Authors Posts by Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan

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The Setauket branch of Investors Bank will close in February. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Many Investors Bank customers will soon find an empty building where they once traveled to take care of their financial matters.

Last year, Citizens Bank, headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, acquired New Jersey-based Investors Bank. While Investors’ doors remained open to customers, the process of the merger began in August as investmentaccounts transferred to Citizens, and in October, mortgage loan services transitioned from Investors to Citizens.

According to the Citizens website, the merger will “offer Investors’ customers an expanded set of products and services, enhanced online and mobile banking capabilities, and more branch locations, along with a continued commitment to making a difference in our local communities.”

While the East Northport location on Larkfield Road will remain open doing business under the Citizens name, the Investors Commack location on Jericho Turnpike will close Feb. 14. The Huntington branch on Main Street and the Setauket location on Route 25A will close their doors for the last time Feb. 15. All three due-to-be closed branches have Citizens operating nearby.

Nuno Dos Santos, retail director of Citizens, said the banks located in Commack, Huntington and East Setauket are less than 2 miles away from the Investors branches that are closing.

“As we continue to integrate Investors with Citizens, we have been reviewing customer patterns and branch locations to ensure we are serving customers when, where and how they prefer,” Dos Santos said. “As a result of this review, we will close the Investors branch locations in Commack, Huntington and Setauket.”

Current Investors employees have been encouraged to apply for positions at Citizens, according to a company spokesperson.

Map included with the petition submitted to the independent federal agency Surface Transportation Board by Townline Rail Terminal, LLC to construct and operate a line of railroad. Blue lines show proposed tracks.

Community members are voicing their opposition to a proposed rail yard in Kings Park.

A petition titled “We Oppose Townline Rail Terminal” started by Keegan Harris, has already received more than 1,600 signatures on Change.org to stop the proposed construction of a rail spur that would extend approximately 5,000 feet off the Long Island Rail Road Port Jefferson Branch line and be located near Pulaski and Town Line roads.

The petition was posted after The Smithtown News published several articles by managing editor David Ambro, with editorials during January. Townline Rail Terminal LLC, an affiliate of CarlsonCorp. with property on Meadow Glen Road in Kings Park, made a proposal to the Surface Transportation Board — an independent federal agency — that asks for the tracks to be used for commercial use. Among the uses would be the disposal of incinerated ash and construction debris using diesel freight trains. The incinerated ash would then be trucked between the rail terminal and the Covanta waste facility on Town Line Road in East Northport. The proposal from Townline also said “that the line would provide freight transportation to CarlsonCorp’s transloading facility and could serve other local shippers, including Covanta Energy, Kings Park Ready Mix Corp., Kings Park Materials and Pelkowski Precast.”

Currently, ash is transported to the Town of Brookhaven Yaphank landfill, which will close in 2024.

Petitioners feel that if the project is approved, it will negatively affect Kings Park, Fort Salonga, East Northport and Commack. Harris stated on the petition, “Our concern with this project is that this is to be built bordering a residential area of a neighborhood where children live and play.” Other concerns listed were health risks associated with diesel exhaust and incinerated ash; rail spurs being close to homes; diesel trains operating between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.; the impact on the quality of life; noise and possible water pollution; negative impact on home values; and the lack of notice provided to residents about the project.

Members of the Commack Community Association have also stated their concerns on their website and at a Jan. 19 CCA meeting.

Comments from the Town of Smithtown

The Town of Smithtown is currently preparing a FAQ for its website regarding the proposal to answer questions they have received from residents.

According to the town, while Townline Rail Terminal has submitted its petition to the federal agency STB, it will be “the first of many steps in a multi-year-long process.”

Once federal approval is received for the rail spur, proposed buildings and site work will be subject to town approval. “These include a change of zone, amendments to the town’s zoning ordinance, Special Exceptions to the TB and BZA, and site plan approval, and would be subject to a full SEQRA review, including Environmental Impact Statement.”

Smithtown’s draft FAQ states that Covanta “is permitted to process non-hazardous residential, commercial and industrial wastes. Air emissions are monitored to ensure they are below permitted levels (emissions data is available on Covanta’s website) and ash residue is tested per state environmental regulations to ensure it is a non-hazardous waste.”

While Townline in its petition to the STB and in preliminary discussions with town staff and officials “expressed an interest in importing commodities for the local industrial area that are currently trucked to the area” the company would need an amendment “to the town’s zoning ordinance, including the requisite public hearing and SEQRA requirements.”

According to the town, the company plans to run one train per day, five days a week: “Per Townline and its engineer, HDR Inc., the proposed yard has been designed to handle one inbound and one outbound freight train of up to 27 cars daily. The storage tracks have the capacity to store approximately three days of excess storage (up to 79 cars) in the event of rail service outage.”

In a letter to the STB dated Oct. 28, 2022, Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) wrote in support of the project.

