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Bob Sandak

The Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees was back before the public Monday night, Sept. 18, for a business meeting spanning roughly two hours and covering a range of local matters.

Parking pilot program

With Deputy Mayor Rebecca Kassay as the lone dissenter, the board passed an amended resolution 4-1 enabling the issuance of parking permits for Belle Terre residents to park in metered spaces.

In this pilot program, which will last for the remainder of the 2023 calendar year, parking passes for Belle Terre residents will be offered at a prorated expense of $25. This parking pass does not confer access to the PJV resident lot on Arden Place.

Mayor Lauren Sheprow read an email into the record from Village of Belle Terre Mayor Bob Sandak, who characterized the parking pass initiative as mutually beneficial to both municipalities.

“For many years, the residents of Belle Terre have said that they would spend much more time in the village of Port Jefferson if they could have a simple and inexpensive way to park,” the email read. “Any solution you choose to adopt would be much appreciated by the residents of Belle Terre and would, I am sure, prove to be a financial benefit to the businesses of Port Jefferson.”

Outlining reasons for the program, Sheprow said the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District unanimously supported the proposal.

Trustee Drew Biondo considered the parking pass program “cost-neutral and revenue-producing.”

In supporting the motion, trustee Bob Juliano suggested that the pilot program offers 11 weeks to test and evaluate the program: “It doesn’t mean I’m going to approve it going forward, but let’s try it for the 11 weeks and let’s see what it produces,” he said.

Explaining her “no” vote, Kassay indicated that parking accommodations for village employees remain unresolved.

“For years, I’ve heard consistent requests from Port Jefferson business owners asking the village to consider making parking passes available to their employees who are spending $1.50 per hour to go to work,” the deputy mayor said in a subsequent email. “A solution for this concept, as well as the concept of parking permits for nonresident visitors, deserves a great deal of time and discussion from the village board, staff and community at large.”

She added, “I hope the 2024 paid parking season in PJV will begin with a convenient, comprehensive parking permit program for recreational visitors and local employees alike.”

QR code scam

Parking and mobility administrator Kevin Wood updated the board of a recent scam targeting some of the village’s metered parking signs.

“Some group of people or person — most likely this weekend — placed perfectly square, fraudulent QR codes over the existing QR code on some of the signs,” Wood told the board.

Those who scanned the fraudulent code “were offered a flat fee parking rate of $20,” Wood said, adding, “We don’t know exactly how many people were defrauded, but I will tell you we caught it very early Saturday night.”

Wood estimated approximately 12-15 parking signs had been tampered with, maintaining that all fake QR codes had been removed. He added that a detailed report on the incident was sent to the Suffolk County Police Department.

Proposed schedule change

The board debated a proposal to move its regular meetings from Monday to Thursday.

Village clerk Sylvia Pirillo said the existing meeting schedule often conflicts with holidays, adding that there are other logistical challenges for village staff.

“We’re recommending instead the second and final Thursday of each month” for board of trustees meetings, Pirillo said. “We also feel that for staff and for work product that this would be a more consistent schedule. We now have warrants that are once a month, and this would help with the processing.”

Biondo supported the schedule change, saying, “It’s good to try something new. If it doesn’t work, we can caucus and decide to go back.”

Kassay referred to the logic for changing the schedule as “sound.” However, she asked the board to consider public feedback before adopting the change.

“I, as a trustee, have learned that making large, sweeping decisions like this without giving the public a chance to have their voices heard is often greeted quite negatively,” the deputy mayor said.

The board did not hold a vote on the change of schedule.

New treasurer

The village’s new treasurer, Stephen Gaffga, attended his first board meeting Monday night, delivering a brief report on his plans for the office.

Moving forward, Gaffga said he would present monthly financials, including fund balance information, expenses and revenues, also budget transfers. He proposed some changes to office procedures.

“I want to be able to tighten up the procurement procedures here a little bit to be able to allow for more transparency in how the money is being spent — taxpayer money, country club money, capital funds — and to also allow more clarity when it comes to the warrants,” he said. “I think the more information there is, the better.”

