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East Beach Bluff

President of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association Ira Costell swears the new Port Jefferson civic officers, Ana Hozyainova, Holly Fils-Aimé, Kathleen Mc Lane and Marilyn Damaskos. Photo by Samantha Rutt

By Samantha Rutt

At the Monday, June 10, Port Jefferson Civic Association meeting, new officers were sworn in, an update on the looming Staller development in Port Jefferson Station was given, and civic members took part in brainstorming ideas and solutions for the village’s most pressing issues.

The new leadership team, with terms expiring in 2026, were officially sworn in by neighboring civic president Ira Costell. The officers sworn in were Ana Hozyainova as civic president, Holly Fils-Aimé as vice president, Marilyn Damaskos as treasurer, Janice Fleischman-Eaton as recording secretary and Kathleen Mc Lane as corresponding and outreach secretary. 

Jefferson Plaza development proposal updates

Following the official business, Costell, president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association shared some updates pertaining to the proposed Staller redevelopment of Jefferson Plaza, a development he feels will have a big impact on nearby communities.

“This significant development will, for better or worse, change the face and future of our community, as well as impacting Lower Port,” Costell shared. Back in March, Costell, on behalf of the PJSTCA, wrote a letter to Town of Brookhaven board and the town’s Highway Department [see “Port Jefferson Station/Terryville civic requests traffic study,” from May 3] asking for a comprehensive study to assess the influx of traffic from this proposal. 

Since then, the PJSTCA has heard back from Town of Brookhaven councilmember, Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), who agreed with the sentiments expressed in the letter and assured that the town “shares the concern about the cumulative impact these developments may have on traffic” and “would like to stay ahead of it.” 

Others chimed into Costell’s speech and shared concerns about the potential impact on traffic, as well as quality of life and affordability, while others emphasized the need for comprehensive planning and coordination — something Costell has advocated for since the developer’s initial proposal. 

“Our community has chosen to not throw up a blockade and say no more, not in our backyard,” Costell said. “We embrace and want to engage with a future that makes sense for our community, that we can digest properly. Without comprehensive planning and coordination, it could be a nightmare that’s going to impact our communities negatively.”

In recent years, the village has seen substantial development and its impacts on the community. Both, the Overbay and The Shipyard complexes have left an impact on the community as residents feel the respective developers were not overtly transparent in their building plans.

Local architect, Heather Brin, echoed these sentiments sharing notes from her expertise, “The Shipyard, downtown, is illegal in terms of the height,” Brin alleged. “The developers raised the level of the berm that the property sits on so they could build as high as they did.” 

Civic members have since questioned the Staller project’s viability, safety concerns and the importance of finding a balance between developer and community needs. The PJSTCA will host Staller Associates on June 20 at 7 p.m. at the Comsewogue Public Library, 170 Terryville Road, Port Jefferson Station, to continue the community conversation.

Village issues going forward

Shifting gears, Hozyainova asked civic members to bring issues, concerns and wishes for the village to the forefront of the conversation. From this, several pressing issues resurfaced and some new ones emerged. 

Residents campaigned for increased walkability of the village, sharing notes of overgrown vegetation limiting sidewalk access. To this, Fils-Aimé asked for increased volunteerism and formation of committees dedicated to their respective concerns.

“Bring a proposal forward, somebody has to lead the charge,” she said. “We can have multiple committees, maybe a couple people are interested in that [issue] or maybe you want to bring them here and have them join the civic association.” 

Others shared their respective concerns over the Port Jefferson power plant and its future, capital projects in the village and in the school district, village constable’s office hours, the future of the country club and the East Beach bluff, keeping and restoring trees and other natural vegetation, were among some of the many issues brought to the metaphorical table. 

LIRR electrification

Adding to the growing list of village concerns, Port Jefferson resident Bruce Miller brought a motion before the civic requesting that Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) makes enforcement of the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act a priority of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Long Island Rail Road in their new 20-year plan. 

Miller explained in his motion that diesel locomotion is no longer acceptable transportation under this act and that riders along the Port Jefferson Branch are “forced to use their internal combustion vehicles to drive to Ronkonkoma for a decent ride,” 

In addition to concerns with ridership and the environment, Miller also detailed that the utilization of hydrogen rail or separate-car battery transportation could allow for a large industry based in New York state — to the benefit of many. 

The motion to approve Miller’s proposal asking Hochul and LIRR President Robert Free to meet with the civic association and Suffolk County’s elected representatives was approved and will be subsequently shared with all necessary parties. 

The next Port Jefferson Civic Association meeting will be held on Aug. 12 at the Port Jefferson Free Library, 100 Thompson St., at 6:30 p.m.

Port Jefferson’s East Beach on Jan. 25. Photo courtesy Myrna Gordon

By Sabrina Artusa

With further recession of the East Beach bluff threatening the safety and structural integrity of the Port Jefferson Country Club, tennis and pickleball courts and golf course, the Village of Port Jefferson held a town hall meeting May 28 at the Waterview catering hall to discuss how to proceed with the bluff revitalization plan initiated in 2021. This plan was interrupted by fierce storms that damaged the barrier wall the village spent two years and approximately $6 million building.

While portions of the wall held strong against runoff and winds, the damage has made some residents unsure if continuing with Phase II is the most effective solution. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is funding 75% of Phase II, but the specifics of the grant agreement have not been finalized.

Country club

Some residents question why money should be spent protecting a commercial business and argue for the demolition of the village-owned country club and rebuilding further from the cliff.

“There are a lot of people in this town who are hurting. Inflation is hurting middle American families … we talk about putting millions of tax dollars into this beautiful club, but for what?” one resident asked. 

