The stakes for the future of Port Jefferson are very high. It seems we have a real election this June in Port Jefferson, so we need a real contest of ideas.
I have iterated many issues for this campaign in The Port Times Record. More are specified here. We know Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden and trustee Stan Loucks will have much support from the development class. Will trustee Lauren Sheprow and trustee candidate Bob Juliano represent the residents?
Years of hard work and research done by our Port Jefferson residents for the master plan committee have been discarded in favor of developers’ plans for future intensive — and not always attractive — development.
I believe our current leadership has permitted blight to be exploited in order to extract concessions for larger zoning — zoning not recommended by our residents’ committee.
The Industrial Development Agency of Brookhaven Town is giving away our tax base. What is “industrial” about apartment developments?
As a former school board member and president, I worked productively on repowering and to improve our tax base for 12 years, then leading this fight on our village board of trustees for eight years after that.
I speak regularly with National Grid leaders and have addressed our issues and advocated with LIPA’s CEO, Thomas Falcone. Who will lead this effort, which has such a profound impact on our tax base? What is their network to do this?
I worked on our environmental issues for 30 years. The Conservation Advisory Committee needs to be made a board again. The Architectural Review Committee should be made a board.
The ride from Port Jeff only gets worse. All our elected leaders want “a better ride.” But who will “herd the cats,” so to speak? We need leadership to galvanize and focus around these efforts.
Looking at recent events, I fear the Long Island Rail Road will eliminate the Port Jefferson Branch line completely. I have worked to secure better service and clean energy service. We need to coordinate our efforts with our neighbors in Port Jefferson Station/Terryville.
Tax revenue is going down, with a significant chance of plummeting. Debt will be going way up. Taxes are going up. There are options for solar power that can recoup some of this revenue.
I have the network to implement these strategies. So far, my efforts to implement these strategies have not been ignored — they have been rejected. Cleaner air, more revenue? We cannot let petty politics continue to thwart residents’ interests.
For a long time, merchants have advocated parking garages in Port Jefferson. Residents do not want Port Jefferson to look like Queens. I have proposed underground parking garages. Yes, this can be done. The Dutch have done this, creating parks to enhance their country and eliminating flooding at a bargain.
How to pay for this? Claim our share of town, county, state and federal funds for open-space preservation in the form of open-space creation — “parks above parking.” This makes our village more attractive to visitors and prospective residents.
Claim infrastructure-hardening funding. Remember what the Dutch have done. Lease newly created parkland to restaurants for alfresco dining. Other parties may see value in this option as well. Let’s not forget parking fees.
Merchants pay the village PILOPS — payments in lieu of parking spots. But there could be actual parking spots to purchase by investing in Port Jefferson.
Condominiumize parking slots. Merchants and investors could purchase parking spots in prime locations for their exclusive use or derive revenue and tax deductions.
Our downtown businesses, apartments and fire department suffer from toxic intrusion when they flood. Investing in health is always a wise decision.
If you want a better future, we need to ask hard questions of our candidates.
Bruce Miller is a former Port Jefferson Village trustee
The managed parking system in the Village of Port Jefferson has undergone considerable changes this season, prompting debate among some within the community.
Beginning March 15, the village government has incorporated various technologies into its managed parking apparatus, such as automated license plate reading, which village officials say expedites and standardizes parking enforcement.
“We’re looking to make sure that enforcement is more equitable, that there’s less room for a mistake or discretion,” Mayor Margot Garant said in an exclusive interview. “The license plate reader is in at least one of the code vehicles, and when it drives through the parking lot, it scans everything very quickly.” She added, “I think it’s going to be a much more blanketed, equitable process and easier for all parties.”
Kevin Wood, the village’s parking administrator, outlined how the new tech would operate. He said pay-by-plate metering allows for more efficient enforcement of overtime parking and eliminates the need for double payment caused by temporarily leaving and losing a parking space, among other potential benefits.
Wood said digital payment also simplifies parking during future visits as the system remembers one’s plate number. “The next time you come back into town, your plate number is already filled in,” he said. “You can’t say that about a space number because you park in a different space every time.”
The village has also digitized its residential permitting process, supplanting the previous method which was performed by hand. So far, Wood said his office has received nearly 2,000 permits.
The changes to parking procedure have met some opposition, particularly from the business community. James Luciano, owner of PJ Lobster House, has been among the opponents to the changes.
In an interview, Luciano indicated that many of his older customers prefer the preexisting method of paying at a meter.
The new system “is a hassle for the older clientele,” he said, suggesting older customers often make multiple trips to and from their cars to pay for parking.
“I know it doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you have clientele that are in their 60s, 70s and 80s, it is a lot for them to do that,” he added.
He said he receives daily complaints over digital payment, estimating complications using the system “probably happen 25 times a day — it’s a big problem that people are complaining about.”
Luciano attributes much of the village’s parking adversity to a lack of responsiveness from the village government, suggesting his recommendations to the village have fallen on deaf ears.
“We’ve sat down in meetings, we’ve sent letters over the last two years,” he said. “They say, ‘Thank you for the input,’ and then they do what they want. They don’t want to take any recommendations from anybody.”
Wood suggested his office is actively coordinating with the business community and that no significant changes have been made to the system other than entering a plate number instead of a space number.
“There are no changes to navigate,” Wood said. “The parker himself only enters a plate number instead of a space number, and that’s self-evident. But that being said, my office is always available to answer questions on a one-by-one basis and/or my assistant, Rita.”
Garant said her administration remains committed to working with merchants over any concerns with the system. Nonetheless, she expressed confidence that the new system would prevail over time.
“There are some recommendations that they have and questions, and we’re answering them as we can,” the mayor said. “Obviously, with anything, you’re going to get mixed concerns. I think once everybody settles into this new system, they’ll find that it’s an easier system to use.”
‘The number one challenge is capacity. It accounts for just about everything we are challenged with.’
— Kevin Wood
Capacity: an age-old problem
Parking is a decades-old quandary in Port Jeff, confounding generations of local officials who have struggled to solve the parking puzzle.
Richard Murdocco, adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at Stony Brook University, summarized the issue in a word.
“Capacity — hands down, capacity,” he said. “It’s what all the villages on Long Island struggle with. How do you shoehorn in more parking without compromising the very character that people are seeking out?”
Wood concurred with this assessment. “The number one challenge is capacity,” he said. “It accounts for just about everything we are challenged with.”
Former village trustee Bruce Miller regarded the capacity constraints as all-pervasive, compounding other problems, such as traffic congestion. “It creates a lot of traffic that’s needless,” he said. “People are circling and circling and circling to find a parking place.”
Former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) commented on the generations of anguished parkers pressed to find a space. He regarded Port Jefferson as distinctive for its blend of bustling downtown activity and limited capacity.
