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Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner

Landlord of MS Property Also Owns Historic Derelict House in Port Jeff

The house at 63 Shore Road is owned by TAB Suffolk Acquistions, the same company that owns a historic derelict house in Port Jefferson on Sheep Pasture Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though it is just one of a huge slate of derelict homes the Town of Brookhaven deals with on a monthly basis, one house in Mount Sinai has been causing more issues than others recently.

At the Feb. 27 Town Board meeting, the council members voted to demolish a garage located at 63 Shore Drive in Mount Sinai, though the house would remain untouched.

The garage at 63 Shore Drive in Mount Sinai will soon be taken down if the property owner does not file permits. Photo by Kyle Barr

This set off a press of neighbors angry the Town would not be touching the residential part of the property, which they said has been a problem property for years.

Lynn Capobianco, a Mount Sinai resident and previous president of the school board, said while she appreciates the Town coming in with work crews to keep the property somewhat tame, the issue with the house remains.

“We’ve been saying that for a long time — it’s only in the last year the Town has started to listen,” she said.

In a 2019 report by Hauppauge-based firm Cashin Spinelli and Ferretti LLC, the building was cited as being “in extremely poor condition,” with the inside filled with trash and debris. Additionally, ceilings were collapsing due to water damage, with engineers also suspecting mold. The inspectors cited the property for multiple fire and safety violations. The house was originally boarded up after the report in June 2019. 

Town officials said another reconnaissance of the property was done Feb. 24 of this year. Inspectors did not go into the residential portion of the property, said Brendan Sweeney, who works for the Town, often presenting to the board about these zombie homes. He also said the new analysis by the inspector, “did not certify the house was unsafe.” 

The garage was reportedly collapsing with a building full of debris and garbage. Town officials said inspectors recommended the garage be torn down. The owner has 30 days to file permits showing he’s making an effort to fix the garage before the building is removed.

Some local residents took umbrage with this, citing the 2019 engineering report and their own personal dealings with the property. Several cited issues such as young people exploring the empty structure and animals inhabiting within. 

Kerry Hogan, a neighbor who has worked in and taught construction arts, said on visits to the property the damage was such that the best recourse is to simply tear it down and build something new.

“Once I saw [the] condition, I knew I would not bid on the house when it became available,” she said at the meeting.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) directed all inquiries about the house and plans for demolition to the law department.

Town attorney Annette Eaderesto said the Town senior building inspector went to the house Feb. 24 and saw that the garage was in immediate danger of collapse, while the house wasn’t. 

“This is not the first time we’ve taken down a shed or garage instead of the main residence first,” she said. 

Part of the process, the Town attorney said, takes into account the house is in a transitional historic area. That requires a review from the Historic District Advisory Committee, which meets the second Tuesday of every month. The process is the same whether the building is in the transition zone or the historic district.

Edna Giffen, the recording secretary of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society, said the transition zone is basically a buffer between the Town and the main historic district in Mount Sinai. While the rules affecting property are laxer in the transition zone than the main historic district, she confirmed the Town’s advisory committee still has to look at every permit for property in both. 

Still, she said it was a shame to watch it and other houses deteriorate. Two other buildings, one in the main historic and the other in the transition zone, have been taken down by the Town since 2012 and the impact of Superstorm Sandy.

“It’s a sad situation it was allowed to deteriorate so much,” she said. “It’s like watching an old poor soul die a slow death.” 

Town of Brookhaven notices of the public hearing and the stop-work order when the owner attempted to repair the roof. Photo by Kyle Barr

Since the 2008 mortgage crisis and subsequent recession, the Town has been inundated with thousands of these derelict or zombie homes. Brookhaven has taken the unique approach to dealing with the situation by taking care of flagrant properties, mowing the grass and boarding up homes, then putting liens on these properties. If owners cannot be reached or cannot handle reconstituting the property, then the Town will hire contractors to demolish them, putting the cost as additional liens on the property.

However, in this case, Town officials said they have come across hiccups due to the historic nature of the surrounding area. This does not mean the Town would not be able to demolish the full property in the future.

At the Feb. 27 meeting, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Bonner both said they would like to do an additional engineering report on the property.

Neighbors also said the owner had brought in unlicensed contractors to fix the building’s roof in 2018, but after calls from residents the Town had put a stop-work order on that construction.

The property is owned by TAB Suffolk Acquisitions, an elusive real estate company reportedly based at 63 George St. in Roslyn Heights, according to the Town. Local officials, including from Port Jefferson village and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), have been on the hunt for the company owner as it has also purchased a derelict property at 49 Sheep Pasture Road in Port Jefferson. That house has significant historic worth, according to local historians. The assemblyman interjected before the property could be demolished by the village, and the house has remained boarded up ever since.