“The town is supportive of Townline’s petition because there is mounting pressure on towns and villages due to the anticipated 2024 closing of the Town of Brookhaven’s Yaphank landfill facility,” he wrote. “Smithtown’s residential and commercial solid waste and residential construction debris (“C&D”) is currently disposed of at the Brookhaven landfill. Smithtown’s solid waste is converted to ash at the Covanta waste-to-energy facility which then delivers the ash to the Brookhaven landfill. Alternative means of disposal and carting of C&D and ash off of Long Island will be mandatory soon for municipal and non-municipal waste facilities.”

According to a STB Jan. 12 decision, the federal agency will address the issues presented in a subsequent decision. 

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), center, signed legislation Jan. 27 to provide Smithtown with an additional $5.4 million for the Kings Park Business Sewer District Project. Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim, left, and Tony Tanzi from the Kings Park Chamber of Commerce were on hand for the signing. Photo from Steve Bellone's office

The Town of Smithtown received good news Jan. 27.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone And Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim. Photo from Bellone’s office

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed legislation last Friday to provide the town with an additional $5.4 million for the Kings Park Business Sewer District Project. A press conference took place in the hamlet’s Svatt Square to mark the occasion.

The funding is possible due to money the county received through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 signed by President Joe Biden (D).

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and Town Board members, with Kings Park Chamber of Commerce and KP Civic Association representatives, joined state and county elected officials as well as Bellone and Deputy County Executive Peter Scully, for the announcement and signing.

Scully said the project initially was made possible by a $20 million state transformative program grant in 2014. With rising construction costs, expenses have increased for the project.

With the additional $5.4 million from the county, contracts were awarded to Holbrook-based G&M Earth Moving, ALAC Contracting Corp. in West Babylon and Amityville-based L.E.B. Electric. 

Bellone called it “a great day” and thanked Wehrheim.

“This doesn’t happen without his leadership here and the Town Board,” the county executive said.

He also thanked county and state officials for working together in a bipartisan manner and the community, which he said is critical to working on projects such as this.

“A significant step forward in any community, in any way, is not possible without the work and the support of residents and the businesses in the community,” he said.

Bellone said sewers would be coming to Kings Park this year. He added construction would break ground in the coming weeks, and there would be community meetings to lay out the construction schedules and paperwork will be finalized. 

“Make no mistake, the contracts have been awarded, the project is happening now,” he said.

Pipes will connect sewers to the Kings Park treatment plant located on the property of the former psychiatric hospital.

Bellone said the project “highlights how much more we need to do” regarding improving water quality on the Island. He added about 360,000 homes in the region are operating on old septic and cesspool systems.

“We have to address this issue in a way that is affordable for homeowners,” Bellone said. “That burden cannot be placed on them.” 

He added investments in wastewater infrastructure are critical for a prosperous economic future.

With other Suffolk County areas needing sewer systems, including St. James, Bellone said, “This represents what we need to be doing all across the county.”

Wehrheim echoed Bellone’s sentiment that the project was a team effort, and he thanked the members of all levels of government and the chamber, civic and community.

“Without the cooperation and all working together, things like this will never come to fruition,” Wehrheim said.

The supervisor, who is a native of Kings Park, said he was proud “of what we’ve done here,” adding, “The future is bright for the Town of Smithtown as far as economic development goes, economic success and, especially just as important, environmental issues to clean up waters.” 

Tony Tanzi, president of KP Chamber of Commerce, said, “Some would say we’re at the end of the road. Personally, I think this is the beginning of the road.”

He added he believes Kings Park will soon resemble the robust downtown it was decades ago.

“When you take politics out of it, we can all work together — and that’s the beautiful thing,” Tanzi said.

 

Head of the Harbor resident Lisa Davidson is in the process of gathering signatures to run for village trustee. Photo from Lisa Davidson

Rallying against a proposed private dock has given one Head of the Harbor resident inspiration to run for village trustee.

Head of the Harbor resident Lisa Davidson is in the process of gathering signatures to run for village trustee. Photo from Lisa Davidson

Last year, Lisa Davidson and her neighbors were busy fighting the proposed construction of an 186-foot private dock on Swan Place in Nissequogue, which, if approved, would have been right next to Cordwood Park and Head of the Harbor.

Now, Davidson aims to collect 51 signatures by Feb. 14 to run for trustee in March. Two trustee seats will be open during the March 21 election as Daniel White and Jeff Fischer are up for reelection.

Not one to sit on the sidelines, Davidson said, “Just complaining accomplishes nothing.”

A village resident for more than two years, she immediately fell in love with Head of the Harbor. During her short time living on Long Island, Davidson said she has been a representative on the village’s Joint Village Coastal Management Commission, a Suffolk County polling inspector and a volunteer with Island Harvest food bank.

The wife and mother, who recently became a grandmother, was born in Los Angeles, and raised her two sons in New York City. An alum of UCLA, her professional career includes working as a business reporter with the Los Angeles Times and a field producer with Fox News. She has also worked for the National Geographic Society. Currently she is a consultant for those looking to produce their own television projects.

