Tags Posts tagged with "Downtown Revitalization"

Downtown Revitalization

The Brookhaven Town Board will consider a proposed change of zone for the Jefferson Plaza property on Thursday, Nov. 30, at 5 p.m. File photo by Raymond Janis

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville is approaching a potentially community-defining transformation as the Brookhaven Town Board weighs the future redevelopment of the Jefferson Plaza shopping center, owned by Islandia-based Staller Associates.

Later this month, the board will consider rezoning the 10-acre parcel at the intersection of state Route 112 and Terryville Road to a Commercial Redevelopment District, or CRD, a new classification within the town’s Zoning Code. Jefferson Plaza would be the first property in town history to receive this designation if approved.

Enacted in 2020, the CRD enables mixed-use development along parcels of over 5 acres in size. According to the code, the CRD aims “to create the type of planning and zoning flexibility which is necessary to stimulate the revitalization of abandoned, vacant or underutilized commercial shopping center, bowling alley and health club properties.”

Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) represents Port Jefferson Station on the Town Board. In an exclusive interview, he summarized the CRD’s purpose as “more housing, less commercial space, generally.”

“The local government has created an incentive to spur redevelopment,“ he said. “But it hasn’t been used yet, so we’re trying to use it now.”

Commercial decline

Kornreich said this new approach to commercial revitalization is guided by a sequence of “extinction events” occurring within the local retail market.

Since the establishment of these local downtowns in the previous century and even earlier, Kornreich identified the emergence of automobile culture and the growth of large box stores as the first threat to traditional mom-and-pop storefronts and downtown economies. In the wake of this first extinction event, “retail took a hit that it never really recovered from,” Kornreich said.

Retail’s downward trajectory was further exacerbated by e-commerce, which began to put even the big box stores and large retailers out of business. “And then, of course, COVID came, and that hit commercial real estate and retail,” the councilmember noted.

Confronting the many changes reshaping the commercial landscape, Kornreich said the CRD would help spur commercial redevelopment.

“This is our existential challenge: How do we help guide the redevelopment of our community so it can be healthy, so that it can thrive, and so that people can afford to live here and have a good quality of life,” he said.

Richard Murdocco is an adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at Stony Brook University, specializing in land use, real estate markets, economic development and environmental policy. Given the current pressures upon the commercial sector, Murdocco concluded that “these antiquated shopping centers need a redo.”

While redevelopment has traditionally elicited local opposition from nearby residents, Murdocco suggests that various projects throughout the region have gained traction among locals.

“It seems to me that a lot of these redevelopment projects are starting to gain momentum because the property and the blight are so large,” he said. “These are significant pieces of property,” adding, “Government responded to the need for adaptive reuse, and now there’s a legal mechanism through the zoning district on which to do that.”

Questions raised

The push for commercial redevelopment has met with scrutiny from some.

Ira Costell, president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, raised several questions about the Jefferson Plaza proposal.

The CRD “hasn’t been used previously, and this does seem to be the test case,” he said. “In my estimation, it’s the lynchpin for further development in our community, so that’s why it’s essential that we get this right and not rush to judgment.”

“To address those things, I think we need better community input,” he added. To generate such input, he has asked residents to attend the civic’s upcoming meeting at Comsewogue Public Library on Tuesday, Nov. 28, at 7 p.m.

Local civic members are ringing the alarm over the CRD in the neighboring Three Village community. Herb Mones, land use chair of the Three Village Civic Association, highlighted the need to remediate commercial blight but suggested the CRD code is too developer-centric.

“On every level, the intention of redeveloping neglected or failing shopping centers is an admirable goal,” he said. “But the way that the code is written allows for really unprecedented development that has a tremendous negative effect on communities that are impacted by the density that results.”

Mones said the language of the CRD code is “so vague, so arbitrary and so capricious that it could be applied to virtually any shopping center in the Town of Brookhaven.”

Based on the statute, which incentivizes redevelopment of blighted properties through relaxed land use standards, Mones said the CRD code “encourages landowners to purposely neglect their properties in order to promote this eventual redevelopment.”

George Hoffman, also a member of TVCA, concurred with Mones, referring to the CRD code as “a very vague law that I think was done in haste.”

“It was really a code change that was done when we didn’t know what was going to happen with COVID,” Hoffman said. “I think it really has to be reevaluated, and I don’t think it works in this situation here” at Jefferson Plaza. 

Given that Jefferson Plaza would be the first parcel listed as a CRD, he added that this matter has implications for residents townwide.

“If they use this code to the maximum allowable density, I think it’s going to set the standard of a new suburban model for development,” he said.

The Town Board will consider the proposed change of zone for the Jefferson Plaza property on Thursday, Nov. 30, at 5 p.m.

From left, Minority Leader Jason Richberg, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey. Photo from Bellone’s Flickr page

After years of disruption to local downtowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Suffolk County is pushing toward economic recovery and revitalization.

