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Port Jefferson Station/Terryville civic association listens to a presentation from North Wind's Jim Tsunis on Feb. 27. Photo by Samantha Rutt

By Samantha Rutt

The recent Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting saw presentations from developer group North Wind, the Suffolk County Police Department COPE report and a presentation regarding substance abuse from Kym Laube, HUGS Inc. executive director.

The Feb. 27 meeting began with reports from the board regarding the upcoming board elections. Two of the current members, Charlie McAteer and Sheila Granito, will be termed-out come March. The civic is seeking reelection for all positions and has no current candidates for the recording secretary position.

Only members in good standing may cast a vote for board elections. Those who have paid dues and attended at least three meetings from March 2023 to March 2024 remain in good standing.

Some notable community figures were in attendance: Port Jefferson Deputy Mayor Rebecca Kassay and Skyler Johnson, both Assembly District 4 Democratic candidates; Council District 1 Chief Legislative Aide Amani Hosein and Suffolk County Legislator Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

The meeting carried on with reports from members of the South County Police Department offering insights from the COPE report from Jan. 23 to Feb. 27. Officer John Efstathiou mentioned for the Port Jefferson Station area overdoses have decreased from this time last year from 4 to 2. Additionally, motor vehicle incidents saw an increase from 43 to 60 over the last year – for the same January to February time period. The officer also mentioned a slight increase from last year of criminal incidences, raising to 63 from last year’s 59. 

“In my opinion, and it’s just my opinion, it’s a safe area, absolutely,” Efstathiou said.

The meeting continued with a presentation from developer Jim Tsunis of North Wind — the organization responsible for the construction of developments like Port Jefferson’s Overbay and Setauket Meadows.

Tsunis showed a 10-minute video where he shared his background and connection with the Port Jefferson Station community sharing that his father was a businessman who made an impact on his PJS community. 

The video also touched on the proposed 5.6-acre Baylis Avenue development property to become Brook Meadows. The proposed development sits along Sheep Pasture Road and Baylis Avenue, and neighbors a current apartment complex and existing railroad tracks.

The presentation also included testimony from four residents about the soon-to-be Brook Meadows site in support of the development — most reasoning with the residential zoning the development would provide over the existing industrial zoning.

Following the video, Tsunis addressed the civic association and their questions. 

Many concerns were raised for the proposed density of the site at 56 units. Civic members asked Tsunis questions about the use of the property, suggesting it could be used for single-family homes instead. Fear of increased density was also raised by Englebright in his statement to Tsunis. 

Englebright shared his experience growing up and around the Island saying that he has experienced the loss of suburbia and does not want that to continue.

“We’re getting into the realm of causing me to wonder whether we’re going to lose a suburban lifestyle over time,” Englebright said. “A density that is urban is being proposed repeatedly. I just want to commend the possibility of a cumulative environmental impact statement. I think that makes a lot of sense — piecemealing what happened to Bayside — there’s nothing left of what I was familiar with when I grew up.”

Additional concerns arouse touching on added traffic from the development, with feedback from other civic attendees supporting the single-car traffic from the residential zoning over the potential industrial-zoned traffic.

Tsunis defended his group’s proposal, mentioning the increase of affordable housing units to the original plan, suggesting a monthly rental price point of around $2,100 for a two-bedroom apartment offered by Brook Meadows. Tsunis also noted an addition to the buffer from the road surrounding the development, a concern raised at previous civic gatherings.

Many civic attendees commented on the presentation and civic president Ira Costell welcomed Tsunis back to continue the conversation as both organizations seek a compromise.

Following the North Wind presentation, Laube from HUGS Inc. shared a PowerPoint presentation, addressing addiction, substance abuse and sharing several statistics relating to these issues.

Laube spoke to the increased ability to purchase substances like cannabis and alcohol as dispensaries are opening and, unlike the past, alcohol sold in various locations rather than solely at liquor stores.

The HUGS representative’s presentation included anecdotes from her lived experiences eliciting many reactions from the audience, offering moments of amusement and response to points made. Laube urged the audience to look at each situation a little differently, to seek the truth and to get involved.

The next civic meeting will take place March 26 at the Comsewogue Public Library. For more information regarding the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association visit its website at www.pjstca.org. 

Congressman Tom Suozzi joined other elected officials on all levels during a press conference, Feb. 11. Photo by Julianne Mosher

A week after the Town of Brookhaven and local state representatives bashed Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) plan to potentially eliminate certain single-family zoning laws across New York state, other Long Island townships and Suffolk County officially voiced their concerns.

During a press conference at the county Legislature in Hauppauge Thursday, Feb. 10, more than two dozen elected officials at town, county, state and federal levels collectively agreed that Hochul’s plan would be bad for the Island.

Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said that of all the officials gathered, it was a unanimous, bipartisan agreement that this should not happen.

“We are all concerned about the future of Long Island and the quality of life here and the need for local government to have control over their zoning with local elected officials,” he said. 

“This is a radical plan by the governor to take away local zoning from where it belongs in the hands of the local officials who were elected to make sure that the zoning codes stay in place for the quality of life that each one of the municipalities that they choose to live in.”

He added that if Hochul’s plan in fact happens, it will eventually have an impact on parking, water quality, sewerage and more. 

The governor’s comprehensive five-year housing plan would potentially invest $25 billion to create and preserve 100,000 affordable homes and tackle inequities in the housing market. Last month, she announced the plan to make housing more affordable as part of the 2022 State of the State.

“In the wake of the pandemic, it’s crucial that we tackle the housing crisis and make New York a more affordable place for all,” Hochul previously said. “These bold steps are a major step forward in transforming our housing market, protecting affordability and increasing the housing supply.”

Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) noticed the plan in the State of the State book and began bringing it to the public’s attention. Suozzi is campaigning to take Hochul’s seat. He cited her State of the State book on pages 130 and 131 regarding accessory dwelling units. According to those documents, he said the governor would want to oppose legislation to require municipalities to allow a minimum of one accessory dwelling unit on owner occupied residentially zoned blocks.

“That’s the end of local control,” he said. “That’s the end of local governments authority.”

Suozzi believes this could be “a dangerous idea” that could “result in commercial landlords buying properties and trying to pack people into neighborhoods.”

“This is just a failure to understand what it’s like out here,” he added.

Currently, many building permit applications that increase the number of bedrooms in a dwelling require the approval of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. 

According to county representatives, at no point in the proposed legislation does it address the fact that the health department determines the appropriate number of persons residing at a home that is utilizing cesspools. Over 75% of Suffolk County is unsewered — a mass expansion of accessory dwelling units will result in a deterioration in the water quality here on Long Island.

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) said that state lawmakers are continuously “going against everything we live for and our investments.”

“I wake up in the morning and I feel like I’m in the twilight zone,” he said.

Mattera added that many municipalities have been focusing on downtown revitalization plans, which already create apartments.

“We’ve been doing these apartments for a reason to make sure our families have places to go so we keep our young or middle aged or seniors here,” he said. “We are doing that job governor, but governor, this is not the City of New York. We’re in the suburbs. This is so important for our future.”

Huntington

Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Representatives from the Town of Huntington were in attendance, with Supervisor Ed Smyth (R) voicing that the town already has permissive accessory apartments laws.

“We already allow for accessory apartments in homes in the town,” he said. “We don’t need Albany telling us how to do this.”

He added, “With home rule, we have ensured that our communities do not become overdeveloped, are kept environmentally sound, and are a place people want to live and raise a family. This proposal by the governor would end all of that overnight. Proof of how bad an idea this is … is the fact that both sides of the political aisle have come together to state their opposition.”

Smyth said they will not stop until the item is removed from the New York State budget and “laid to rest.”

A living room in one of the Overbay apartments in Port Jefferson. Photo from the Northwind Group

Throughout the last few weeks, we have been listening to what different candidates have to say when it comes to revitalization and development of our towns. 

One of the biggest taglines of most elected officials is that they “want to keep young people on Long Island.”

That’s great, and young people appreciate the sentiment, but what many don’t realize is the stresses it takes to buy a house in today’s market. 

Most young people — such as postgraduate professionals — would love to buy their own place at 24 or 25. Unfortunately, many cannot and instead choose to rent as a temporary solution.

While there are mother/daughter suites across Long Island, and plenty of accessory apartments that people utilize, legal and illegal, there are other options popping up from Huntington to Selden — larger apartment complexes, such as the ones built and being built alongside local train stations. 

These developments have been instrumental in keeping young people in our area because, in many cases, the couple fall in love with the town and then proceed to buy a house there. The apartments are simply starter homes to give these new working professionals the freedoms they need to grow up.

A big argument that comes out of the development of different areas is that it makes the place “too urban.” While these complexes bring in more people — but not many — they are just adding a bit to an already developed community. 

Take Huntington village or Port Jefferson — these two areas are already considered downtowns. Adding apartments to a place that resembles a small city isn’t completely out of the ordinary. 

Embracing the development where appropriate can be good for our communities. It can help our children and our neighbors start their own lives. It may look a little different than 30 years ago, but this is the new normal.

Rob Gitto. Photo by Julianne Mosher

With the revitalization of Upper Port along with the changes downtown, people are choosing to downsize in Port Jefferson or start up their lives in the new Port Jefferson apartments.

