Authors Posts by Raymond Janis

Raymond Janis

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Elected officials and community members, above, stand by a table of donations. Photo by Raymond Janis

By Raymond Janis

Last week, Long Island leaders and community members met in Huntington to announce the Long Island-Ukrainian Emergency Response Drive, a collection to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

Dr. David Buchin, right, and U. S. Rep. Tom Suozzi. Photo by Raymond Janis

The gathering was held outside the offices of Dr. David Buchin, director of bariatric surgery at Huntington Hospital, and Suffolk County Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport), vice chair of the Committee on Health, who both share a business address. Buchin, an immigrant from the former Soviet bloc nation Uzbekistan, says donation drives such as these will help to alleviate the sufferings of Ukrainians.

“The horrors in the Ukraine, I mean we all see it,” Buchin said. “It breaks my heart like it does for all of us. We must do something to help them all. The hospitals are full, their supplies are low, so we’ve created this Long Island-Ukrainian Emergency Response Drive. We’re calling on everyone to help, anything that can help the Ukrainian people, like blankets, sleeping bags, medical supplies and first aid.”

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) was present for the announcement. He applauded the altruism of ordinary Americans doing their part to support Ukraine. He also emphasized the dangers of factionalism amid so much uncertainty abroad.

“Taking action like this to give people an opportunity to make a contribution is a great way to feel that we’re doing something, but we’ve all got to do more,” he said. “We have to hold together. We have to keep Democrats and Republicans holding together. We have to follow the old idea that partisanship stops at the water’s edge. We have to all hold together like we are today.”

Bontempi described growing up in Sweden, a country now endangered by the war. She fears the conflict may spill over into Swedish territory and asked for immediate support.

“My family, I speak to them every day, is very frightened,” Bontempi said. “We need to all be very, very concerned about what this madman [Russian President Vladimir Putin] is doing. I urge everyone to please talk to friends, neighbors [to] donate items. It needs to happen now — not in a week, now. People need help right now.”

Town of Huntington officials praised this public expression of solidarity and humanitarian assistance for the people of Ukraine. Town Councilman Sal Ferro (R) said he believes that Americans and Ukrainians are united under a common purpose, likening this local initiative with the cause of the Ukrainian resistance.

“Every little bit that we do can make a difference,” he said. “We can show the human side, why we live in a free country, why we live in a democracy. That’s what they’re fighting for in Ukraine: to stay free.”

Huntington Town Clerk Andy Raia (R) discussed his own Ukrainian roots. He said his relatives chose to remain in Ukraine to support the war effort and encouraged Long Islanders to do the same.

“The time to act is now,” Raia said. “It was really yesterday, but we need to do more to ensure that Europe stays stable, that democracies around the world are allowed to flourish. This is just a small token of what we need to do to ensure that the fight continues in Ukraine.”

For those seeking to donate, the Long Island-Ukrainian Emergency Response Drive is establishing repositories throughout the Island. Buchin’s and Bontempi’s offices, located at 224 Wall St in Huntington, collected items until the end of the day March 4, and the donations were delivered to the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge.

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Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta at a press conference in October. File photo by Julianne Mosher

By Raymond Janis

The Suffolk County Board of Ethics issued an advisory opinion Feb. 16 regarding campaign contributions from police unions to elected officials.

In May 2021, county Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) requested an opinion regarding donations made by the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association to the campaign of former District Attorney Tim Sini (D). Trotta asked the board whether Sini, or any other elected official, could accept a donation exceeding the $5,000 limit imposed by New York State election law 14-116.

“This board opines that if an elected official accepts contributions from a police union or any political action committee that have been made in violation of election law 14-116, a violation of the Suffolk County code of ethics would occur,” the board wrote, adding that “a definitive ruling … falls solely within the province of the New York State Board of Elections and/or a court of law.”

The board concluded that the donation created an “appearance of impropriety” due to the unique relationship between a prosecuting attorney and the police department. 