“It’s not just an engineering issue. It’s a cost-benefit analysis for the entire community, and a referendum requires that we be included,” another person said.

The club, however, reportedly brings in over $300,000 of revenue to the village annually. Additionally, one does not have to be a member of the country club to visit.

“When you are repairing the bluff, what is it actually going to protect? It is going to protect a building that is revenue neutral at its worst and it sounds like it is a revenue positive facility,” another resident said.

Other options

Mayor Lauren Sheprow said that the wall held strong for the most part and that engineers and environmental scientists are being consulted on the most responsible course of action going forward.

Nick Thatos, co-founder of the Long Island-based Coastal Technologies, said that planting native species is key to preventing further erosion. He noted that North Shore native plants evolved “to stabilize” and “colonize this niche environment,” citing the complex root systems and cement-like excretions that can keep sand in place.

“Nature is incredible. We cannot engineer anything near what nature can accomplish,” he said.

Some said that the angle of the bluff needs to be corrected to prevent recession, while others said that retreating is the most dependable option.

“The only way to fortify the top is to retreat,” said a woman who has lived in Port Jefferson for over 30 years. “The golf and tennis are separate. Another building can be built.”

Sheprow is asking for volunteers for the village’s Citizens Commission on Erosion. “We want input, we don’t want to do it in a vacuum,” she said.

Further destruction of terracing and plantings on the East Beach bluff after recent rainstorms. Photo by Lynn Hallarman

Recent setbacks in East Beach bluff stabilization project have officials and residents on edge 

By Lynn Hallarman

East Beach is a village-owned strip of sandy shoreline situated between the northern front of the Long Island Sound and the base or toe of a steeply set bluff, roughly 100 feet high.

A jetty opens into Mount Sinai Harbor eastward of the bluff. To the west, the shore stretches past a series of private properties, then past the village of Belle Terre, and finally curves inward, reconfiguring as Port Jefferson Harbor. 

For decades, the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club, perched near the crest of the bluff, was invisible to beachgoers below, shielded by a thick tangle of greenery clinging to the bluff’s north front. 

But in recent years, a series of intense rainstorms, combined with sea rise and pressures from human-made alterations in the landscape above the bluff, have set in motion deforestation and scouring, denuding the bluff of vegetation and accelerating erosion in the direction of the country club’s foundation. The club has become precariously close to the bluff’s edge. Without a plan, there was no doubt it would slide down the bluff onto the shoreline below within a few years. 

To make matters worse, the bluff stabilization project, whose aim is to stabilize the position of the club, has been beset with complications in the wake of a series of recent storms unraveling costly work completed just last summer as part of Phase I of the project.

As communities across Long Island are confronting relentless coastal erosion, TBR News Media focuses on the obstacles facing the bluff stabilization project at East Beach, exploring the complexities, costs and alternative solutions to rescuing the country club.

The big picture

Bluffs change naturally over time, feeding sand to the beach and replenishing the shoreline. They respond to the force of winds, waves and tides, creating new states of equilibrium with the beach below and the landscapes above. The Long Island shoreline has been reshaping for thousands of years, sometimes imperceptibly and sometimes in dramatic fits of landslip that is, chunks of shoreline abruptly falling into the sea. 

East Beach and its bluff are inseparable from the adjacent coastline they move as the coastline moves. When humans make changes in the shorelines by adding bulkheads, jetties and other rigid structures, the effects resonate laterally, affecting the movement of sand and ocean from beach to beach along the shoreline. 

“Port Jefferson’s experience with bluff restoration is a microcosm of what has been happening all over Long Island,” said Chuck Hamilton, a marine biologist and former regional natural resource supervisor for the state Department of Environmental Conservation for some 33 years.

“For a long time, farmers on Long Island had their farms right on top of the bluff, and shoreline erosion happened naturally,” he said. But now those same areas are being subdivided and developed, adding weight and impermeable surfaces abutting the shoreline. “And guess what? Now we need to stabilize.”

For decades, Port Jefferson Country Club was invisible to the beachgoers, shielded by a thick tangle of greenery clinging to the bluff. Undated photo courtesy Port Jeff historian Chris Ryon

The project

When Port Jefferson’s mayor, Lauren Sheprow, took office in July 2023, the bluff stabilization project was already in motion. Sheprow, a former public relations professional, had campaigned on a platform of two core values: financial transparency and safeguarding of village assets. However, the realities of rescuing the country club purchased in 1978 when her father, Harold Sheprow, was village mayor while keeping project costs under control have proven to be complex and demanding. 

Most of Phase I of the project happened before the current mayor took office. This work included the installation of a 454-foot rigid wall at the base, terracing and native grass plantings on the bluff face. With Phase II now under her purview, Sheprow believes it is her responsibility to see the project to completion: the installation of a wall system along the bluff’s crest, directly seaward of the imperiled country club. 

“I swore to protect and preserve the property owned by the Village of Port Jefferson, and therefore the residents. Preserving and protecting is not ignoring an erosion issue,” the mayor said.

Phase I, costing approximately $5 million, relied on local taxpayer dollars financed through a bond repayable over time. Phase II, estimated at $4.8 million, will be financed mostly by federal taxpayer dollars by a FEMA grant of $3.75 million.  

Financing the endeavor has been rife with holdups and stymied by a six-year-long permitting process. It has been almost a year since Phase I was completed. Final signoffs related to the FEMA funding for Phase II are still pending, preventing the village from seeking bids for construction of the upper wall. However, the village treasurer, Stephen Gaffga, said he hopes to see the signoffs come through this month. 

By many accounts, questions about the project’s funding have rankled residents for years. The prevailing sentiment is that the village pushed through a $10 million bond for the stabilization project (phases I and II combined) without a community vote through a bond resolution. 