Rob Gitto, vice president of The Gitto Group, said that his sites — and other places developed by Tritec Real Estate (The Shipyard), Conifer Realty (Port Jefferson Crossing) and The Northwind Group (Overbay) — are here to help people.

“That’s one of the big things,” he said. “That we’re trying to keep people here instead of moving off of Long Island.”

The Gitto Group currently has three locations between Upper and Lower Port: The Hills at Port Jefferson, The Barnum House and the recent The Brookport.

In September, The Brookport officially opened at 52 Barnum Ave. — the former Cappy’s Carpets — featuring 44 apartments that were 100% leased. The building is mixed-use and will soon be home to Southdown Coffee on the lower level.  

“By having these walkable apartment complexes, we’re helping the stores and the restaurants by bringing more people into the village without a strain on the parking,” Gitto said. “To me, that seems like a win-win.”

Photo from The Gitto Group

He said he knows the concern about parking, but his buildings — and those of other developers — have created their own spaces on premise that don’t interfere with the traffic within the village. In fact, he said, he knows many of his tenants are taking advantage of all Port Jeff village has to offer. 

“I know that I have at least two tenants here that are taking tennis lessons at the country club,” he said. “They’ve already been here a couple months and are trying to become part of the community.”

Many of those tenants — across all three of his locations — either chose Port Jefferson to establish their roots or had a home in the area and decided to stay but downsize as empty nesters.

“I can’t tell you how many tenants we’ve had, especially in The Barnum House, that moved here with a significant other or met someone while they were here, got married and had a child or children,” he said. “As they got older, they grew out of the apartment, but they fell in love with the community and became part of the community, so they ended up buying a condo, a townhouse or a home here.”

Gitto said they are filling a need that was never met in the community — giving people the opportunity to start up or slow down. 

The Barnum House, which opened 20 years ago this year, still has tenants who moved in originally in August 2001. A mixed building, he said many are young working professionals but quite a few empty nesters as well. 

“You’re checking a lot of boxes,” he said. “It’s easy living.”

A benefit his older tenants mention often is that they don’t have to worry about upkeep — if an appliance breaks or there’s an issue, they don’t have to worry about fixing it. They don’t have to landscape outside, and they are creating a home base for snowbirds who split their time between here and the South.

The Hills at Port Jefferson, however, has some more turnover, Gitto said, due to the type of clientele the apartments attract. 

Located in Upper Port, the Hills was one of the first projects as part of Port Jefferson’s master plan. 

“I do see there being a nice community uptown,” he said. “That connection to Stony Brook University and the two hospitals right there, there’s no reason why that can’t be a secondary community.” 

And in that 74-unit building, Gitto said the majority of tenants are young, working professionals — many of whom work at Mather Hospital, Northwell Health, St. Charles Hospital and Stony Brook University — a 10-minute train ride from the LIRR station across the street to campus. 

That being said, Gitto noted that “a couple of units will turnover” because of the residency programs at these places. 

“I would say 80 to 85% of the people that live there are affiliated with Stony Brook,” he said. 

A fourth project with The Gitto Group is currently underway on the corner of Main Street and North Country Road, where the PJ Lobster House used to stand before relocating. Gitto said that building will be smaller — roughly 36 to 38 units — and planning should be finalized by March. 

Gitto mentioned that there is often concern or comment about the IDA benefits developers receive to build these properties but noted that neighbors need to look at it long term. 

“Although our property taxes might be lower to start out, eventually, when the IDA program is over, we’ll be paying a lot more than this property would have ever given in terms of taxes if it had remained a boatyard, or the carpet store that it was,” he said. “It’s important to people to look at the long term — this is really going to help the school districts to have these tax bases being thrown into the mix.”

While he can’t talk about the other developers’ properties, he said that the addition of families and people into the community isn’t causing a strain on the school district at all. 

“In the Hills uptown, in the 74 units, I believe we have one child who goes to Comsewogue,” he said. 

Overbay

The Overbay apartment complex, which finally opened in September, had been in the process of being built shortly after The Northwind Group purchased the former Islander Boat Center building in 2013 for $1.8 million.

James Tsunis, managing member of Northwind, said that his family was “really excited” to bring a new complex to the village. 

Photo from The Northwind Group0

“The Northwind Group has been in the family business and we’ve lived in Port Jeff our whole life,” he said. “We were really happy to bring a boutique luxury apartment community here for Port Jefferson.”

Tsunis added that the complex also was planned to bring more positive traffic to the downtown retail shops and restaurants — especially since many struggled throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“It’s a win for the village in general,” he said. 

Located at 217 W. Broadway, the 54,000-square-foot “nautical style” apartment building consists of 52 rentals, with one-bedroom units ranging between $2,500 to $2,800 and two bedrooms starting at $3,500. 