The PBA has pushed back against these charges. In an email, PBA president Noel DiGerolamo defended the union’s involvement in the election and accused Trotta of making false allegations. 

“Last year, Legislator Trotta made false allegations about the PBA’s election activities. Every other agency in the state has rejected his nefarious claims,” DiGerolamo said. “The recent decision by the Suffolk County Board of Ethics, even if valid, does not even suggest any wrongdoing by the PBA.”

Trotta, who was a police officer with Suffolk County Police Department for 25 years, said he sees an unhealthy arrangement between the county government, police department and police unions

“The reason why other law enforcement agencies didn’t do anything is because they took hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars from this union,” he said. “It’s corrupting the government and it’s making it unaffordable for anybody to live here.”

According to DiGerolamo, the PBA has donated to political campaigns for decades. He said these donations have fully complied with all state and federal election laws.

“The Suffolk County PBA has been 100% compliant with all rules and regulations regarding political contributions,” he said. “We have supported candidates in every political party for decades and will continue to do so.”

Trotta argues the existing practice of donating is precisely the problem. He claims that he and two others are the only elected officials in county government who do not accept police union money.

DiGerolamo said the BOE does not have authority to interpret federal or state election law. He viewed the advisory opinion as a significant jurisdictional overreach. 

“The advisory opinion is a tremendous overreach of the board’s authority,” DiGerolamo said. “It attempts to supersede federal and state law and undermine the democratic process. This unethical opinion cannot be allowed to stand.”

According to DiGerolamo, the PBA intends to clear its name of any wrongdoing. He said the PBA will exhaust all legal options necessary to defend itself and the voting rights of police officers.

“The Suffolk County PBA will seek all legal remedies available to ensure law enforcement’s hardworking men and women are not disenfranchised from the election process,” he said.

Last November, Sini lost his reelection bid to incumbent District Attorney Raymond Tierney (R). Trotta said he is optimistic that Tierney can root out corruption and restore electoral integrity in Suffolk County.

“I’m counting on the new Suffolk County district attorney to enforce the laws,” Trotta said. “I’m very confident he will.”

Sini could not be reached for comment.

Nick LaLota, shown with his wife, is ready to run for congress. Photo from Nick LaLota’s campaign site

By Raymond Janis

Last week, members of the Suffolk County Republican Committee unanimously endorsed Nick LaLota, chief of staff to the county Legislature’s Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), in the race for New York’s 1st Congressional District.

Nick LaLota, shown with his family, is ready to run for congress. Photo from Nick LaLota’s campaign site

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) is vacating the seat to run for governor, triggering a primary election for the Republican nomination in that race. With the county committee’s endorsement, LaLota appears to be a frontrunner as congressional nominee.

“I’m proud that I have been unanimously nominated by more than 500 committeemen from the Suffolk County committee and from all of Suffolk County’s 10 towns,” LaLota said in a phone interview. “I intend to represent them well on the ballot.”

LaLota, of Amityville, hails from a line of servicemen, who include several police officers and combat veterans. He sees this race as an opportunity to continue the family tradition.

“I was a military officer for seven years, deployed overseas three times and visited 20 countries with the Navy,” he said. “My family has a strong sense of service. We love this country and we’re willing to fight for it and to sacrifice for it. If elected a member of Congress, I intend to do just that.”

LaLota was not alone in the field when he received the endorsement. Anthony Figliola, of East Setauket, and Robert Cornicelli, of St. James, both pursued the endorsement as well. In the wake of the announcement, Cornicelli is suspending his campaign for NY-1 and redirecting his energies to unseat Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-NY2). 

“It was definitely not an easy decision, but this is more about the people than what had happened over the last few weeks,” said Lawrence Bialek, Cornicelli’s campaign manager in a phone interview. “For right now, we’re really focused on getting into the second [congressional district].”

Figliola remains in the primary for NY-1. He criticized the county GOP’s endorsement of LaLota, arguing that Republican leaders are in danger of forfeiting the race to the Democrats.