She said in addition to living in places such as California and New York City, her work as a print journalist, news and television producer took her around the world, which Davidson said has given her even more appreciation for her current hometown. She added Stony Brook Harbor, the village’s “tree-lined streets, and the views from Cordwood Park rival them all.”

The trustee-hopeful explained her run all comes down to preserving the rustic charm of Head of the Harbor. 

“It’s human nature when you’re exposed to something of beauty, you take it for granted instead of realizing, ‘Wow, this is so special,’” she said.

Last year her love for the village inspired her to help gather signatures for a petition, organize a rally at Cordwood Park and attend Nissequogue Village Planning Board meetings multiple times to speak out when the private dock on Swan Place was proposed. The board denied the owner’s request at the beginning of this year.

She and others collected 787 signatures on the petition to oppose the structure.

“It was really clear that the community did not want that dock,” she said.

An Aug. 27 rally at Cordwood Park, organized by Davidson, drew environmentalists such as former state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket); Kevin McAllister, founder and president of Defend H2O; and John Turner, conservation chair of Four Harbors Audubon Society. 

Ralliers listed issues with private docks in the area, such as the shallowness of the water in the area. The Department of Environmental Conservation requires docks stand in 3 1/2 feet of water even at low tide. The length of the proposed Swan Place dock would have obstructed residents’ view of Stony Brook Harbor and restrict access to those walking along the beach or using their kayaks and canoes in the water. A dock would also adversely affect birds, turtles, flora and fauna as well as the water quality.

Another concern of Davidson and others was that if the village allowed one to be built, others would follow. 

“If that one dock would have been allowed, he’d be representing every single person on this harbor, who wanted a dock demanding that, ‘Well, you let that one in, you have to let this other one,’” she said.

According to Davidson, another issue is that while an owner may own their land, they do not own the water. If a dock were allowed, she said, it would be the private taking of public land.

“If it was somewhere else on the harbor, it wouldn’t have been so catastrophic to the community,” she said. “That dock was going to take public land that was used all the time and make it private.”

“Let’s figure out how this can work for everybody, and that’s what I would like to do in general.”

— Lisa Davidson

Davidson said it’s vital for the villages to follow the Local Water Revitalization Program when making decisions regarding coastal management, something she said some seem to have forgotten.

She added that another one of her concerns is the budget as the village has started to spend its reserve, and she would like to see more transparency in the village, as she believes many residents don’t know the trustees’ decisions before they finalize them. Davidson said updating the village’s website and the return of the newsletter would help the trustees communicate better.

Many residents have also asked for the Hitherbrook Road extension, where kayaks were once launched, to be restored for use. Currently there are boulders there, because in the past a few drivers were known to have driven down the dirt road and wind upin the harbor at low tide and thenbe stuck. She said there has to be a solution to allow people to use their kayaks there once again but also be safe.

“There’s no listening,” she said. “Let’s figure out how this can work for everybody, and that’s what I would like to do in general.”

Like many in the village, Davidson has also been keeping an eye on the Gyrodyne property on Route 25A, right outside of the village, and its possible development in the future. In the past, the owners have talked about the possibility of developers constructing a hotel and assisted living facility. She said, “The village and its residents have made it really clear — they want to preserve our historic corridor and open spaces because once we allow development we’ve lost those assets forever.”

Davidson added she supports Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard’s plea to preserve the entire property as a park.

“Short of that, the compromise plan, whereby half remains as open space and half is developed, is acceptable to the community,” she said. “Unfortunately, we now have another threat to that area as Albany is seeking land on which to build affordable housing. Whether it’s housing or a hotel, the streets cannot handle the additional traffic those would bring so we have a real challenge ahead of us.”

By Rita J. Egan

Few movies easily translate into an onstage musical. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which opened Thursday at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport on Jan. 19, is one of those delightful exceptions.

Based on the 1988 comedy film starring Michael Caine, Steve Martin and Glenne Aimee Headly, the production, with book by Jeffrey Lane, features a catchy score by David Yazbek. The musical originally debuted on Broadway in 2005 and was nominated for several Tony Awards the same year. Norbert Lee Butz won the award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Freddy Benson.

The story begins at a luxurious coastal resort where suave con artist Lawrence Jameson meets his young competitor Freddy Benson. Lawrence realizes his longtime deceptions of guests may soon come to an end. With the help of his assistant, local police chief Andre Thibault, he decides to take the rough-around-the-edges Freddy under his wing. The con artists’ mission turns out to be filled with hilarious hijinks, a dash of romance and a surprising twist.

Musical lovers looking to beat the winter blues will love the Engeman’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with the actors’ exceptional vocals and comedic timing. Audience members should pay attention as some local references and mild political jokes are thrown in, which garnered a good deal of laughter during the press opening on Jan. 21. The night was one where all the cast members, masterfully directed by Drew Humphrey, shined brightly.

James D. Sasser plays Lawrence Jameson with the right amount of sophistication and cockiness, and at the same time keeps the audience laughing. He also handles his vocals beautifully while maintaining his character’s various deceptive accents.