Each apartment features walk-in closets, custom built-ins, zero-entry showers with rain heads, a fireplace and a flat-screen TV. Other amenities include an 800-square-foot common room and a fitness facility. 

The complex also contains an office area, concierge service and in-building parking with over 80 parking stalls for residents and their guests. 

Leasing, Tsunis said, opened up in fall of last year, and sold out almost immediately. 

“There was definitely a high demand for it,” he said. “We get calls about this every day and we have a long list of people waiting to get in here, which is good —it’s good for us and it’s also good for the village, because it means that people want to live here and that’s a very good sign.”

Jake Biro, Overbay’s property manager, said that like the other developments around the village, there is a good mix of different types of people living at Overbay.

“Honestly, it’s really diverse,” he said. “We have people all the way down to the undergrad at 19 or 20 years old to I think our oldest resident is about 94.”

Biro said the proximity to Stony Brook University and the hospitals helps.

“We get a lot of doctors and nurses,” he said. “But then we also have a bunch of empty nesters — people that are taking advantage of the real estate market and selling their houses right now, then renting for a year or two and reassessing.”

“Port Jefferson has been our home and we want our residents to call it their home,” Tsunis said. “We want to help them try to transition that process as hard as possible and as best as possible.”

Tritec and Conifer did not respond to requests for interviews by press time. 

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Conifer’s revised design plans for the Port Jefferson Crossing apartment complex were approved Sept. 17 after multiple design changes over the past several months. Photo from planning board meeting

The Village of Port Jefferson has set a number to what an upcoming apartment complex project is worth for recreational land.

Officials voted to set the recreational parkland fee for Port Jefferson Crossing at $1,500 per unit at 45 units for a total of $67,500. Village officials said they are setting aside the funds specifically for developing Upper Port even further.

Mayor Margot Garant said they would be putting those funds in a special account to be used for revitalizing the up-the-hill portions of the village, which has been a largely blighted area for several years. All trustees agreed those funds should be used to develop uptown. Vice Mayor Stan Loucks suggested it could be for new recreational space in the Highland area of the village.

The project currently has plans for three floors, with the first floor being 3,200 square feet of retail and the next two containing 37 one-bedroom apartments and eight two-bedroom apartments. The front part of the project will take up 112 lineal feet of frontage on Main Street.

Village Attorney Brian Egan said Conifer, the company behind Port Jefferson Crossing, has sent a letter to the effect of making some kind of donation to the village equivalent to the fee, but as of right now, the money is already in the village’s hands.

Alison LaPointe, special village attorney to the Building and Planning Department, previously told TBR News Media the payment in lieu of parking fee for the C-2 district, where Crossing resides, has been set at $4,000 per space via a 2018 resolution.

Parkland fees are set by the board of trustees on a case-by-case basis. The planning board has to approve the fee.

Conifer representatives have previously told the village planning board they were requesting officials consider renovated sidewalks and other amenities in place of the parkland fee. Officials have previously granted another The Shipyard, an apartment complex in downtown Port Jeff, a reduced parkland fee because of patio space and other open amenities included in the complex, though it was later confirmed the space was inaccessible to the public. The village changed its code in September of last year to excise rooftop decks, patios and other common areas not accessible to the general public from being considered for reduced or eliminated parkland fee.

Village Trustee Bruce Miller, who opposed The Shipyard’s reduced fee in 2018, said he hoped the village wasn’t going down the same road again. Garant agreed, saying “that’s why we’re here.”

Port Jefferson Crossing has already received an agreement with the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency for an estimated $5.2 million mortgage tax exemption for help in demolishing the current building and a $66,236 Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement starting in 2023-24. They join many of the other new apartment developments that have received PILOT agreements, including The Brookport and the Overbay Apartments developments. 

IDA documents also show they anticipate 1.5 employees will be needed at the new site, though that doesn’t include what businesses may take up space on the first floor facing the street.

Garant also said at the Nov. 16 meeting she was meeting with representatives of the Long Island Rail Road about, among other things, potentially making the parking lot metered. This would allow a revitalized upper port to be used during times in the evening much less trafficked by commuters for people to visit any businesses.

In addition, the village has to work with the LIRR on designing Station Street, which will be located just south of Conifer’s project. 

Another apartment development by the Gitto Group is looking to start up at the corner of Main Street and North Country Road, where the PJ Lobster House currently stands.

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PJ Lobster House is just one of several local businesses whose owners say inspectors have repeatedly shown up to the restaurant around dinner time in a small, two-week period. Photo by Kyle Barr

Port Jefferson’s Uptown could soon be losing one of its premier restaurants, though one won’t have to look far for that seafood dinner experience.

