Authors Posts by Raymond Janis

Raymond Janis

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Representatives of Bicycle Path Group LLC present redevelopment plans for the property at 507 North Bicycle Path. Photo by Raymond Janis

Members of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association went back and forth Tuesday night, Dec. 19, wrestling over conditions for land development within the hamlet.

During its December meeting, the body heard presentations from two separate applicants before the Town of Brookhaven. In a show of local oversight, the civic opted to submit letters for both applicants with conditions.

Representatives of Bicycle Path Group LLC, owner of the property at 507 North Bicycle Path, presented plans to renovate a 4,000-square-foot commercial building into a medical office and construct a separate 20,000-square-foot medical office on the 2 1/2-acre parcel.

Members posed various questions surrounding architectural design, landscaping, parking and proliferation of medical office space locally.

Also before the civic Tuesday, representatives of Riverhead Building Supply explained the setbacks involved with its proposed special-use permit for a masonry showroom at the company’s newly-acquired Hallock Avenue property, seeking to bring the current facilities on-site up to code.

Civic member Jen Dzvonar, also president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, introduced a resolution to write a letter of no objection for the proposed renovations for the masonry showroom.

Lou Antoniello modified Dzvonar’s resolution, offering to issue a letter of no objection, subject to improvements to the landscaping at the entrance of the property.

Countering, Dzvonar suggested the conditional letter would place unnecessary impediments upon the local business owner: “I think to try to request exactly what plants, what trees and what flowers they’re going to be putting on their property — I mean, you don’t ask that of your neighbor,” the chamber president said.

Antoniello, however, referred to the modification as a “simple request to see somebody’s landscaping plan,” adding that it establishes a precedent for future development.

“It doesn’t mean they’re not going to come to our community and build — it doesn’t mean we’re discouraging” the property owner, he said. “Precedent is the word we should use here. So when people drive by existing businesses, they say, ‘This is what the community expects.’”

Following these deliberations, the members approved Antoniello’s conditional letter of no objection.

Returning to the proposed medical office, the body again opted to exercise its land use oversight function. The members agreed to issue a letter to the property owner, requesting tweaks to the site plan to accommodate resident concerns over architectural style and parking.

The civic will meet again on Jan. 23.

Community members gaze upon the military wall of honor during the grand opening of the Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum in Rocky Point on Thursday, Dec. 7. Photos by Raymond Janis

The Rocky Point community ushered in history Thursday, Dec. 7, welcoming hundreds to the hamlet to launch the Suffolk County World War II and Military History Museum at the former Rocky Point train station.

In a grand opening ceremony featuring speeches from Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 members, musical performances by local students and even a military flyover, the event formally opened the highly anticipated regional veterans museum to the public.

Attending the event included various public officials, such as Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) and a representative of Congressman Nick LaLota (R-NY1).

The museum showcases various exhibits spotlighting the stories of local veterans. Uniforms, combat gear and memorabilia are out on display. The centerpiece, situated just outside the complex, is a military wall of honor with hundreds of names of local vets.

Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249, declared that Thursday’s event was the realization of years of planning. “This is a vision we had many, many years ago, and this vision finally came true today,” he said.

Cognitore thanked the museum’s curator, post member and history teacher Rich Acritelli, for his considerable effort in preparing the museum for launch. “This museum is unbelievable,” the post commander explained. “It’s amazing what he did inside with such little time and little space.”

In his remarks, Acritelli outlined the objectives of the museum. “This story represents the countless Long Island people that have had numerous family members that have served within the Armed Forces and supported America within every military conflict,” he said.

Chronicling the vast contributions that went into the museum’s rollout, the curator added how the facility represents a moment of community building for Greater Rocky Point and beyond. “While there is a small percentage of the population who actually enter the military, the Armed Forces are embedded within every American family,” he noted. “Working on this veterans project, you watch how almost every person said they had a cousin, brother, father, aunt, close friend, mom, who was in uniform and wanted to recognize them for their patriotic efforts and sacrifices.”

Now, their stories are on display for the public. The museum is located at 7 Prince Road, Rocky Point.