A 2021 Rauch Foundation study found that 38% of downtown food and beverage with retail businesses lost a projected 50% or more in revenue in 2020 compared to 2019. The same study outlined the compounding effects of impacts of “auto-oriented development, the emergence of online shopping, and, more recently, the economic shock from COVID” as impacting the viability of Long Island’s downtowns.

County officials gathered at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge Tuesday, Sept. 5, announcing the JumpSMART Small Business Downtown Investment Program. Through JumpSMART, the county will set aside $25 million in grants for projects supporting downtown areas’ growth and vibrancy. This funding comes from the $286 million the county received in federal COVID-19 funding through the American Rescue Plan Act.

“Our main streets, our downtowns, are critical to the long-term success of our region,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). “As we continue to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic … it is essential that we provide the necessary support” to downtowns.

The county executive said the funding offered through this JumpSMART program would carry out several simultaneous economic development goals, namely expanding housing options and bolstering small business districts.

“Our downtowns are the places where we can create the kind of housing diversity that we know our region needs and that will support, very importantly, small businesses,” he said. “They are also the place where we can create a mix of uses that would reduce car trips and traffic on our roadways.”

The funds earmarked through the program, Bellone said, would also promote various nonprofits and cultural entities throughout the county’s main street business districts: “The JumpSMART program aims to support and invigorate our main street communities by providing to different private and not-for-profit organizations, such as arts and cultural institutions,” Bellone added.

Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature and a former trustee of the Village of Lindenhurst, described the downtown revitalization efforts of his village.

“It started with bringing transportation-oriented development into our village,” he said. “We now have that vibrancy down there and young people coming in.”

“We have many downtowns that are in the process of rebuilding, restructuring or revitalizing. This grant program will go a long way toward making sure that we meet all the needs of our downtowns,” McCaffrey added.

Minority Leader Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon) outlined various areas of emphasis for investments in downtowns, such as transit-oriented development, beautification and infrastructure modernization.

“These downtown investments bring people to our communities … and economic development,” he said. “If we keep investing in our small businesses, our economy will grow,” adding, “That will raise our incomes in Suffolk County and bring more people to buy our homes, live in our buildings and use our community.”

In launching this application portal, Bellone said the county government is seeking “big proposals that make a positive impact on our communities.”

A selection panel of administration officials and county legislators will decide on the applications and appropriations.

The application portal is live and will remain open until close of business on Sept. 29. For more information or to apply, visit suffolkcountyny.gov/jumpsmart.

Sound Beach Civic Association President Bea Ruberto, left, and Dorothy Cavalier, Democratic candidate for Suffolk County’s 6th Legislative District, celebrate during the hamlet’s 2nd annual Spring Festival. Photo by Raymond Janis

Along New York Avenue in Sound Beach, before rows of storefronts and restaurant spaces — some filled, others not — thousands gathered on Saturday, April 22, for the 2nd annual Sound Beach Spring Festival and Street Fair.

The event featured dozens of local businesses and merchants tabling outside, along with food stands, face painting, music and other festivities.

The annual festival is hosted by the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce, an organization founded in 2018 to draw businesses and economic development into the neighboring hamlets.

Gary Pollakusky, president and executive director of RPSBCC, said there was a two-year gap in the first and second festivals due to COVID-19. With public health concerns abating, the chamber picked up where it had left off before the pandemic.

“We had, I’d say, over 65 vendors, and we had thousands of people come through, all seeing for the first time some of the new businesses in Sound Beach,” he said.

Bea Ruberto is president of the Sound Beach Civic Association, the leading advocacy group representing the hamlet’s roughly 7,000 residents. She has been a leader in raising awareness for this private beach community.

“One of the things that we as a civic have tried to do for years is make people aware that we exist, make our representatives aware that we exist,” she said. 

To do that, Ruberto has been forceful in distinguishing Sound Beach for its unique history and local identity. She authored “Sound Beach: Our Town, Our Story,” which was recently adapted into the documentary film, “The History Upon Our Shores: Sound Beach, NY.” 

Gary Pollakusky, above, president and executive director of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Raymond Janis

The historical uniqueness of Sound Beach established, Ruberto has her sights on the future. She said the annual spring festival represents a vital organ in drawing attention to the area. 

“I love it because it brings people outside of Sound Beach into Sound Beach,” she said. “We want people to get to know about our community.”

Though several restaurants and merchants are in business, the commercial strip is a ways away from a fully formed, traditional main street. That, Pollakusky said, will require additional advocacy work to keep occupants of the storefronts commercially viable.

“Seeing businesses come and go is heartbreaking sometimes because those are families that are local and that are losing their livelihoods,” he said. “To see a business that did everything that it could to survive and then fail, it’s heartbreaking.”

Pollakusky indicated that countering these trends will take time and effort from local organizations and government. He outlined his aspirations for the hamlet.

“I’d like to see that our storefronts are filled,” he said. “I’d like to see that people want to come to Sound Beach to live and to patronize our businesses.” The chamber president added, “I’d like to see that we have a robust business community that is self-sustaining.”

