religions of America,” Schramm said.

Following the flag raising, there was a 30-minute ceremony. About 125 people attended, according to Schramm, including Northport Village Mayor Donna Koch; Asharoken Mayor Dr. Greg Letica; Northport Village trustee Meghan Dolan, a co-director of Pridefest; trustee Dave Weber, the first openly LGBTQ+ elected official in Northport Village history; former trustee Henry Tobin; Northport Village Chief of Police Chris Hughes; Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth (R); Huntington’s Receiver of Taxes Jillian Guthman (D); and Huntington Town councilmembers Joan Cergol (D), Dave Bennardo (R) and Sal Ferro (R). Suffolk County Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport) sent a representative, and State Assemblyman Keith Brown (R-Northport) sent a statement. Also in attendance was Juli Grey-Owens, the chairperson of Suffolk County LGBTQ+ Advisory Board and executive director of Gender Equality NY. 

 “What is really amazing to me is that all those elected officials came from the village, town, county, and state, to say that they embrace the LGBTQ+ and are here to stand by us and safeguard our rights to live and love as we wish,” said Schramm.

A resident of Northport for 23 years, the area has always been a safe and welcoming place for Schramm.

“I think that Northport has long been a very accepting and inviting welcoming community for the LGBT communities,” he said. “And so I moved here 23 years ago because I knew that. … And I know that in recent years … quite a few LGBT members have moved here from other parts of New York City or Long Island because they know that Northport, it’s not only beautiful, it’s a really welcoming and safe community for the LGBT people who identify.”

Schramm, who is the first vice president of the Northport Chamber of Commerce, said several members have been talking about having an event like Pridefest for several years.

“We have people put out pride flags and, the like, but there’s never been a concerted effort to work together,” he said.

He approached Dolan, who also serves as the village commissioner of parks with the idea. Dolan was having “conversations internally at village hall,” about doing an event for Pride month.

“We came together and said, ‘Well, let’s make this happen.’” Schramm said.

Schramm contacted fellow village residents he knew were members of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as Koch, whom he said came onboard the right way. Planning meetings were held at village hall, and the group grew to nearly 50 volunteers, from the LGBTQ+ community, along with parents of LGBTQ+, and allies. 

Northport Pridefest’s mission contains six key goals: “Celebrate LGBTQ+ history; embrace the various segments that define LGBTQ+, inform the LGBTQ+ community of services available to them, educate the public about LGBTQ+ issues, empower the protection of equal rights and inspire leadership and cooperation.”

Pridefest in the Park, the second Pridefest event will be held June 17, in the Village Park.

“[The flag raising] was a little bit more formal, and Pridefest in the park will be a lot more fun,” said Schramm. 

Featuring a pre-tea “afternoon music festival,” the event will kick off at 1 p.m. with the national anthem, followed by a short concert by the Long Island Gay Men’s Chorus and a DJ. At 2 p.m. LGBTQ+ youth will speak on the six components of the mission statement. The program will close with a performance by the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company. There will also be vendors, and the Northport Historical Society Museum will be running its The PRIDE! Pop-up Exhibit. Some restaurants on Main Street will be promoting “tea” drink prices.

A petition to stop potential development of Stanhope Stables, located on the corner of Downs and West Hills Roads in Huntington has garnered outrage from the community, resulting in a petition on that has garnered over 2,100 signatures as of June 6.

When contacted by TBR News Media for a comment Friday, June 2, town spokesperson Christine Geed said that Supervisor Ed Smyth (R) “has not received a copy of the proposed application nor a copy of any petition, therefore he cannot comment.”

Geed said applications are first reviewed by the Planning Board for “merit and completeness,” and then “sent to the Town Board to determine if any action will be taken.” Geed later confirmed that an application from B2K Development was received by the town clerk in late March, and then forwarded to the planning department in early April. The “zoning change request is to go from R80 zoning to R5. Or, more specifically from two-acre zoning to 1/8 of an acre,” Geed said.

David Burman, a principal at B2K said in a statement that “B2K Development will acquire the property subject to entitlements.” They are proposing to build “59 single-family homes on 16 acres, with 20% being under ‘affordable housing’ requirement of the Town of Huntington,” according to the statement.

“Our decision to propose single-family homes at market rates is a reflection, in part, of our desire to mirror the surrounding residential neighborhood, creating a development consistent with efforts to protect the community’s quality of life while offering housing opportunities for a new generation of Long Islanders,” the statement read.

When asked if the developer had acquired other stables in the area, a spokesperson for B2K said they did not have that information.

“B2K Development typically does not comment on unrelated properties or questions relating to business strategy,” the spokesperson said.

Historical concerns

Kat Hankinson, the petition’s organizer, said she is mostly concerned about the changes the proposal will have to the Whitman Historical District.