Danny Gardner, as Freddy Benson, is hilarious, especially during the musical number “Great Big Stuff.” During one scene, with Freddy dressed as a soldier confined to a wheelchair, Lawrence tests him to see if he has any feeling in his legs using a feather and then a whip. The duo are hysterical during the scene, and Gardner’s facial expressions are priceless. 

Gina Milo plays Muriel Eubanks, a wealthy and attractive American socialite, to the hilt. She has fun with all the cliches believed about a newly divorced woman traveling abroad — flirty and clueless — and the audience laughs along with her. Milo’s vocals are excellent in each number she is featured in.

The character Andre Thibault serves as a straight man to Jameson and Benson, and Matthew Bryan Feld is perfect in the role. In the second act, he seamlessly shows the character’s vulnerable side when he and Milo perform a fun and refreshing “Like Zis/Like Zat.”

While Emily Larger doesn’t appear until toward the end of Act 1 as Christine Colgate, she is immediately convincing as a naive American heiress, and one can’t help feel excited for the character as Larger delivers a fabulous rendition of “Here I Am.” In the second act, Larger has the opportunity to show another side of Christine, which she delivers just as smoothly.

Suzanne Mason, as Jolene Oakes, one of Lawrence’s victims, shines in the role. Her musical number “Oklahoma?” is one of the highlights of the show. Her comedic abilities are front and center in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, even when she isn’t playing Jolene and is onstage as one of the ensemble characters.

The ensemble also adds to the production’s delightfulness with their witty lines and facial expressions, and performing the fun dance numbers choreographed by Mandy Modic. Set designer Kyle Dixon and costume designer Dustin Cross have used colorful hues that transport audience members to the French Riviera. And while they may not be onstage, the Engeman orchestra members, directed by James Olmstead, are among the stars of the show.

Entertainment has always served as a way to escape everyday life, if only for a couple of hours. The Engeman’s production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels does just that with upbeat music and plenty of laughs that will leave audience members feeling a bit more lighthearted even after exiting the theater.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport presents Dirty Rotten Scoundrels through March 5. Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and some Wednesdays. Tickets are $85 for Saturday evenings and $80 for all other performances. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com. 

Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, at podium, joined elected officials at the Jan. 20 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Local elected officials held a press conference Friday, Jan. 20, to make it clear that they don’t agree with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) New York Housing Compact proposal.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine, at podium, joined elected officials at the Jan. 20 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Republican state senators and assemblymembers, county legislators and town supervisors from Suffolk County gathered at the Perry B. Duryea State Office Building in Hauppauge with a message for Hochul. The elected members speaking at the press conference said zoning, land use and development matters are best left to local elected officials.

In her State of the State message earlier this month, Hochul proposed a housing strategy calling for 800,000 new homes to be built in the state over the course of a decade to address the lack of affordable housing. Among the plan’s requirements would be municipalities with Metropolitan Transportation Authority railroad stations to rezone to make way for higher-density residential development. All downstate cities, towns and villages served by the MTA would have a new home creation target over three years of 3%, compared to upstate counties that would need to build 1% more new homes over the same period.

But speakers on Jan. 20 called her proposed initiative “government overreach” and “misguided,” and they said municipalities should create zoning laws, grant building permits and urban plans based on the individual needs of their communities. Many added that a blanket state housing proposal wouldn’t work on Long Island due to lack of sewer systems, also infrastructure and environmental concerns.

The press conference was led by state Sen. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue).

“We all agree that we have an affordable housing problem,” he said. “What we don’t agree on is how to fix it.”

He added, “The governor apparently believes that one size fits all is the way to go, that heavy-handed mandates are the way to go.”

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim, at podium, joined elected officials at the Jan. 20 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Murray said the Village of Patchogue is the model of revitalizing villages and downtowns across the state. He added local issues must be considered, such as environmental concerns, traffic issues and parking options. He said Patchogue officials worked to rebuild the village’s infrastructure, invested in and expanded sewer plants, repaved 85% of its streets, invested into pools, parks and the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts. Murray added 700 new residential homes were built since 2003, 575 of them are within walking distance from the train station and village.

Town supervisors speak up 

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said they were all concerned about what Long Island will look like in the future. He added there is a need for sewer systems in most towns, and local infrastructure needs improvement. He said the three rail lines that cross the town depend on diesel fuel, and he added overgrowth has also contaminated the waters.

“Governor, before you start talking about more housing, how about the infrastructure to support it?” Romaine said. “How about electrifying the rail? How about making sure the roads work? How about making sure that there are sewers?”

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said the town is manufacturing affordable housing “to the extent it’s possible” based on its infrastructure.

In the last five years, he said the town has approved the construction of 450 rental units, 10% of which are classified as affordable per state law.

Town of Huntington Supervisor Ed Smyth, at podium, joined elected officials at the Jan. 20 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“The only elected officials that know how to do that on Long Island are your local elected officials with the help of our county, state and federal officials as well,” Wehrheim said. “So, we are doing what the governor wants, but we’re doing it the right way.”