“Obviously some deals were made and they chose an individual who doesn’t even live in the district,” he said in a phone interview. “I can’t help but think they’re just looking to throw this race away. For me, I believe it’s winnable for a Republican. I love my country and I want to be in a position to represent the people of the first congressional district.”

Figliola said he intends to use his private-sector background to alleviate the economic hardships Americans are facing. He cites rising inflation, gas prices and health insurance costs as motivating his candidacy.

“The reason I am in this race is because I see the way our country is going,” he said. “I see working class men and women of this district are being forgotten and are being ignored by this administration. I want the people to know that there’s someone in this looking out for them, someone who pays bills just like them, pays their own health insurance just like them and is feeling this pinch just like them.”

Both remaining NY-1 Republican primary candidates believe their party is operating at a competitive disadvantage come November. Each has said the new redistricting scheme will inevitably favor the Democratic candidate, also subject to a primary, in the general election.

“Albany Democrats did Long Island a tremendous disservice when they gerrymandered this district, stretching it from west of Amityville to east of Amagansett,” LaLota said. “They have separated a lot of like communities and have made it extremely difficult on constituents who will have to travel many miles just to see their congressman.”

The primary election is scheduled for June 28. 

Catalytic converters in cars have been stolen across the country. Stock photo

By Raymond Janis

A wave of catalytic converter theft is sweeping through Suffolk County.


“If they grab two a night, that’s a nice living on the theft market. It’s becoming very popular across the country.”

Bobby Lemmo

A catalytic converter is a valuable auto part attached near the engine of a motor vehicle. It converts harmful toxins generated by a vehicle’s exhaust system into less hazardous gasses. 

“There has been an uptick in the theft of catalytic converters from vehicles in recent months,” said a spokesperson for the Suffolk County Police Department in an email statement. “The department made several arrests of individuals stealing catalytic converters in 2021 and most recently arrested a Medford man for stealing a catalytic converter from a Toyota in Bellport on Jan. 4.”

The catalytic converter contains precious metals such as platinum, zirconium, rhodium and palladium. Given its accessible location underneath the chassis, the catalytic converter has become an attractive target for thieves.  

“Most catalytic converters are made with a ceramic honeycomb substrate infused with platinum, zirconium and some other metals depending on the model,” said Bobby Lemmo, certified automotive technician and resident of Smithtown, in a phone interview. “These are very rare and very expensive metals. A replacement from a manufacturer runs anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000. On the junkyard market, the ones that they’re stealing sell between $200 and $600.”

Compared with other auto theft crimes, catalytic converter theft is relatively low risk and simple yet highly profitable. Using basic tools that can be found in a hardware store, a catalytic converter can be stolen within minutes. According to Lemmo, criminals can support a stable livelihood by stealing just a few of these converters per week.

“They target certain cars that they know, where the position of [the catalytic converter] is easy to get to. It literally takes a minute,” he said. “If they grab two a night, that’s a nice living on the theft market. It’s becoming very popular across the country.”

Recent supply chain shortages and scarce resources have also fed this spike in catalytic converter theft.

“They used to be readily available, but they’re tougher and tougher to get. They’re just not around now,” Lemmo said. “It’s affecting theft insurance, too. People are putting theft insurance on a car that they normally wouldn’t.”

According to a 2021 report by the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the national rate of catalytic converter theft has “skyrocketed” throughout the pandemic. Additionally, as the value of the precious metals within the converters has increased, the theft rate has kept pace. Lemmo, whose business is based in Queens, said that he replaces stolen catalytic converters regularly.

“I don’t know how many we have replaced in the past year, but I would say a car every one or two weeks and mostly four-cylinder cars because they’re just easier to get to,” he said. “And that’s just us. We’re one small shop.”

Some vehicles are at greater risk than others. According to Lemmo, the Honda CR-V is the most popular model for theft.

“The Honda CR-V is probably number one,” he said. “It’s high enough off the ground that they don’t even need a jack. They can lay right on the floor to take it.”