Sweeney said the owner of 63 Shore Drive had come to the meeting but left without speaking. He did not get the owner’s name. 

Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) said TAB Suffolk Acquisitions has bought up a lot of property in Suffolk foreclosures, according to their data from the comptroller’s office. Bonner criticized the company for sitting on such properties and not doing anything with them.

“There’s a lot of money coming out of the city and western Nassau — there’s a lot of property being bought up,” Panico said. “This is one of those companies that buys up a ton of houses.”

Neighbors said they knew the owner only as “Sam.” They said he has been cordial in the past but has largely been absent.

When called, the person on the other end who confirmed he was the owner of the property said they are in the process of getting permits from the Town to fix up the property, “within 30 days.”

He spoke about his prior attempts to fix the roof before the Town put a stop-work order on those repairs. As to residents’ complaints, he said residents have known and stayed silent on the state of the house for longer than recent efforts to demolish it.

“The house has been in this shape for years,” he said.

After he said his name was Sam, he hung up the phone and did not answer further calls for comment. 

Brookhaven Town officials, with Supervisor Ed Romaine at the microphone, join local representatives from the state and nearby townships to protest the LIRR’s planned fare hike. Photo from TOB

Local and state officials, along with citizen advocates voiced a collective message to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City during a press conference at Ronkonkoma train station on March 2: “Stop shortchanging Long Island.” 

The group called on the MTA to abandon its plan for a systemwide 4 percent fare increase in 2021 for Long Island Rail Road customers, including those in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The decision was a part of the NYC Outer Borough Rail Discount plan which offers an up to 20 percent discount for city riders. 

“Everything is being pushed out to Long Island in terms of expenses and it won’t be long until you’re expected to buy them a coffee and a bagel as well.”

— Ed Smyth

“Long Island is not the cash cow for New York City,” said Ed Romaine (R), Brookhaven Town supervisor. “This is unconscionable, this is a handout to the city at the expense of Long Island.”

Romaine said a typical Ronkonkoma LIRR commuter who purchases a monthly parking pass, monthly train ticket and unlimited ride Metrocard would have to pay $7,224 annually. 

“The MTA has not made the capital investments it should on Long island — what about our riders?” Romaine said. 

The supervisor added that Long Island has already been shortchanged regarding electrification, as there is no electrification east of Huntington and none past the Ronkonkoma station.

The discounts were mandated by the state Legislature as a condition of its approval of congestion pricing legislation, which would create new tolls for drivers in Manhattan to help fund the authority’s $51.5 billion capital program. The plan will go into effect in May of this year. 

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) also took issue with the MTA’s decision. 

“We had the congestion pricing vote, which I voted against it,” he said. “This is completely counterintuitive to the folks using the trains. Congestion pricing was meant to get individuals to start using public transportation and not use their vehicles.”

He added that the MTA has billions of dollars of subsidies from the state and federal government. 

“This is a New York City problem — we should not bear the brunt of it,” he said. “Mayor [Bill] de Blasio [D] should pay for this — they are overwhelmingly serviced [by the MTA].”

The MTA board is made up of 21 stakeholders appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), including people recommended by unions and municipalities such as the city and surrounding counties. Kevin Law represents Suffolk County, and was nominated by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The other Long Island representative, David Mack, represents Nassau.

Despite their differences, officials continued to agree with the planned change at a Feb. 26 board meeting, saying they expect the up to 20 percent discount to entice Queens and Brooklyn commuters to use the LIRR if they live far from a subway line.

MTA officials say this is a pilot program up to one year’s duration. 

However, on Long Island, other local officials voiced their displeasures. 

“This is unconscionable, this is a handout to the city at the expense of Long Island.”

— Ed Romaine

Ed Smyth (R), Huntington Town councilman, said commuters will essentially be paying for their ticket and for somebody in NYC. 

“Everything is being pushed out to Long Island in terms of expenses and it won’t be long until you’re expected to buy them a coffee and a bagel as well,” he said. 

Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), Brookhaven Town councilman, said the MTA plan would negatively affect the progress they’ve made to bring transit-oriented development to the area. 

“On a town level, this is something we’ve been working on for years,” he said. “The Tritec [Ronkonkoma Hub] development is an example of that. It will make it easier for Long islanders to get into the city. With these fee increases it will make it harder for them to afford to live here and ride here.”

