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Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine

Lee Koppelman, sitting, in April 2018, was presented with a replica of the sign that marks a nature preserve dedicated in his honor by former Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine. Photo from 2018 by Alex Petroski

After the passing of Lee Koppelman, Suffolk County’s first regional planning board director, he is remembered fondly by those who knew him and his considerable work.

File photo/TBR News Media

Koppelman, of South Setauket, died on March 21, at age 94, at Stony Brook University Hospital.

“Lee Koppelman was a true pioneer whose comprehensive vision for sustainable development on Long Island was well ahead of his time and laid the foundation for countless initiatives we are still pursuing to this day,” said County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in a statement. “Lee’s push, against political backlash, to preserve open space, manage coastal erosion and improve water quality has had a lasting impact that spans generations.”

Bellone added, “As a county, we continue to pull his ideas ‘off the drawing board,’ with more than 20,000 acres of open space and farmland being preserved, as well as continued investments into downtown sewering, water quality improvements and public transit corridors.”

Before his illustrious career, Koppelman was born in Harlem on May 19, 1927. He grew up in Astoria and graduated from Bryant High School in Queens. His parents owned greenhouses in addition to a flower shop in Manhattan.

Koppelman was a Navy veteran who joined in 1945. He held a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from City College of New York and a master’s degree from Pratt Institute. He also earned a doctorate in public administration from New York University.

After he was married, Koppelman and his wife, Connie, moved to Hauppauge, where the planner, then president of the Hauppauge Civic Association, would play an instrumental role in the development of the Hauppauge Industrial Park.

In 1960 the Koppelmans moved to Smithtown and in the late 1980s to East Setauket. In 2014, he and his wife moved to Jefferson Ferry’s independent living in South Setauket. According to his son Keith, Koppelman designed and built his homes in Hauppauge, Smithtown and East Setauket. 

Koppelman served as the first Suffolk County regional planning board director for 28 years, from 1960 to 1988, and also served as the executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk Regional Planning Board from 1965 to 2006. He was an early advocate for preserving open space and was responsible for drawing up Suffolk’s first comprehensive master plan in 1970.

In an article by historian Noel Gish posted to the Stony Brook University website, he described Koppelman as “a planning gymnast, contorting and twisting his way through the development of the post-World War II period on Long Island.”

In addition to his accomplishments in his planning career, Koppelman was a professor emeritus at Stony Brook University, where he taught until last semester, according to his son. In 1988, he was appointed director of the Center for Regional Policy Studies at the school. The center handles research projects including governmental productivity, strategic economic planning and environmental planning.

“Lee Koppelman was a true pioneer whose comprehensive vision for sustainable development on Long Island was well ahead of his time and laid the foundation for countless initiatives we are still pursuing to this day.”

— Steve Bellone

According to his profile on the university’s website, his focus was “the environmental policy aspects of regional planning and has been specifically directed toward coastal zone management.”

Among his accomplishments listed on the SBU website, he was project manager for research “including coastal regional planning, comprehensive water management, shoreline erosion practices and related studies.” He was also involved “in the development of synthesis techniques for relating coastal zone science into the regional planning process.”

Leonie Huddy, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Political Science, said Koppelman was “a leading member of the Stony Brook Political Science Department for over five decades and trained generations of local and regional leaders and policy analysts. He will be sorely missed.”

Koppelman also served as executive director of the Long Island Regional Planning Board and was chairman emeritus of the Town of Brookhaven Open Space and Farmland Acquisition Advisory Committee.

A 46-acre parcel of woodlands near the Stony Brook campus was named after him during a ceremony in April of 2018. Now known as Lee E. Koppelman Nature Preserve, the property east of Nicolls Road and south of the university has been owned by the Town of Brookhaven for nearly 50 years and was used as passive open space.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), who was a county legislator in the 1980s, said in a phone interview he worked closely with Koppelman during his time in the Legislature working on open space acquisitions in Suffolk County. Romaine was able to get one of the largest acquisitions with the former Havens Estate in Center Moriches. The acquisition included 263 acres of land, now known as Terrell River County Park, that sits from Montauk Highway south to Moriches Bay. He also worked with Koppelman on other acquisitions.

In later years, Koppelman hired Romaine, a former full-time teacher, to teach a graduate course at SBU in 2005. He described Koppelman as gifted and intelligent. He said the two may not have always agreed on matters, “but I always thought his heart was in the right place.”