The proliferation of catalytic converter thefts has prompted some public officials to propose stricter penalties for thieves and purchasers. New York State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) spotted this trend in her district that covers the north of the island and parts of southern Brooklyn. Her proposed bill would impose greater restrictions on the purchase, sale and possession of stolen catalytic converters.

“We started noticing an increase in catalytic converter thefts in Staten Island about a year ago,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s an increasing problem not just here but all around the state. Working with one of my assembly colleagues, we’re looking to crack down on it by making the dealerships more responsible for the sale and resale of catalytic converters.”

Savino said that while it is illegal to steal a catalytic converter, her proposed legislation would make the crime less profitable. Her bill places harsher penalties on resale vendors, those who purchase the stolen converters cheaply and resell them at a premium.

“If someone steals a catalytic converter, there’s only one thing they’re doing with it,” Savino said. “They’re taking it to a chop shop, a salvage store or an auto dealer and they’re reselling it. We’re making them responsible for the product they are reselling.”

Other than stricter penalties, Lemmo believes manufacturers could alleviate the problem by serializing the converters. Serial numbers could both disrupt the resale marketplace and make the parts traceable, so that victims of this theft may have their stolen converters returned to them.

“For some of the newer cars, they have already gotten to the point of serializing them,” Lemmo said. “Possibly it could come back or, if anything, it will discourage them from taking it. Technically, it’s against the law for a scrap metal dealer to recycle one with a serial number.”

While Savino supports the issuance of serial numbers for new catalytic converters, she acknowledges the difficulty of targeting manufacturers through statewide legislation. 

“It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but making manufacturers do something when they are not in the state of New York is just one more layer that would make it more difficult to enforce,” the state senator said. “It’s always easier to enact legislation that you can enforce within the four walls of your own state. When you’re doing something that affects products that are possibly manufactured overseas, it’s harder.” 

For those concerned about the vulnerability of their car’s catalytic converter, the NICB recommends that vehicle owners install a catalytic converter anti-theft device, available from various manufacturers; park in a garage or well-lit area; and plant motion sensor lights to deter potential thieves.

Elected officials and BID members gathered at the ribbon cutting for the clock tower. Photo by Raymond Janis

By Raymond Janis

Amid the honking horns and blaring engines of Tuesday afternoon traffic, Feb. 22, Town of Huntington officials and business leaders gathered to commemorate the opening of an electric clock tower in Huntington Station.

BID president Frank Cosentino at the clock tower ribbon cutting. Photo by Raymond Janis

The Huntington Station Business Improvement District donated the clock tower to the town. Located at the intersection of New York Avenue and Pulaski Road, the donation includes the clock, landscaping and pavements. 

“The mission of the BID is to add security, beautification and promotion within the area,” said BID president Frank Cosentino. “This is one of many other big improvements we’d like to do.”

The BID comprises business owners throughout Huntington Station and has made several important investments in the area. However, Cosentino said this donation represents a shift in the BID’s activities toward permanent beautification initiatives.

“We do Christmas lights that go up and come down, flower baskets that come up and go down,” he said. “Everything we’ve always done in the past have been fleeting improvements that come down. We decided to start moving to more permanent beautification projects. The town helped us with the property, and we purchased the clock and all the improvements.” 

Cosentino has owned a hardware store in Huntington Station since 1985. He said his involvement with the BID is a way to give back to the place that has provided him a living for all those years. According to him, projects such as these will contribute to the deeply rooted historical and cultural traditions of the community.

“Huntington Station reminds me of growing up in Astoria,” he said. “It’s a tight-knit neighborhood with a lot of families. It has always been a much more stable area than you might think. I can name 50 to 100 customers that have been in the area since 1985.”

Elected officials joined the BID on Tuesday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to inaugurate the clock tower. Town Supervisor Ed Smyth (R) viewed the donation as a harbinger of brighter days ahead for Huntington Station.

“The Huntington Station BID’s generous donation adds to the charm and character of this busy corner of downtown Huntington Station,” Smyth said. “This new clock tower serves as a symbol of our local investment in business and in the revitalization of Huntington Station.”