Palumbo added he will be writing a letter to Cuomo in the coming days and will ask Long Island representatives from both political parties to sign it. The assemblyman is hopeful the plan can be changed before the NYS budget deadline next month. 

“Hopefully he can see it, and this can be fixed on April 1 — I’m just hoping that it doesn’t fall on deaf ears,” he said. 

The Rocky Point Fire Department, including the Shoreham fire station, is soon expected to expand coverage for the Village of Shoreham. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Rocky Point Fire District will soon extend its coverage area to include the Village of Shoreham. 

Town of Brookhaven officials have already scheduled a public hearing later in the month for the resolution, which is expected to pass. In conjunction, as part of the village merging into the fire district, officials passed a resolution that authorized the tax assessor to consolidate the district’s three separate tax zones into one. 

Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said both the Town and fire district could not get it done without the other. The change in tax zones will essentially make for a more streamlined process for the district.

“After the public hearing, if it was supported by my colleagues, [the fire district] would include the Village of Shoreham,” said Bonner. “It is essentially an easier process and less paperwork for both of them.” 

The two latest decisions come after a months-long process where Shoreham officials requested home rule applications to extend the fire district boundaries to encompass the 0.5-square-mile village. In May 2019, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a bill introduced by state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) that authorized the fire district extension. 

Rocky Point Fire District attorney, the Port Jefferson-based Bill Glass who represents the fire district, said the change wouldn’t affect the day-to-day operations of the fire departments and district.

“Operationally there will be no change at all within the district,” he said. “There will not be a significant change to the amount the village already pays for emergency services.” 

Glass said the process should be seamless as the village has contracted out to the fire district for the past decade. He said he doesn’t expect the tax rates for residents to change that much and would probably be similar to the amount that they paid when Shoreham was contracting them. 

On the subject of the consolidation of the three tax zones, the lawyer said the decision was necessary as there was no point in having three separate tax districts anymore. 

“The tax zones were put in place because at one point there were three different water companies [in the area] who had their own tax rates,” Glass said. “That stopped with the Suffolk Water Authority — this helps streamline a lot of things.”

For Shoreham, being a part of the fire district could allow the village budget to decrease as they are not using funds for fire/emergency services. 

A representative from the village could not be reached for comment.

In addition, bringing the village into the fold would allow Shoreham residents to run for positions like fire commissioner. 

The Town will hold a public hearing for the fire district extension Feb. 27. 

Mary Ann Fox stands behind veteran Jack Grady, her proofreader and historical expert. Photo by Kyle Barr

It’s been little less than a year since Mary Ann Fox, of Leisure Glen in Ridge, finished her book of veterans in her own small community, titled “Proudly We Served.” 

There are a few hundred homes in the 55-and-older gated community of Leisure Glen,  and the stories of 63 veterans of that community lie within those pages, tales of both horror and heroism, of people who constantly and consistently told her they were proud to serve their country, hence the book’s title. 

The 63 veterans and their families from Leisure Glen in Ridge whose stories were published in a book by Mary Ann Fox.
Photo from Fox

In the time since the book was officially released last April, 325 copies have been printed, and Fox  has brought her books and those stories to local vets groups, schools, libraries and other civic-type groups.

But the time since her book’s release has also been heartbreaking. She has seen several of those men whose lives were memorialized in the pages of her book pass away.

On April 28, 2019, she held a ceremony in Leisure Glen that displayed her work to a packed room, including several elected officials. Just two months later, one of the vets, Andy Estrema, died. His story is one of the most harrowing described in the book. As a Marine during the Korean War, he fought in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, where soldiers struggled against not only enemy machine guns but also a bitter cold that reached as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit. He fought off waves of the enemy that struggled up the hill in the face of American machine gunners. He fought barefoot and lost all of his toes from frostbite. He was shot and injured during the battle in his lower back and only survived thanks to the men who fought alongside him.

Yet, Fox knew, this was the reason she wrote the book. The stories of those 63 veterans from Leisure Glen would, if not etched in stone, be forever contained in the glossy pages of her book. It would remain in the hands of the veterans’ families for as long as they could keep it.

“I felt very privileged,” she said. “They were sharing stories with me [that] some had not even shared with their family.”

She had been invited to Estrema’s military funeral, where she sat with the family as the ceremonial officers snapped the flag 13 times into a tight triangular fold. There, she said she could  not help but tear up knowing the honor she was witnessing for the first time, firsthand. 

Though it was the first military funeral she personally experienced, it wouldn’t be her last in the several months since her book was released.