The PJ Lobster House is moving from its spot on the corner of Main Street and North Country Road and will be moving downtown into the location that used to be Ocean 88, a Japanese restaurant, just east of the Mill Creek Road parking lot across from Rocketship Park. 

Rob Gitto of The Gitto Group. Photo from Gitto

In its place, local developer The Gitto Group is planning to add another apartment complex to a growing slate of living spaces both uptown and downtown. 

Discussions on the new property have been going on for about a year. James Luciano, owner of the PJ Lobster House, said he had originally proposed to landlords for the property about purchasing it, but was rebuffed. As time went on, he inquired with The Gitto Group about potentially moving into a  location in one of the company’s new spots downtown, and was told that the local developer was buying the uptown property. He said he wasn’t given the option to purchase the land, and that the decision was made before his lease was up. 

“I have all my money invested into this place, everything was paid here, and now I have to start over,” Luciano said.

The developer already owns The Hills at Port Jefferson Village across from Port Jefferson train station and The Barnum House at the corner of Barnum Avenue and Main Street. The Gitto Group is also in the middle of creating The Brookport, an apartment complex going up where the old Cappy’s Carpets building once stood.

Both Rob Gitto, vice president of The Gitto Group, and Luciano are members and officers of the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District board. Gitto said in a phone interview that he has tried being “upfront and transparent” with Luciano since the property was purchased. Though he attempted to find a way to fit him into the upcoming Brookport site, the space simply wouldn’t work for him. 

“It ended up working out, and its great to have him downtown,” he said.

Though Luciano said Gitto had been considerate in helping him find a new space, the move has been financially and physically costly to both him and his business, as he has to pick up everything that isn’t nailed down and transport it downtown. Work has already started at the Ocean 88 site, where he has to do some major renovations, including replacing the wood on the outside porch and the tiling on the inside, also removing the entire Japanese hibachi area. 

“I had to take all kinds of loans out to do this,” Luciano said. “I would have never done that during this situation [with the pandemic], but it’s either that or close up shop — it was move or you’re done.” 

Things are not all bad. Overall the PJ Lobster House owner said he is optimistic for the future, especially as the number of seats goes from 90 at the uptown location to around 140. He is keeping the current fish market at the front of the house in his new space, and now has plans for a bar to add a liquor selection to the current slate of beer and wine. There may be an opportunity in the future for an oyster bar.

The move downtown will likely bring his current regulars into the downtown portion of the village.

“I think with our following, we’ll do just fine,” he said.

Gitto said the new uptown building will likely be slightly smaller than the 46-unit Brookport site, and plans have the new space at three stories. Like other local apartment developments, parking is planned to be on-site with a retail component on the ground floor.

The Hills at Port Jefferson opened in upper Port in 2018. Other Uptown projects include the Port Jefferson Crossing and now a new project at the corner of North Country Road and Main Street. Photo from Rob Gitto

Gitto considers the corner of North Country onto Main “one of the entrances into the village,” adding they are working to make sure it fits into that space without being an impediment.

The new development would be located on the Port Jefferson side of the school district line with Comsewogue. In terms of adding children to the school district, the Port Jeff developer said so far none of theirs or other projects have added more than one family each with school-aged children. It’s likely this one won’t make a dent in local enrollment either.

“I think it’s going to make our community stronger,” The Gitto Group vice president said. “The schools as well as the village are going to need to lean on new projects to help out with the loss of the [Port Jefferson power plant tax revenue] to help keep our uptown vibrant.”

Plans are still early, and Gitto said they are waiting to submit their formal application within the next few months. 

Luciano added that while it’s a shame to see the loss of retail uptown, he still thinks The Gitto Group will do a good job.

“They do good work, this building is going to be beautiful,” he said. “They maintain all their properties really well, and it’s going to be a good look for the corner.” 

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The concept drawings for the Port Jefferson Crossing development include the sight of Station Street, a one-way road which will be built by the Village of Port Jefferson to connect the eastern side of the project. Image from design plans

Conifer Realty had its first public hearing in front of the Port Jefferson Village planning board July 9. Amongst a few comments about safety and general aesthetics, Conifer representatives also revealed they were requesting that the planning board, and later the board of trustees, consider a renovated sidewalk and other amenities in place of village parkland fees.

The project, called Port Jefferson Crossing, would be located directly adjacent to the Long Island Rail Road train station and would take over the property of a now-decrepit cafe.

Kathleen Deegan Dickson, of Uniondale-based law firm Forchelli Deegan Terrana, said the developer was requesting such reduced parkland fees because of its plans to renovate the sidewalk on the southern side of the project which borders a still-to-be constructed road called Station Street. The developer plans to add trees, benches and other plantings near the intersection with Main Street, then gift that stretch of sidewalk with added amenities to the village.