“The oversubscription of use is inevitable for a place that is as attractive, and that faces the water, which is such a magnet for this whole sector of the Island,” he said. “You want to go to Port Jefferson because there are businesses, and a vibrant walk along the harbor is exciting.”
But, he added, “It means you’re always going to have a traffic jam.”
Meanwhile, the Town of Brookhaven, which operates the marina parking lot near the ferry terminal, has set its 2023 parking rates at five times the rate of Port Jefferson’s managed lots. Wood said this could further strain the village’s already cramped lots.
“My common sense tells me that if something is $5 an hour, and they can get that same service for $1 an hour, that tells me they’re going to put more pressure on us,” he said.
‘Policymakers should begin exploring some more modern, viable options.’
— Richard Murdocco
Murdocco said a natural tension exists between preserving the historic character of an area and expanding parking capacity. He added, however, that the capacity issue would eventually cap the village’s growth potential for its residential and commercial districts.
“Policymakers should begin exploring some more modern, viable options,” the SBU adjunct professor said. The most obvious option, he indicated, would be to construct a parking garage.
This proposal would come with its own set of challenges, according to Englebright. “I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this because even if you add a parking garage, I think it will be oversubscribed on the first day,” he said.
Wood noted that he gives “daily thought” to this idea, which is also proposed in the village’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan. However, given the natural topography and existing built environment, the municipality remains hamstrung in specific ways.
“Now is the time where I think we would have a serious look at building multidecks [above-ground parking garages], but it’s not so easy because of the landscape of Port Jeff, the depth of the water and things like that,” he said.
Asked whether he foresees the village accommodating a garage in the coming decades, the parking administrator responded affirmatively.
“I’d like to hope that we can come to the point where that possibility could happen,” he said, adding, “If it were in the best interest of the community and residents, I’d like to think we could come to an agreement on that.”
Miller advised the village government to explore underground parking, an option he said would boost capacity without disrupting the area’s historic character.
“A lot of the residents and public do not want an above-ground parking garage — we’re not rural here, but we just don’t see ourselves as urban,” he said. “The advantage of underground parking is that it doesn’t make your town look urban. You don’t have underground structures protruding from the ground.”
Another alternative the village is actively seeking is shared parking, that is, entering into agreements with nearby businesses to facilitate access to their lots during nonbusiness hours.
Wood said he and trustee Rebecca Kassay are working to enter into shared-use parking agreements, particularly with hospitals and medical offices in Upper Port.
“There’s not a lot of commercial activity happening uptown, but that will change,” Wood said, adding that shared parking would offer “immediate parking to people frequenting uptown.”
Kassay, who also serves as the village’s environmental commissioner, said the shared parking proposal would help minimize the need for building new parking lots uptown, as well as the clearings and heightened flooding characteristic of such construction.
Shared parking “would prevent more square footage uptown from being hardscaped, which is a contributor to the flooding because water is not being collected, recharged and filtered in the way it naturally would,” she said.
The trustee added, “The issue of parking is very real, but the creative solutions, like shared parking, are a way that we as a village can solve parking issues, be environmentally conscious and save taxpayers money by not building and maintaining additional lots.”
Garant, who had coordinated with a parking committee composed of residents and merchants earlier in her tenure, recounted the history and role of that body.
“We had a committee for upward of eight or nine years,” she said. “I think that they brought great concerns, and we heard from them.”
Asked whether the village should reinstitute the parking committee, she responded, “I’m on my way out, so I’ll leave that to the next administration,” adding, “I think Kevin is doing a great job, so I’m going to let the next elected mayor make those decisions going forward.”
Wood emphasized that a committee would not resolve the core issue permeating all parking woes villagewide. “The one thing we all end up talking about is the lack of capacity,” the parking administrator said. “All the committees in the world won’t fix the immediate need for more capacity.”
He added, “We get feedback all the time. We take it under advisement. But again, it usually leads back, after everything is said and done, to lack of capacity.”
‘It would seem to me that some democratization would be logical.’
— Steve Englebright
Wood, instead, encouraged concerned parties to take their concerns to the village board. For him, public comments during village board meetings provide community members the proper forum to be heard.
Public comment “is the best way to communicate what you are trying to say about any subject,” Wood said.
Luciano, on the other hand, advocated for the reinstatement of the parking committee as a means to properly filter concerns from the greater community.
“The parking committee needs to exist, and the village needs to take the recommendations from the parking committee,” he said.
Detailing why he believed the committee had disbanded, Luciano again suggested a lack of responsiveness from the village. “They got rid of it because they didn’t want to hear input anymore and because they were going to do what they wanted to do.”
Ana Hozyainova, president of the Port Jefferson Civic Association, has joined the call for resurrecting the parking committee. In an email statement, she said a parking committee would reintroduce debate to the parking decision-making process.
“The Port Jeff Civic Association fully supports the reestablishment of a parking committee composed of representatives from all stakeholders,” she said. “Reinstituting the parking committee would provide a transparent forum for discussion and decision-making.”
The civic president added, “It would also help ensure that we face our parking challenges in a manner that addresses the needs and concerns of all our residents and still preserves the character and appearance of our beautiful village.”
Englebright regarded the proposal for a parking committee as necessary for promoting public participation.
“If you live in the village, there has to be some sense of being able to participate,” he said. “There needs to be some reasonable balance between the commercialism that dominates parts of the downtown and the needs of the residents, which should not take second place.”
He added, “I don’t know how you do that without some sort of forum other than the regular meetings of the village board. It would seem to me that some democratization would be logical.”
The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association met Tuesday, Feb. 28, for an evening packed with local business.
Sarah Lansdale, the Suffolk County economic development and planning commissioner, updated the body on the proposed conceptual layout of the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station.
“We have come up with a plan of three basic uses of the property,” she said. “One is a light-industry use … for a proposed solar development. The property south of the Greenway is proposed to be for open space … and then a railyard, or railroad usage, on the northeastern section of the property.”
Lansdale also reported that the U.S. Department of Justice recently approved language within a global settlement agreement between 11 claimants, adding, “Now we’re getting them to sign on to the agreement. Of the 11, we have three remaining that have yet to sign on.”
The county is working to finalize a bid package to demolish the remaining buildings on-site during the warmer months.
County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) thanked Lansdale for continuing her efforts on behalf of county residents.
“Very few people want to deal with difficult, complex projects like this,” Hahn said. “This was very difficult, we are so close, and I’m just grateful.”
Civic member Ira Costell objected to a Feb. 23 op-ed in The Port Times Record, “Village elections and Port Jeff’s rapidly changing challenges,” in which former Port Jefferson Village trustee Bruce Miller suggested expanding the limits of the village to derive tax revenue from the Superfund site.
“I think that’s something we need to discuss and take a position on shortly,” Costell said, adding that such a proposal “impacts our community and a potential tax base to the Comsewogue School District.”