“When I am asked about my position about the bluff restoration, I never saw the arguments on all sides of the project flushed out,” said Ana Hozyainova, president of Port Jefferson Civic Association. “Village officials took the position from the beginning that the building must be saved, no matter what. That imperative has limited the discussions about options.”

Complications

The uncertainty surrounding the cost and timing of needed repairs because of winter storm damage to the bluff faces further complications in Phase II. “Negotiations are ongoing” between the village and the contractor about who is responsible for absorbing these additional expenses, Gaffga said. 

Drainage issues at the bluff’s crest are also hampering progress, and likely contributed to the recent collapse of the newly-installed terracing along the western part of the bluff, below the tennis courts. “There are huge puddles sitting at the crest, after heavy [recent] rainstorms,” Sheprow said. The strategy and cost related to addressing the drainage issues have not yet been determined, she added. 

Although the project was divided into two phases because of funding constraints, “its ultimate success,” according to Laura Schwanof, senior ecologist at GEI Consultants of Huntington Station, “hinges on both walls working together to curtail erosion and prevent the club slipping down the slope.” 

GEI has been involved with village erosion mitigation projects since 2009. The two-wall system for the bluff stabilization was their design. “The problem with this project is protection number two the upper wall has not been installed,” Schwanof said. When asked how long the wall system might hold up, she couldn’t say. 

“What does happen, and has been seen across the Northeast, is that as we get more frequent storms, higher wave energy, higher rainfall events, rigid wall structures may work in the short term. But if you look 50 years down the road, they may not be as effective,” she said. 

“Hard erosion protection structures such as revetments or bulkheads can be costly, only partially effective over time and may even deflect wave energy onto adjacent properties.” Jeff Wernick, a DEC representative, wrote in an email. The DEC, he said, permitted the East Beach project based solely on “the immediate threat to significant infrastructure.” 

Completion of Phase I in spring 2023, before winter storms unravel work on the bluff face.
Photo from the PJ Village website

Retreat?

 When Steve Englebright, 5th District county legislator (D-Setauket) and geologist, was asked about the stabilization project, he started with a lesson about glacial formations dating back 17,000 years. Englebright scrutinized photographs of the bluff during an interview with TBR News conducted after the recent storms. 

“When the bluff, which is partially made of clay, is overweighted it behaves like squeezed toothpaste,” he said. “You can see toothpaste-like extrusions on the beach.”

Missing from the conversation, according to Englebright, is a reckoning of what is happening along the entire Long Island coast. “People don’t understand the overall dynamics,” he said. “That’s why I’m trying to give you the big picture that the entire North Shore is unstable.”

“Trying to defend a single property is human folly,” he added. “You can buy some time, but how much are we paying? I don’t believe it’s realistic because you can’t stop the overall dynamic. The village should celebrate the fact that they have the ability to retreat and use that ability. Right? The bind is if you don’t have land, but they have the land. Strategically retreat, rebuild the building.”

Stan Loucks, a village trustee and a former country club liaison, was asked to put together a retreat plan by former Mayor Margot Garant confirmed by her to TBR News. “I did a plan A proceed with the restoration project or plan B, retreat about three years ago,” Loucks said. “I got prices for the demolition of the country club, moving the tennis courts and an architectural rendering of a new club further inland.” 

“The drawings had a huge deck on this side overlooking the Sound, and the huge deck on this side overlooking the golf course. I would have loved to take that plan to the end,” he added. 

Loucks’s retreat plan was never vetted publicly. Sheprow told TBR she never saw a retreat plan. 

Loucks remembers when tennis court No. 5 went in a landslide a few years ago. “It was massive and happened overnight,” he said. “And the slide took the gazebo, too.”

The Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees held its biweekly business meeting on Monday, Aug. 21, accompanied by a public hearing to consider adding north- and south-facing stop signs on the west and east sides of Scraggy Hill Road.

Public hearing

Situated at Scraggy Hill Road is the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School. Speed tables currently help to slow traffic around the school.

Village attorney David Moran explained the purpose behind the public hearing, stating that adding or removing all village stop signs requires an amendment to the village code, “and in order to add a stop sign to the village, you have to go through this process.”

During the public hearing, Ray DiBiase, the village’s Planning Board chair and a nationally certified traffic operations engineer, noted the issue of people driving around the speed tables on the roadway. “My first inclination would be to extend those speed tables,” he suggested.

Several neighbors turned out Monday night, shedding light on the situation. Stella Cohen reported that village stop signs are routinely disregarded and that the issue could only be resolved with adequate traffic enforcement.

“I have no objection to this motion whatsoever, but it’s paying lip service to a problem you’re not going to fix with a stop sign,” Cohen said. “I would respectfully ask the board, in addition to considering this motion, to also [consider] a motion on a future date for speed cameras.”

Ernie Geiger, another resident, summarized the “nightmare” situation around the elementary school. He advised the board to hire a traffic specialist. 

“I think that what you’re looking at now is the tip of the iceberg, and I really don’t think that stop signs are going to do any good at this point,” he told the board. “I think somebody should look at it, look at the signage that’s there and make an intelligent decision instead of just throwing up two stop signs.”

Ryan Walker, a trustee of the Port Jefferson School District Board of Education who said he was speaking as a resident, advised the board that additional signage could complicate “traffic patterns that are already a mess.” 

Instead, he proposed coordinating with the Suffolk County Police Department for more traffic enforcement along the roadway.

Following the public comments, the board did not hold a vote on the proposed code amendment to add the stop signs.