To watch the entire meeting, including trustee reports, please see the video above.

The Belle Terre village board. File photo by Kyle Barr

With two trustee seats and the mayoral position up for election in the Village of Belle Terre, three individuals have thrown their hats into the ring along with the three incumbents. 

This year, incumbent Mayor Bob Sandak is joined by Deputy Mayor Sheila Knapp and Trustee Jacquelyn Gernaey. Opposing them are newcomers Enrico Scarda, who’s running for mayor, along with trustee candidates Peter Colucci and Lou Bove.

The mayoral race has already started to heat up in anticipation for the Sept. 15 voting date. Ballots can be cast at the Belle Terre Village Hall from 12 to 9 p.m.

Mayor

Enrico Scarda

Enrico Scarda

Scarda, the president and founder of the Crest Group development agency, said he is running to help bolster local property values and update how the village communicates with residents. 

“We’re all getting up in age and want to sell our homes to downsize, and I believe we could do much better with property values than our [competing villages],” Scarda said. “The village has the opportunity here to get an attorney who has experience in the community for free.”

The Crest Group owns multiple properties around the Port Jeff area, including Danford’s Hotel & Marina and The Waterview at the Port Jefferson Country Club. Scarda is a 20-year resident of the village, having moved there with his wife to help raise his three children. With his two sons having already graduated from college they are helping him run the business, and with his daughter also graduating soon as well, he said he has more time to spend caring about local issues.

The village, he said, could do better with its communications efforts, including buffing up its website. He suggested Belle Terre should create a ticket system for things like road repair that can be submitted electronically, such as he has in his business. The village would give updates through the system for when a ticket has been accepted and when a project is complete. 

He added there could be small additions that would make the beach program more attractive, including more renovations to the beach pavilion. 

All these small changes, he said, would go to making the village more attractive, and thereby increasing everyone’s property values. 

His home on Seaside Drive is only one of several Sound-facing homes which are facing issues with eroding bluffs. Scarda said though he has already received permits from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to begin revetment of those bluffs, the village should work with all property owners along that road to shore up the bluffs, especially because fixing one residents’ bluffs will still leave an issue for others all along the shore. It’s not to benefit him or any one person but creating some kind of initiative to do bluff repair would go a long way.

“If one home falls into the sound, the property values of the rest of the village are going to go down,” he said. “If we all did the work at the same time, we could protect that bluff, we would all be safe.”

Similar houses in Belle Terre compared to Old Field are going for a worse rate than their counterparts, he claimed, saying it’s because of small things that are leaving the village in the past.

Other issues for the candidate include safety, as he calls for more cameras including one by the village gate. He also said the village should do more to beautify the roads, including repair and garbage pickup.

Overall, he said his experience would make him a great pick to lead Belle Terre.

“The village is getting an experienced developer who has built communities as large as Belle Terre from the ground up,” he said.

Bob Sandak

Four-year Mayor Sandak has been a village official since he became trustee in 2004. He came on as trustee during Vincent Bove’s 25-year reign, and originally ran unopposed in 2016.

Sandak said he and fellow trustees have already made many strides since the time he’s sat on the board. The mayor is a former school administrator, having worked in districts such as Hicksville, Half Hollow Hills and William Floyd at times overseeing millions of dollars’ worth in construction along with other administrative tasks over 38 years. He said this work has translated well into administrating a small village like Belle Terre.

“We’ve tried to pass codes that make this a nice place to live for everybody,” he said. “Noise is something we deal with — there’s no construction on Saturday and Sunday — we try to make it a nice place to live.”

The village, he said, has done well in creating public/private partnerships to create municipal projects that are partly funded by both residents and Belle Terre. These include the restoration of the gatehouse and entrance wall, the design and construction of the children’s playground, the installation of the walking/cycling track, the reconstruction of the “Circle” at the end of Cliff Road, and most recently the reconstruction of the bathhouse pavilion at Knapp Beach. The latter was originally built in the 1930s and needed to be made handicap accessible. That project, which he said started in concept around two years ago, was done with volunteered architectural designs by a resident and donations from the community. 