Civic president Ed Garboski and vice president Sal Pitti objected to the annexation proposal. Corresponding secretary Charlie McAteer said a discussion on the matter would be appropriate during next month’s meeting.
Deputy County Executive Peter Scully delivered a presentation outlining the county’s clean water initiative, remarking that a comprehensive sewer plan has eluded county officials for decades.
“Most of Suffolk County is without sewer infrastructure,” he said. “Sewers throughout Suffolk County have not happened for a variety of reasons,” namely the enormous costs associated with their construction.
Cesspools remain the only waste treatment technology available to many county residents, which Scully indicated can impair the sole-source aquifer upon which residents depend for their drinking water. Leakage associated with septic tanks, Scully said, can contribute to brown tides, rust tides, algal blooms and fish kills throughout the county’s waterways.
To address the problem, the administration is pitching the Suffolk County Clean Water Plan, which includes a one-eighth of a penny per dollar sales tax, to create a local match program for federal and state subsidization of sewer infrastructure.
“Right now, there are tremendous funding sources available on the federal and state levels,” he said, noting the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by Congress in 2021 and the recently passed New York State $4.2 billion environmental bond act.
“Those are the two sources of funding that we’re all anxious to make sure our communities get a fair share of, and to do that we need a local match,” the deputy county executive said. “The [clean water plan] funding source that we’re talking about provides that local match.”
Andrea Malchiodi, assistant director of Comsewogue Public Library, announced that the library’s budget vote and trustee election would take place Tuesday, April 4.
Comsewogue High School students Kylie and Max updated the body on the news from the Comsewogue School District. Kylie reported that the high school’s business academy and work-based learning program were both approved career and technical education pathways by the New York State Education Department.
Max noted Comsewogue’s recent athletic achievements, with the Warriors girls and boys basketball teams advancing to the postseason. The wrestling team vied for the county final, while the varsity cheerleading team competed at the national tournament in Florida.
Suffolk County COPE officer Casey Berry said the vehicle theft crime surge throughout the local area remains unresolved. “Lock your cars in your driveway and when you’re going to Starbucks,” she told the body. “Don’t leave the fob in the car.”
Berry also reported that officers within the department are being more active. “I think COVID affected law enforcement as well as the rest of the community in many ways,” she said, adding, “Our leadership is saying, ‘We really need to protect our community.’”
This boost in police activity, Berry added, is reflected by rising numbers of summons written by police officers, along with the department’s ongoing body camera initiative.
Garboski reported the results of the nominating committee created last month after he and Pitti declared they would be leaving the hamlet before the year’s end, thereby vacating their posts.
Christine Allen and Costell were each nominated for the position of civic president, and Carolyn Sagliocca was the sole candidate nominated as vice president. The three candidates publicly accepted their nominations.
Additional nominations will be accepted from the floor during the next meeting March 28, on which date a vote will take place. The newly electeds will formally enter their posts in April.
During the meeting, Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) presented proclamations to Garboski and Pitti for their long service to the Comsewogue community.
“You cannot put a price on the time, effort, energy, knowledge and dedication they have brought to this task,” Romaine said. “They have worked around the clock to improve the quality of not their lives, but the quality of life of everyone in this community.”
The decades-long proposal to electrify the Port Jefferson Branch line of the Long Island Rail Road is nearing yet another derailment.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, public owner of LIRR, is expected to unveil its 2025-2044 20-Year Needs Assessment in October. Larry Penner, a transportation analyst and former director for Federal Transit Administration Region 2, considered that document pivotal for the project’s future advancement.
“If the project is not included in that 20-year document, then none of us are going to be alive to see electrification,” he said, adding pessimistically that electrification “is not on the radar screen” of senior MTA or state-level officials.
Requests for comment submitted to the press offices of the MTA, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) and U.S. Congressman Nick LaLota (R-NY1) went unanswered.
A cry unheard
‘It’s appalling that they’re using diesel in this day and age.’
— Bruce Miller
Generations of North Shore residents and community leaders have called upon the MTA to electrify the Port Jeff line to no avail.
Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) has been among Long Island’s loudest and most prominent proponents of electrification in recent years. In an interview with TBR News Media last summer, he said public investment has shifted away from the Island.
“Our voice has not been raised,” he said. “There hasn’t been an investment in providing modern technology” to this region.
Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant voiced similar frustrations. According to her, a fully electrified rail would boost local and regional economies, expediting travel to Manhattan and between North Shore communities, namely transit to and from nearby powerhouse Stony Brook University.
The project “would incentivize people being able to take the train not only into Stony Brook but into the city in a really timely manner,” she said.
From an environmental perspective, former Port Jeff Village trustee Bruce Miller decried the existing railway infrastructure as “ludicrous.”
“It’s appalling that they’re using diesel in this day and age,” he said, adding, “Everyone is making every effort for green energy in all fields except for the MTA and the Long Island Rail Road.”
State legislators join the cause
Local leaders are not alone in their disappointment over the long delay. State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) condemned what he considered an imbalance between the state taxes Long Island spends and the infrastructure dollars it gets from Albany.
“Long Islanders already contribute greatly to the MTA and deserve better access to more reliable and dependable rail service,” he said in an email, referring to Port Jefferson Branch electrification as a “critical project.”
At the western end of the branch, state Assemblyman Keith Brown (R-Northport), whose district includes travelers from Huntington, Greenlawn and Northport stations, expressed dismay over the state’s billowing budget yet few returns for North Shore residents.
He noted the apparent contradiction between Albany’s green energy priorities and the MTA’s continued use of diesel locomotives, which are due for replacement in the coming years.
Referencing the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which targets an 85% reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050, Brown regarded the continued dependence upon diesel technology as inconsistent with state law.
“They can’t really replace the existing fleet with diesel trains,” he said. “At the same time they’re calling to stop the use of gas in homes, the MTA and LIRR can’t be purchasing diesel locomotives.”
The Empire State Passenger Association is a transit advocacy group that aims for improvements in public transportation services throughout New York state. ESPA president Gary Prophet said the passenger association has endorsed Port Jefferson Branch electrification over the years, referring to the project as necessary and justifiable given the volume of commuters along the line.
“That is a heavily used branch of the Long Island Rail Road that should be electrified,” he said. “It probably should have been electrified in the past, but it just hasn’t happened for a variety of reasons.”
A history of inaction
The original concept of Port Jeff line electrification dates back over half a century. However, planning began in earnest in the early 1970s when electrification of the North Shore line extended up to Huntington.
Derek Stadler, associate professor and web services librarian at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, has closely followed historical developments along the Port Jeff Branch.
He attributes the failures to electrify the line to a combination of resistance from property owners near the tracks, engineering challenges, financial setbacks and bad luck.
“In the ‘80s, they had money set aside to start working on it though they hadn’t secured the funds to complete it,” he said. “Then in 1985, the president of the MTA postponed that indefinitely.” Stadler contends this was the closest the project ever was to moving forward.