Town of Huntington Supervisor Ed Smyth (R) said New York politics “is not Republican vs. Democrat. It’s New York City versus New York state.” He said the governor is affected by New York City extremists. 

“I implore the governor to form a working coalition of centrist Democrats and centrist Republicans in the state Legislature to govern from the center as the vast majority of New Yorkers expect of you,” Smyth said.

Additional perspectives

State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said when he hears the governor talk about local control, he feels she is aligning with the progressive left. He added “everything they touch they destroy,” listing the economy, energy independence and the southern border.

“They want to destroy our local zoning, and they will destroy what makes Long Island and New York state the wonderful place to live that it is,” Fitzpatrick said. “Local control works, and we seek a cooperative relationship, a carrot approach rather than the stick approach that she is putting before us.”

Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, also spoke at the press conference. He acknowledged there is a housing problem on the Island and said the town supervisors have provided hope with past projects.

“They have been behind getting affordable housing in their communities,” Alexander said, adding 20,000 units of multihousing have been approved on Long Island over the past 17 years.

According to Alexander, 10,000 more units are coming down the pike, and 50 communities have had buildings built near transit stations.

State Assemblyman Keith Brown (R-Northport), who has been a zoning attorney for more than 20 years, in an interview after the press conference said incentives and funding are needed.

He said Brookhaven’s Commercial Redevelopment Districts are excellent zoning examples of redevelopment and multifamily houses where there are incentives such as being near transportation and connecting to sewers.

State Assemblyman Jonathan Kornreich, at podium, joined elected officials at the Jan. 20 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“Those are the incentives that we should be talking about, not creating super zoning boards, and more bureaucracy,” Brown said.

In a statement to TBR News Media, Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), who was a former president of the Three Village Civic Association, said, “We have to be wise enough to recognize that the land under which our aquifers sit can only bear so much development.”

He gave the example of a parcel of land in Port Jefferson Station on Route 112 and near the train station. The large, vegetated parcel has restrictive covenants to limit the type of development on the site.

“This place is a vital area of green space, where trees can grow, where oxygen is produced and where rainwater is filtered before it goes down to the aquifers we drink from,” he said. “The governor’s proposal would throw all that planning out the window and turn this into a potential development site for hundreds of new units.”

Former state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who was chair of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee between 2015 and 2022, attended the press conference and in a phone interview said, “This is a proposal that attempts to meet one need, but has a likely outcome, if advanced, of completely overriding environmental concerns. Our first limiting factor for sustainable communities is the environment, in particular water — drinking water.”

He added the proposal to increase the density of housing not only overrides local planning but threatens communities’ quality of life.

He added, for example, a village such as Poquott wouldn’t be able to build more housing as it’s “essentially a completely built-out community.” Or, a hamlet such as St. James wouldn’t be able to add more housing near the train station.

“If you impose from above a mandate to change the land use, you’re basically impacting the environment immediately and, for the long term, the quality of life of a community,” he said.

Englebright and current elected officials are concerned that the housing legislation would be included in the state budget similar to bail reform.

Hochul’s administration has said more information on the housing proposal will be released in the near future.

New York State Council on the Arts grants will help arts and cultural organizations across the state, including ones locally such as The Jazz Loft, above, recover from lingering issues due to the pandemic shutdowns. Photo from The Jazz Loft

The New York State Council on the Arts recently dispersed grants to nonprofit arts and culture organizations with the intention of helping them recover from the aftermath of COVID-19 shutdowns.

‘The vast majority of our artistic masterpieces and institutions were birthed from philanthropy of some kind.’

—Tom Manuel

In a press statement, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said, “As a cultural capital of the world, New York state is strengthened by our expansive coverage of the arts across all 62 counties. This year’s historic commitment to the arts sector will spur our continuing recovery from the pandemic and set the course for a stronger future.” 

Local organizations — including The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook, Preservation Long Island in Cold Spring Harbor and Huntington Arts Council — have announced that they are among the NYSCA grantees.

The Jazz Loft

The Jazz Loft has received two grants totaling $50,000 from NYSCA: the Regrowth and Capacity grant for $10,000 and the Support for Organizations grant for $40,000.

The grants will be used to support the venue’s performance schedule, which includes more than 160 shows each year. Tom Manuel, president and founder of The Jazz Loft, said in an email the funding would make additions to the programming possible during the 2023-24 season. It will also help with the Loft School of Jazz program for high school students.

Manuel said learning about grant funding “is always a feeling of both excitement and relief.” “The arts has just been one of those mediums that has existed due to patron and government support since the time of Bach and Beethoven and even earlier,” he said. “The vast majority of our artistic masterpieces and institutions were birthed from philanthropy of some kind.”

The venue employs musicians at a cost of a quarter million dollars annually, according to Manuel, and in December The Jazz Loft welcomed 2,000 visitors.