Putting this vision into action is not so cut and dry. Consistently, Sound Beach has competed for and lost out on limited grant funding against established downtown districts also debilitated by the pandemic. 

The commercial district’s small size is another limiting factor, cutting the hamlet off from certain types of grants.

“Sound Beach does not have a downtown,” Ruberto said. “We have two commercial nodes. Therefore, a lot of the downtown revitalization grant funding we can’t have.” The civic president added, “That has to be fixed.”

The Sound Beach commercial district is currently zoned J-2, a general business zoning classification typical for retail spaces. For Sound Beach to qualify for downtown revitalization funding, the Town of Brookhaven would have to rezone the hamlet to J-6, a Main Street Business classification.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) represents Sound Beach on the Town Board. Reached by phone, she commented on the difficulties of Sound Beach making use of those granting opportunities, stressing that Suffolk County should consider easing the criteria for qualification.

“Those funds are hard to come by,” she said. “I think the onus is on the county in being a little more flexible” in dispersing downtown revitalization funds.

 

Map of the Sound Beach commercial district, which is currently zoned J-2, a general business classification. Graphic from the Town of Brookhaven website

Currently, Sound Beach has much of the look and feel of a traditional downtown despite lacking the zoning classification of one. Bonner nonetheless remained open to the proposal to rezone the commercial district to J-6, potentially giving the hamlet a proper downtown and opening it to grants. 

“If any business owner wanted to come in to become J-6, it’s certainly something that we would obviously entertain,” the councilwoman said.

The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that Sound Beach’s population shrunk by more than 2.5% between 2010 and 2020. This population decline is comparable to those of neighboring hamlets in the area, including Rocky Point, Miller Place and Mount Sinai.

Dorothy Cavalier, legislative aide to Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), is running to fill the seat of her boss this November as Anker is term limited. 

The candidate remarked upon the need for a larger governmental initiative to return small businesses to the area and keep residents from leaving the county for the Sun Belt. 

“We’re losing a lot of people to Down South and other places, and we really need to figure out how to get them to stay here,” Cavalier said. “We need to get the small businesses back here because once we get the businesses to come back, the people will follow. They’ll stay.”

In the meantime, Bonner emphasized that the businesses in Sound Beach are still recovering from the aftermath of the pandemic. To support those businesses, she encouraged the community to continue patronizing local mom-and-pops in their hour of need.

“The pandemic really brought a lot of people to their knees financially, and our small businesses are the ones that suffered the most,” she said. “That’s why we have to invest with our dollars, to shop locally and support them.”

Brookhaven Town councilman on redeveloping the Middle Country Road corridor

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), above. Photo from Brookhaven Town website
Part I

Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) has worked on several major initiatives during his time at Town Hall. In Part I of this two-part interview, LaValle discusses the recent completion of paving projects in Selden, the need for sewers on Middle Country Road, his background in government and the influence of his family on his decision-making. 

Could you discuss the recent paving projects completed in Selden and your ongoing work with the Town Highway Department?

Well, that is a major, major issue in my area. I have the smallest geographic area in the whole town. Our districts are broken up by population — about 80,000 people in each district — but my area is a very dense, compact area. What that means is that, obviously, I have a lot of roads, a lot of neighborhoods, a lot of businesses.

One of the things that we did a few years ago was that we made a commitment that we were going to spend $150 million on the town end, which is $15 million a year for the next 10 years, in paving. We made a pledge to the community that that’s what we were going to do to try to help the infrastructure in the town. We’ve been on target with that.

How have you coordinated with Suffolk County to bring sewers into downtown areas within your district?

That is absolutely crucial for the growth of the business community in Centereach and Selden along the Middle Country Road corridor. Hundreds and hundreds of businesses that run up and down this road are unsewered, and even the houses there, every one has a cesspool.

Our big issue on Middle Country Road is that if you look at these lots, they’re all half-acre and acre lots. So what can you build on it? You can’t really get the nice restaurants that other areas have, and that hinders how we can develop and how we can move forward.

We’ve had a lot of success in redeveloping a lot of these lots throughout this corridor, but bringing [sewers] here allows us to take some of these beat up lots and have developers come in and combine them and build something new, whether it’s a two-story office building or a nice restaurant. Because with that sewer capacity, you have the ability to do that.

That’s really why it will be a huge game changer for this area. It will bring good new development down the road. When I was with [the late Suffolk County Legislator] Tom Muratore [R-Ronkonkoma], we kind of started that process to get the sewers going. Now [county Legislator] Nick Caracappa [C-Selden] has jumped into office and it’s really getting supercharged right now.

The county is going to be setting this up, but it gives the town the option — because I deal with rezoning — to be able to start talking to property owners and say, “Hey listen, we have sewers coming down here. If you put this lot together and this lot together, then we could do this.” That’s when you really start getting some exciting opportunities with new businesses and various other things that we want to come into the area.