In the ‘90s, the MTA launched a fleet of dual-mode locomotives which are still in use today. Despite the good intentions, Stadler maintains that this fleet has not adequately substituted for electric service. Given the high costs to repair and replace outdated train cars, Stadler regarded this effort as a poor long-term investment.
“They have spent more money on that new fleet and repairing them than if they would have done the electrification way back in the ‘80s,” he said.
‘If I’m the MTA, I’m electrifying the East End before I electrify the North Shore.’
— Richard Murdocco
The current cost estimate of Port Jeff Branch electrification is $3.6 billion, though that figure will almost certainly climb. To secure these dollars, however, the North Shore is competing against other project proposals across Long Island and New York state.
Throughout LIRR’s history as a public railroad company, North Shore riders have lost out consistently to their inland counterparts traveling along the Ronkonkoma line. Richard Murdocco, adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at SBU, chronicled this pattern, saying the pursuit of Port Jeff Branch electrification continues running up against the hard realities of the MTA’s prioritization scheme.
“The question is: Is electrification really the priority on the North Shore, or should you electrify east of Ronkonkoma?” Murdocco said. Given the spur of recent growth in Yaphank and new developments in the Town of Riverhead, he added, “If I’m the MTA, I’m electrifying the East End before I electrify the North Shore.”
Further hampering investment into the Port Jeff Branch is the topography along its route. Given the large hills and frequent bends, the flatter main line may win the day for its comparably simple engineering logistics.
Murdocco said the MTA could either electrify the Port Jeff Branch, which “meanders along the hilly terrain, or you get a straight shot through the Pine Barrens, where there’s already talk of them doing it, where they’re welcoming it and where there are no neighbors to disrupt.”
‘Suffolk County does not have the political clout that it used to.’
— Larry Penner
Political and financial distress
Penner claims the political and financial currents are also working against North Shore residents. Suffolk County’s state representatives are increasingly in the legislative minority in Albany, leaving mere “crumbs on the table” for infrastructure improvements.
“Suffolk County does not have the political clout that it used to,” he said.
Even so, the MTA is encountering a systemwide economic crisis from the COVID-19 pandemic, with daily ridership hovering around 65% from pre-pandemic levels. Murdocco insists that many of the labor trends unleashed by COVID-19 will likely linger indefinitely.
“There’s no denying remote work is here to stay,” the SBU adjunct professor said, adding, “We don’t know how long the ramifications of the pandemic will last.”
Meanwhile, the MTA is facing even greater fiscal strife over looming labor negotiations. With recent inflation, Penner said the agency could lose potentially hundreds of millions from renegotiated union contracts.
“All of this plays into the bigger picture of MTA’s overall health,” Penner said, which he considered dismal based on state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s (D) most recent analysis. “They’re barely staying afloat maintaining existing service, systems and repairs,” the former FTA official added.
Penner, Stadler and Murdocco expressed collective pessimism about Port Jefferson Branch electrification getting underway within the next decade. “As of right now, I do not see this project happening within 10 years because I do not see a fiscal way for anyone to pay for it, given the MTA’s current financial status,” Murdocco said.
Looking for answers
Given the hefty $3.6 billion price tag, Miller proposed exploring alternatives to electric service. He cited examples in Germany, where zero-emission hydrogen-powered train cars recently went online.
“Hydrogen technology is new but they’ve developed it, and it’s working in Germany,” the former village trustee said. “I don’t think they’re exploring enough options here.”
But implementing high-tech propulsion technologies may be out of reach for the MTA, which uses a late 19th-century fuel source to power the Port Jeff line. When asked about these potential innovations, Brown expressed skepticism.
“As far as hydrogen is concerned, that’s all it is right now — experimental,” the state assemblyman said. Rather, he favored pursuing electrification in a piecemeal, station-by-station fashion, dispersing infrastructure funds for the project over several annual budgets.
Penner implored community members to adopt a policy of maximum pressure upon their elected representatives.
“I wouldn’t give a dime to any elected official unless, with your campaign contribution, there’s a little note in your check [that says] you have to promise me that electrification of Port Jefferson will be your number one transportation priority,” he said.
Stadler emphasized executive support, arguing that several system expansions during the administration of former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (R) were made possible by the chief executive’s commitment to seeing them through.
“A lot of money has to be budgeted for it,” he said. “State leaders have to be involved in it, and pressure from the governor” can be a reliable instrument.
To make the electrification dream a reality, Garant said all levels of government should pool their energies around this cause. “It’s certainly going to be a long-term plan for the region,” she said. “You need partners on every level, from the federal and state levels to the town and county.”
Prophet said megaprojects, such as the $11 billion East Side Access extension into Grand Central Madison, have taken up much of the political and economic capital in New York state.
“I think there’s a lot of emphasis on large projects that make a big splash,” the passenger association president said. “Politicians need to spend a little more time on smaller projects that may not make a big splash but may help commuters and people looking to travel between cities.”
Setting the stakes, Penner returned to the 20-year capital needs assessment. He equated the North Shore’s present predicament to a baseball game.
“You’re in the ninth inning with two outs,” he said. “The last at-bat is the 2025-2044 20-year capital needs assessment.” He concluded by saying, “If this project is not included in that document, then the ball game is over.”
The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association met Tuesday, Oct. 25, at Comsewogue Public Library for its monthly general meeting covering various topics.
Due to a recent shortage of Suffolk County COPE officers, civic vice president Sal Pitti, whose background is in law enforcement, delivered the public safety report. He concentrated on the crime trend of catalytic converter thefts in the area.
“It’s a multiagency, multilevel thing going on, and we’re not the only ones,” he said. “They’re getting hit upstate. They’re getting hit downstate. They’re getting hit everywhere in New York and in other states.”
The most popular models among auto thieves, according to Pitti, are the older models of the Honda Accord, Honda CR-V, and Ford F-150. Given the uptick in this phenomenon, he announced the Suffolk County Police Department is exploring an auto crimes unit.
“The last time I talked to the commissioner [Rodney Harrison], he told me he’s working on establishing an auto crimes unit … that can get more in-depth, more cross agency and get more information from other places,” he said.
A student representative from Comsewogue School District announced an upcoming Halloween event at the high school. “This upcoming Friday, Oct. 28, from 4 to 6 [p.m.] is Trick or Treat Street at the high school with diverse clubs and organizations creating a safe environment for the young trick-or-treaters,” he said.
With news from the library, Comsewogue director Debbie Engelhardt announced that Andrea Malchiodi has recently assumed the role of the assistant library director.
“Andrea brings excellent experience to the library, most recently having worked at the Lindenhurst Memorial Library as a department head and prior to that at Mastics-Moriches-Shirley [Community Library],” Engelhardt said.