That is the reality of the book she wrote, as she knows the stories contained within would outlast the men who told them. It has become a boon for the families whose loved ones have served, helping to prompt conversations about such events that they had rarely experienced before. Even during the writing process, Fox saw the effect that simply listening could have. 

“They were waiting for someone to say, ‘I know you served in World war II …’ [I say] you served your country, tell me what you did, tell me your story and let me weave it into a story of your service to the country,” she said. “I say ‘tell me what you want me to write.’”

The Writing Process

Fox never had it in mind to write a book such as this. Before retiring, she owned a travel agency in Middle Island. She retired and moved to North Carolina in 1998. After 12 years, when her husband passed, she decided to move back to Long Island to be closer to her daughter, picking a spot quite close to the center of Leisure Glen.

It was 2018, Memorial Day, and American Legion Post 352 held a meeting at the gated community that would etch the idea in Fox’s mind. 

“She heard our voices before our voices were stilled.”

— Jack Grady

The post commander said that one should get to know the stories of the veterans around them, because come Memorial Day next year, many would not be around any longer, their lives and stories taken by the march of time.

“He said, ‘Look at us, we get smaller in number every year, and we’re not going to be here forever.’” Fox recalled. “And then he finished by saying, ‘and you know what and nobody is going to know we were here.’”

It was the first time she had ever even thought about publishing a work such as that. 

Before writing the book, she said, like most people, she had no real idea just what it was to have gone through war. Listening to their stories, she said she could tell just what kind of person it requires to go through that experience. Some stories hit her hard, such as Estrema’s. He had written everything out himself, what ended up being five pages in her book. During their conversation, she had to excuse herself. 

“I went into the bathroom and I cried my heart out,” she said. “What they went through in this battle … he thoroughly believed that somewhere in battle, the blessed mother came to him — a very religious man, and he was until the day he died.”

With the massive number of interviews under her belt, with the piles and piles of notes on her desk, she quickly learned she needed somebody to help her unpack all the jargon and help her with grammar. That’s where Jack Grady came in, a 93-year-old World War II Army vet who also sees himself as an amateur military historian. Fox would drop off the pages to him, and then a day later he would call her back to give her the pages dotted with red pen marks and questions, asking her to go back and confirm some information with those fellow vets.

Before Fox, he said he had never been asked much about his own story. In his mind, it is mostly du to people’s desire to move on from such grave history.

“It was in the past,” Grady said. “The war was over, and of course we had Korea and, unfortunately, Vietnam, so World War II faded into [the] distance … it’s not that people were callous or anything, but they have their own concerns, and they don’t want to listen to these kinds of things unless somebody broaches the subject.” 

The elder veteran looks at the book now as a testament, a means to forever keep their stories alive.

“We’re gone, almost,” he said. “She heard our voices before our voices were stilled.”

If Fox couldn’t talk to the veterans themselves, such as several who had recently passed, she received their stories from their wives. She got to know the tales of so many vets, and in writing the book, many of those family members finally got to hear the story of their service. After doing the first stint of a two-day interview with Korean War veteran James Dragone, his daughter followed Fox outside, quickly wrapping her arms around her with tears in her eyes. Fox thought, at first, she must have done something wrong, asked the wrong question or said the wrong thing, but then the daughter started thanking her, saying it was the first time she heard that story of her father.

“Her contribution to her community has been very significant — it was a labor of love you rarely see.”

— Jane Bonner

Each of the stories tells not just of a man, but a man within a community. It speaks of their children and grandchildren, of men like Daniel Testa, a Korean War vet’s amazing homemade mozzarella. Dragone’s story says Leisure Glen members knew him as the Flag Man because “for 20 years he raised and lowered our flags daily.”

Why had they not talked about it before to their families? Fox said in many cases it was the past, and these men wanted to move on.

“The World War II men — they saw so much they wanted to put it behind them — they were still young men — and start their life,” Fox said. “The Korean War veterans — they, I think, pretty much felt the same … The Vietnam veterans, they came home wounded, mentally, physically, but mostly mentally.”

Of the three wars covered in the book, the Vietnam War section is the shortest. She thinks that was due to the war they fought, and the things they must have witnessed during the fighting, and most simply they were proud to serve.

“There’s a Vietnam veteran in there who has three Purple Hearts, and when I introduced him at the ceremony, the one thing he asked me to do was not mention that,” she said. “They’re not looking for any glory.”

Ceremony and Reaction

At last year’s ceremony, which finally displayed more than a year’s worth of effort, a packed crowd listened to the introduction of all service members included in the book. The ceremony was joined by Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and a representative from U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-NY1) office. 