“We’re honored to be a part of a wonderful community and that we can generate traffic and tourism throughout the village,” he said. “Our plan for the NYSCA grant funding is to present a series of world-class performers and educational events that will continue to support our artistic community and draw visitors from near and far.”

Huntington Arts Council

The nonprofit Huntington Arts Council has received a Statewide Community Regrant totaling $1 million over two years.

Kieran Johnson, executive director of the Huntington Arts Council, said HAC was grateful and humbled. He added the HAC grants are different from others as it’s not entirely for the council but to help other organizations recover. The organization has been part of the regranting program since it was a pilot in the 1970s.

“It’s all about supporting local artists and local arts organizations across Nassau and Suffolk counties,” Johnson said.

‘That’s the idea behind the SCR program, taking the money, keeping it local and really growing local economies, also.’

— Kieran Johnson

He said he remembers a statistic he once read that stated every dollar put into the local creative sector generates $5.25 of regional gross domestic product.

“That’s the idea behind the SCR program, taking the money, keeping it local and really growing local economies, also,” he said. “It’s a huge economic impact.”

Recently, the HAC granted $351,000 to organizations in Nassau and Suffolk counties  due to the New York grant and are in the process of sending the funds, Johnson said. Previous years the total amount of grants HAC dispersed has been around $120,000.

The state funds will help HAC award mini-grants every month for $1,000 for one person and one organization for a total of $2,000 a month for the next two years. Each month a new person and organization will be chosen. HAC also is running a professional development series for artists and organizations that includes brand identity, social media, legal courses and more.

“That’s our primary role of the HAC, we are an artist support organization,” he said.

Preservation Long Island

NYSCA also presented grants to Preservation Long Island based in Cold Spring Harbor. The nearly $70,000 in grant money will support “regionally focused historic preservation advocacy and public education programs,” according to the organization.

The funds were awarded in two grants to PLI: $20,000 in Recovery Funding and nearly $50,000 through the renewal of the Support for Organizations grant.

PLI will be able to help fund the rehiring of seasonal museum educators on Long Island and reopen historic houses which were closed to the public during the pandemic. Funding will also be used to enhance digital programming strategies introduced during the pandemic.

Alexandra Parsons Wolfe, executive director, said fortunately, many arts and cultural organizations received Paycheck Protection Program loans.

“We were not abandoned during the pandemic,” Wolfe said. However, she added more relief is needed.

The regional organization is able to help smaller organizations on Long Island that may not have the means to hire a paid staff in their pursuits to implement preservation projects for endangered historic places.

“I can’t emphasize how important the New York State Council on the Arts is to the cultural institutions of Long Island and New York, and it’s so worth tax money to be able to support organizations like ours,” she said.

Owl Hill estate is located south of Sunken Meadow State Park in Fort Salonga. Photo from Douglas Elliman Real Estate

A county legislator continues his commitment to saving a historic property in Fort Salonga from developers.

Suffolk Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said the county earlier this month made an offer to the owners of Owl Hill Estates & Preserve to acquire its Fort Salonga property for $6.3 million. The owners have yet to accept the offer.

Trotta said the goal is to keep the property as open space for walking and hiking trails and “making Long Island stay Long Island and not making it look like Queens.”

“We really don’t need to tear down every forest and build,” he added.

Owl Hill is located at 99 Sunken Meadow Road, bordering Sunken Meadow Park and wetlands. The property spans nearly 27.7 acres. In 2017, the property was up for sale for the first time in more than six decades at a price tag of $6.45 million. The current owners bought the property with plans to subdivide and build up to 17 homes.

According to Trotta, the property is a critical watershed and conservation area with mature woodlands and wildlife habitat. One of the largest continuous tracts of open space in the Town of Smithtown, it may have significant archaeological resources.

Trotta said that a nonprofit or possibly the state would maintain the 6,500-square-foot mansion that sits on the property if the county acquires the land. The developers have also presented a plan to the Town of Smithtown where the home would remain untouched.

Earlier this year, Suffolk County Legislature passed a resolution to authorize an appraisal of the land under the county’s Drinking Water Protection Program.

Keith Macartney, president of the Fort Salonga Association, said civic members are concerned about the possibility of development on the property and hope the owners will accept the county’s offer.

“It’s a beautiful piece of property, and it’s among properties that have been left alone that people can enjoy and the wildlife can enjoy,” Macartney said.

Among the civic members’ concerns is increased traffic in the area, especially with the future development of the Preserves at Indian Hills, which falls in the Huntington portion of Fort Salonga. Macartney said building more homes would be “a travesty.”

In a 2020 The Times of Smithtown article, Corey Geske, Smithtown resident and scholar, said the property’s historical importance is on par with Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay. The first patent lawyer in the U.S., Edmund Wetmore, commissioned architect Henry Killam Murphy to design the estate home. One of Murphy’s notable works includes designing the campus of the University of Shanghai.