“I thought he was a visionary, and people say, ‘Well, what does it mean to be a visionary or to have vision,” Romaine said. “Well, vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. He made quite visible to us the possibility of things that we should be working on as a county in terms of farmland acquisition, preservation, where development should take place.”

Romaine said he counts himself among others who “are beginning to see that his vision was for the, most part, the correct vision for the future of Long Island, and we regret those things where past leaders did not have the same vision — it was invisible to them to see what he was saying, what his vision was.”

The town supervisor said many would visit Koppelman’s office at SBU to seek advice.

Lee Koppelman in a recent photo from Jefferson Ferry where he lived.

“He was a guy with a tremendous amount of knowledge,” Romaine said. “He will be missed for a long time, and his contributions will go on long after his passing, so I have nothing but absolute praise for Lee Koppelman and his efforts to make sure that Long Island was somewhat more rational than it is today.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said Koppelman was a superb administrator who knew how to surround himself with expert master planners. He said Koppelman and the planners “reflected a sense of mission and a sense of strength,” and he leaves behind a great legacy.

“In the years in which sprawl was a menace, every morning, there was Lee Koppelman and his cadre of top-flight planners who offered another vision for Long Island and made a difference, and enabled us to really bring thought into the experience of what appeared to be a daily exercise in chaos on the roadways and in the hallways where approvals for construction were being granted,” Englebright said. “He was a breath of fresh air.”

Englebright said Koppelman’s legacy will continue.

“The expectation, which is really built on of his legacy, is that we will plan, we will reason and we will make thoughtful decisions regarding our land use and natural resource uses,” Englebright said.

Koppelman is survived by his wife, Connie; four children Lesli, Claudia, Laurel and Keith; and three grandchildren Ezra, Ora and Dara. A funeral was held Thursday, March 24, at Shalom Memorial Chapels in Smithtown.

“We shared our father’s time and attention with the entire community of Long Island,” Keith Koppelman said in an email. “We have always been and will remain incredibly proud of him. Working for a rational future for Long Island did take him away from us at times, but now we have reminders of him everywhere we travel on the Island.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Erika Karp

Fund reallocation would help up to 100 more households

In a letter to the Commissioner of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (NYS OTDA), Supervisor Ed Romaine advised that the Town of Brookhaven return and reallocate $1.5 million in administrative funds received from the United States Department of Treasury as part of a second round of Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERA-2) funding to address the unmet needs of eligible Town of Brookhaven tenants and landlords. 

In the letter, the Supervisor requested to have the NYS OTDA return the money to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program application portal, which is controlled by NYS OTDA for the benefit of Brookhaven residents. It is estimated that the reallocated funds can help an additional 80 to 100 eligible households that need assistance to pay for rental arrears and prospective rent. 

“Although it appears that the pandemic is nearly behind us, there are still many Brookhaven Town residents who are experiencing economic hardship. The funds are available, and we should do whatever we can to provide assistance so they can stay in their homes,” said Supervisor Romaine. 

“Because the Town worked well with our partnering non-profits and community-based organizations to perform outreach and get the word out, the response from residents was overwhelming. Now, we want to help even more people,” he added.   

In his letter, Supervisor Romaine stressed the urgency of his request since the moratorium on evictions in New York State expired on January 15, 2022. To date, more than 3,700 applications have been submitted to the NYS OTDA and $21,837,851.00 in ERAP funding has been administered to 1,257 households through the Town of Brookhaven’s Department of Housing and Community Development. 

 

Gov. Kathy Hochul. File photo by Julianne Mosher

After bipartisan backlash from Long Island officials, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has dropped her budget proposal that would require local governments to expand legalizing accessory apartments.

“I have heard real concerns about the proposed approach on accessory dwelling units,” Hochul said in a statement. “I understand that my colleagues in the state senate believe a different set of tools is needed, even if they agree with the goal of supporting the growth of this kind of housing.”

The plan stated that, to increase affordable housing across the state, dwellings would be allowed to convert garages, basements and backyard units as apartments. Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers from the town, county, state and federal levels all said this could hurt Long Island, and essentially eliminate single-family zoning.

“I am submitting a 30-day amendment to my budget legislation that removes requirements on localities in order to facilitate a conversation about how we build consensus around solutions,” she added.

The plan was introduced in January during the State of the State. Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) was one of the first to call the governor out on it, which then resulted in Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington towns to voice their concerns.