The Times of Huntington reported in December that the town had finalized an agreement with Suffolk County to finance sewer expansion into Huntington Station. According to Smyth, the Huntington Station Hub Sewer Infrastructure Project will enable substantially greater capital investment into the community.

“While you are officially keeping time with this new clock tower, true economic revitalization in the downtown Huntington Station area is now possible,” he said. “We will never be closer to rectifying past failures of urban renewal [than] with our investment in Huntington Station, particularly with the sewer line that is coming.”

Town Councilman Sal Ferro (R) echoed the sentiment. He said expanded sewer infrastructure will stimulate economic activity and commercial development. 

“The sewer line coming down [Route] 110 is going to be another part of this revitalization,” he said. “This clock tower represents such an important part. It’s a symbol of what’s to come.”

Ferro recalled working as a carpenter’s apprentice in Huntington Station over four decades ago. He considered the clock tower a beacon of the community’s storied past and promising future, a product of collaborative efforts between business groups and local government.

“I love the combination of work between the BID and the chamber [of commerce] and the government,” he said. “This is a vibrant corner, such an important part of Huntington Station. To see this clock tower and the landscaping here makes me so proud coming back here 40 years later.”

Town Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) remembered the BID as a tiny organization just getting off the ground. She recalled walking the streets of Huntington Station in 2003 to encourage business leaders to join the BID. Nearly two decades later, a clock tower at the heart of Huntington Station marks a new chapter for the BID in its mission to beautify the area. 

“This BID has really done a lot of wonderful things,” she said. “This is a wonderful gift, a gift that we will all continue to enjoy for years.” 

While Huntington is known for its historic and prosperous village, public investment into Huntington Station has often lagged. The clock tower and sewer extension point to a change of course.

“Huntington Station is one of the many vital organs in our system,” said Jillian Guthman, town receiver of taxes. “Regardless of if you are on the south end or north end of our town, Huntington Station is a place that you spend a lot of time. A clock such as this is really fitting of the beauty of this community and is a reflection of the investment that is so needed.”

Like so many towns throughout Suffolk County, expanded sewer infrastructure is a major priority for Huntington. According to Smyth, the impact of this sewer investment will be felt for decades.

“The clock is useful, but it is also symbolic,” Smyth said. “[The sewer extension] is the next big step. It is going to be a generational investment in Huntington Station.”

According to Ferro, policymakers and private developers must be proactive. As the sewer extension project gets underway, he said the community must prepare itself for higher levels of activity.

“Huntington Station is open for business,” he said. “We do have a sewer line coming and that means projects need to be thought about now for tomorrow.”

As this community awaits the arrival of its sewer extension, the clock could be said to be ticking.

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Kings Park’s downtown district, above during Summer Nights in the Park: Monday on Main last July, will soon see the addition of sewers. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Raymond Janis

Attorneys representing the Kings Park Community Association and the Long Island Pine Barrens Society have filed a $198 million lawsuit against Suffolk County over a sewer fund they claim was unlawfully depleted.

The Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund was originated as part of the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program, which was established in 1987. The program addressed ballooning sewer rates and volatility across sewer districts using a 0.25% sales tax to subsidize ratepayers and cap rate increases at 3%. After a 2020 voter referendum, the county reformulated the rate structure in Suffolk County Sewer District #6 – Kings Park, increasing rates by 452%, according to Michael Rosato, president of the community association.

In explanation, Peter Scully, deputy county executive for administration, said in a phone interview, “The prior rate structure was inequitable and would have disadvantaged residential property owners in the sewer district. The changes rectified that and made sure sewer ratepayers generating significantly more sewage paid their fair share.”

In a letter sent to Sewer District #6 homeowners Dec. 7, 2020, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) had justified raising sewer rates to mitigate wide discrepancies in operating costs across Suffolk.

“Property owners in the district have been undercharged for years, and revenues collected do not come close to covering operating expenses,” Bellone said in the letter. “The average Suffolk County sewer ratepayer paid $585 in sewer charges this year,” adding, “By comparison, the average homeowner in Sewer District #6 was billed $78.74.”