The community also donated their time and money to help construct kayak and canoe racks at Knapp Beach. These proved so popular that the village plans to help construct additional racks in the future, along with some mats that people may walk down onto the beach.

In the future, Sandak said Belle Terre needs to be readier to handle potential storms. He said he wants to propose the community center should be turned into a shelter for residents, especially those who lose power in a storm. This would require backup generators for people to use the location as a refuge. 

“We’ve really noticed a real change in weather patterns — we’ve been hit by nor’easters — they really batter us,” he said. “It leads to a lot of road reconstruction.”

In terms of property values, the Belle Terre mayor said the noticeable loss in property values was due to a large number of people who inherited their homes from longtime residents all started putting homes on the market at once, many of whom had not been fixed up since the 1960s. To his knowledge, there are only four houses up for sale in the community, and he expects property values to increase up to levels comparable with similarly sized villages on the North Shore.

Sandak also agreed that erosion around homes on the edge of the Sound was a major issue, though he said he had two years ago proposed to property owners a special taxation area that could help pay back a bond that would be used to fix the erosion issues, but only two of 11 homeowners were interested in that.

“We certainly want to try and help stop the erosion there,” he said. 

Trustees

Sheila Knapp

Sheila Knapp

Knapp, who has spent a lifetime amongst the Belle Terre community, said she is running again to continue to make the village live up to her memories of spending time there as a child.

“A year before I was born my parents bought our home in Belle Terre. It was the most wonderful place to grow up,” she said in an email response to questions. “The beach, the friends, the belonging to a community that was like family … I want everybody to love this place as I do.”

Knapp has been beach commissioner since 1977, trustee since 1997 and deputy mayor since 2004. She said the best part of the village is the natural beauty and peacefulness, and that every board she has served on has had the goal “to keep everybody’s quality of life here at it’s best.”

Close to 70 years ago, when Harbor Hills Country Club was built, she said her father got the land for what is now the current beach, which she has long worked to take care of. Otherwise, she said the village has passed noise and construction ordinances to keep the village serene on the weekends. She said the new wall along the beach parking lot is a “dream come true” and their recently installed cell tower has allowed more reception range throughout the village.

The 43-year beach commissioner said that in the future she would continue on with Belle Terre’s current trajectory.

“Things are not broken here,” she said. “We improved communication and do our best to keep residents informed with the website, meetings, emails and letters. All of the trustees and mayor publish our private phone numbers. We want to be accessible.”

Peter Colucci

Peter Colucci

Colucci, who has lived in Belle Terre along with his wife for 12 years, said he is running because he deeply cares about the community and believes he can improve several aspects of the village.

Two things he’s running on are security and modernizing the village’s communication systems. In 2017 he and his wife were victims of a home invasion and burglary where police at the time said the perpetrators got away with several hundred thousand dollars in cash and jewelry.

“I would like to see modernization in all areas,” Colucci said in an email response to questions. “Simple things are easily done such as upgrading security cameras and increasing communication to all residents especially during times of weather-related emergencies.”

He said he would like to continue with current efforts to keep the beauty and quaintness of the village going, but he said he would also look forward to working on a plan to alleviate the issues with Anchorage Road, where people park all along the road making it dangerous for both cars and pedestrians looking to access McAllister County Park. 

Jacquelyn Gernaey

Jacquelyn Gernaey

Gernaey, who has been on the board of trustees for six years after she was originally appointed to the board, said the best part of being on a board like that in Belle Terre is that “trustees really don’t have a personal agenda, and I like being part of a group that can make changes for the village not personally focused.”

The trustee has lived in the village for 25 years, originally hailing from Kings Park. She said she came to love the community feel of Belle Terre, especially since it emphasized keeping trees and nature serene.

As the fiscal officer in the village, Gernaey said one of the big issues she said is that village residents will be losing out in taxes due to the settlement over the Long Island Power Authority power plant tax certiorari case. Over a 10-year glide path, LIPA’s property taxes will decline, which will necessitate village residents pay more in Port Jefferson School District taxes over time.