“One small victory, but many battles ahead,” Suozzi told TBR News Media in a statement. “We successfully stopped Governor Hochul’s radical proposal from being passed in the budget, but we’re not done yet. Now we must stop her and the state legislature from passing this misguided legislation during the Albany legislative session.”

Throughout the last month, these lawmakers argued that the plan could have potential impacts on Long Island’s quality of life, the environment and local school districts.

““I’m pleased that Governor Hochul pulled the Accessory Dwelling Unit legislation from the budget, but that isn’t enough,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst). “At this time, there are still discussions of tweaks to the law. Local officials on Long Island are adamantly opposed to any modifications that remove our ‘home rule.’ We know what is best for our community and we don’t need New York City and New York State dictating to us what our communities should look like. As we’ve seen with the pulling of the bill, combining our voices and speaking out ensure that we can be heard. I urge all residents to contact their State representatives and the governor’s office, to voice their opposition to any modification of ADUs here on Long Island.”

Several Suffolk County lawmakers spoke up against the ADU legislation Feb. 11 with the help of several state assembly members and senators.

“The removal of this proposal from the budget is great news for all of our communities and I am proud to have stood with my colleagues in town, county, state and federal officials from both sides of the aisle to fight to protect local control,” said state Senator Mario Mattera (R-St. James). “This shows that joining together and standing united can lead to positive change for our residents.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) held a press conference Feb. 3, as one of the first townships to take a stance on the issue.

“The call to remove this misguided proposal was finally heard by the governor and we will continue to maintain local zoning control,” he said in a recent statement. “Our right to home rule on issues like housing is what protects our communities from turning into the crowded neighborhoods that we see in cities, which is not what the residents of Brookhaven Town want.”

Hochul still has plans to combat the affordable housing crisis, and the emphasis on increasing accessory apartments and improving their safety will be targeted in New York City rather than the suburbs.

“Albany extremists will resurrect this terrible idea the moment bipartisan opposition gets distracted,” said Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth (R). “Stay vigilant!”

A celebration of a local harbor returned Sept. 25.

After canceling last year due to COVID-19, the Setauket Harbor Task Force was able to hold its annual Setauket Harbor Day at the Town of Brookhaven dock and beach on Shore Road in East Setauket.

The free event included boat tours of the harbor, kayaking, marine science exhibits and more.

The local nonprofit, which advocates for improving water quality and protecting and restoring marine habitats, hosts the annual event to help residents reconnect with the harbor.

On June 19, the Town of Brookhaven Black History Commission (BHC) held its annual “Juneteenth” celebration in recognition of the 156th anniversary of the end of slavery in 1865. The event was held at the historic Longwood Estate in Ridge and included a BBQ picnic, games, music, dancing and activities for children. Pictured from left, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn; BHC member Leah Jefferson; BHC member Dr. Georgette Grier-Key; Supervisor Ed Romaine; BHC Chairwoman Dr. Corrinne Graham; Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich; BHC member Myles Green; BHC member Charlotte Pressley; Councilman Michael Loguercio; and BHC member Clayton Hudson.

About the Town of Brookhaven Black History Commission: In 1991, a Black History Month Committee was formed in observance of Black History Month. Two years later, the Town Board established a permanent Black History Commission to provide continuity in planning and organizing a Black History Night celebration every February. The purpose of these celebrations is to acknowledge and honor the contributions of national and local African Americans, nationally and locally, while fostering an appreciation for their culture and heritage. In 2014, the Town board recognized that celebrating African American culture should not be limited to one specific month, so they unanimously passed a resolution expanding and broadening the scope of the Black History Commission. The commission now works on year-round programming to promote black history and culture in the Town of Brookhaven through events and community outreach.

Photo from town

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine recently stopped by the Town’s Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai — the site of a two-day COVID-19 vaccination “pop-up POD” for Brookhaven residents over the age of 50. 

During his visit, there was a continuous flow of residents into the center who were scheduled to receive their vaccine. The senior center has been closed in response to the COVID-19 health crisis.

“The Rose Caracappa Senior Center has been closed for over a year and this was an appropriate reason to open the doors again,” Romaine said. “I am greatly encouraged by the number of people who registered for the vaccine and I thank New York State for working with us to make them more convenient for residents. We hope to assist New York State with distributing more of vaccinations soon.”

For more information, eligibility, COVID-19 vaccine registration and more, call 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4827) or go to covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov. There is no charge for the vaccine.