Also making an appearance was Bruce Miller, former Port Jefferson Village trustee. Miller gave a string of updates on the ongoing efforts to electrify the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Jefferson Branch line.
Though MTA is funneling billions of dollars throughout New York City and Nassau County, Miller held that the railroad is showing little concern for the needs of its North Shore riders.
“There’s $10 billion on the table for the MTA, and they don’t show a lot of preference for the Port Jefferson/North Shore line,” Miller said. “They’re stripping off ridership from this line here, who are commuting to Ronkonkoma and some [going] as far as Hicksville or Huntington to get a decent ride.”
Responding to this assessment, Charlie McAteer, the civic organization’s corresponding secretary, concurred. “I think your point is well taken that we’re losing ridership because it’s inconvenient,” he said.
Pitti chimed in, discussing how electrification would tie into an overall plan to redevelop the Lawrence Aviation property. However, according to him, the gears can only begin to turn with a commitment from the MTA-LIRR.
“Everything is set and ready to move forward, but we all know how everything moves,” the vice president said. “We’re basically waiting for the MTA.”
Garboski said the Town Board selected a map that constituted the least amount of change for Council District 1. This district encompasses Port Jefferson Station and Terryville. “They made the least amount of change for our area,” he said.
While CD1 remained primarily unchanged by the end of the redistricting process, a tiny sliver of the community east of Pine Street shifted into CD2. However, Garboski suggested this change was understandable.
“Most of the people in the area that got redistricted go to Mount Sinai schools,” he said. “Everything else stays. The [Train Car] Park stays in our area. The revitalization area. All of the things that everyone was concerned about, we have.” Following this outcome, the civic leadership sent a letter of thanks to the Town Board for keeping the PJS/T community intact.
Before adjourning, Garboski and Pitti announced they had sold their houses recently. Within about a year, both will no longer be residents of the area, precipitating a turnover of the civic’s top two posts.
The body passed a resolution to allow the two civic leaders to stay in their seats for the interim period. A special election will likely take place in the fall of 2023.
The transformation of Upper Port is happening in real time after years of well-documented social issues and underinvestment.
In the coming weeks, the village will complete two major initiatives. Station Street will soon open to traffic, and the Port Jefferson Crossing apartments, a 45-unit affordable housing complex developed by Conifer Realty, will launch.
As these projects open, further planning is in full swing. Conifer is working with the Village of Port Jefferson Planning Board on a second development located at the Main and Perry streets intersection. Meanwhile, the Board of Trustees is actively pursuing a vision for the proposed Six Acre Park along Highlands Boulevard.
In an exclusive interview with Mayor Margot Garant, she summarized the activities. “I think we’ve made great progress,” she said. “I think it’s a great start to what will continue to make [Upper Port] a safe and welcome place.”
Completing these projects marks the next chapter in a multiyear village undertaking to revitalize its uptown. Yet as the area undergoes its metamorphosis, a broader conversation is emerging.
Community revitalization in context
A good plan is the genesis of effort and conversation between the constituents, elected officials, economists, environmentalists, civic organizations, resident groups, business owners and, yes, real estate developers.’
— Richard Murdocco
Richard Murdocco is an adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at Stony Brook University. His writings focus on land use, economic development and environmental policies on Long Island. In an interview, Murdocco detailed the regional and historical context surrounding redevelopment efforts in Port Jeff.
Downtown revitalization on Long Island dates back at least six decades, said Murdocco, when communities started tackling the effects of suburbanization and population boom.
“Downtown revitalization is not anything new,” Murdocco said. “The first comprehensive plans were drafted in the early ’60s by the Long Island Regional Planning Board and Dr. Lee Koppelman. Those identified key downtown areas where to focus growth, and the whole point of the plans was to mitigate the ever-ongoing suburban sprawl that western Suffolk County, especially, was getting a taste of at that time.”
With the eastward expansion of the Northern State Parkway and the construction of the Long Island Expressway, downtown areas soon became targets for growth. Ideally, this growth consisted of additional multifamily housing options, expanded retail sectors and developing neighborhoods near train stations.
Although development plans today are often pitched as novel or innovative, Murdocco contends that the general framework underlying revitalization has been replicated across generations.
“These concepts are as old as city building,” he said. “It may be new for Long Island, but it’s not new in practice.”
The Patchogue model
‘For an area to be successful, there has to be people and there has to be a reason for people to be there.’
— Paul Pontieri
Today, proponents often cite the Village of Patchogue as a cornerstone of community revitalization on Long Island. Spearheading these efforts is Paul Pontieri, who has served as the village’s mayor since 2004.
In an interview, Pontieri detailed his approach to community building. For him, areas that thrive are those with people.
“For an area to be successful, there has to be people and there has to be a reason for people to be there,” he said. “Businesses go where people are.”
Another priority for Pontieri was attracting young families into Patchogue. “We have a lot of young families,” he said. “That happened because we provided the kind of housing they can afford.”
Apartments were central for creating affordable housing options, according to Pontieri. While existing rents may appear overpriced to some, he believes these rent payments are preferable to the mandatory down payments when taking out a mortgage.
“Right now, if you have to put 20% down on a $500,000 home, you’re telling me that a 22- or 23-year-old that just got married has $100,000 to give on a down payment — it’s not going to happen, and that’s the reality,” he said. “You have to have the apartments because they will come into the apartments and begin to save their money, even though the rents on those apartments seem exorbitant.”
Pontieri holds that Long Island communities today face the challenge of drawing and keeping youth. According to him, young people will inevitably move away from unaffordable areas.
“You have a choice: You can sit there in your house — you and your wife at 75 years old — and your kids move someplace else because they can’t afford to live in your village,” he said, “Or you make your community user-friendly, kid-friendly, young-family friendly.”
Murdocco said Patchogue had been held up as the standard-bearer for community rejuvenation because Pontieri more or less carried his vision through to completion. Though revitalization brought unintended consequences for Patchogue, such as magnifying a “parking problem that was enhanced and amplified by growth,” Murdocco said the example is generally regarded favorably.
“Overall, it’s lauded as a model because they did it,” the adjunct professor said. “For all intents and purposes, the area is thriving relative to what it was.”
Differentiating Upper Port
‘Our little footprint can’t really hold as much as Patchogue.’
— Margot Garant
While Garant acknowledges the utility of Pontieri’s method for Patchogue, she points out some key distinctions unique to Upper Port.
Like Pontieri, she holds that the neighborhood’s success depends on the people it can attract. “I believe that new residents and the new opportunity will drive an economic base and new economic success,” she said. Though arriving at this new resident base, Garant is employing a different approach.
For one, the two villages differ widely concerning their respective topographies. When organizing a plan, Garant said Port Jefferson must operate within the confines of limited space, further constrained by the existing built environment.
“Patchogue is flat, and it’s a grid system, so you can spread out there and have larger parcels that connect to the heart of your village,” she said. “In Port Jefferson, we’re in a bowl. We’re surrounded very much by residential [zones] on both sides of Main, so I see us as able to grow a bit differently.”