Attorney Vincent Trimarco Sr., who represents Owl Hill Estates & Preserve, confirmed the owners received the county offer but he said he didn’t have knowledge as far as whether they were considering it. The owners still need to appear before the Town of Smithtown Town Board regarding final approval of the subdivision. The attorney said that if the owners are approved, the houses will be part of a clustered development and several acres of the property would be left as open space. 

Joan Dickinson, left, and Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn. Photo by Leah Dunaief

For Joan Dickinson, the new year will be a little less hectic after her retirement — which officially began on Jan. 6 — from Stony Brook University.

The Three Village Chamber of Commerce awarded Joan Dickinson, second from left in front row, with its Harold Pryor Award for her community service. Photo from Three Village Chamber of Commerce

Dickinson retired after 25 years with SBU. For the past year and a half, she was assistant vice president of university and hospital community relations. Before her most recent position, she was community relations director in government and community relations for a decade after first working in the university’s communications department for 15 years.

Dickinson entered the world of academia in 1997 with a background in the corporate sector. While she found it to be different initially from her prior work experience, she tackled various roles, grew professionally and faced and met several challenges successfully.

Among the lessons she has learned during her tenure was the importance of listening.

“Every person has a story, and I became fascinated with hearing them,” she said. “That helped me become better at mediation and negotiation.”

She also discovered her leadership skills when “putting ideas and people together to solve a problem or create a program.”

Through the years, she interacted with people at SBU, local businesses and the university’s neighbors and worked to connect them with the right department at the college.

“I had the benefit of working with every corner of the campus community, and relationships with so many departments,” Dickinson said. “They are the ones who helped me get the job done.”

Relations with the community

One of the biggest challenges SBU encountered during her tenure was issues with off-campus housing in the Three Village area. University officials became involved with improving rental conditions for students and helping to make them better neighbors by working with former Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), the town’s Law Department, Suffolk County Police Department and the grassroots organization Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners. Dickinson said it was a good opportunity for the campus to work with the community.

“We all got together and came up with a plan, and I think that’s why that worked,” she said. “It was a very good town-gown solution.”

‘Every person has a story, and I became fascinated with hearing them. That helped me become better at mediation and negotiation.’

Tackling the issue led to better guidelines for rentals in Brookhaven, SBU programs to educate students on how to be good neighbors and what a legal rental as well as a rental agreement looks like. She said it was vital to teach students that tenants have rights, too. The program is still offered each semester. 

“Some of the landlords were just in it for the money, and some of the students were put in unsafe conditions,” she said.

Dickinson is proud of the K-12 program she ran while at SBU, which brings thousands of students from primarily underserved communities to the university for campus tours, hands-on learning activities, also empowerment and inspirational talks. The activities include a wide range of programs, including about health and STEM careers as well as art crawls. Dickinson worked with the Long Island Latino Teachers Association and several local school districts.

“The opportunity to bring students who never thought college was within their reach, bring them to campus and show them what’s possible, that was a lot of fun,” Dickinson said.

Besides interacting with the SBU community, Dickinson has been connected with local chambers of commerce and other organizations in surrounding communities such as Three Village, Smithtown, Middle Country, Port Jeff and Ronkonkoma.

“It was important to see how the communities live, because every community is different,” she said. “So, you find the best solutions to problems when you understand where the people are coming from.”

She said residents from various areas would call her when they had a problem with students or the university at large.

“I think that’s why having the community relations office is such an important part of the conversation between the campus and the community, because they did know they could call me at any time,” Dickinson said.

She added she always tried to relay to residents the value the university brings to the region as everyone is welcome to the campus to walk through the paths, look at art in some of the art galleries and more.

Overcoming the pandemic

She also created CommUniversity Day at SBU, which she called one of the highlights of her career, despite the event being stalled due to COVID-19. Before the pandemic, she said the university was able to organize three of the annual events, the last one being held in 2019, that invited local residents to campus.

‘It was important to see how the communities live, because every community is different.’

Dickinson said she was disappointed when COVID brought it to a halt as each year she was building on the event to make it bigger and better, with more departments participating. By the third year, she described it as “a well-oiled machine” with a wide variety of activities.

As for the pandemic, during the earlier months, Dickinson pulled together a team and headed up a PPE drive for hospital workers that not only included personal protection equipment for employees but also donations of iPads, comfort care items, chewing gum and tissues from the community.

The first few months of the pandemic were an unpredictable and intense time at Stony Brook University Hospital, she said. “We didn’t know from minute to minute what was happening, and I credit the leadership of the institution for getting us through that.”

The retiree said she will never forget the 2020 Easter season when store owners called to say they wanted to donate items because no one was buying anything. They donated flowers, chocolates, eggs that wouldn’t be used for holiday egg hunts and other seasonal items. Dickinson and a team organized the donations for hospital workers to take whatever they needed if they celebrated Easter.

“I will never forget this woman who stood there and looked at me and was crying, and she said, ‘I haven’t had a chance to go shopping for my son for Easter. Now he’s going to get something.’”

She added the hospital workers were working around the clock.