To follow up, what is your organizational philosophy toward commercial redevelopment?

I think the big key is that when you look up and down the road, we have some small lots that are a quarter-acre or a half-acre — all beat up properties. Right now, anybody coming in and buying them asks, “What can I really do with them?”

Take a look at the property values on Middle Country Road. Some 37,000 cars drive down the portion of Middle Country Road in my area every single day; 37,000 is a massive number — a lot of cars. And great property values. It’s prime real estate, but for developers to come in, you need to have the sewer capacity to be able to build a two-story building on an acre lot, and right now you can’t do that.

If you’re a developer, you have to spend money to buy the property, then money to build it, and then you have to be able to rent it to make your money back. Let’s be very honest about it. That’s what developers do. That’s what businesspeople do, they’re here to make money. So you have to be able to attract them in. By giving them sewers, you will then give them the capacity that their money will go out to redevelop, but it’s also going to come back to them because they’ll be able to bring in new businesses.

We’ve come a long way in the last nine years. The big thing for me as far as developing properties is developing that relationship with the business owners and the property owners, being a straight shooter, telling them, “Hey, this is going to work and this is not going to work.” It’s about not wasting people’s time.

A mentor of mine once asked me, “What’s the most important thing in business?” At the time, I was young — like 24 or 25 — and I said money. He said, “No, not even close.” The most important thing in business is time. If you’re a service provider, it’s the time from when your order is made to when you provide that service to your client. Or if you’re a builder, it’s the time it takes to buy the property, to get through the zoning process and to finish off building. If it takes more time, it’s going to cost you more money.

For me, I like to be a straight shooter with the developers, with the property owners, with the businesspeople, and say if it’s not a realistic concept, don’t string people along, just tell them. If it is a realistic concept, then how can we get you from point A to point B? How can we get you from when you buy the property to when you develop the property?

What is your professional background, and how did you end up at Town Hall?

I started off many years ago, after I graduated college, as chief of staff for Dan Losquadro [R] when he was a [county] legislator many years ago [and is now town highway superintendent]. I worked with Dan for about two years and then I went into the private sector — I owned a title agency for about four years. We have since sold that business and I went into the mortgage business, which I still do to this day.

During that time a bunch of years back, I was asked to come back part time to the [county] Legislature to work for Tom Muratore. He was about a year into the job and was trying to figure out his way a little bit. I decided to come back and I was with Tom for about three years. Then the opportunity to run for Town Council came up.

I never really thought that I would run for office, even though my family had been in office. I didn’t think that was what I wanted to do, but I had a lot of friends and family and people in the community come up to me — because they saw all the work that I was doing with Tom — and they said, “Listen, you do a great job and we really need you to run for the Town Board. We think you could do a great job here.”

I took that run back in 2013 and I was fortunate to get elected. I’ve been a sitting town councilman ever since. It’s been nine years of working on a lot of things within the district and it’s really something that I’ve grown to love and enjoy.

How has your family shaped your approach to public service?

My brother, John [Jay LaValle (R)], was a town councilman and a town supervisor. My cousin, Ken LaValle [R-Port Jefferson], was a state senator for over 40 years. They had very different styles when they were in office. When I was a kid, I watched how they worked.

Ken was very statesmanlike in the way he went about things. John was very aggressive and would take care of business and kind of push things and run around with a lot of energy. I kind of look at both of them and have learned from both styles.

I think there are opportunities to be aggressive when you have to push things and show excitement, like my brother John. I also think there are other opportunities when, like my cousin Ken, you have to sit back, listen, take it all in, really understand the situation, and do your homework to make sure that you know what you’re talking about. I think both of those styles kind of mesh with who I am.

Part II

For over a decade, Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) has worked on the Selden Park Complex. Now he can see the finish line. In Part II of this two-part interview, the councilman reflects upon the role of parks, open spaces and the mentorship of the late Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), under whom LaValle served as legislative aide.

What is the status of the Selden Park Complex?

Now this is something that I’ve been working on since I was aiding Tom Muratore 12 years ago. This is going to be the largest park in the Town of Brookhaven — 24 acres that we’re breaking ground on.

Heritage Park [in Mount Sinai] is a park that’s at the end of County Route 83. When we started talking about this with the community years ago, people said, “That’s something we want. Can we do that?” And now we’re right there.

Phase I was to bring back the two Little League fields near Grace Presbyterian Church. I actually grew up playing baseball on these fields. Grace used to lease them to the Little League, but then Grace was having issues with its insurance, so [the fields] went fallow. We were able to work with the county to buy this property. The deal was cut so that the county would buy the properties and the town would develop them. Veterans [Park] used to be a baseball field. We then came in, redid it, and now it’s a multipurpose field for all the kids. That was Phase II.

We just broke ground recently on the third and final phase, the biggest phase that we have going on here. We’re building two additional baseball fields, a basketball court, pickleball courts, playgrounds, a concession stand, shade shelters throughout, a storage facility for our guys and batting cages. And for the first time in the town’s history — and I always like to be the first guy — I was the first guy to pickleball and now I’m going to be the first guy to roller and deck hockey.