Photo from LI Cares

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine will take part in Long Island Cares 10th Annual Legislative Pet Food Drive Challenge. This drive is focused on collecting and providing food for the family members most vulnerable to hunger: our pets. This drive will take place at from March 22 through April 23 at the following drop off locations:

  • Brookhaven Town Hall, 1 Independence Hill, Farmingville
  • Brookhaven Animal Shelter, 300 Horseblock Road, Brookhaven
  • Coram Fire Department, 303 Middle Country Road, Coram
  • College 101 Resource Center, 290 Main Street, East Setauket
  • Brookhaven Town Highway Department, 1140 Old Town Road, Coram
  • Brookhaven Town Parks and Recreation Administration, 286 Hawkins Road, Centereach
  • Brookhaven Town Vehicle Control, 550 North Ocean Avenue, Patchogue

Suggested donation items include canned dog and cat food, five to ten-pound bags of dry food and treats.

“Many families are struggling to put food on the table, and this means it is also a struggle to feed their beloved pets,” Supervisor Romaine said. “I want to thank Long Island Cares for holding its Annual Legislative Pet Food Drive Challenge and I look forward to seeing how much food is collected.”

For more information, call 631-451-TOWN.

The Town of Brookhaven Town Hall. File photo

The Town of Brookhaven has entered into a $108,000 contract with a telehealth company for monitoring town employees’ health for COVID-related symptoms.

The town board unanimously agreed Dec. 3 to enter into a contract with Radish Health, Inc, a Manhattan based company that helps monitor employee health data using an app. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said there will be an app that employees will have to check in with every day. If anyone is feeling sick, there will be opportunities for videos with doctors or to get tested. The company will also handle all contact tracing. 

The agreement is good for six months, and will be used with 900 town employees.

“Radish gave us the best deal and the best agreement in terms of the safety of our employees,” Romaine said during the Dec. 3 meeting. “We have to do all we can to contain his virus.”

Town officials again complained that while Suffolk County has received around $260 million in federal CARES Act funding, towns like Brookhaven haven’t received “a dime” for government operations. 

“The town is doing this to protect our employees … we still have not received dollar one,” Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) said. “This is what the money was intended for.”

Romaine said the pandemic has continued to hurt town finances, though this move is important as “a number of our employees have been inflicted with this virus.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said despite those infections, “government needs to continue to operate.”

The Suffolk Plaza shopping center that once housed a Waldbaum’s in South Setauket sits half empty, a far cry from where it was just a decade ago. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Town of Brookhaven has proposed a new zoning that officials said could revitalize vacant or underutilized shopping centers or other structures throughout the town.

At their Dec. 3 meeting, the town voted unanimously to adopt a new floating zoning code called Commercial Redevelopment District, which would allow developers to apply for permission to redevelop aging property into a combination of retail and apartment space.

The old section of the Mt. Sinai Shopping Center that housed the King Kullen has sat empty for months, and is just one of several empty former big box stores on the North Shore. Photo by Kyle Barr

“What we’re looking to do is to stimulate the revitalization of abandoned vacant and underutilized commercial shopping centers, bowling alleys and health clubs,” said town Planning Commissioner Beth Reilly. 

She added that this new zoning will “encourage flexibility in sight and architectural design, encourage redevelopment that blends residential, commercial, cultural and institutional uses, and encourage redevelopment that’s walkable, affordable, accessible and distinctive in the town.”

Site requirements would be a 5-acre minimum for such commercial centers and sites that have been previously used but then demolished. It permits uses for all zonings except such things as heavy industrial and auto uses. There would be no setbacks for nonresidential uses, but a 25-foot minimum setback for residential use and 50-foot maximum height.

The special zoning is meant to be kept free of big-box stores and is restricted to anything less than 40,000 square feet of space for commercial properties. Also, the zoning incentivizes certain kinds of development through allowing for increases in density, such as being near the Long Island Rail Road or if a business owner  uses green technology.

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) restated that Long Island does not need new development “as much as we need to develop what we have that has fallen into disrepair.”

The proposal did receive a letter of support from the Port Jefferson Station hub study committee. President of the PJS/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, Jennifer Dzvonar, said she was in support, and that she thinks it will create downtown-type areas in places that might not have that sort of downtown already.

“It will encourage commercial property owners to update and revitalize their establishments, which will entice additional local businesses … instead of leaving their locations vacant to become blighted,” she said.