“It’s like the old Huntington that has been here for hundreds of years, way before all of this commercialization and overdevelopment started happening,” said Hankinson. “So it’s the character of the neighborhood, its historical character, its rural character, that is going to be irrevocably altered.”

According to a 2018 report by the town on historic preservation, the district consists of properties near the intersection of West Hills Road and Chichester Road, and is a local landmark. Town Historian Robert Hughes said in an interview the district is made up of a handful of houses that have a connection to the Whitman family, who have relation to the famed poet, Walt Whitman.

“[The homes] sit on large lots and date back to the 17th and 18th century and create a rustic historic feel as you’re driving down West Hills Road,” he said. West Hills Road and Downs Road are considered historic roadways

Hughes said Stanhope Stables is adjacent to the Whitman Historical District, but the property has a home dating back to 1785 and barns that are also several hundred years old. According to Hughes, the house was built for Samuel Oakley in 1785, and later was inherited by his son, Solomon Oakley. Solomon operated an inn and later used the property for farming. It stayed in the Oakley family until after Soloman died in the 1870s. In 1891, it was purchased by Henry Coe, a wealthy New Yorker who used the property as his summer home. Then it was acquired by a lawyer named Lewis Case Ledyard, around 1950. He used it as a casual “gentleman’s farm” that had horses, cows and chickens. In 1987, it was established as Melody Equestrian Center and later changed ownership to Stanhope Stables.

In order to preserve the structures, the town’s historic preservation commission has been “looking into designating the house and barn at the stables as historic landmarks under town code,” Hughes said.

Increase in traffic

Hankinson said she also worries about the increase in sewage and traffic.

“Right next to the stable, there’s a church and then there’s Walt Whitman High School, and so kids are always walking to school, along the side of the road,” she said. Hankinson has rescue horses herself and already hesitates to ride them in the area, due to traffic, she said.

“I don’t feel safe on the roads because there’s so much traffic coming through and a lot of it is through traffic,” she said. “They’re not people in the neighborhood who would go slowly. They’re people just driving through and throwing garbage out their windows and so there’s another concern that an increase in traffic is going to make it even less safe for pedestrians, students and also people who want to take their horses out.”

Organization efforts

Neighbors have been helping Hankinson organize settings and hand out flyers. They have held meetings and have a Facebook group in opposition to the stables.

Several residents plan to speak at the June 13 town board meeting in opposition to the proposal. Hankinson said she sees an opportunity to create a community space, like a land trust and public park, like Caumsett State Park in Lloyd Harbor.

“The public can go and enjoy and ride horses, and you know, my concern, beyond the overdevelopment ,.. is this possible perception that the equestrian community is somehow … out of touch or not really part of the public, but the stables are businesses that people depend on,” she said, noting local farriers and stable hands, and horse supply stores, like Dover Saddlery, in South Huntington, that depend on the equine community.

Dr. Marvin Glassmann, the first vice president of Nassau-Suffolk Horsemen’s Association, who advocated for horses and their quality of life, said he was also concerned about the changing character of the neighborhood, but that the area’s “whole way of life” could change. Blacksmiths and hay delivery would lose out.

“It would be phenomenally bad,” he said.

According to its website, the stable, around for many years, has 18 acres and 75 stalls. It offers riding lessons, training, leases and sales. It is owned and operated by Nancy Henderson.

“On the weekends you’ll see families pulled over on the side of the road with little children holding them up at the fence to look at the horses,” Debbie Porter, another area resident in opposition to the proposal, said. “So even people traveling through get to experience this little patch of country [will be affected].”

The American Legion Huntington Post 360 Memorial Day Parade commenced Monday at Gerard Street, turned left on West Neck Road before heading east on Main Street to Stewart Avenue.

Local first responders and firefighters marched proudly throughout the parade. Students from area schools also marched with their respective bands. Hundreds of community members, several of whom wore patriotic attire, clapped for the parade participants and enjoyed the warm, sunny day.  

Huntington Town Hall

By Leah Chiappino

As reported by TBR News Media, April 13, the Huntington Town Board will have two open seats in November, with Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) and Councilman Eugene Cook (R) deciding not to run for reelection.

The Huntington Republican Committee has nominated two candidates: attorney Theresa Mari, and town director of labor relations, Brooke Lupinacci. 

Democrats have put forward Don McKay, deputy commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation, and Jen Hebert, program director of Kerber’s Farm School and former Huntington school board president. 

TBR News Media spoke to Mari and Hebert for the April 13 edition, and subsequently had the opportunity to sit down with McKay and Lupinacci to discuss their thoughts on the election, their background and what motivated them to run.

Don McKay

Don McKey

Running on the Democratic ticket, McKay was born and raised in Eaton’s Neck, prior to moving to Dix Hills 24 years ago.

Always interested in current events, he decided to pursue a career in journalism, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications in 1987 from Bethany College in West Virginia.