Members of the Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees deliberate during a business meeting Monday, Aug. 21. From left, Deputy Mayor Rebecca Kassay and Mayor Lauren Sheprow with trustees Drew Biondo, Bob Juliano and Stan Loucks. Photo by Raymond Janis

Audit report

Christopher Reino, a partner at the Port Jefferson Station-based Cullen & Danowski — the firm that conducts the village’s annual independent audit — delivered a presentation on the report from the 2022 fiscal year.

Mayor Lauren Sheprow said the audit report was presented to the treasurer’s office on Jan. 4, 2023, noting, “That report was addressed to the Board of Trustees.” 

“Upon canvassing,” the mayor said she had discovered that “the current board members who were board members on Jan. 4, 2023, had not seen that report.”

Moran remarked upon “another flaw in the process,” indicating that when a village uses an outside audit firm and files with the village clerk, “there needs to be a public notice that that report is available at Village Hall for anyone to come and review it,” adding, “As far as I know, that hasn’t happened either.”

During his presentation, Reino reported that the village’s fiscal health has “been looking positive.”

“The fund balance has been growing,” he said. “You actually have a balanced budget now — in the past, you were using some of your existing fund balance to fund the budget, but right now, you’re pretty much at a break even.”

Revenues, he added, are aligned with expenditures, suggesting that the village currently has “a realistic budget.” The “only concern I had,” Reino said, was the lack of “a complete inventory,” which could assist the village in conducting insurance appraisals.

East Beach bluff 

Conversations continued over the two-phased bluff stabilization project at East Beach. 

For the proposed upland wall to fortify the restaurant/catering facility of the Port Jefferson Country Club, Sheprow reported that the village government is still “waiting on a response from [the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration] to see if that [$3.75 million] grant is coming through.” [See story, “Schumer secures funds for upper wall at PJCC…” Jan. 11, TBR News Media website.]

The current engineering plans include the addition of steel beams, according to Sheprow, who estimated that they could cost the village approximately $18,000 per beam.

The board approved an add-on resolution approving services from Huntington Station-based engineering firm GEI Consultants for up to $9,200, which Sheprow contended could help the village save hundreds of thousands of dollars on the upper wall project.

“What GEI is being asked to do is take a look at that project description to see if the removal of all those beams would work,” the mayor said. “The supposition is that that would still work and perhaps even make it more stable.”

She added that the modification in engineering plans could save the village roughly $300,000 on the upper wall project, “spending a few thousand to save a few hundred thousand.”

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

Due to its low-lying topography, the Port Jefferson Fire Department’s station is frequently inundated. Former Mayor Mike Lee suggests this location is inadequate for effectively servicing the public.

Downtown Port Jefferson is coping with longstanding flood concerns, which could intensify in coming years.

During an April 5 climate resilience forum at Village Hall, local architect Michael Schwarting reported that the village’s blend of low-lying topography, subsurface water bodies and rising tides will likely produce even greater flooding risks. [See story TBR News Media website, April 13.]

“Those three things interact with one another to cause the problems that we’ve been having in the past, are still having and will have in a worse way, according to predictions,” Schwarting said.

— Photos by Aidan Johnson

Mike Lee, former mayor of the Village of Port Jefferson, chronicles the past, present and future of Port Jeff’s water challenges.

Mike Lee, former mayor of Port Jefferson who served from 2005 to 2007, is now ringing the alarm over the village’s flooding problems. In an exclusive interview, Lee chronicled the area’s historic water challenges.

Drowned Meadow

Before the 19th century, nearly all of the existing downtown was a salt marsh. The tides would flood the marsh twice daily, giving the area its name, Drowned Meadow.

Lee considers the waters running in and around Port Jefferson an inherent feature of the area’s natural character. And while the land was eventually renamed Port Jefferson, its natural essence remains unaltered. 

“It’s easy to change the name, but it’s hard to change the terrain,” Lee noted.

One of the few remaining patches of unfilled marshland in downtown Port Jefferson, above.

Infrastructure

An elaborate underground stormwater drainage network serves the area, Lee explained, describing the covert system built around the 1930s as “one big tunnel” channeling stormwater from all directions toward Port Jefferson Harbor.

The area’s patchwork of hills exacerbates the flooding problems downtown as the stormwater flows downward into the low-lying areas. 

As downtown developed over time, the impermeable surface area multiplied exponentially. For a place originally named for its flooding issues, development slowly removed vital escape routes for floodwaters to discharge naturally.

“There’s too much restriction” now within the drainage system, Lee said. “So much of the area that would have the normal penetration of water has been [converted] to roofs, parking lots, driveways, roads.”

He added, “It doesn’t have the natural absorption.”

One central covert, seen above, channels the bulk of the area’s floodwaters into Old Mill Creek.

During major flood events, the stress on the stormwater network is most pronounced near Port Jeff’s fire station on Maple Avenue, one of the lowest elevations.

“This is what we’ve come to,” Lee said in the Port Jefferson Fire Department’s garage, pointing to an amphibious high-water rescue vehicle the department requires to leave its station. “I call it ‘The Drowned Meadow Express.’”

“If you’re going to serve the public, you have to be able to get through the puddle,” he added.

Coined ‘The Drowned Meadow Express,’ PJFD requires this high-water rescue vehicle to leave the fire station during flood events.

Possible solutions

Lee indicated that while the fire department has coped with the flooding challenges over time, its current headquarters building is becoming increasingly untenable.

During a May 1 public hearing on code possible changes for the Maryhaven Center of Hope property on Myrtle Avenue, multiple residents proposed relocating the fire station to higher ground. 

Lee, an ex-chief of PJFD, concurred with this assessment. “As an emergency service, how can we not be capable of serving the public,” he said.