“It was certainly our hope that the planning board would give some consideration to either a reduced or eliminated parkland fee in light of the fact we are improving and dedicating land back to the village,” Dickson said. “While we’re not going to pretend it’s a park it will have some features that will add a nice community benefit to the areas.”

Alison LaPointe, special village attorney for building and planning, said the determination of parkland fee is a two-step process, first with the planning board determining if there is parkland fee that needs to be assessed based on availability of parkland in the vicinity of the project, accounting for the number of new residents coming in with the planned apartments. If the planning board finds a parkland fee is necessary, the matter gets transferred to the board of trustees to determine a reasonable fee for that need. The planning board doesn’t have the availability to assess specifics of the fee, though it can account for what is already available, which may include the Texaco park just a little over a block away from the proposed site.

“The planning board has the ability to assess whether or not additional parkland facilities are deemed necessary in the vicinity,” LaPointe said.

The village has usually used the Town of Brookhaven’s formula for assessing price on parkland fee, namely a multiplier formula that requires 1,500 square feet of public green space per unit in a housing development or $1,000 fine per unit if that space can’t be provided.

The issue of parkland fees has come up in the village before, namely with The Shipyard apartments developed by Tritec on West Broadway. Original parkland fees for that development were reduced due to Tritec then saying they were providing amenities on their rooftop and in a plaza. At the time, in 2018, the village building and planning department ruled it could satisfy the parkland requirement for about 21 of that complex’s 112 units based on square footage.

In 2019, the village changed code to eliminate rooftop decks, patios and other common areas not accessible to the general public from being considered park or recreational facilities for the purposes of developers reducing the parkland fee paid to the village.

Planning board member Barbara Sabatino requested the applicant provide the total value of what Conifer plans to dedicate to the village. 

The project currently has plans for three floors, with the first floor being 3,200 square feet of retail and the next two containing 37 one-bedroom apartments and eight two-bedroom apartments. The front part of the project will take up 112 lineal feet of frontage on Main Street, and current designs show two different designs for the two halves of the building, one a “lofty style,” as put by the developer’s architects, and the other a red-brick Georgian style. Some planning board members commented on the general flatness of the exterior, but LaPointe said more of these comments will be ironed out after meetings with the Architectural Review Committee.

Only one resident commented on the proposed plans. Rebecca Kassay, the co-owner of the Fox and Owl Inn in Port Jeff, asked whether Conifer plans to have solar panels on its roof. Joanna Cuevas, senior project director for Conifer Realty, said there are currently no plans for solar panels, but the developer could assess the cost benefit of including those.

Another planning board meeting is set for Aug. 20, and is available for further public comment.

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Construction on the new Overbay apartments started Aug. 1. Photo by Courtney Biondo

On Thursday, Aug. 1, village residents noticed construction vehicles on the lot located on 217 West Broadway. Suspicions turned out to be correct, as development has finally started on the long-awaited apartment complex.

Construction on the new Overbay apartments started Aug. 1. Photo by Courtney Biondo

Overbay LLC has been in front of the project since it was first purchased in 2013 for $1.8 million. The company is a subsidiary of the Hauppauge-based Northwind Group, which does developments all along the north shore.

Jim Tsunis, the CEO of the Northwind Group, confirmed the start of construction, saying they received their final building permit from the village last week.

“Overbay will consist of 52 apartments with a fitness center and community gathering area,” Tsunis said in an email statement. “There are plans for outdoor balconies and upscale appointments to each apartment.”

The 54,000-square-foot “nautical-style” apartment building will be on the now-vacant site of the former Islander Boat Center building, which was demolished in 2017. Each apartment is expected to be 1,000 square feet each, and a common room area is expected to be approximately 800 square feet.

The start of construction was acknowledged by village officials at the Aug. 5 board meeting. Some in the public offered their concerns over a payment in lieu of taxes agreement between the development and the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency. That agreement would mean the property would be paying taxes on the assessed undeveloped property during construction and would pay only $28,000 for the first year. The PILOT payment would rise over 15 years to $184,015 before paying the full taxes on its assessed value. The total payment for the PILOT will be $1,590,115.

According to previous reporting by TBR News Media, the complex is also expected to create two permanent jobs and 150 temporary construction jobs over a two-year period.

This PILOT payment is the second in tax agreements between apartment complexes in the village and IDAs. The Shipyard apartments received a similar 15-year PILOT from the Suffolk County IDA, but that agreement was more generous than received by Overbay.

Community members argued that the development would be excused from paying the lion’s share of its taxes, but the mayor argued it was more taxes than a vacant lot.