Tying into the issue of topography is the matter of density. Garant maintains Pontieri had greater flexibility, enabling vertical and horizontal expansion to accommodate a growing population. “Our little footprint can’t really hold as much as Patchogue,” Garant said.
Applying the Patchogue model to Upper Port is further complicated by the historical and cultural differences between the two villages. Garant stated she intends to bring a family oriented culture to Upper Port. In contrast, Patchogue attracts a more robust nightlife scene accentuating its bar and restaurant culture.
“I just have a different philosophy when trying to revitalize the neighborhood,” Garant said. “I think Patchogue became known for the young, jet-setting community, the Alive After Five [street fair] bringing people to Main Street with a different sort of culture in mind. We’re looking at making things family oriented and not so much focused on bars and restaurants.”
In an email statement, trustee Lauren Sheprow, who emphasized revitalizing Upper Port as part of her campaign earlier this year, remarked that she was impressed by the ongoing progress. She remains committed to following the guidelines of the Port Jefferson 2030 Comprehensive Plan, published in 2014.
Referring to the master plan, she said, “It does appear to be guiding the progress we are seeing take shape uptown. It would be interesting to take a holistic look at the plan to see how far we have progressed through its recommendations, and if the plan maintains its relevance in current times where zoning is concerned, and how we might be looking at the geography east of Main Street.”
Six Acre Park
‘The Six Acre Park is something that I see as a crucial element to balancing out the densification of housing up there.’
— Rebecca Kassay
Along with plans for new apartments, Garant said the proposed Six Acre Park would be integral to the overall health of Upper Port. Through the Six Acre Park Committee, plans for this last sliver of open space in the area are in high gear. [See story, “Six Acre Park Committee presents its vision.”]
Trustee Rebecca Kassay is the trustee liaison to the committee. She refers to the parkland as necessary for supporting new residents moving into the village.
“As far as Upper Port, I am hoping and doing what I can to plan for a vibrant, balanced community up there,” she said. “The Six Acre Park is something that I see as a crucial element to balancing out the densification of housing up there.”
With more density, Kassay foresees Six Acre Park as an outlet for the rising population of Upper Port. “Everyone needs a place to step out from a suburban or more urban-like setting and breathe fresh air and connect to nature,” she said. “The vision for Six Acre Park is to allow folks to do just that.”
In recent public meetings, a debate has arisen over a possible difference of opinion between the village board and the planning board over active-use space at Six Acre Park. [See story, “PJ village board … addresses Six Acre Park.”]
Garant said the Board of Trustees has yet to receive an official opinion on behalf of the Planning Board. Still, the mayor does not see sufficient reason to modify the plan.
“We’re talking about creating an arboretum-like park used for educational purposes,” she said. “At this point in time, we don’t have enough land. The uptown population is welcome to use the rest of the parkland throughout this village.” Garant added, “But we are extremely mindful that when the new residents come to live uptown and they bring their needs, there’s a lot more that’s going to happen uptown and a lot more opportunity for us to make adjustments.”
Identifying the public good
‘In my opinion, property owners have allowed their buildings to deteriorate so that they would be able to sell the properties to — in this case — subsidized developers.’
— Bruce Miller
New development, in large part, is made possible by the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, which can offer tax exemptions to spur economic growth. Former village trustee Bruce Miller has been among the critics of Upper Port redevelopment, taking issue with these IDA subsidies.
“It’s an open secret that the properties were very poorly maintained up there,” Miller said. “In my opinion, property owners have allowed their buildings to deteriorate so that they would be able to sell the properties to — in this case — subsidized developers.”
In Miller’s assessment, while the projects are taxpayer supported, their community benefit is outweighed by the cost to the general fund.
“The buildings that are being built are paying very little in the way of taxes,” Miller said. “At 10 years it ramps up, but even at 15 years there’s not much tax they’re paying on them.”
Responding to this critique, Lisa Mulligan, CEO of Brookhaven IDA, released the following statement by email: “In accordance with our mission, the Brookhaven IDA is committed to improving the quality of life for Brookhaven residents, through fostering economic growth, creating jobs and employment opportunities, and increasing the town’s commercial tax base. The revitalization of uptown Port Jefferson is critical to the long-term economic well-being of the region, and housing is one key component of this.”
Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), who represents Port Jefferson on the Town Council, also took issue with Miller’s claim. For him, the purpose of IDA subsidies is to identify benefits to the community and advance the public good.
“So often, there is no public benefit,” he said. “If it’s the will of Port Jefferson Village to revitalize an area that has struggled to attract investment for many years, that may be an appropriate use of IDA funding.”
However, Kornreich also acknowledged that these tax incentives come at a cost for ordinary taxpayers. For this reason, it remains crucial that the IDA has a firm grasp of the public good and advances that end alone.
“When this unelected body gives these benefits to a developer, it’s a tax increase on everyone within that taxing district … they are increasing your taxes,” the councilmember said. “When you pay those increased taxes, what you’re doing is supporting this vision of a public good.” In instances where the IDA functions without a view of the public good, he added, “It’s a huge betrayal.”
Garant suggested that ridding Upper Port of vacant lots constituted a public good in itself. While IDA benefits may mean short-term sacrifices for village residents, the tax exemptions will soon expire and the village will collect its usual rates.
“For us in the short term, we might be making a little bit of a sacrifice, but I can tell you right now what I’m making on the payment in lieu of taxes program is more than what I was getting on those buildings when they were blighted,” she said. “Six, seven, eight years down the road, when we’re at the end of those PILOT agreements, we’re going to be getting a sizable tax contribution from these properties.” She added, “I was looking down a 10- to 15-year road for the Village of Port Jefferson.”
Murdocco foresees opportunities for continued discussions within the village. According to him, community development done right is highly collaborative, uniting the various stakeholders around a common aim.
“A good plan is the genesis of effort and conversation between the constituents, elected officials, economists, environmentalists, civic organizations, resident groups, business owners and, yes, real estate developers,” he said. “I know for a fact that in Upper Port Jefferson, a lot of that did happen.”
The SBU adjunct professor added, “In terms of defining a public benefit, it depends on what the community wants. Do they want economic growth for an underutilized area? Do they want environmental protection? Do they want health and safety? That all depends on the people who live there.”
For the second consecutive week, the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville community gave a strong display of community solidarity, this time during a public meeting at Brookhaven Town Hall on Thursday, Aug. 11.
Joined by neighbors from around the township, residents spoke out against two proposed maps for the redistricting of Brookhaven Town Council. If approved, the proposed maps would make significant changes to the existing boundaries of Council Districts 1 and 2, severing large chunks of Port Jefferson Station from Terryville and cutting Mount Sinai in half.