Lee suggests there are other ways to help resolve the water challenges. He proposed that developers “stop doing what you’re doing,” in terms of increasing impermeable surfaces.

Up the easterly hill at Port Jefferson Country Club, the village recently received a $3.75 million grant from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency in hazard mitigation funds to help stabilize the East Beach bluff. 

Lee suggested policymakers explore similar grant opportunities to address flooding.

“I think if FEMA is going to put money into infrastructure, it should do it where it affects everybody,” the former mayor said.

Despite centuries of water troubles, Lee maintained the village could overcome some of its challenges with proper governmental initiative. 

He encouraged officials to give flooding the appropriate attention, concluding that on the list of local priorities, “It should be right on the top.”

Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden on her bid for mayor. Sketch by Kyle Horne: @kylehorneart • kylehorneart.com

Seven-term incumbent Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant is leaving the village government, instead making a run for Town of Brookhaven supervisor under the Democratic ticket. 

In a contest to fill Garant’s seat, Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden is running against trustee Lauren Sheprow, who is now a write-in candidate. In an exclusive interview, Snaden opened up about her plans for economic development, East Beach, recreation, parking and more.

What would be your top priority for the coming term, if elected?

Using my institutional knowledge and experience in every aspect of the village.

One of the things I had just started working on and want to take to the next level when I become mayor is economic development. Over the last year or so, Kevin Wood — our parking and mobility [administrator] — has been in charge of economic development.

I’d like to start a task force to bring together business and restaurant owners, the chamber of commerce and the Business Improvement District. I want to reach out to developers and real estate brokers and have a committee or task force that will be able to connect with other businesses — national businesses, restaurants and retail establishments — to see what they need to come into our village to continue to make our downtown a thriving district.

Doing that task force will be beneficial to take our village to the next level, where it needs to go. We’re very lucky to have a vibrant downtown, and we must keep that going. It benefits the residents and the entire village as a whole.

If elected, how do you intend to help guide East Beach bluff stabilization efforts and maximize the use of the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club?

Fortunately, we have a map forward with that. 

We’ve been working with our coastal engineers, and the Board of Trustees voted unanimously on their plan, which includes finalizing the bluff stabilization with the FEMA grant — the $3.75 million.

Once the bluff is stabilized, we will move to the redevelopment of the property at the top of the bluff. Our coastal engineers, the experts in this field, were able to give us a plan for pickleball and tennis courts, which is key to bringing back that membership. 

We were very sad to lose that membership when we had to shut the courts down for reconstruction, but I’m hoping this new racket sports complex will bring back that membership. 

The best part about that is all of that project will be self-sustaining, paid for by the membership. This will not be on the backs of the taxpayers, which is very important to me. I support that whole plan.

What is the role of the village board in overseeing new developments and redevelopment projects?

Working very closely with our planning and building departments and our Zoning Board of Appeals if that’s one of the routes a developer takes. Careful and responsible development, always looking at traffic studies and environmental impacts. Always talking to the surrounding residents and the residents as a whole.

Keep in mind that development will help to increase our tax base. At this point, with the LIPA glide path continuing and going into its final stages, we must be very mindful of our tax base, making sure that it’s solid.

How can the village alleviate its parking capacity challenges, balancing the competing interests of residents, businesses and tourists?

As we know, parking is a big issue in Port Jefferson because we’re not getting any more property.

One of the things I did when I started as parking liaison was work with our Parking Department head to build our Barnum parking lot. That was key.

When I found out that we have about 640 spaces in the village and over 300 were used by employees, I said, “We have to do something.” Employees need to park, but that’s a large portion of our parking capacity.

For an employee — let’s say a waitress, for example — that doesn’t make a huge salary, it would be a huge hit to pay for parking every shift they have. But if we incentivized them to park in the Barnum lot free of charge, I felt that that would be very helpful. That parking lot has 43 spaces, I believe, and it has been very successful.

I continue to work with the Business Improvement District and the chamber of commerce, adapting to their changing needs. As times changed — and during COVID, the needs changed — we were able to pivot on the fly, changing the parking for the needs of the businesses.

One of the other things I’ve done and continue to work on is the PASSPort rideshare service. The idea behind PASSPort was that even though we do have resident parking, it’s limited. To alleviate residents’ parking in the other spaces that visitors can park in, they can take the PASSPort rideshare service.

One of the other things I started about four years ago was working with an engineer and our head of parking for a potential parking structure. That’s been in the works for a few years. Initially, there was an issue with the location and cost of the structure, as well as whether it would yield enough spaces to pay for itself.

One of the things I pride myself on is never saying “no.” There’s always a path to solve a problem. When I hear, “We can’t,” I say, “How can we?” And I gather the best minds in the room to figure out the best path forward that benefits the entire community.

What is your preferred method for public engagement?

That’s the reason I ran for trustee in the first place — I ran to be the voice of residents of the village of Port Jefferson. 

I enjoy speaking to people, hearing their concerns. Having the ability as deputy mayor to take their problems to Village Hall and get that problem addressed immediately has always been very important to me.

When I see the back-and-forth on a platform like Facebook, being able to answer resident questions in real time with factual information has always been something I’m happy to do. I would continue to always be available to people on social media.

Another thing I brought to the village and would continue to expand on is technology changes. We started live-streaming board meetings during COVID, and I was a strong advocate for continuing that once COVID ended.

The other thing I started was our [Port] eReport, our newsletter. I got people on board to help write the newsletter and gather the information. It expanded and expanded, and it is what it is today because of that initiative. 

I’m a “my door is always open” kind of person. I’ve always been very proud of my openness and ability to communicate with folks on many levels.