“I started reading Newsday since I could read,” he said, noting he served on his high school paper as a photographer, further fueling his passion for the industry.

After graduation he worked as an admissions officer for Bethany for a year, before returning to Huntington to launch his journalism career as newspaper reporter for the North Shore News Group in Smithtown, covering the towns of Islip, Brookhaven and Huntington.

“You just learn so much,” he said of his time in journalism. “It’s really one of the best jobs to prepare you for your future.”

Two years later, he was hired as the government reporter for The Saratogian, a daily newspaper in Saratoga Springs, through a college friend who took over as sports editor. After four years there, McKay returned to Long Island to run The Huntington News.

McKay said several local topics he wrote about as a newspaper reporter still remain unresolved.

“It’s affordable housing, it’s taxes, it’s public safety, it’s quality of life, maintaining Huntington’s outstanding quality of life, and it’s protecting the environment, our bays and harbors to preserve and protect our marine environment,” he said. “So a lot of issues back then remain constant today.”

McKay, who worked as a commercial fisherman on the weekends while working as a journalist, said the transition out of the profession came when he was getting married, and a reporter’s salary became unsustainable. Still wanting to serve, he said getting into town government was the perfect fit. He served as a legislative aide to then Huntington Councilman Steve Israel (D), and joined the staff of former Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) as the town’s public information officer.

“I’ve always enjoyed public service,” McKay said. “I’ve always enjoyed helping people, resolving issues, resolving community issues, neighborhood issues, helping people get through issues of concern.”

In 2006, he was appointed director of Parks and Recreation for the town, overseeing the expansion of Veterans Park in East Northport, Manor Field Park in Huntington Station, Breezy Park in Huntington Station and an expansion of the Dix Hills Ice Rink. 

In February 2018, McKay was appointed deputy commissioner of the Suffolk parks department where he oversees 50,000 acres of parkland, 14 major active parks and more. If elected, he said he would likely step down from the county due to ethics laws.

High taxes are among McKay’s motivation to run.

“I just think that this current administration and Town Board is not being responsive to the community’s needs,” he said. “I feel that I can bring a new perspective.” 

 Brooke Lupinacci

Brooke Lupinacci

The new Republican candidate said she is a lifelong Huntington resident, whose family has lived in the area for generations.

Originally a journalism major at NYU, she decided to go to law school after being inspired by a media law course she took.

“I had a phenomenal professor,” she said. “I was totally intrigued by the law and I wanted to write about cases and legal proceedings. It was at that time that I decided that maybe I could have a better edge in my journalistic writing, if I went to law school to get a legal background.”

Then, Lupinacci took an oral advocacy course at Touro Law Center, inspiring her to delve fully into the legal profession.

 Her first job out of law school was as a Suffolk County assistant district attorney, working on misdemeanor level offenses, such as graffiti infractions, assault, bias crimes and vehicle traffic violations. She then joined the county’s Domestic Violence Unit, before focusing on white collar crimes, such as embezzlement, fraud, home improvement scams, welfare fraud and money laundering.

“I really did enjoy my time in white-collar crime because it was more than just a one witness-type case, or ‘he said, she said’ type thing, if you will,” she said “ It was a real challenge intellectually, because I got to work with forensic auditors and I had a specialized team of detectives when I was prosecuting prevailing wage cases.”

When Lupinacci had her first son in 2015, she decided to leave the county District Attorney’s Office to become a Huntington Town assistant attorney. Mentors also told her that after a decade as a prosecutor, it would be a good time to step down.

“Being a Huntington resident, I thought it would be great to be working for the town that I grew up in,” she said.

Throughout her time with the town Attorney’s Office, Lupinacci helped prosecute zombie homes, hoarder properties and squatter houses, and served as counsel to the town’s elected officials, departments and staff, her campaign said. She said she enjoyed appearing in District Court and, since she loves to write, drafting legislation.

Lupinacci now serves as town director of labor relations in the Office of Personnel, with responsibilities including negotiating collective bargaining agreements, handling complaints and managing recruitment.

“It’s very fulfilling,” she said. “I find that I’ve so far have been able to, I think, make connections between management and the employees. I’ve also been able to help the department heads in building their departments, and establishing some new titles while working with the Suffolk County department of civil service. And it’s really been great.”

For Lupinacci, public service at an elected level was the next logical step in her career. 

“I think that I’ll build on the great things that have already been started,” she said. “I know the people in Town Hall that make the wheels turn.”

One issue she said motivated her to run, was Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) proposal to build 800,000 new homes over the next decade, which requires municipalities to rezone around train stations. 

“I definitely plan to stand ground on and protect Huntington from overdevelopment and some of the initiatives that Hochul seems to be trying to put upon us,” Lupinacci said. “Local control is important. We here know our counties better than those that are far removed in Albany.”