Logan Mazer, a Coram resident, has proposed an alternative to the maps on the redistricting committee’s website. He told the Town Board that the only two districts requiring change are Districts 2 and 6 — the former being underpopulated and the latter being overpopulated. Because the two districts share a border, Mazer proposed the simple transfer of territory from District 6 into District 2 to correct the population imbalance.
The map of least change “doesn’t really change the political alignment … it doesn’t produce any gerrymandered districts and it protects communities of interest that are being carved up in these new maps for no discernable reason,” Mazer said.
Throughout the evening, Mazer’s map received favorable reactions from those in attendance. Among the supporters of the Mazer map is Lou Antoniello, a member of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, who considered the draft proposal a way to transfer the burden of costs and maintenance into District 1.
“They showed that there was a portion of Mount Sinai — a beautiful section down by Cedar Beach and the surrounding community — which is a high-maintenance area for Mount Sinai that would be swapped out for the relatively self-sufficient area of Terryville,” he said. “I am here tonight to tell you that I don’t think that map is a map that should be voted on.”
Joan Nickeson, a Terryville resident and community liaison for the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, discussed the phenomenon of cracking, a practice in political redistricting that dilutes the voting power of an area by distributing its population across districts.
“It is unconscionable that you would crack our high school from the rest of its district, and crack neighbor from neighbor, and actually cleave members of the chamber of commerce from the chamber of commerce office,” she said. Addressing the board, she added, “I want you to remember to keep [the] 11776 [zip code] together when you go to vote.”
Paul Sagliocca, also a member of PJSTCA, shared the historic neglect of PJS/Terryville. He said that recently, the community has begun to counteract that narrative, introducing a Shakespeare in the Park event at the Chamber Train Car Park and building momentum for positive changes to the area.
Sagliocca asked that the board not impede the development of the area by dividing community members across political boundaries. “It is on the up — we do not need to be divided,” he said. “I would really wish that when it comes time to vote, that Port Jeff Station/Terryville stays in one solid community within District 1.”
Francis Gibbons, a Port Jefferson Station resident and member of the PJSTCA, said the redistricting process has diminished the public’s faith in its institutions. “Why are we continuing with this farce?” he asked. “I believe disenfranchisement brings with it a lack of political faith in our system. When you have a lack of faith, after time it brings civil war.”
Community members were joined by allies from the village of Port Jefferson. Bruce Miller, a former trustee of Port Jefferson Village, criticized the process. He considered the multiple cancellations of public hearings in CD1 as a way to silence the public.
Miller also suggested that the proposed maps fail to advance the interests of the town. “Just leaving Mount Sinai and Port Jefferson Station and Terryville the way they are seems to be a more appropriate strategy,” he said. “All this straining, all these machinations, result in small gains but are a bad look that angers the public needlessly.”
Also attending was Port Jeff Village trustee Rebecca Kassay. Speaking on her own behalf, Kassay told the Town Board that plans to divide Port Jefferson Station/Terryville would impair the village’s own efforts to revitalize its uptown areas.
Citing her history of coordinating with the PJS/T chamber of commerce and the civic association, the village trustee said, “To see the work slowed at all by political lines, by having these two communities needing to go to two different councilmembers, that would surely slow down the work and the progress of the area at large.”
Kassay also described how a breakdown in procedure can alienate ordinary citizens from the political process, leading to cynicism and distrust of their elected officials.
“There are people who truly believe that all politicians get into office and then they serve themselves or they serve their parties, and I don’t want that to continue,” she said. “I want all elected officials to stand up and make decisions and show their allegiance to their constituents and not their party.”
Following the public comments, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) responded to those in attendance. He thanked the residents for coming out and for expressing their opinions. The supervisor affirmed his trust in the Town Board to listen carefully to constituent concerns.
Romaine also discussed the criteria that he will use to evaluate the proposed maps, saying that he favors a map that offers fewer “splits” of communities of interest.
“As supervisor, I’m going to tell you, I’m going to be looking for a map with less splits,” he said. “Your comments were very helpful. We’re looking for less splits.” Referring to his colleagues on the Town Board, the supervisor added, “I think they’ll sit down and they’ll take all the comments that you said … and they will consider all of them.”
The next meeting of the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 16, at 6 p.m. at Comsewogue Public Library, 170 Terryville Road, Port Jefferson Station, NY 11776.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is receiving $10 billion for infrastructure improvements from the federal government, and we along the Port Jefferson line need a small part of this money for better services.
As a former Port Jeff Village trustee, I spoke with the former Long Island Rail Road president, Phil Eng, and the LIRR executive planning and technical staff about this issue. They presented plans of their own: double tracking, bridge expansion and reconstruction, electrification and the possibility of battery-powered trains.
My sense of all of this: The LIRR plans are so grandiose and unrealistic that there were no plans at all, just a convenient excuse to do nothing. Rather than bells and whistles, we need a simple upgrade to some form of electric service.
Commuters all along the North Shore are taking the Ronkonkoma line. Some residents even drive to Huntington or Hicksville for decent transit.
Due to inadequate services, our local commuters sit in 10 to 20 miles of unnecessary traffic to get to an electric rail. The pollution generated along the Port Jeff line from diesel requires us to either transfer — often in inclement weather — or “commute to the commute.” This is unacceptable and very ungreen.
LIRR’s logic is to deprive the North Shore of commuters and then argue against electrification due to insufficient ridership. Because of this, we are among the farthest commuters away from New York City, paying among the highest fares, with the shabbiest service.
For decades, LIRR has demonstrated a profound disregard for our local communities. Most travelers islandwide have had electrical service for a generation … or three! The fact that we haven’t joined them should say a lot about LIRR’s priorities and its feelings for its North Shore travelers.
New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) have advocated for moving the Port Jefferson train station west to the 120-acre Lawrence Aviation property.
The Village of Port Jefferson needs to engage with Englebright and Hahn to negotiate an adequate tract of land with the LIRR west of Routes 25A and 112. The advantage of this is great.
It would eliminate the Main Street grade crossing and its resultant traffic. It would free up rail yards east of the existing station for a swap of land and subsequent incorporation into Port Jefferson Village. In addition, the freeing up of the existing station property could be used for parkland and recreation.
This is urgent. Decisions on that $10 billion windfall are being made now. The opportunity to electrify the line will not come for another generation.
Bruce Miller served as Port Jefferson Village trustee from 2014-2022.
The Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees will undergo a major shakeup next week as Bruce Miller leaves the board.
Miller, who has served since 2014, was unseated in last week’s village election after an unsuccessful bid for a fifth term. His seat will be filled by Lauren Sheprow.
As Miller transitions out of village government, his colleagues weighed in on his legacy of service to the village. In a series of emailed statements, Mayor Margot Garant and trustees took the opportunity to describe their many takeaways from Miller’s time in office.