This really comes back to my childhood growing up in Centereach. We had two deck hockey and roller hockey rinks, and I would play deck hockey with my friends. We talked about it and said, “You know what? This is a good idea. Let’s bring this back to the community.” It will be the first time ever that we’re bringing that back.

I kind of refer to this as a generational park. This is where we hope that families that come to the area will walk their children around in strollers around the walking trails. Then when they get a little bit older, they bring the kids over to the playgrounds. Then they get a little bit older and play any kind of sport, whether it’s softball, baseball, lacrosse, soccer … whatever sport they want. Then the kids go off to college, and hopefully they come back to the community where they’re going to be doing the same thing and raising their families using this facility.

What is your office doing to protect open spaces?

Just this past year in the Centereach/Selden community, right on the corner of Old Town Road and County Route 83, there’s a parcel over there that we just made a preserve. That happened to be a town property, and we saw an opportunity to kind of protect it and consider it a nature preserve.

That’s something that I think is really important that we do and that we continue to do as a township. You have to keep in mind that our drinking water is extremely important to what we’re doing — it’s right under our feet. And protecting our lands protects that drinking water. Bringing sewers protects that drinking water, so that’s a critical issue for us.

What do you foresee as the long-term impact of bringing more public funds into the Middle Country area?

It’s one of the reasons I ran for office nine years ago. I grew up in this area, and I can tell you the sentiments of people back then. Generally, we were looking around at all these other communities and watching what they were building — money going here, they’re building a park there, preserving property over here. They said, “This guy’s getting this, they’re getting that, and what are we getting? Are we getting our fair share here?”

That’s something I focus on every day, about how we can rebuild and what money we can bring in. Bringing in new development is one thing — the town doesn’t put money into that. I have to go out and recruit people and work with businesspeople. But making sure our parks are up to par, making sure we’re getting extra money for our roads, these are things you are required to do as a town councilman.

As far as parks go, in my time here, we really have run through all of our parks. We have built a dog park since I’ve been here. We rebuilt Iroquois Avenue Park [in Selden] completely — the walking trail, everything is getting redone.

I grew up less than a mile from the Centereach Pool Complex. When I was a little kid, I would go up and play basketball. When I got elected, the backboards at Centereach Pool were rusted out and the ground was broken up on the basketball courts. It had been just horrendous. Since I’ve been in office, we’ve redone the basketball courts. We’re the first facility to have pickleball, we’ve built sun shelters, we’ve rebuilt the bathrooms and redone the walking trail.

Can you describe the mentorship of Tom Muratore and his influence on you now?

Tom was an unbelievable guy. We were a good team. He was the vice president of the [Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association] before he became a legislator. He was a soft-spoken guy, wasn’t the kind who was flashy or who would always jump to the mic. That wasn’t Tom.

Tom was a guy who liked to work with people and had the biggest heart of anybody I’ve ever known in politics. He just cared for everybody, didn’t need to get credit for things, just wanted to make the community a better place.

He hired me when I was young and aggressive, bouncing off the walls with a lot of energy. And he was a great mentor because he would look at me sometimes and just say, “Kevin, we can pass it today and just push it through, or we can pass it tomorrow with everybody’s consensus.” Or say, “Let’s take our time and get everybody on board.”

I’m an aggressive guy. I like to keep moving and get things going. Tom kind of put the brakes on me. He taught me to take a little extra time to build that extra consensus, making sure everybody’s on board. There were just so many different lessons that I learned from him.

Next year, when we open up [the Selden Park Complex], it will be weird not to have him here. But I know he’s looking down with a big smile on his face, and he’s glad we’re going to finish this out for the community. Something we started together.

Brookhaven Town councilwoman rolls up her sleeves in District 2

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) discussed her ongoing work at Town Hall. File photo

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) has served her community for decades. In an exclusive interview, she discussed her journey into local politics, her approach to commercial redevelopment, efforts to protect the environment and the upcoming redistricting process.

What is your professional background and how did you end up at Town Hall?

I moved to Rocky Point 34 years ago. I became very active locally in the Rocky Point Civic Association, the Rocky Point school board, St. Anthony’s [Catholic Youth Organization]. I was very involved in the community, volunteering and generally trying to make things better. I was sort of a person who didn’t ask others to do things for me — if I wanted it done, I rolled my sleeves up.

When [town] Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro [R] was running for the Suffolk County Legislature, he reached out and asked if I would volunteer for his campaign. I knew him, I liked him, and I believed in what he stood for and I got involved in his campaign. He liked my work on his campaign and he hired me to be a legislative aide. I was quite shocked by the offer. Then I worked in his office for four years, always staying actively involved. 