What is your professional background, and how does it apply to the role of a village mayor?

I worked as a paralegal for almost 20 years in the Buffalo area of upstate New York and on Long Island. 

In litigation, I worked on the insurance defense side for Ford and Hyundai motor companies. I did insurance defense cases for them and did a lot of work as a family law paralegal for attorneys here on Long Island.

I have been deputy mayor for the last two years and trustee for four years. I have been commissioner of building and planning, commissioner of public safety, liaison to parking and mobility, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the planning department, beautification, the Business Improvement District and have worked closely with the chamber of commerce.

My vast experience in the village and my institutional knowledge of all of the workings of the village have all come into play to get me where I am today.

Port Jeff Village trustee Lauren Sheprow on her run for mayor. Sketch by Kyle Horne: @kylehorneart • kylehorneart.com

Margot Garant, a seven-term incumbent, is stepping down as mayor of the Village of Port Jefferson to head the Democratic ticket for Town of Brookhaven supervisor. In an open contest, trustee Lauren Sheprow and Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden are vying to fill Garant’s seat.

Less than a year into her first term on the village’s Board of Trustees, Sheprow, who is running as a write-in candidate as of now, has her sights set on the office once occupied by her father, Hal, who served as mayor from 1977-91 with a one-term break. 

In an exclusive interview, Sheprow offered her plans for communications, East Beach, parking and more.

What would be your top priority for the coming term, if elected?

There are several priorities. Fiscal responsibility is number one.

My first step will be to establish a finance and audit committee. In this village, the mayor has decided to be the finance commissioner, but there is no committee assisting the finance commissioner. The finance commissioner is working with the treasurer, and [they are] doing it themselves. 

I support creating a committee of CPAs and people who work in finance who can inform our process, coming in with ideas, suggestions and opportunities to shape our budget a little bit differently — a little healthier and more disciplined. 

Job two is establishing a board of ethics. It’s something that is highly recommended by New York Village Law.

Another aspect is being resident centric, having two-way communication with the residents. Right now, the two-way communication with the residents is once a month at a [general] meeting [of the village board].

We need a brand-new, professional municipal website. When you use it now, it’s so difficult. If you go to the Town of Brookhaven’s website, it’s so easy to navigate. That’s what I want to see for Port Jeff.

We can also do well to start listening to our chamber [of commerce] members and the Business Improvement District, hearing their feedback. There’s a lot of opportunity for success in how we do business with the merchants.

If elected, how do you intend to help guide East Beach bluff stabilization efforts and maximize the use of the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club?

When I became a trustee, I was appointed liaison to the food and beverage licensee at the county club. I was interested in improving the relationship with the licensee and the member experience up there.

I started a task force made up of some members and a nonmember resident. We started meeting with management and came up with some real opportunities for improvement. 

They changed the menu to be more community and family oriented. We discussed having socials and other events for members, and they ended up implementing that. There are still a lot of challenges that exist with that relationship, but it’s improving because of the task force.

Right now, we’re waiting to hear whether or not we’re getting that federal money [$3.75 million]. There’s some back-and-forth, I think, between FEMA and us.

I’d like to see the tennis program come back — and not just with two courts. I’d like to see six courts, at least, so we can welcome our tennis membership back. I’d also like to see the pickleball program come together and thrive.

What would be the best way to design that? We have engineers draw drawings, but shouldn’t we be relying on a real designer that has worked on country club designs before? 

Let’s get someone in there who knows what they’re doing, looking critically at the space they have to work with and making the best recommendations based on their experience with other facilities.

What is the role of the village board in overseeing new developments and redevelopment projects?

The first thing we should do is hire a planner. We need a senior planner who can advise, direct and inquire. I’m not an engineer, architect or planner. But there are some very good engineers, architects and planners out there, and we need them on staff. It is our role to hire those positions.

I think we can commission a study to look at open space. How would you treat green space? You first have to understand what green space actually exists, and then get our planner and engineer to take a look at how to address these things. 

The opportunities are there. We need to understand what they are and then get the advice of a senior planner to figure out how to move this village forward.

How can the village alleviate its parking capacity challenges, balancing the competing interests of residents, businesses and tourists?

I’ve been speaking with business owners, restaurant owners and residents, and there is a strong need for a parking committee. We need to understand what the business owners are seeing, hear their feedback and try to act upon it.

The parking committee should be made up primarily of business owners, but you also need residents who can weigh in on aesthetics and real-world experiences.

We also have to look at building a parking structure. They have parking structures that are architecturally appealing and can adhere to the architectural integrity of the community. That’s a design element, but the question of where comes into play.

If a big decision is to be made about a parking garage, then residents need to be heard on that.

What is your preferred method for public engagement?

I’m enjoying the face-to-face connections with people. I’m learning so much about the village, and people are so open to speaking with me right now. That’s my favorite way to communicate with people and engage.

If we have messages that we need to communicate in a broader sense, an upgrade to our website is essential. Sharing information through The [Port] eReport is good — it’s a good resource. But, again, it’s talking at people, not listening to people.

I feel we need to start suggestion boxes, surveys and phone banking. We need a community relations effort that hasn’t existed since I’ve been around. 

All these things — code enforcement, parking, engagement with the school district — are all community relations functions that, if we do well, we’ll have residents feel they’re listened to and have a responsive government. That’s the goal.

What is your professional background, and how does it apply to the role of a village mayor?

I have been a public relations professional for pretty much my whole career. My most recent position was as the chief media relations officer at Stony Brook University, where I worked for 16 years. Prior to that, I was the public relations director at Mather Hospital for four years.

I consider my experience at Stony Brook the most illuminating. Stony Brook is a campus of about 44,000 people between students, staff and hospital employees. They have all of the infrastructure that a municipality has. 