Little less than a year since then, Bonner said seeing all the work that went into such an event, and all the effort Fox put into the book, it was hard to come away not being dazzled by her efforts. 

“I was just so impressed by her passion to undertake something like this,” she said. “Her contribution to her community has been very significant — it was a labor of love you rarely see.”

The book is a coil-bound glossy print, with a cover designed by her daughter. The ceremony’s program cover was designed by Carl Schmidt, a 95-year-old World War II veteran who was Fox’s first interview.

The event was officiated by Monsignor Charles Fink, himself a Vietnam veteran and the author of the famous poem “Bury Me with Soldiers.” After all names were called, Fink was recognized for his service, and once Fox said the Catholic priest was a Purple Heart recipient, all men who could stand stood, and all applauded.

Fox has taken her book nearly everywhere it has been requested, including Comsewogue and North Shore public libraries, the Tesla Science Center, the Long Island State Veterans Home and Albert G. Prodell Middle School for their annual Living History Day last May. She said she plans to attend this year’s event and hopes to bring with her a veteran from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. She also hopes she may be able to start a letter-writing campaign between the students and veterans.

Last year at the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, she was also awarded a plaque for her work by the Town. 

“They were sharing stories with me [that] some had not even shared with their family.”

— Mary Ann Fox

Joe Cognitore, the Rocky Point VFW post commander, called Fox “a very dedicated woman.” She came to one of the VFW’s meetings last year with several of the vets described in her book, and a few even decided to become members of Post 6249. He had even seen her at the Long Island Veterans home, handing out ornaments to some of those living there.

“I couldn’t thank her enough for all her work of preserving veterans’ history, especially the World War II veterans,” Cognitore said. 

Before it was printed, two publishers were interested in the book, but the issue was it would have taken six to seven months for them to produce a finished product. For the veterans whose stories needed to be told, she knew she needed to print as soon as possible. Since April 2019, Estrema, Dragone and several other vets or their wives who provided the stories for the book have passed away. She knows she made the right choice, and she currently plans to keep it self-published with any additional printings.

Grady said Fox was one of the few people who could pull off a work like this, but of course, there are always more stories to tell.

“Most fellas don’t want to talk about those things, and it takes prodding to get the story done,” he said. “Mary Ann did 60, and I bet you she could do another 30 who didn’t answer the original ad.”

The VFW has asked if she could do a similar work for them, but she is still unsure since the men whom she wrote about in her book were from her own community, and it would be different venturing out to neighboring places. In Leisure Glen, newly arrived residents and others who did not originally respond to the first book requests have asked if they too could be included in later editions, and she said she is still trying to wrap her mind around what could be next. 

For now, she’s simply looking to spread the stories of the veterans, her friends, the members of her community. She hopes other people look to the veterans in their communities and look to learn their stories as well.

“To be honest, before the book, I didn’t really grasp the concept of what these men went through,” she said. “You have to sit across from them, you have to see it in their eyes, and it just comes pouring out.”

Cayla and Iris Rosenhagen pose for a photo during a beach cleanup at Cedar Beach last August. Photo by Kyle Barr

Approximately 8 million tons of plastic waste is dumped into the oceans each year, according to the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy. Long Islanders have seen what plastic waste can do to their waterways and beaches firsthand.

Cayla and Iris Rosenhagen, two 14-year-old twins from Selden, wanted to change that and in July 2019 they created a beach cleanup initiative fittingly called the Beach Bucket Brigade.

Throughout the summer, the duo hosted seven beach cleanups, and with the help of about 300 volunteers they were able to remove more than 23,500 pieces of litter off Long Island beaches — 45 percent of that was plastic waste.

The sisters said now that they are not too focused and busy planning events, they’ve been able to reflect on the success they’ve accomplished these past few months.

“We are ecstatic, everything has gone so well, and everyone has been so supportive of us,” Cayla said.

From a young age, the sisters have had a keen interest in the environment, nature and animals. They said they would go out on their own and do cleanups and wanted to see if they could get more people involved.

“They really thought of everything, they’ve done this all on their own and really made their vision a reality.”

– Jane Bonner

“We had the idea for a couple of months and we wanted to find a way to get the community involved,” Iris said. “We reached out to the Town [of Brookhaven] and they liked what we had in mind.”

Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) said it was great seeing young people take the initiative for a good cause.

“The presentation they gave us was so well done, we were immediately all on board and wanted to help in any way we could,” LaValle said. “It has been a great collaboration and the whole program/initiative really sets up well for the future.”