Still, Mayor Margot Garant argued that while the village has sent letters of disagreement with the IDA decisions for both apartment complexes, they do not have control of how or when those decisions are made.

“We sent a letter saying we were largely concerned on the impact of the schools and our local services,” she said. “The Town IDA and County IDA are really looking to give construction jobs, that’s how they see these developments. We’re more concerned about long-term jobs in terms of IDA relief.”

In January 2018, Tsunis said the agreement would help in offsetting the cost of demolishing the original boat seller building.

Trustee Bruce D’Abramo, the liaison to the planning and building department, said the developer is looking into helical pilings, which screw into the ground instead of being hammered in, which he said should help reduce noise, such as had been residents’ complaints when pilings were being hammered in during the Shipyard apartments construction.

The $10.8 million project was put on hold for years due to financing difficulties relating to the death of a business partner, Garant said at the Aug. 5 meeting.

“That project’s been in the works pre-Garant — 10-plus years,” the mayor said.

The Overbay development is just one of several apartment developments within village limits, with apartments expected to be developed over the now vacated Cappy’s Carpets building, with storefronts underneath. Uptown, Port Jefferson is looking to Conifer Realty LLC, a real estate development firm with projects across New York State and south into Maryland, for “affordable” apartments in what was once the Bada Bing structure, and another project dubbed Walnut Hills located north of Bada Bing in the quadrant before Perry Street. The last project is being developed by the Gitto Group, who were also behind The Hills apartment complex in Upper Port.

In his statement, Tsunis said more information will be available on Northwind Group’s website after Labor Day, Sept. 2.

Huntington town board listens to residents complaints at a March 5 meeting. Photo by David Luces

Many Huntington residents rely on income from accessory apartments to help offset high property taxes. The Town of Huntington has proposed legislation that would change rental rules. In some cases, the new rules are more lenient, making it easier for people to rent space in their home.  But the proposals also include a ban on basement apartments, unless a valid dwelling unit permit already exists. 

The fate of these accessory apartments has proved to be a contentious issue and residents have been debating the pros and cons of such a change in May and June at two town board meetings. 

“This could create cramped and unsafe living conditions.”

— Hector Gavilla

At a May 30 public hearing, a change in local zoning law was discussed and would reduce the lot size requirement for accessory apartments from 7,500 square feet to 5,000. The frontage requirement for an apartment would change from 75 feet to 50 feet. 

Hector Gavilla, a real estate broker in the town for the past 16 years, spoke at the hearing and sent a letter stating that high property taxes are the real problem that needs to be addressed. He also said it is a false narrative to tell people that these changes in the law will lower the rates for apartment rentals. He argued that the changes in law could harm more people than it would help. 

“[The proposal] this will allow too many people to occupy much smaller dwellings,” he said. “This could create cramped and unsafe living conditions.” 

Town records show that the town unanimously approved a resolution to ban basement apartments without a valid permit.

At a June town board meeting, a proposal to ban all basement and cellar apartments, unless a valid permit already exists or is pending with an already-filed application, was put on the table as well as changes to short-term rental rules.  Some residents argued that the ban would negatively impact lower-income homeowners. Others said basement apartments are a safety concern and potentially hazardous, because the space is prone to mold and carbon monoxide leaks. 

Huntington resident Dale Gifford said she is in favor of the ban on basement apartments in the town. 

“Expert environmentalists have come from out of town to lend their voices to educate the public and the board on the damages caused by overdevelopment and overcrowding,” she said. “Nitrate seeps through the soil from stressed cesspools and gets picked up by the heavy rain.” 

John Esposito had similar sentiments on the legislation, stating that it is a no-brainer. Accessory apartments, he said, can be especially hazardous to EMT and emergency response workers due to possible carbon monoxide issues that can occur in basements. 

“This a step in the right direction. Myself and others object to the overdevelopment, zoning of multiple apartment units and the apartments behind Stop and Shop,” he said. “This will give us a better quality of life [in the town].”

Conrad Ege, a Huntington resident, opposed the legislation, saying it was too much of a financial burden. 

“It would make it harder for them to pay some lines of credit, to pay taxes, to pay for other improvements that are necessary on their home and it would just make it more difficult for them to live here,” he said. 

Despite being opposed to the accessory apartment ban, Ege said he supports the legislation that would put limitations on short-term rentals in the town. 

Roger Weaving Jr., president of the Huntington Township Housing Coalition, stated he is in favor of the bill, but asked the board to clarify what they meant by accessory dwelling units. Certain style homes, such as high ranches, could cause some confusion.  He stressed that high ranches should be able to continue to have accessory dwellings.

We are here with concerns and the town is simply putting Band-aids on our problems. The change to 90 days is a start, but we really have a way to go.”