As I was working at Stony Brook, I was responsible for communicating a lot of the things that were going on at campus to the media. Everything that I was involved with there and helped communicate is very similar to what is happening in the Village of Port Jefferson. It’s similar in scope — Stony Brook was just much greater in size.

While at Stony Brook, I interacted with representatives from the federal, state, Suffolk County and town governments, building a lot of relationships with people in those jurisdictions. I was privy to how they did business and operated, so I feel very prepared.

Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before the Suffolk County Board of Elections removed Sheprow’s name from the mayoral ballot May 30. See story, “Suffolk County elections board removes Port Jeff mayoral candidate from ballot.”

Note to our readers
We intend to interview each of the declared candidates for village office, starting with those running for trustee, then mayor. In keeping with past practice, we first interview incumbents seeking reelection, followed by nonincumbents, selected alphabetically.

Former Port Jeff village clerk Bob Juliano on his run for trustee. Sketch by Kyle Horne: @kylehorneart • kylehorneart.com

What would be your top priority for the coming term, if elected?

It’s more like a top couple of priorities.

I’d like to see the Building Department be a full complement as far as the planning and enforcement sides. Right now, I know the building department is in the process of interviewing planners. Hiring in the village is tough because you have to go through civil service — you have to exhaust the civil service list before you go outside. It becomes a long, laborious project to interview and hire somebody.

Entering the busy season in the village, as far as tourists, the Code Enforcement office is a little in flux with not having a chief. I’d like to see that stabilized, going ahead and ensuring that the village is a safe place for everyone.

I’d like to see trustee [Stan] Loucks’ plan for the country club implemented. There’s water there that we should be capturing. It just makes economic and ecological sense to put his plan in and create another pond.

Environmentally, Port Jefferson was called Drowned Meadow for a reason. It always flooded out, so we have to work environmentally to do something to either alleviate or lessen the flooding in the downtown area. Especially going forward, I think flooding will be more and more of an issue downtown. 

If elected, how do you intend to help guide East Beach bluff stabilization efforts and maximize the use of the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club?

The country club is a very important piece of property that the village owns. 

The country club is a dedicated parkland, so it’s there to stay. It’s there, and we have to protect it. [The Board of Trustees] started the [lower] part of the wall, which I think should have gone out to public referendum, but that’s water under the bridge — no pun intended.

I think what they have to do is to continue the wall. They have to build the second portion upland. I like the idea that they’re getting federal funds and help to stabilize the bluff and build the second part of the wall. That should stabilize it, but for how long, I don’t know.

I’m not a golfer myself, but I know it does help property values just by the village owning a golf course and having village residents able to join the country club to play golf.

I’d like to see it expanded a little. I know with the bluff issue, they had to close down the tennis [program], and I’d like to see the tennis courts come back for the tennis players to come back and play. I just started to play pickleball, so I’d like to see some pickleball courts put in there, too. 

But I think it’s a valuable asset that the village has to protect.

What is the role of the village board in overseeing new developments and redevelopment projects?

The village board can lead and tell the Planning Board how we want the village to go.

There are two current issues that are going on. There’s the second half of the [uptown] Conifer Project, which I believe has already been approved and starting construction shortly. That’s going to be an asset to the uptown area as a whole. I’m hoping they have [commercial] tenants ready to enter the lower portion. Then they can start renting out the upper portion.

As far as Maryhaven, I’d like to see that thought out fully before they go and say, “Yes, you can do the condos.” I know as much as everybody else — I don’t have any inside information — and what was said at the [May 1] public meeting.

Everything has to be looked at there. Could the village use that property? It’s a perfect piece of property up the hill for the Fire Department, the Building Department and Village Hall. That would be perfect with everything right on the campus there.

That will cost money, so whether that’s feasible or not and whether there’s money out there is a question. But it has to be looked at and investigated before everything’s a done deal.

As far as future developments, I have an idea. I’ve seen it done in Westbury. A lot of times, the IDA will come in, the Industrial Development Agency will go in, and they’ll meet with the developer and say, “We’re going to give you rebates or tax relief.” And the village has no say.

In Westbury, I’ve seen it done where the property in question has to pay at least the taxes they’re paying now. So they don’t go back down to zero but start with the taxes they’re paying now. The village won’t lose any money, and then it builds up from there as the building gets built and the assessment changes.

How can the village alleviate its parking capacity challenges, balancing the competing interests of residents, businesses and tourists?

Parking in the village is very interesting. If you look back at the village’s history, one of the reasons it was incorporated was because of parking.

There’s very limited land in the commercial district to add parking. I can foresee some sort of parking — a level or two — being added to the area. “Where?” is the question. 

If you put a parking structure in the uptown, you have to worry about getting people from the uptown area to downtown. How do we deal with that?

We have a parking administrator. I’d like to see maybe the parking committee come back into being and resurrect the parking committee to get more ideas — ideas from businesspeople and residents.

I think, eventually, the only way to do it is to put up some sort of parking structure. That’s going to have to be built. That leads to other challenges that we’ll have to overcome.

What is your preferred method for public engagement?

My plan is that once a month, I’ll be at the Village Center — in the living room area there — and as a very casual thing, I’ll sit there for anybody who wants to come by and talk to me. I’ll have set hours, and then I can bring those concerns and issues back to the village board.

I’d also like to see some sort of portal added to the village website. People can either volunteer or see what volunteer opportunities there are for various committees. It’s a way to open up to the rest of the village.

What is your professional background, and how does it apply to the role of a trustee?

I’m a graduate of St. John’s University. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in government and politics and public administration. I have an MBA, also from St. John’s, in economics.