One of the events hosted by the twins included a Beach Bucket Brigade Books at the Beach event that involved a story time for young kids before heading out to clean the beach. At all cleanups, for each bucket of trash volunteers returned they were given a raffle ticket in which they could win eco-friendly prizes, recycled toys and products donated by a number of local businesses.

“They really thought of everything,” said Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), who attended one of the beach cleanups at Cedar Beach back in August. “They’ve done this all on their own and really made their vision a reality.”

For the duo’s effort, the town honored them by making Sept. 12 Cayla and Iris Rosenhagen Day. They also appointed them to the youth board, which advises the Brookhaven Youth Bureau about issues affecting young people.

The twin sisters said they have already begun formulating ideas and events for next spring and summer. They also stressed that there are small things people can do to alleviate the abundance of plastic waste.

“What kind of eco-friendly [New Year’s] resolution are you going to make?” they said. “Everybody can do their part and cut out the amount of plastic they use.”

Like LaValle, Bonner has been impressed with what the Rosenhagen twins have accomplished.

“We have been blown away by their presence and passion, this is not the last time you will hear of Cayla and Iris — they are going places and they have a bright future,” Bonner said.

To find more information about Beach Bucket Brigade and future events visit their Facebook page.

Individuals and groups dived into frigid waters Nov. 23 for the 10th annual Brookhaven Polar Plunge. Photo by Kyle Barr

The icebox temperature of the coastal waters of Long Island Sound keep most away from any bathing activities, but on Nov. 23 the Suffolk County police and other volunteers could barely contain the crowd who rushed in wave after wave to bathe themselves in the frigid Sound off Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. 

Close to 750 participants joined in the 10th annual Town of Brookhaven Polar Plunge, raising a projected $150,000 for the Special Olympics. Diane Colonna, the regional vice president of development for Special Olympics New York, said it costs about $400 to provide training and to sponsor one athlete per season, though many train and compete over multiple seasons. 

“Most people are not really into jumping into freezing cold waters, but people are doing it — they’re doing it for our athletes,” Colonna said. “What’s really cool is our athletes are doing it as well, and it’s something they can do together.”

She added that the number of participants has been relatively steady over the past several years and is one of the biggest fundraising events for the Special Olympics in New York.

“Our athletes live to the extreme every day in showing they are part of things and want to be included,” she said.

Plungers participated alone or in teams, with some raising several thousand dollars. Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) along with the team Frozen Eagles have raised $2,555 so far. The Port Jefferson High School Varsity Club announced it had 70 students intending to participate in this year’s event, which is about 25 percent of the total population of grades 9 through 12. By the end, the group raised over $11,000, according to club co-adviser Deirdre Filippi, and that donation will help to sponsor approximately 27 athletes. 

“We are incredibly proud of our student athletes and their efforts,” Filippi said. “It truly was a rewarding experience for all.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner. File Photo by Giselle Barkley

It’s been 12 years since Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) first stepped into office, and we at TBR News Media say she richly deserves another term. 

Bonner has been a steadfast representative for her district, and despite her years on board she remains tireless in representing the people of her district. The Mount Sinai Jetty repairs are finally coming to fruition, much thanks to her advocacy. She is a consistent friend to local civic groups such as Mount Sinai’s in its advocacy for refocusing the Mount Sinai Meadows project toward millennial-geared apartments. Her work helping to remediate zombie homes cannot be understated. 

Sarah Deonarine has a good breadth of knowledge relating to environmental issues but lacks detail in her plans to deal with people leaving Long Island and addressing zombie homes. The liens placed on properties after they are demolished hinders new people buying the property, but in the end, someone has to pay for that remediation. 

Last year, the town included Proposition 1 on the ballot that restricted candidates to three terms but also increased the stint of those terms to four years. Our newspapers endorsed against the proposition, which allows incumbents like Bonner to continue in office for two extra years than they had for the past decade. We do hope that will allow candidates to focus more on issues and less on campaigning, but we also wish town reps listen to dissenting voices over Proposition 1 and take those complaints into account with any future referendums.

Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) and Democrat Sarah Deonarine are asking for residents votes Nov. 5. Photos by David Luces

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), a longtime civic leader and six-term council member since 2007 is facing a challenge from Democratic Sarah Deonarine, a marine biologist out of Coram with years of working in state and local government.

In an October debate at the TBR News Media offices, candidates went back and forth over questions of development on the North Shore, clean energy initiatives and keeping young people on Long Island.

“What I’m hearing is that people want to stay in their homes — age in place.”

— Sarah Deonarine

Deonarine said she sees Brookhaven at “full carrying capacity” in terms of development and is calling for a study on capacity to see if the town is at “full build-out.” She added that another issue which leads to the Island’s brain drain is a lack of affordable or millennial housing, compared to states like Colorado.