Rosato, who is also a part-time aide in the office of county Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), claimed Bellone illegally raised rates in Sewer District #6 beyond the 3% threshold, violating the terms of the program.

“In 2020 Bellone put a very misleading referendum on the ballot that he felt allowed him not to pay that fund back and to continue taking money out of it to pay for operating expenses,” Rosato said in a phone interview. “After raiding $198 million out of the fund, he raised Kings Park sewer rates 452%.”

The Pine Barrens Society is a named plaintiff in the lawsuit and has sued Suffolk County repeatedly since 2011 over this sewer fund. According to Rosato, the county demonstrates a pattern of budgetary mismanagement, sewer fund meddling and legal stonewalling.

“In 2011, County Executive [Steve] Levy [D] took $29 million out of that sewer stabilization fund to cover budget holes,” Rosato said. “He was sued by the Pine Barrens Society and the Pine Barrens Society won that lawsuit. Bellone became county executive soon afterward and he subsequently took $171 million out of that fund for operating expenses.”

In the current lawsuit, the Pine Barrens Society challenges Proposition Two, which was the 2020 referendum that authorized the county to use the sewer fund to effectively avoid service cuts and layoffs. Paul Sabatino, co-counsel representing the Pine Barrens Society, said the referendum had no legal basis.

“Proposition Two, when you cut through all the smoke, does two things. It unilaterally repudiates the judgement for $29 million and it unilaterally repudiates the balance of the [$171 million] payment.” Sabatino said in a phone interview. “A county cannot pass a charter law that unilaterally reverses a judicial decree and it cannot adopt a charter law that unilaterally repudiates a settlement agreement. Whether you do it with or without the voters, there is no authority.”

Scully disagreed with this legal reasoning. He said the Pine Barrens Society insisted in prior litigation that voter approval is paramount but is now reversing course completely.

“What’s going on here, ironically, is that the Pine Barrens Society is taking the position that voter approval should be disregarded and that the voters’ approval of Proposition Two in 2020 should be overturned,” Scully said. “I’ve been involved in government for 37 years and this is probably the most bizarre lawsuit I’ve ever seen.”

County voters approved Proposition Two by a margin of 54% to 46%. However, county Legislator Trotta said voters did not understand the intent of the ballot measure.

“The law is very clear about how a referendum has to be put on the ballot,” he said in a phone interview. “It has to be clear and concise, but most people had no idea what they were voting for. Politicians pride themselves on using uninformed voters and manipulating them.”

Scully contended that Trotta and the Pine Barrens Society conducted a lengthy media campaign against Proposition Two in 2020, but voters approved the ballot measure anyway.

“In the weeks prior to the referendum, Legislator Trotta and others were very vocal in bringing their concerns to the attention of the public through the media,” Scully said. “The voters appeared to summarily reject those concerns. People seemed to understand clearly what they were voting on. They voted for financial stability and they spoke with a very clear voice.”

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a major initiative to bring sewers into downtown Kings Park. The sewer stabilization fund and the downtown extension are fiscally unrelated, sourced from separate revenue streams. Scully said that while construction can move forward as planned, the modified rate structure will impact the business district when the project is complete.

“The project can move forward but the rate structure continues to be at risk,” Scully said. “Had the Legislature not modified the rate structure, residential customers in the sewer district would end up in some instances paying higher rates than businesses that generate significantly more sewage.”

Trotta accused the administration of intentionally muddling these two distinct sewer issues to confuse community members and generate fear that the extension project may be derailed.

“They’re totally unrelated,” he said. “What this administration tries to do is tie them together to scare people. They use scare tactics.”

Acknowledging that the two issues remain separate for now, Sabatino implied that the legal principle at stake could affect the downtown sewer extension in the future.

“The legal principle of this lawsuit is important because if they believe they have the ability now to unilaterally evade the 3% cap for Kings Park, then what will stop them from doing that for the extension five years from now?” Sabatino said.