Former Councilman Kevin McCarrick [R-Rocky Point], who was the first representative for Council District 2, ran for two terms but was very busy in his private business — the family owned McCarrick’s Dairy. He was busy at the dairy and he decided he needed to devote his time to the family business and didn’t want to run for office anymore. I was asked by the Republican Party, the Conservative Party and the Independence Party to run for this position, with others also screened as well. And they picked me.

What initially drew you to the Rocky Point community?

My first husband and I were looking to buy a house that we could afford. I grew up in Northport; he grew up in Forest Hills but was living in Centerport when I met him. We got married, had children … and had my daughter. We were renting a house in Centerport. This was when the market had really, really peaked. I had friends who had a house out here. My first husband summered out in Wading River. And 34 years later, I’m in the same house.

What is it about this area that makes it unique?

There’s a very strong sense of community, of friendliness and neighborliness, of helping each other out. I’m always in awe of the strong number of volunteers that are in every hamlet that I represent. 

I have a very healthy respect for people that volunteer. We live in a chaotic time now where people are being pulled in many different directions — and people are having to work harder because their dollar is worth less. I enjoy the job that I have because I meet wonderful people and the volunteers that I meet at civic meetings, at Great Brookhaven Cleanups, at scouting. 

Where I live in Rocky Point, specifically, it still has a touch of how it used to be. I live in the old section, the North Shore beach section, so most of the bungalows have been renovated, but they’re not cookie-cutter, not a development. Every house is a little bit different. It’s a charming community.

What is your approach, your guiding philosophy, toward commercial development and downtown beautification?

Various levels of government have worked very hard to bring redevelopment to Sound Beach — the playgrounds and the veterans monument. We’ve brought money to downtown Rocky Point, 25A and Broadway specifically – sidewalks, streetlights, street trees, the veterans square that we developed, working with business owners to come into whatever hamlet that I represent. 

Commercial development — not large-scale commercial development, not a big-box store, nothing like that — is about working hard with our local stores to help them succeed, whether that’s with permits or meeting with them to help them get through the process with the town, county or state. We kind of view the office as a clearing house. Even if it’s not under my purview, we help. We sort of roll our sleeves up and guide them through the process and stay in touch throughout the process. 

What is your office doing to protect the environment?

We rebuilt two new jetties last year — east and west jetties down at Cedar Beach. The inlet had filled in and it was a navigational hazard. At the back of the harbor, the water was not flushing well and there were water quality issues down there. Former [state] Sen. [Ken] LaValle [R-Port Jefferson] jumpstarted us with a $3 million grant from the state and then we paid $5 million. Now the back of the harbor is so clear and clean. The fish are coming back like crazy.

We’ve done a significant amount of stormwater drainage and infrastructure investment along the North Shore. During Hurricane Sandy, much of our stormwater infrastructure was destroyed. So the highway superintendent and our finance department and our department of environmental protection worked hand in hand with FEMA to capture many millions of dollars so that we could bring back a greater standard to our stormwater infrastructure. 

Can you summarize the upcoming redistricting process for the Town Council?

We undertake this every 10 years. Residents should definitely partake in the meetings. Years ago, when I first ran for office, I represented more of Port Jeff Station and more of Coram. When we redistricted 10 years ago, I lost portions of Port Jefferson Station to try to keep it contiguous to the Comsewogue school district. I lost portions of Coram to keep it contiguous with other electoral districts that it touched.

I invite residents to participate in the process. We have a board that we’ve selected — there is a requirement for specific political parties, so there are equal seats at the table for each party. And they make the decisions on how the maps are going to roll out and how the boundaries will change. We [the Town Council] vote on the redistricting plans that the appointed board makes.

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.

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Smithtown town officials plan new parking lot for Kings Park

From left, Marc Mancini, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone in the newly reconstructed Bellemeade Avenue Municipal Parking Lot. Photo by Kyle Barr

A newly remade Bellemeade Avenue Municipal Parking Lot in Smithtown has several local business owners excited. They hope it might not only attract more customers, but the floods that have ruined their properties in prior years will be a thing of the past.

“There was a big storm a couple years back and all of our stores got flooded,” Lisa Spica, the owner of Dance ‘N’ Things, said. “I have a lot of stuff on the floor, and merchandise got damaged, equipment got damaged. This new drainage is a beautiful thing.”

The parking lot, located off East Main Street, was once notorious for filling with water, at one point flooding the 13 businesses that it borders, business owners said. After several days of torrential rain earlier this month, Richard Daly, owner of RICHARD Salon, was happy to report he’s seen no hint of flooding.

Now, it’s great. There’s a lot of new parking spots. Clients are happy, and more importantly employees are happy.”

— Richard Daly

“When it flooded, we just got used to it — lived with it,” Daly said. “Now, it’s great. There’s a lot of new parking spots. Clients are happy, and more importantly employees are happy.”

The Town of Smithtown finished its $490,000 reconstruction of the parking lot in August, which increased the total number of parking spaces to 139 while adding new drainage and rustic lighting fixtures. Mike Petrina, the manager at Smithtown Running Company, said that the additional lighting was especially
important to him.