By Raymond Janis

Public officials, faith leaders and residents gathered at Smithtown Town Hall Monday night, Dec. 11, braving low temperatures and frequent gusts of wind for a menorah lighting ceremony.

Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) tied this year’s annual Hanukkah service to the ongoing geopolitical turmoil abroad and rising antisemitism in the United States.

“This year’s celebration is a commitment to our family, friends and neighbors,” he said. “It is a promise as we stand side by side to extinguish antisemitism as we light the night sky tonight, and we hope for peace both abroad and here at home.”

Rabbi Mendel Teldon of Chabad of Mid Suffolk presided over the prayer service. He thanked the strong show of community support during the ceremony, reflecting upon the example of the Maccabees in the face of religious persecution in Israel and America.

“In Smithtown, we are asked to step up to the plate,” the rabbi said. “Even when there’s opposition, even when there are values that oppose our own and people that will shout us down, a Macabee steps up to the plate.”

Following a blessing from the rabbi and a ceremonial lighting of the menorah, the attendees were greeted with latkes and donuts in the parking lot.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announces $479 million in grants for water infrastructure projects. Photo courtesy the Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

As on any other weekday, traffic buzzed along Vanderbilt Motor Parkway in Hauppauge on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 12. Yet unknown to those in their vehicles, it was no ordinary weekday.

At the Suffolk County Water Authority’s Education Center and Laboratory, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) joined public officials, environmentalists and SCWA staff to launch $479 million in grants statewide to invest in clean water.

The program earmarks $30 million for the state’s clean water septic system replacements, directing $20 million of that sum into Suffolk County. Another $17 million will support protecting drinking water from emerging contaminants, Hochul added.

The governor projected the initiative would spur 24,000 new jobs statewide and save ratepayers $1.3 billion annually.

“This is a great day for the people of this county and the people of this state,” she said. “It’s an investment in our environment. It’s an investment in justice. And it’s an investment in our future for all of our children.”

From left, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone; Gov. Kathy Hochul; Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment; and Suffolk County Water Authority board chair Charlie Lefkowitz. Photo courtesy the Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Outgoing Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) reported that 360,000 homes and businesses within the county operate on aging septic systems and cesspools, contaminating the sole-source aquifer on Long Island. He said this stimulus, coupled with a $10 million investment by the county Legislature, would enable the county government to fund septic replacements in 2024 and 2025.

“This is an exciting moment because we can see the path to solving the crisis,” Bellone said, adding the funds would bolster the clean water septic industry in Suffolk while advancing the administration’s two primary objectives of establishing a countywide wastewater management district and the Clean Water Restoration Fund — blocked by the county Legislature earlier this year.

SCWA board chair Charlie Lefkowitz said the funds would assist the public utility in its mission of eliminating emerging contaminants from the drinking supply.

“This announcement today is historic,” he said. “It’s historic that the sewer projects, the septics that contaminate and get into our bays and streams and harbors — we can finally address it.”

He added, “We look at some of these large infrastructure projects that we’re working on — sewer projects, the electrification of the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Jeff Branch — these are projects that when you look back 100, 150 years and none of us are here, they’ll say, ‘That group of people really did it the right way.’”

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Rabbi Aaron Benson, of the North Shore Jewish Center, presides over a prayer service Thursday, Dec. 7, during a menorah lighting ceremony at the Train Car Park in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Raymond Janis

Faith and business leaders, public officials and community members from Port Jefferson Station/Terryville marked the beginning of Hanukkah Thursday, Dec. 7, with a community gathering and menorah lighting service.

The PJS/T Chamber of Commerce hosted the event at the Train Car Park in Port Jefferson Station. Rabbi Aaron Benson, of the Port Jeff Station-based North Shore Jewish Center, presided over the prayer service.

“In times when we need hope and times when we are struggling in the darkness, the hope, inspiration and strength that we get will come not as some raging fire but a tiny little point of light — just like the menorah here,” he said. Following these remarks, Benson delivered a series of blessings sung aloud by those in attendance.

Chamber president Jen Dzvonar emphasized the importance of this annual event for the chamber and the greater community.