“I credit the hospital with saving our community,” Dickinson said.

Looking ahead

The SBU alum, who lives in Lake Grove with her husband, isn’t saying goodbye to the university altogether. She will teach two classes this semester in the honors college, after teaching at the university for 10 years. But with more free time, Dickinson, who said she is a writer at heart, plans to spend time on various personal projects.

Her former position, which she described as a “dynamic job” is still open as a replacement has not been found.

“Part of the reason why I liked it is I always said I never walked into the same office twice,” Dickinson said. “I never knew from one day to the next what was going to be on fire or put on my plate. It was always changing, and I found that that was just fun to me. That was just captivating. You never knew, and it kept you on your toes. I was never ever bored.”

Dickinson had some advice for whoever takes her place.

“I would recommend that the person, whoever takes over this position, that they have a clear understanding of where we’ve come from,” she said. “How has the university changed? How has the campus culture changed? And, understanding where we are now at this point in history.”

Earlier this year, Hope Kinney, left, shown with Herb Mones, Three Village Community Trust president, was able to secure a $4,000 grant from her employer, Investors Bank, to help restore the immigrant factory houses in Setauket. Photo from Three Village Community Trust

Hope Kinney is a familiar face in the Three Village area.

Hope Kinney collecting donations for The Salvation Army. File photo

Whether at an event organized by the Rotary Club of Stony Brook, Three Village Community Trust, local chamber of commerce or working with students and businesses with the Three Village Industry Advisory Board, residents will see Kinney there with a smile on her face, scurrying around to help out.

For her dedication to her community, Kinney is one of TBR News Media’s People of the Year.

The admiration is mutual. Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) nominated Kinney for Suffolk County Woman of Distinction in the 5th Legislative District in 2020.

“Hope Kinney’s impact is ingrained within many of the layers that comprise our community,” the legislator wrote in an email. “From her highly visible leadership role with, and on behalf of, local business to her continual support of organizations committed to societal improvement, Hope is dedicated to serving neighbors and community with purpose. There is so much to honor Hope Kinney for, and I believe, this recognition translates our thankful community’s gratitude into celebration of her uplifting and selfless spirit.”

For years, Kinney has been involved with the now-defunct Three Village Kiwanis Club and Rotary Club of Stony Brook. She became the president of the latter in the summer of 2020 and took on the challenge of organizing club events while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. She scheduled Zoom meetings, and as more businesses were able to open up planned socially distanced lunches. She also put together a virtual online fundraiser for the Port Jefferson-based nonprofit Give Kids Hope, which provides food and clothing for local residents in need.

For the last three years, the rotary club has organized the Three Village Holiday Electric Parade. During the pandemic, due to COVID-19 restrictions, a drive-thru version of the event was held at Ward Melville High School. 

Judi Wallace, treasurer of the rotary club, credits Kinney for keeping the organization going during the pandemic. She described Kinney as “a wonderful person” and “super community oriented.”

“Three Village means everything to her,” Wallace said.

Kinney is always looking for ways the rotary can assist individuals or groups who have a need in the area, Wallace said.

She added, “Hope is always thinking and always coming up with great ideas in order to do things in the community.”

Wallace said it was Kinney who brought back the 5K race organized by rotary and The Bench in Stony Brook.

“She just comes up with an idea and follows through, and that’s the most important thing in the world,” Wallace said.

The same year Kinney became president of the rotary club, she joined the Three Village Community Trust board and is currently its treasurer.

Herb Mones, president of TVCT, said it’s refreshing and a big help to a volunteer-based organization such as TVCT to have someone such as Kinney who is always ready to chip in when asked.

“She is always the first to say, ‘I can do that,’ and helps and takes on different responsibilities when the need is there,” he said. “She does it in an upbeat, happy way of feeling that she is contributing and helping the community.”

Hope Kinney standing in front of the Rotary Club truck in Hicksville about to receive 4,000 masks in 2020. Photo from Hope Kinney

She was recently able to secure a $4,000 grant through her employer, Investors Bank, which will go toward the restoration of the immigrant factory houses in Setauket. Kinney has also spearheaded the trust’s gala in November, which Mones said is the most successful fundraiser for TVCT.

“She’s always got an ear to the community and understands things that are going on and that becomes very helpful in so many different ways,” Mones said.

Kinney juggles all her volunteer roles while working full-time as the branch manager at Investors Bank, formerly Gold Coast Bank, at its Setauket location on Route 25A.

Kinney started her banking career at Capital One in 2004. When the bank had layoffs in 2018, she was recruited by John Tsunis, Gold Coast’s founder, as branch manager.

In a 2020 interview with The Village Times Herald, Kinney talked about balancing her career and volunteerism with spending time with her husband, Joseph, and three children Justin, Michael and Rachel. To handle all her responsibilities, she said she tries to stay organized and not get overwhelmed.

“I take it day by day,” Kinney said. “I put it on the calendar, and I’m able to look at the calendar and then I go day by day … I guess that’s the secret — work with each day.”