“Before there was hardly any lighting, so the new lighting makes it a lot safer at night,” Petrina said.

Smithtown’s elected officials have municipal parking on their minds. The town board voted unanimously Aug. 14 to enter a contract of sale to purchase two vacant lots off Pulaski Road for a price of $280,0000 from Flushing residents Matthew and Marguerite Lupoli.

“We finally brought the Queens resident to Smithtown — we purchased those lots and we’re going to make a new parking lot, similar to [Bellemeade], but with off-street parking to help the west end businesses that we have in Kings Park,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said.

This parking lot was in disarray for many, many years, and hardly ever used. Certainly, this parking lot will be beneficial to these businesses.”

— Ed Wehrheim

The parking lot was closed for roughly a month before being reopened, according to East Main Street business owners, who said they felt  construction did not affect their businesses too much. Most are now happy to walk to their cars at the end of the day without dealing with flash flooding or worrying about their safety.

“I even have some younger girls working for me and taking out the garbage late at night, sometimes we would just wait until morning because nobody wanted to,” said Erin Kahnis, the owner of DIY artistic signs store AR Workshop. “It’s much better now.”

Wehrheim said the town plans to install additional lighting fixtures and finish landscaping the gardens in the lot’s center island and along its eastern edge during the next six weeks.

“This parking lot was in disarray for many, many years, and hardly ever used,” the supervisor said. “Certainly, this parking lot will be beneficial to these businesses.”

Downtown Kings Park. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Town of Smithtown officials are one concrete step closer to paving the way for municipal parking in Kings Park’s downtown business district.

The town board voted unanimously Aug. 14 to enter a contract of sale to purchase two vacant lots off Pulaski Road for a price of $280,0000. If all goes smoothly, the purchase may fulfill the five-year wish of area residents who petitioned the town to buy the property in November 2013.

“We’re very pleased, we are going into contract,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “It will be a huge advantage to the business community there.”

Originally, the town had scheduled a public hearing for Aug. 14 on whether it should pursue the process of eminent domain to take ownership of the two lots owned by Queens residents Matthew and Marguerite Lupoli.

It will be a huge advantage to the business community there.”

— Ed Wehrheim

“It was a little bit of a tussle with the property owner who resides in Queens, but he’s willing to sell it,” the supervisor said.

A June 4 real estate appraisal of the two adjacent wooded lots determined the fair market price to be approximately $270,000 for the roughly 12,800 square feet, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. The town’s first purchase offer on the property was rejected by the owners, according to Wehrheim, but the second offer of $280,000 was accepted.

The supervisor said he is hopeful that the funds necessary to purchase the land will come from Suffolk County’s coffers, citing lengthy conversations with Suffolk  County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The measure will have to be  approved by the county Legislature.

“It looks positive,” Wehrheim said.

Smithtown town officials have been eyeing these wooded lots for municipal parking dating back to 2013.

A petition started by Park Bake Shop owners, Lucy and Gabe Shtanko, in 2013 received more than 600 signatures from Kings Park residents asking town officials to purchase the lot for municipal parking. Wehrheim said a 2014 appraisal determined its fair market price at $230,000, but Matthew Lupoli wasn’t interested in selling at that time.

It was a little bit of a tussle with the property owner who resides in Queens, but he’s willing to sell it.”

– Ed Wehrheim

There is a town municipal parking lot across the street from the Kings Park Fire Department on Main Street, next to the Kings Park branch of The Smithtown Public Library.

The western portion of Main Street — dubbed Restaurant Row — is the one area that could possibly use more municipal parking, according to the results of a 2018 market analysis study of downtown Kings Park presented by Larisa Ortiz, urban planner and principal of Larisa Ortiz Associates, to the town board Jan. 25.

“The municipal lots are inconvenient for restaurants,” reads the 62-page report.

The Restaurant Row area, which includes several eateries such as Cafe Red and Relish, averages 4.7 parking spots per 1,000 square feet of retail space. This is less than the two other areas of Main Street — known as the “civic heart,” near the Kings Park library and Long Island Rail Road station, and “car-centric retail,” which is centered around Tanzi Plaza and the Kings Park Plaza shopping center.

Ortiz’s other suggestions for improving the current parking situation in the Kings Park downtown area included restriping several existing lots — such as Relish’s — to accommodate more spaces and increase their efficiency.

In addition to Kings Park, Wehrheim said the town board has received a real estate appraisal of the Irish Viking pub in St. James and remains interested in purchasing it to create off-street parking for the Lake Avenue business district.

Downtown Kings Park. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Town of Smithtown officials have tried to negotiate a fair price for two Kings Park properties for years and are now considering bringing down the hammer.

Smithtown town board voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing Aug. 14 on utilizing the process of eminent domain to forcibly take ownership of two vacant lots off Pulaski Road, which are currently owned by Matthew and Marguerite Lupoli. The measure is being considered as a step toward securing Kings Park’s downtown revitalization.