“We believe it is so important to bring all of our community together, especially at this time,” she said. “We are so grateful for Rabbi Benson to always be a part of the chamber and to always do the blessings for us on this day and every year.”

Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) also attended the event. During his remarks, he tied the Hanukkah service to the perseverance of the Jewish people throughout history.

“This holiday was celebrated after a Jewish victory against people that tried to destroy them,” the councilmember said. “I think it speaks to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people, and it speaks to the feeling of optimism and hope.”

The crowd cheered in delight as Kornreich lit the menorah’s first candle.

Conversations over ethics are ramping up in Port Jefferson, where the village board of trustees is nearing sweeping changes to its Code of Ethics.

A public hearing on the code changes took place on Nov. 20, with the village’s ethics counsel, Steven Leventhal, presenting a draft code that would repeal and replace the existing ethics standards within the Village Code. The proposed code changes include three main categories: a code of conduct, disclosure requirements and administration. [See story, “Port Jeff village board, residents mull over ethics code revamp,” Nov. 25, TBR News Media.]

The board reconvened Tuesday night, Dec. 5, for a work session spanning over four hours.

“The primary purpose of tonight’s meeting is to give you, the board, the opportunity to address any questions that you might have to me and to have a discussion and deliberation on any points that need to be resolved,” Leventhal said.

Leventhal and the trustees walked through the code line by line, clarifying and amending various sections of text along the way.

The board will meet again Monday, Dec. 11, for its monthly general meeting. Leventhal pledged to supply the board with a revised version of the draft code, along with a redline version of the text, before the meeting begins.

Residents can continue submitting written testimony to the village clerk until Thursday, Dec. 7.

To view the entire work session, see the above video.

The historical structure at Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe underwent significant structural damage after a fire on Tuesday, Nov. 21. Photo courtesy Tesla Science Center

Just days before the fire erupted, the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe was marching along a path toward prosperity.

Center officials held a gala Nov. 16, announcing a $1.15 million installment of capital funding toward its anticipated $20 million restoration and redevelopment project.

Earlier, the center broke ground on the project, with demolition ongoing.

The center was ushering in a new era in its storied history.

“We were never in better shape,” said TSCW Executive Director Mark Alessi. “We were finally making the progress we had been working so hard for for many years.”

That’s when the flames broke loose.

Last Tuesday, Nov. 21, a conflagration — the cause of which is still unknown — enveloped the historic building on-site, designed by famed architect Stanford White.

In the aftermath, center officials are working to remediate the situation. During a press event on Tuesday, Nov. 28, Mark Thaler, partner at Thaler Reilly Wilson Architecture & Preservation of Albany, reported that the original building was “fireproof for the most part,” noting that the original brick walls remain standing after the fire.

“We have lost some of the roof structure, which will be able to be restored, and we’re poised and ready to do that,” he said, adding that the ensuing stages include cleaning out the building, securing the walls and drying out the interior.

Mission Rebuild

Given the extent of the damages, the center is now calling upon benefactors from both near and far to bolster the restoration work.

Coined Mission Rebuild, the nonprofit has launched a $3 million emergency fund drive on Indiegogo. Mission Rebuild represents a separate fundraising effort from the $20 million redevelopment campaign. 

Public officials from across levels of government attended Tuesday’s event, pledging their support.

“This is a really important historic site — not just for this county or this state or this country but worldwide,” said New York State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk). “We will do everything we can without question on the state level to continue to get the funding you need to get this project to the end.”

Deputy Suffolk County Executive Jon Kaiman said, “Buildings can burn down and then be rebuilt. The ideas behind them — the person, the history, the narrative that was created over 100 years ago — still exist.”

The deputy county executive continued, “Because the story behind it is so strong, so important, so relevant, we know that we can all stand together and continue this journey that was started so long ago.”

Suffolk County Legislator-elect Chad Lennon (R-Rocky Point) thanked the local firefighters “for taking such care” in extinguishing the fire while preserving the structure. Despite the setback to the organization’s momentum, he pledged to help the center continue carrying out its mission. 

“It was one step back, and we’re going to take two steps forward,” Lennon maintained.