The mayor, under whose administration Miller served during the entirety of his tenure as a trustee, highlighted several initiatives Miller had championed through the village government.
“Bruce’s vision for a better Port Jefferson brought us to the table on many big issues, including the repowering of our power plant, getting a better ride on the Long Island Rail Road, and reducing energy costs for those who live both in Port Jefferson and beyond,” Garant said. “He should be commended on every level for his selfless contribution, and I wish him all the best in his retirement years ahead, spending many more days visiting his daughter and doing the things he loves.”
Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden praised Miller for the innovative ideas and problem-solving skills that he brought to the village board. According to her, his creative approach is best illustrated by his taste in architecture.
“My first memory of Bruce was with his work on the Architectural Review Committee and his ideas on Victorian-style exterior design,” she said. “He always brought an interesting perspective to issues and it’s been a pleasure working with him. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”
Trustee Stan Loucks, who has also served alongside Miller for eight years, emphasized that Miller’s service to the community long predates his time as trustee.
“It should be obvious to everyone that Bruce Miller has been, and still is, dedicated to servicing the village of Port Jefferson,” Loucks said. “His many years on the school board and the eight years he served as a trustee are proof of that.” He added, “There is a saying, ‘All good things come to an end.’ I feel that Bruce was one of those good things. I wish him the best going forward — good health and happiness.”
Trustee Rebecca Kassay, who will remain on the board for another term, also acknowledged Miller’s contributions to the school district. She added that she hopes to continue to tap into Miller’s wealth of experience moving forward.
“Trustee Miller has garnered invaluable institutional knowledge from his years of service, not only on the Board of Trustees, but also from his years on the board of education,” she said. “I appreciate his perspectives and look forward to continuing a dialogue with him to help inform future village decisions.”
Sheprow commented on the lessons she takes away from her predecessor’s decades of public service in and around the village.
“Bruce Miller has been contributing time and talent to the Village of Port Jefferson — and before that to the Port Jefferson School District — for close to two decades,” the trustee-elect said, adding, “He deserves a great deal of respect for all he has contributed and I applaud him for his dedication. He is a role model for public service to be emulated in the Village of Port Jefferson and I hope others will follow in his footsteps and get involved as he has for the betterment of this community.”
Sheprow will be seated officially after a formal swearing-in ceremony held on Monday, July 4, at Village Hall. This will conclude Miller’s eight-year tenure on the village board.
After eight years of service on the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees, Bruce Miller will leave office after this week.
Miller, who unsuccessfully sought a fifth term as trustee in this year’s election, will leave office on July 4. He will be succeeded by Lauren Sheprow.
In an exclusive interview with Miller, the outgoing trustee reflected upon his time in village government, his greatest challenges and his hopes for the future.
Miller congratulated the winners of the race, saying, “I would like to congratulate the two people that did win, Rebecca [Kassay] and Lauren. I hope they will do good things for the village.” He added, “Obviously, I’m disappointed that I didn’t place in the necessary top two, so I’ll be looking for other things to do. Any assistance that I can provide to the new trustees or the mayor or anyone else associated with the village government, I would be glad to provide.”
Writing his own story
Miller highlighted several projects that he believes represent the core of his contribution to the village. He said the projects he focused on were those that required long-term vision, carried out over many years.
“Certain things take a long time to accomplish,” he said. “With the green energy aggregated solar, we had to get laws passed in order to have it permitted on Long Island as LIPA resisted.” Miller added that the village could sign up for this program right now, which would reduce utility costs for village ratepayers.
‘I worked in areas kind of on my own. I made my own story.’
— Bruce Miller
The Long Island Rail Road was another trademark issue for Miller. He believes that after years of persistence, funds are finally being made available to improve the rider experience and expedite services. “The money is there,” the retiring trustee said. “There’s $10 billion coming to the MTA and we need to work with our legislatures to ensure that we get a piece of that.” He added, “In the Army we used to have the expression, KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. To the Long Island Rail Road, I would say just streamline this thing and do what you have to do to get us a better ride.”
Miller will be leaving office with “some ideas on the drawing board.” He said that if he had been reelected, he would have explored the possibility of annexing the Lawrence Aviation property and the houses between the property and Sheep Pasture Road.
“There’s 40 acres of open space there where we could declare parkland,” he said. “That would resolve a lot of issues that we have.”
Another idea Miller had was to consider the possibility of constructing underground parking in the Dutch model.
Working as a trustee, Miller said he encountered numerous difficulties along the way. A contrarian and independent voice, Miller said he was often in the minority on many of the major issues.
“I was a minority trustee,” he said. “It’s a very low-leverage situation. I tried to be supportive of the mayor and the priorities of the majority, but in some cases I could not do that and resisted a lot of that.” He continued, “I worked in areas kind of on my own. I made my own story.”
Tradition vs. transformation
Miller said that while much of the village’s character remains unchanged since his first term, the village has undergone some profound changes, most noticeably in Upper Port.
“If you look at the four blocks south of Sheep Pasture and North Country Road, there’s change going on there and there will be a lot more,” Miller said, adding, “The area was pretty blighted and the people who owned the property there allowed it to deteriorate in order to extract consideration for larger zoning, which they got.”
Miller also acknowledged that much of the development in Upper Port is made possible through Industrial Development Agency subsidies, “which means the apartments pay very little taxes, so there’s a great incentive for building and not much desire on the part of the developers to give back,” he said.
One area Miller had hoped developers could compromise on was architecture, which he believes should reflect the New England and maritime traditions of the community and create a sense of continuity between uptown and downtown.
“I had advocated that we use a Victorian, maritime kind of architectural structure on these buildings to tie them in with the downtown, so that we are one village,” he said, adding, “Making a village of quality is of interest to the residents because it improves their property values and their sense of being.”
Miller said he understands the sense of urgency to develop those areas. However, he still believes the developments should be guided by greater oversight from the village. “We’re not looking toward the future in terms of developing an ambiance that is on a par with Cold Spring Harbor or Southampton,” he said.
Miller’s message to the incoming board is to keep his priorities in mind as they are important. Aside from the duties that preoccupy board members from day to day, he said considerable forethought and long-term planning are also necessary.
“There’s a lot that goes on in the village that needs to get done, but we need to get beyond that and make substantial improvements in what we’re focusing on,” he said. “I would hope that they would pick up some of these issues that I had started with.”
He also asked that the trustees and the Planning Board apply greater pressure to real estate developers, who “are getting an extraordinary deal.”
Miller said he favors the construction of condominiums over one-bedroom apartments, which he says can also help offset declining student enrollment in the school district.
When asked if he had any regrets about his time in village government, he replied, “No, I don’t have any regrets. I really see this as a calling and it improves me. I like to contribute. I enjoy putting my energy and creativity into enterprises benefiting the community, and I will continue to do so.” He added, “I just see the value in contributing to and helping my fellow citizens and trying to express a better vision for their future.”