— Justine Aaronson

With the popularity of Airbnb, residents have complained that these short-term rentals have negatively impacted their quality of life. In April, the town board voted to reduce the number of days that a homeowner can engage in short-term rental agreements from 120 days a year to 90 days. Some residents said that the limit is not enough. Justine Aaronson, a Dix Hills resident, complained that accessory apartments affect quality of life. She told the town board of an incident where a stranger’s car with out-of-state plates was parked on their driveway around midnight. Concerned, she called the police and later found out that the individual was staying in a neighbor’s rental unit. 

“I want the Town of Huntington to protect the quality of life in residential communities,” she said. “We are here with concerns and the town is simply putting Band-aids on our problems. The change to 90 days is a start, but we really have a way to go.”

“We’re talking about a win-win-win situation with these amendments as they will make it possible for our older residents to age in place, allow our younger residents to attain the dream of homeownership, all while giving the town a means by which to directly regulate, in many cases, previously illegal rental housing,” said Councilwoman Joan Cergol. “My prior sixteen years in Huntington Town government specializing in economic and community development have deeply sensitized me to the very real financial challenges and housing needs our residents face every day. I’m so gratified to be in a position to answer this call.”

The next public hearing is scheduled for July 16 at 2 p.m.

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Site projections for Conifer Realty LLC apartment building. Photo provided by Port Jeff planning department

The eponymous Uptown Funk project in the upper portion of Port Jefferson village may soon be coming to a head.

Plans are under review at the Port Jefferson planning department for a new affordable apartment complex in the property known locally as Bada Bing for the now decrepit cafe that once occupied the site. 

“This is 100 percent attainable housing,” said Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant.

Site details include it as a four-story project with 60 one-bedroom apartments. The site will also include 4,500 square feet of retail located directly adjacent to the Long Island Rail Road train station. Project notes said the site will be located in the Comsewogue School District.

Photo provided by Port Jeff planning department

The $4 million property development is being led by Upper Port Jefferson Village LLC, owned by Parviz Farahzad of East Setauket-based Little Rock Construction, which was in charge of building the retail complex across from the train station in Stony Brook. The developer is partnered with Conifer Realty LLC, a real estate development firm with projects across New York State and south into Maryland. Recently Conifer was at the head of the Peconic Crossing development in Riverhead, a development of 45 apartments giving preference to artists.

“We think Conifer is such a well-known name — they’ve done so many projects on Long Island and New York State that they’re a real credible partner at the table,” Garant said.

This project also includes plans for an underground parking garage incorporating 60 spaces, and the developer will need to pay a Payment in Lieu of Parking fee for all the spaces that would be required for retail, according to Port Jeff planning department documents.

Alison LaPointe, the special village attorney for building and planning, said Conifer has already submitted a formal site plan application for the development, and the planning board awaits amended plans from the applicant before continuing the environmental review process and to schedule public hearings.

All future plans for uptown port now depend on when the developers starts to put shovels in the ground. Uptown Funk was meant to be completed in three stages: the first being the Texaco Avenue parking lot, the next being the Metropolitan Transportation Authority parking lot, and the last being the creation of Station Street running just north of that train station lot.

This year the MTA has finished construction of the new parking lot at the Port Jefferson train station as part of a growing effort to modernize the more than century-old terminal.

In an update to its website, the MTA said the parking lot has been repaved and was officially open for use as of Jan. 9. The new parking lot includes new repainted lines that Port Jefferson village officials said were widened from before. Garant had said those old lines were too narrow for some vehicles. The end product means there are less spaces than there were previously.

“This is 100 percent attainable housing.”

— Margot Garant

This work was all part of the ongoing Uptown Funk project aiming to revitalize the upper port area. In 2017 the village was awarded $250,000 in jumpstart money to start plans on the project, and the village also applied for a grant from the Empire State Development Corporation, a state entity, for $500,000. Texaco Avenue parking lot, at 85 spaces, was planned to cost $850,000 when it started in May 2018. The village needed to wait until construction was finished on the LIRR parking lot, phase two of the project, before working on Station Street. The village has to wait until Conifer demolishes the Bada Bing site before starting construction on that new road.

The site construction includes a 10-foot setback on the property for the village to come in and develop Station Street, which will pass by the LIRR parking lot on the north end and connect to Oakland Avenue. 

Conifer is currently seeking approval for attainable housing partnership funding from New York State, according to Garant. She added the process for getting uptown revitalized has been long, from getting the state grant funding to finding developers willing to craft new spaces acceptable to the vision village officials have for the uptown area.

“I really have good feelings about what’s going to start happening up there, but it’s like pushing a boulder up a hill,” the villagemayor said.