Also attending the press event, Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) sang an optimistic tune: “Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, this Tesla Center will rise as well,” she forecasted. “We will help you raise your money. We will get you back to where you were,” adding, “At the end of the day, Tesla was successful — and so will the Tesla Science Museum and this organization.”

To donate to Mission Rebuild, please visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/fire-at-tesla-s-lab-immediate-restoration-needed.

Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich presents a new architectural rendering for the proposed redevelopment of Jefferson Plaza during a Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting Tuesday, Nov. 28. Photo by Joan Nickeson

The Brookhaven Town Board will hear public comments on the Jefferson Plaza shopping center in Port Jefferson Station, a proposed redevelopment project with the potential to reshape the face of the hamlet and reorient its long-term trajectory.

The board will hold a public hearing Thursday, Nov. 30, to consider rezoning the 10-acre parcel, owned by Hauppauge-based Staller Associates, to a Commercial Redevelopment District, a new classification within the Zoning Code crafted “to stimulate the revitalization of abandoned, vacant or underutilized commercial shopping center, bowling alley and health club properties.” [See story, “First of its kind: Brookhaven Town Board to review new zoning category for Jefferson Plaza in Port Jeff Station,” Nov. 16, TBR News Media.]

In the runup to the public hearing, the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association held its general meeting Tuesday night, Nov. 28, to establish a set of priorities for overseeing the proposed redevelopment.

Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) attended the meeting, identifying four primary areas of concern based on feedback he has heard from the community: traffic, density, height and architecture.

Kornreich said several of those concerns could be addressed through a 35-foot cap on building height. “What I’m going to be looking for is not four stories but a maximum height of 35 feet, which is the same maximum height that you can get in any residential area,” he said.

Leaders and members of the civic association generally favored the 35-foot cap.

The councilmember stated his intention for the developer to adhere to the conditions outlined under the Zoning Code instead of pursuing variances and other relaxations of use.

Regarding architecture, Kornreich said he had consulted with the developer, advocating for “a little bit less of New Hyde Park and a little bit more of New England.” He then presented an architectural rendering of the new proposal that was received favorably by the civic.

Much of the meeting was opened up to members, who offered ideas and raised concerns. Among the issues deliberated were the potential relocation of the post office on-site, availability and diversity of retail options at the property, possible tax increases and related traffic and environmental impact.

Jennifer Dzvonar, president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, endorsed the redevelopment initiative. “It’s very blighted,” she said. “A lot of local stores are leaving there,” adding, “We want to keep expanding and revitalizing the area.”

Charlie McAteer, corresponding secretary of PJSTCA, discussed the possible community givebacks that could be offered through such redevelopment.

“We have to work on … a purchase of some open space in our hub area that’s forever wild,” he said. He added that this form of local giveback would cushion the deal for surrounding neighbors “because they’re giving us, the community, something that we would like.”

Following discussion, the body authorized PJSTCA president Ira Costell to deliver a statement Thursday night to the Town Board representing the collective views of the organization.

The public hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30, at Brookhaven Town Hall, 1 Independence Hill, Farmingville.

Steven Leventhal, the Village of Port Jefferson’s ethics counsel, presents proposed ethics code changes during a public hearing Monday night, Nov. 20. Photo by Raymond Janis

Discussions centered around ethics at Village Hall Monday night, Nov. 20.

The Port Jefferson Board of Trustees held a public hearing to consider repealing and replacing Chapter 41 of the Village Code, its Code of Ethics. This ethics code was first adopted by the village board in 1970, according to ecode360, and has seen few amendments since.

Steven Leventhal, the village’s ethics counsel, delivered a lengthy presentation detailing the proposed code changes to the board.

“The primary purpose of the ethics program is not enforcement — it’s not rooting out evildoers,” he said. “Our primary goal is offering guidance to the honest officers and employees of the village.”

Leventhal said that the draft proposal before the board is roughly the same code of ethics adopted by various other municipalities across Long Island and New York state, with some minor local variations.

The proposed code includes three principal categories: a code of conduct, disclosure requirements and administration.