“We want to continue to get state grants, something we’ve been very successful in doing,” she said, adding they have gotten several hundred thousand for roads from the state and $800,000 in FEMA aid for storm damage.  

In addition, she said she wants to keep the pressure on Suffolk County to remediate the parking issues with McAllister Park on Anchorage Road. She said they have been working with more county park officers to deter any more parking along that road. 

Erosion issues for houses along the sound are also a major issue. While the village has received a small $100,000 grant towards stabilizing the beach, the issue may be in the near future the whole cliff could start to go, making the homes along the bluff structurally unsound. 

“In the last since we applied, we lost 30 feet,” she said. “That’s something we’re really working on.”

As a founder and CEO of two companies, one a human resource outsourcing company and a small business consulting firm, she jokingly said “she certainly doesn’t need this to keep me busy,” but that “she was always taught to give back.”

“We work hard for the village — all about the village, not about us,” she said.

Lou Bove

Bove is the president and CEO of East Setauket-based contractor Bove Industries and is now seeking a seat on the Belle Terre village board.

The candidate did not return several requests for comment through his company. If he does respond in time for the election, his comments will be put on the website version of this article at tbrnewsmedia.com.

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People protest a proposed deer hunting law in front of the Belle Terre Village Hall. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Belle Terre officials got an earful at Village Hall on Tuesday night, as residents and visitors debated a proposal to allow deer hunting in the village over the sounds of jeers and the din of snide remarks.

At a public hearing over the proposed law, which the board of trustees developed in response to complaints about experiences with an increased deer population, more people spoke against hunting than in favor, shifting at least one trustee’s opinion.

Comments touched upon issues of public safety and health as well as quality of life. Yuri Farber was part of the minority speaking in support of hunting, saying the deer are destroying his property and he wants the village to offer him protection or allow him to do something “to get rid of this nuisance.”

“This is just not fair,” he said, noting that he would have recourse if it were a human destroying his plants.

But many speakers favored leaving nature alone.

Chris Nelson said, “It was their foliage before it was ours,” and he likes the environment in his village. Dr. Mike Fracchia, to applause from the audience, said falling trees — such as the ones sent flying during a powerful and unexpected storm in early August — were a larger threat to villagers than deer and the animals were “a nuisance that I’m willing to tolerate.”

Other arguments in opposition to deer hunting in Belle Terre included perceived flaws in the proposed law that would define hunting too broadly or make a new set of regulations impossible to enforce.

One woman, who identified herself as a pediatrician, warned the village board that with every law there are people who abuse it.

According to the proposal, residents and their guests would be allowed to use weapons such as crossbows, BB guns or similar devices other than firearms to hunt on their own properties at least 150 feet away from any home, as long as they have state hunting licenses and a permit from the village.

But many worried a child would get caught in the crosshairs.

Dr. Ken Rosenthal held up a broadhead arrow he found at his front door one day, to gasps and murmurs from the audience. The concern about the welfare of playing kids was repeated throughout the night.

Residents also debated whether hunting deer would produce the result desired.

While some said they were worried about contracting illnesses such as Lyme disease from the ticks deer carry, others said many smaller creatures, such as raccoons, carry those ticks as well. And the pediatrician, a Seaside Drive resident, noted that there are diseases everywhere and “unless we’re going to live in a bubble” we take risks in everything we do.

There were calls for compromises and for the board to do more research into sterilization methods, related costs and the actual size of the deer herd in Belle Terre, as some speakers acknowledged deer as a problem, but the sentiment in the room leaned heavily against allowing hunting.

Jaime Ivory produced a petition of 209 signatures against the proposed village law, representing more than 100 households. Her husband Brendan told the board to “go back to the drawing board.”

“This code needs to be thrown out,” he said about the proposal. “You know it.”

The debate had Trustee Bob Sandak changing his public stance on deer hunting in the village.