Sabatino argued that fixed-rate increases and rigid percentages were put in place to prevent county officials from depleting the fund at will. He said this lawsuit will determine whether or not those officials remain bound by these requirements.

“If you don’t tie up the hands of elected officials, over time when they see a large pot of money it’s going to be gone,” he said. “You have to tie their hands and do it in a way that is truly effective. It’s the law of political human nature.”

Scully said the Pine Barrens Society has lost credibility due to this lawsuit.

 

“It’s really kind of sad what has happened with regard to the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, which is no longer a credible voice for environmental protection in Suffolk County,” he said.

Indian Hills Country Club. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Raymond Janis

The Preserve at Indian Hills, a planned retirement community along the Indian Hills golf course in Fort Salonga, is seeking approvals from two Town of Huntington boards. 

The Preserve is being spearheaded by Jim Tsunis, managing member of Hauppauge-based development firm The Northwind Group. Applications with the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board must be approved before construction can begin. 

“We’re building an extraordinary community on over 150 acres of property,” Tsunis said in a phone interview. “In addition, we’re preserving over 120 acres of the golf course. This is a win-win situation for the residents of Fort Salonga.”

According to Tsunis, 74 townhouse units will be built along with renovation of the clubhouse and construction of a fitness center. Under Huntington code, a golf course cannot be operated within a residential area without a special use permit from the ZBA. With this approval, The Preserve at Indian Hills can legally function as a golf community. 

“Because they are changing the location and the size of the clubhouse in their plans, they are required to come before the zoning board to request a continuation of their use permit to have a golf course on the premises,” ZBA chair Jerry Asher said in a phone interview. 

The application has sparked opposition from some Fort Salonga property owners. The Fort Salonga Property Owners Association is a civic group that formed to resist redevelopment at Indian Hills under the current plan.

“We want to make it clear we are not against development on the golf course,” said FSPOA president John Hayes in a phone interview. “But this plan with 74 homes, plus the expanded golf club, will have a detrimental effect on the community for the short and long terms.”

FSPOA’s objections to the project include its size and scope, proximity to surrounding neighborhoods, the potential for environmental harm and diminishing property values of neighboring homeowners.

“A number of the neighbors got their appraisals and [the existing homes] may, in effect, lose 10% of their values,” Hayes said. “The neighborhood is extremely concerned. We do not understand how they are planning to go ahead with this.”

By keeping the existing golf course intact, Tsunis believes that the project will preserve, rather than disrupt, the natural and historical character of the land and its surrounding area.

“Everyone that lives in the area references Indian Hills Country Club for their location,” he said. “There would be single-family homes twice or three times the size of my townhouses built all over the area if I didn’t preserve the golf course.”

Detractors demand greater initiative by the ZBA in a last-ditch effort to impose greater restrictions on development while the project remains in the planning phase. However, Asher indicates that the ZBA has a narrow purview over this matter.

“The only [jurisdiction] the zoning board has is whether or not we will grant them a use permit to run a golf course,” Asher said. “We don’t have jurisdiction over anything else. The Planning Board has jurisdiction over all of the other things.”

The Planning Board will hold its own public hearing on Feb. 16 without a vote, contrary to recent misreporting that a vote of final approval will be held on that date.

“I’ve read those reports and that’s inaccurate,” said Planning Board chair Paul Ehrlich. “We won’t be making decisions on the 16th. It really is just for the board to hear the comments.”

Andy Rapiejko, a Fort Salonga resident opposing the project, denounces the Planning Board’s decision to hold this hearing without the ZBA first granting the special use permit.

“In many steps, the process isn’t logical,” Rapiejko said. “Why would they have a hearing without a vote? Wouldn’t you want the community to have the information on what the ZBA determines?” 

Aware of the importance of its upcoming decision, the ZBA has brought in
outside help.

“We are hiring [a consulting firm] called H2M to give us some advice on how we ought to resolve the application before us,” Asher said. 

The ZBA is not expected to hold a final vote on the special use application until early April.