“What I’m hearing is that people want to stay in their homes — age in place,” she said.

Other issues for her is the lien put on a property after a derelict house is removed, making redevelopment expensive. She asked that the list of zombie homes in town be made public, as well as refocus Brookhaven Code Enforcement Division which she called aggressive in “trying to make money for the town.”

Bonner instead cited the Route 25A corridor study, and which started in the first years of her first term, which she boasted has been picked up by the Town of Riverhead and continued by Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) in the Three Village area. The study led to “massive rezonings” which limited further build-out. She said all current large-scale developments were grandfathered in before the outcome of the study. 

One of those includes the senior living facility development going up along Route 25A in Mount Sinai, which came about after the Mount Sinai Civic sued the town to stop another “Ranches style” development. The Mount Sinai Meadows project was reconfigured from retail space into majority millennial-geared rental/part commercial.

“Mount Sinai Meadows is going to change the face of Mount Sinai,” Bonner said. “It’s also going to stimulate the [Mt. Sinai] shopping center that’s right next to it.”

She disagreed with Deonarine’s statement on code enforcement, saying the division was more focused on the well-being of people in their homes. She said Suffolk County police asked the town not to publicize the list of zombie homes.

The town has boasted of its clean energy initiatives, including solar farms and wind farms at Town Hall in Farmingdale. Bonner called the solar farm developments in Shoreham a way of reducing the impact of farms and grass products on the aquifer while growing green energy in the town. She mentioned the electric car charging stations at sites like Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. 

“We’re doing our part to reduce our carbon footprint.”

— Jane Bonner

“We’re doing our part to reduce our carbon footprint,” the incumbent said.

The Democratic challenger said she thinks it’s time Long Island as a whole moves away from being hesitant on new green energy initiatives, especially with complaints over aesthetics. 

“People are afraid of their views being blocked — it’s a time we need to move past that, and it’s time to think about the environment and move away from fossil fuels,” she said.

If elected, Deonarine said she would bring a different viewpoint to the board, six of whom are Republican with one lone Democrat. She also pushed her opponent on proposition 1, the referendum given the green light by voters last November, saying it had been poorly worded, giving town council members term limits while at the same time extending terms from two to four years. She said the Republican members of the board largely supported it, and though Cartright had at first supported it, she later pulled back her support.

“The current board makeup, and current Republican Party makeup, it is very biased,” she said. “With only one Democrat on the board, that’s not a representation of the Town of Brookhaven.”

Bonner said the board has been bipartisan in getting things done, with no lack of ability or willingness to cross party lines and help each other in daily duties. In terms of proposition 1, “we all supported to go to referendum for the four-year terms,” she said. “It was overwhelmingly supported by nearly 60 percent.”

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A rendering of the proposed development in Mount Sinai. Image from Steven Losquadro

A Mount Sinai millennial housing project, located on Route 25A near Myrtle Street, dubbed Mount Sinai Meadows inches closer to breaking ground on construction. 

On July 19, Woodmere-based real estate developer Basser-Kaufman was approved of a change of zoning from J-Business 2 to Planned Development District. The application is currently being reviewed by the Town of Brookhaven Planning Board. 

Lori Murphy, legislative aide for Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said the application is currently being looked at by the Planning Board and will have to be reviewed by multiple departments including the Highway Department. 

Asked if she knew how long the Planning Board would take to review the application, Murphy said it varies from a case by case basis and could only confirm that the zone change was approved by the town. 

Site plans for the project call for 140 housing units, including 106 two-bedroom apartments and 34 one-bedroom apartments. The complex will have bike racks, walkable grounds, communal barbecue areas, electric car charging stations, a large open lawn for the use of residents and four spaces toward the northern end of the property that will be used for large retail spaces, according to a March 2019 TBR News Media article. There will be 21.78 acres used for residential housing, while 8.3 acres will be retail. 

The mixed-use complex will be geared toward creating a living space for young adults and young professionals. According to the developers, they are catering toward the 20-34 age group. 

Ann Becker, president of the Mount Sinai Civic Association, reiterated that the civic supports the development and are awaiting to hear updates from the town once it goes through planning. 

“We want something for young people and professionals,” she said. “We were looking for flexible options for available housing for young people, the developer has assured us at this point that the number of children won’t burden the community.”

She brought up another point that approximately 20 percent of the housing stock in the hamlet is for those 55 and older. Becker said they didn’t want an overload of senior living facilities in the area. 