In a previous interview, Sandak said he had been leaning toward voting in favor of the hunting law because he wanted to do what the majority of the community wanted. But at Tuesday night’s meeting, Sandak got up to the podium and explained that the proposed regulations would only allow about four or five properties in Belle Terre to legally hunt, and the deer would leave those properties if hunting began.

Gasps and applause erupted in the audience when he said, “So as far as I’m concerned, a hunt at this point is ridiculous to consider.”

Deer rutting season means more of the animals running out on local roads. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Belle Terre residents are up in arms, or ready to take up arms, over a village government proposal to allow bow hunting as a means of reducing the community’s deer population.

The village board of trustees set a public hearing for Sept. 15 to consider a law amendment that would allow the hunting, a notion that has split the community, with some calling for more “humane” approaches to the issue.

The deer population, in the absence of predators, has increased such that “people are having multiple deer sleeping on their lawns at night and eating all their vegetation,” and making driving in the area more treacherous, Trustee Bob Sandak said in a phone interview this week. “We’ve had an outcry from the population to please do something.”

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which manages the state’s deer, the Long Island deer population has been steadily increasing since the 1980s. It calls hunting, or culling deer “still the most efficient and cost-effective way to stabilize or reduce deer populations and alleviate associated damages to private property and natural resources.”

But calling bow hunting “a very cruel way to kill,” resident Natalie Brett said she worried an injured deer would wander into her yard and die.

Brett said she has noticed the deer population increase and the animals eat her plants, but “I don’t have a problem; I just go with it.”

She said she wants to see a more “humane” approach to the deer, using sterilization to prevent breeding, tick control to prevent Lyme disease, or stop signs to slow down traffic in deer crossing areas.

But her main concern is whether allowing bow hunting will “open the door” to other types of hunting in a residential area.

“I didn’t move to a state hunting ground and put up a sign, ‘You shouldn’t hunt,’” Brett said in a phone interview. “I don’t want my neighbor, if he’s 150 feet from my house, having a hunter come in.”

Sandak said any Belle Terre bow hunting would be subject to the same state regulations as in any other community. Among those regulations are minimum distances from homes where hunting can take place, ruling out smaller properties. Sandak estimated a property would have to be three acres or more to legally support bow hunting.

The DEC said fertility control is not as effective as hunting in managing deer populations and does not “quickly reduce deer-human conflicts.” And Sandak said he would not necessarily count sterilization as a more humane method, as it puts deer under “unnatural stress” and could leave the animal open to infection.

It is also costly to pay for anesthetic and a marksman to hit the deer, and “doesn’t reduce the size of the herd because you’re not taking any of the herd away, as hunting would do,” the village trustee said.

Dori Scofield, founder of Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center in Port Jefferson Station, confirmed that sterilization is a costly and tricky method that unnaturally stresses out the deer, but she also said she has at least six veterinarians who would donate time to sterilize deer, and the village is small enough to monitor such a program.

Scofield, a Stony Brook resident, also said in an email that having fewer deer would not reduce Lyme disease cases, as other animals like mice and raccoons also carry ticks. Furthermore, killing deer would not necessarily reduce that population, because it would leave more food for deer from neighboring areas to move in and motivate them to procreate.

“Ideally I would like them to leave the deer be,” Scofield said. “We need to protect the animals in our towns.”

Belle Terre is not the only area considering deer hunting as a means to control the population. The Town of Huntington is mulling a similar proposal for parts of Eaton’s Neck and Asharoken, and residents there are equally split.

Scofield said people who move to a wooded area should expect wildlife.

“I have deer in Stony Brook and, yes, they eat my shrubs and I sip my tea and watch them,” she said. “Then I feed them some horse feed and we all go about our day.”

Sandak said he is leaning toward allowing bow hunting in the village because “I don’t have strong feelings against it” and he wants to vote for what the majority of the community wants.

The Sept. 15 public hearing on the amendment to Belle Terre’s code chapter on hunting and firearms starts at 8 p.m. in the Belle Terre Community Center on Cliff Road.

“I would like everyone to come to the public meeting and express themselves,” Sandak said.