Mitch Pally, a Stony Brook resident and CEO of the Long Island Builders Institute, said the new zoning should benefit developers. 

“Long Islanders no longer have large tracts of land,” he said. “We must now redevelop — reuse what we already used, whether it’s been a good way or a bad way. The ability to know from the code what you can do, and what you’re going to be able to get, allows for better financing opportunities.”

The Town Board left the issue open for comment until Dec. 17. The Three Village Civic Association sent the town a letter Dec. 12 signed by the civic’s land use chair, Herb Mones, with some critiques of the proposed law, saying the language of what was considered vacant or underutilized was unclear, and that the CRD will incentivize some property owners to neglect their structures to get access to the new “generous terms afforded by the new zoning.” 

“We must now redevelop — reuse what we already used, whether it’s been a good way or a bad way.”

— Mitch Pally

The letter also criticized the height allowance under the code, calling it “too high for most hamlets” in the town. The letter also shared the civic’s anxieties of increased density.

“Considering that there were only two speakers at the public hearing on Dec 3, both representing commercial interests, and no community leaders or members of the civic community participating on such an important proposal, we believe that this new zoning legislation to create a new zoning code for commercial property in the Town of Brookhaven would benefit from more input of Brookhaven’s civic community,” Mones wrote in his letter.

The change also repeals the town’s previous Blight to Light code. That code was passed in 2010 under previous Supervisor Mark Lesko (D), which in a similar vein to the current code was designed to remediate blighted properties by incentivizing development through a scoring system. Based on how a developer scored, they could receive incentives such as building permit refunds and an expedited review process.

Officials said that system had issues, and that the code had only been used twice, once in a Coram redevelopment project, and again with Jefferson Meadows, a project designed for Port Jefferson Station that was never built. That planned 96-apartment building met opposition from residents almost a decade ago. The Port Times Record reported at the time that residents disapproved of Blight to Light’s self-scoring system and that such projects did not conform to the Port Jefferson Station hamlet study. 

“This has been a long time coming,” said Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station). “Port Jeff Station has a number of abandoned vacant and underutilized properties, and the Blight to Light code was not necessarily addressing that, so we’re hoping that this code can now create a different mechanism to address these types of properties.”

Unlike Blight to Light, there is not a special permit, but applicants would have to come to the Town Board to seek approval. There is also a time limit on these approvals, and they are taken away if the developer does not make good on trying to build.

“This puts the power in the Town Board level,” Reilly said.

The town is holding its next meeting Dec. 17 where a follow-up public hearing is scheduled.

The Town of Brookhaven Town Hall. File photo

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced the town has issued a request for proposal for a natural gas supplier for the town’s new Community Choice Aggregation program, an energy program that allows local governments to buy electricity and gas on behalf of its residents.

Brookhaven officials outlined such a program to the town board back in October, 2019. CCA is a municipal energy procurement model that replaces the utility as the default supplier for virtually all homes and small businesses with your jurisdiction. The utility remains responsible for energy delivery and billing. By pooling demand, communities build clout necessary to negotiate lower rates with private suppliers and are able to choose cleaner energy. CCA allows for the bulk purchasing of electricity and/or gas and, if all goes according to plan, provides the ability to obtain more competitive rates from energy suppliers, ultimately saving money for residents and commercial properties.

“Community Choice Aggregation could result in cheaper, cleaner energy use for all of our residents and businesses in Brookhaven and would give them the opportunity to seek an alternative utility provider for the first time,” Romaine said in a release.  “Issuing this RFP for a natural gas provider brings us one step closer to putting in place the first CCA on Long Island.”

After receiving bids for potential CCA electrical/gas rates, officials said the town will examine if there is a cost savings benefit to residents and small businesses and choose whether to sign the contract to begin CCA.  If approved, residents and businesses currently served by the local utility company do not need to do anything in order to be included within the CCA — they will automatically be included, unless they affirmatively opt-out. There is no contract for the resident or small business to sign or enter into. If a resident or business wishes to leave the CCA program, they may terminate at any time with no early termination or exit fee. No taxpayer or public funding is used to run a CCA Program.

The CCA program was created by the New York State Public Service Commission in April 2016. Westchester was the first New York county, through the Sustainable Westchester consortium, to launch the CCA program under Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). 

Other municipalities on Long Island that are in the process of establishing CCA programs include Hempstead, Southampton, and East Hampton Towns. More than 80 municipalities across New York State have enacted legislation to begin the process to adopt CCA.