Construction is currently underway for two projects, a 120-unit Bristal assisted living community and a 225-unit senior rental complex for individuals 55 and over at the corner of Echo Avenue and Route 25A.

Becker said while some children could come out from the development, she said she believes it could aid the declining school enrollment in the Mount Sinai School District. 

Marc Kemp, a representative at Bassar-Kaufman, said once they can get site plan approval from the planning board they will move forward with the development.

“It [the review] could take eight to 10 months,” Kemp said. “Once we get the approval we want to break ground as soon as possible.”

Above, Cayla Rosenhagen, Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) and Iris Rosenhagen pose for a selfie. Photo by Kyle Barr

Walking along Cedar Beach Aug. 2, one child’s foot scuffed along something that wasn’t rock or sand. Lifting it out, Sean Hoag and his father Benjamin looked down and saw a small straw. Sean sticks it in his bucket. After walking around for 10 minutes, his small bucket is nearly full to the brim with everything from pieces of plastic to cigarettes to bottle caps.

Mermaid Mist thanks Sean Hoag for cleaning up the beach. Photo by Kyle Barr

Over two days, young people like Sean helped dig out just under 8,000 pieces of litter from Cedar Beach, according to Cayla and Iris Rosenhagen, two 14-year-old twins from Selden who helped start the beach cleanup they dubbed Beach Bucket Brigade.

From when they were around 10 years old, the girls would strike out on their own to do cleanups at their local parks and beaches, but on Aug. 2 and 3, the environmentally-minded sisters took it to the next level, hosting their own Beach Bucket Brigade to help clear Mount Sinai’s premier town beach of garbage and debris. They had planned the event for little more than two months ago.

“We really love wildlife. We’ve always been interested in conservation,” said Cayla. “We’ve been interested in beach cleanups in the past, and we’ve done some ourselves, so we wanted to find a way to reach other community members.”

Both Rosenhagen sisters were involved in all parts of the project, from collecting garbage to showing a breakdown of all the trash they collected after the fact.

“Wherever we go here, there’s litter everywhere,” Iris said. “So, it’s really a beautification project, to help the environment and help the animals.” 

The 14-year-old pointed out that just in the first few minutes of holding their event, they already had many families walking around doing their part, adding, “So it’s not just us.”

The girls reached out to Town of Brookhaven town officials to help get everything set, including Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), who said she was more than happy to oblige.

Participants walk along Cedar Beach picking up debris. Photo by Kyle Barr

“This was all on their own, and they met with Councilman [Kevin LaValle (R-Selden)] with their own agenda, their own meeting,” Bonner said. “They designed everything, all on their own.”

From a young age, the Rosenhagen twins have been infatuated with nature, especially animals, and among those, especially birds. Their mother, Raina, said before the girls could talk, they would make animal noises instead.

“They had the idea, and I just said run with it,” she said. “They took a chance on it, and we’re very pleasantly surprised it’s been well received.” 

Within a few minutes of searching, participants were already back to the main tent, handing over buckets full of debris and trash. For each bucket of trash they returned, they were given a raffle ticket in which they could win any number of ecologically-sourced and recycled toys and products. In addition to the buckets, each bucketeer was given a bingo card, where they could strike out a patch for each different type of material they found on the beach.

The day was meant to incentivize and make enjoyable the act of taking care of one’s surroundings. Local mermaid actors, Mist and Marina, came to Cedar Beach to wish the cleanup well and give “mermaid kisses and starfish wishes” to the young people who helped clean the beach.

Making taking care of the beach fun is especially important, Iris said, as she pointed out approximately 8 million tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans each year, while items like plastic straws and other plastic items are either ingested by marine life or otherwise harm them by being caught in gills or other parts of sea creatures.

Participants walk along Cedar Beach picking up debris. Photo by Kyle Barr

On Friday, Aug. 2, around 60 volunteers collected 3,827 pieces of litter, a majority of which was plastic, glass and cigarette butts. The following day, volunteers collected 3,885 pieces of litter, even more of which was plastic but also a heavier amount of paper products.

The sisters’ dad, Craig, said his daughters have managed to make him even more environmentally-minded than he already was, and have even volunteered to help set up another beach cleanup at Sunken Meadow State Park for him and his company.

“Most of this is just homegrown,” the father said. “They just care so much about the animals and, obviously, the planet.”

This is only the beginning for the Beach Bucket Brigade, with them already advertising additional cleanups at the beach Aug. 29 with what’s called the Beach Bucket Brigade’s Books at the Beach that involves a story time for young kids under the age of 10 then heading out to again clean the beach of litter.

“In your head, you know there’s something you can do,” Iris said.