The code of conduct would establish standards for officials and employees, offering guidelines for using public office for private gain, types of prohibited contracts, grounds for recusal, conflicts of interest and investments, gifts and favors.

The section on disclosure requirements outlined how village officials must recuse themselves from particular decisions. Applicants in land use, such as before the zoning and planning boards or Building Department, “must disclose at the time of application the identity of any state or municipal officer or employee that has an interest in the applicant,” the ethics counsel noted.

The section also requires disclosure of clients and customers doing business with the village, with some exceptions to protect confidentiality.

The final section would establish a board of ethics to administer the new code. Leventhal said an effective ethics board must convene at least quarterly, maintaining independence from the appointing authority — namely, the Board of Trustees — and an apolitical nature.

Under the proposed code, ethics board members must be village residents appointed to fixed, staggered terms of service. Under the current language, the board would have enforcement powers to fine up to $10,000 for violations.

During the public comment period, resident Arthur Epp scrutinized the $10,000 figure and questioned the board membership process. He asked the Board of Trustees for a 30-day review period to allow for necessary public input.

Responding, Leventhal advised the village board against overdefining membership criteria to the ethics board, given the village’s relatively low population compared to other municipalities.

Resident Xena Ugrinsky inquired about the process for whistleblowers to submit complaints to the ethics board. Leventhal advised that the board would ideally have counsel or a secretary to receive and process such complaints.

Following these comments, the village board agreed to leave the public comment period open for written testimony to the village clerk until Thursday, Dec. 7.

To read the complete draft of the proposed guidelines, visit portjeff.com/proposedethicscode. To watch the entire meeting, including trustee reports and board resolutions, see the video above.

File photo by Raymond Janis

By Raymond Janis

During its Thursday, Nov. 16, meeting, the Smithtown Town Board approved two code amendments. It also held a public hearing on its 2024 community development program.

Assistant town attorney Janice Hansen explained the first code amendment, including stricter noise violation penalties. The amendment increases the fine for first-time violators of Chapter 207, entitled “Noise,” from $250 to $500. The penalties for second- and third-or-more-offense noise violations go up from $500 to $1,000 and $1,000 to $1,500, respectively. Hansen said the town may enforce the noise code in residential and commercial areas.

Following no public comments, the board unanimously adopted the amendment.

The second proposed code change involved an addition to Chapter 221, the town’s property maintenance code. Hansen said the new section, “Post-disaster debris collection,” empowers the town to move more swiftly during emergencies.

The amendment authorizes the town to “enter upon and remove debris from public and private roads, right-of-way, storm drainage easements and ingress/egress easements within town limits,” the statute said, “including private communities, private properties, utilities and/or infrastructure impoundments and/or containments for the purposes of emergency vehicle travel, stormwater conveyance, protecting public health and safety, facilitating response and recovery operations, and for any other purpose the Town Emergency Manager or designee determines is necessary to remove an immediate threat to life, public health and safety, significant damage to improved public and private property, and the economic recovery of the town.”

Hansen said that to enter private property, the town must first obtain consent from the property owner through a right-of-entry permit. Following no comments from the public, the board adopted the resolution unanimously.

The board considered the town’s 2024 community development program during the final public hearing. The municipality anticipates receiving roughly $211,000 through federal Community Development Block Grant programs, according to a public notice.

The grant funds, made available by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, are intended to support “infrastructure, economic development projects, public facilities installation, community centers, housing rehabilitation, public services, clearance/acquisition, microenterprise assistance, code enforcement and homeowner assistance,” the HUD website indicates.

Kelly Brown, housing rehabilitation administrator for the town’s Planning & Community Development Department, presented the aims of the 2024 program. She said projects under consideration must fulfill two conditions.

“Every project must qualify as a designated eligible activity, such as housing rehabilitation, infrastructure improvement or handicapped access improvements,” she said, adding, “Every project must meet one of three specifically defined CD program objectives,” which are benefiting people of low-to-moderate income, prevention or elimination of blighting conditions or meeting an urgent community need, such as storm damage cleanup.

To watch the full meeting, including the consent agenda and board resolutions, visit www.smithtownny.gov/226/town-meetings.