“Actually, the appraisal for eminent domain came back offering the Lupolis more than they wanted initially for the property.”
– Ed Wehrheim

“My hope is that we don’t have to go there,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “We’ve done an eminent domain appraisal. Actually, the appraisal for eminent domain came back offering the Lupolis more than they wanted initially for the property.”

A June 4 real estate appraisal of the two adjacent wooded lots determined the fair market price to be approximately $270,000 for the roughly 12,800 square feet, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. The property is located south of Park Bake Shop off the intersection of Pulaski Road and Main Street.

“It’s never going to be anything other than an open field or parking lot,” Garguilo said. “Those are the limited possibilities due to the lots’ size and condition.”

Wehrheim said the town attorney’s office will continue to reach out to the property owners in attempts to negotiate a purchase price.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the public hearing scheduled for 2 p.m. Aug. 14 will move forward. Based on the hearing, the town board can make a determination on the use of eminent domain and then make a formal offer on the property before taking the matter to court if needed.

Smithtown town officials have been eyeing these wooded lots for municipal parking dating back to 2013.

A petition started by Park Bake Shop owners, Lucy and Gabe Shtanko, in 2013 received more than 600 signatures from Kings Park residents asking town officials to purchase the lot for municipal parking. Wehrheim said a 2014 appraisal determined its fair market price at $230,000, but Matthew Lupoli wasn’t interested in selling at that time.

There is a town municipal parking lot across the street from the Kings Park Fire Department on Main Street, next to the Kings Park branch of The Smithtown Public Library.

“It’s never going to be anything other than an open field or parking lot.”
– Nicole Garguilo

The western portion of Main Street — dubbed Restaurant Row — is the one area that could possibly use more municipal parking, according to the results of a 2018 market analysis study of downtown Kings Park presented by Larisa Ortiz, urban planner and principal of Larisa Ortiz Associates, to the town board Jan. 25.

“The municipal lots are inconvenient for restaurants,” reads the 62-page report.

The Restaurant Row area, which includes several eateries such as Cafe Red and Relish, averages 4.7 parking spots per 1,000 square feet of retail space. This is less than the two other areas of Main Street — known as the “civic heart,” near the Kings Park library and Long Island Rail Road station, and “car-centric
retail,” which is centered around Tanzi Plaza and the Kings Park Plaza shopping center
.

Ortiz’s other suggestions for improving the current parking situation in the downtown area included restriping several existing lots — such as Relish’s — to accommodate more spaces and increase their efficiency.

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) admitted in his 2018 State of the County address last week that our county, our home, remains a constant work in progress. We couldn’t agree more. There needs to be action taken to push for more concrete progress now, instead of just talking about the potential Suffolk has.

Many of the quality-of-life issues addressed by Bellone are no surprise to Long Islanders. The high cost of living and economic stress it creates, need for affordable housing, improvements to public transportation to reduce traffic, and tackling our county’s narcotic drug abuse and gang violence are daily issues we struggle with. And these aren’t new problems.

Bellone first recognized that “young people have been leaving our region at record rates for 20 years in search of opportunity and in search of a place to live other than their parents basements” in his 2012 State of the County address. Enrollment in most of the county’s school districts is dwindling as families are moving off Long Island to pursue their version of the American Dream.

The true question is how much progress has been made toward meeting housing demands, creating opportunities for better-paying jobs, improving the Long Island Rail Road and other public transportation while addressing crime in the last six years?

A Connect Long Island master plan to construct new transit-oriented housing centers was presented by Bellone in 2015. While we’ve seen ground broken on Port Jefferson’s Uptown Funk project, key plans like the Ronkonkoma hub, Huntington Station’s revitalization, Heartland Town Square in Brentwood off Commack Road and other promised projects are either just getting underway or largely still lofty ideals sketched on paper.

Residents have spoken out against many of these planned housing developments in rallies at town halls and roadway intersections. Location is key, and we are tired of seeing open green space slated for development when there’s plenty of vacant storefronts and zombie houses in residential areas.

Let’s not forget the affordable aspect. Recently opened housing projects in Huntington Station are quoting a rent of more than $2,300 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, when the median income for Suffolk workers is about $41,000 a year, according to the U.S. Census 2012-2016 American Community Survey. That’s not far off from apartment costs in parts of New York City, which don’t require a commute.

Electrification of the LIRR’s eastern tracks – including the Huntington to Port Jefferson stretch – has been talked about by the county since 2015. As of this April, town leaders including Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) are still writing letters to state and county officials begging for a feasibility study to be started. As for the promise of a rapid transit bus system, a reliable system has still not materialized while many of the line stops have been closed.

High-paying jobs that offer opportunity for future growth, reasonably priced housing and solutions to roadway gridlock need to be put into place to make Suffolk County’s future bright, as Bellone first promised when taking office.

We are willing to commend what appears to be progress in reducing narcotic drug abuse and gang violence, as early crime stats for 2018 are trending in the right direction. But we must remain vigilant.