Right out of college, I started working for two different banks for 10 years. Then I became a treasurer of the Village of Lindenhurst. I was treasurer for eight years. I had a brief stint working for News 12 and was moving to Port Jeff when a friend of mine said the [then] clerk was leaving Port Jeff and that I should drop my resume off to the mayor. 

I did that and was interviewed by the first Mayor Garant [Jeanne]. She hired me, and I was the clerk of Port Jefferson for 18 years. Then I retired from Port Jeff and went to the Village of Westbury, where I grew up. I was clerk-treasurer of Westbury for two years.

When I was in college, my grandfather was the mayor of Westbury. He was a trustee for many years, so I got my introduction to local and municipal politics through the family.

Note to our readers

We intend to interview each of the declared candidates for village office, starting with those running for trustee, then mayor. In keeping with past practice, we first interview incumbents seeking reelection, followed by nonincumbents, selected alphabetically.

Port Jefferson Village trustee Stan Loucks on his bid for reelection. Sketch by Kyle Horne: @kylehorneart • kylehorneart.com

If reelected, what would be your top priority during the coming term?

I want to go forward successfully with a plan to capture water — not only to give us more water at the golf course but to protect the environment.

The water now that’s running rampant, a lot of it is dumping right into the Long Island Sound. We have a large spillway that goes right alongside our golf course. All that water we’re going to try to collect, putting it in ponds on the golf course. 

The water we collect will be purified before we put it on the golf course. We’re going to have a system to sanitize the water. 

The one pond we have now is filled with turtles, fish and wildlife. I’d like nothing better than to see more water on our golf course.

How do you intend to help guide ongoing bluff stabilization efforts at East Beach and maximize the potential of the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club?

The lower wall is basically complete. The bluff itself — except directly underneath the clubhouse — has been stabilized.

It’s all been raked out, leveled out and covered with a heavy-duty burlap. And both the east and west portions of the bluff project are fairly complete. Now we’re waiting for [the Federal Emergency Management Administration] to come through with the money to begin phase II of the bluff project — an upper wall.

Our goal at this point in time is to save that structure, our clubhouse up there now. Prior to FEMA, maybe my thoughts would be different. But that [$3.75] million we’re getting from FEMA is a game changer for the taxpayers and the village.

What is the proper role of the Board of Trustees in overseeing new developments and redevelopment of village parcels?

We’re running out of space for further development, barring, for example, uptown. Many developers have come in there and bought out a lot of the businesses.

Beyond the master plan, a lot of that development came in as a way to replace revenue lost from [the Long Island Power Authority glide path settlement]. Unfortunately, the Town of Brookhaven controls the [Industrial Development Agency] tax situation. 

When those developers come in and get a tax break, that’s not on us. That’s very unfortunate because, in the first two or three years, they pay a very small percentage of what they should be paying.

The village has probably reached its max in development. Maryhaven is kind of a foggy area for me right now. I was not involved in any of the discussions leading up to the [May 1] public hearing. I think some of the board members were a little surprised.

I have some great ideas, but I’m not so sure that, moneywise, the village can afford my great ideas. We have some major [flooding] problems with the fire department, Village Hall and all of Theatre Three. The village is built in a bowl, and as we keep developing more buildings and more blacktops, water has nowhere to go. Things are going to deteriorate and get worse downtown.

If I had a magic wand, Maryhaven would be a village possession. Village Hall, the parks department, the fire department — everything can go on that property. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I definitely would not want and would not vote for any kind of apartment complex to go in there — we have enough of that.

Would I like to see more homes in the village and more green space? Absolutely. But I think we’ve reached the point of density that we want to be at in terms of building in the village.

How can the village alleviate its parking capacity challenges while balancing the competing parking interests of residents, businesses and tourists?

The only solution I see is a parking facility — a parking garage.

It would not be a subsurface parking garage because of the water table in Port Jefferson. Where I would put it, I don’t know, but that’s the only solution I can see — a two-story, maybe three-story parking garage somewhere in the village.

We do have some vacant land that the village owns. It’s the location, the acceptance or rejection of that location and the concept. Some people don’t like parking garages, but I can’t see a solution beyond that.

Would you support resurrecting the parking committee? 

I think a parking committee should be in place. The more people you can get ideas from, the better off you are.

What is your preferred method for engaging the public?

It’s about time that we’ve got a [civic] organization that’s going to take an interest in what’s going on in our village.

I have spent eight years as a trustee, and it was always amazing to me — I’d go to a board meeting and see eight people sitting in the audience. Yet you have all these major problems — parking, flooding, code enforcement.

I come from a small village upstate where their civic association was half the village’s population. It’s a valuable organization — to get information from the people who live there.

I was very pleased the other night with that whole scenario [during the May 1 public hearing]. People were sincere, they were civil and they gave a lot of good feedback. I hope the [Port Jefferson] Civic Association stays active, and I hope they stay in the direction that they’re going in.

When they talk about zoning, I don’t think that’s negative. That’s a sincere concern. The board can listen to the public more, and it’d be nice if even the Planning Board exposed themselves more to the public. I like hearing from the public, and I think that’s important. 

What is your professional background, and how does it apply to the duties of a trustee?

My professional background is in education. A graduate of [SUNY] Cortland, I started as a phys ed teacher. At that time, I immediately started my education at Hofstra University, receiving a master’s degree in secondary school administration, then continued my education and got a master’s degree in districtwide administration.

I moved from a physical education teacher to the local athletic director. Throughout my career, I coached girls tennis, boys golf, boys basketball and varsity football. After 34 years in Plainview, I retired in 1995.

One year after the village purchased the [Port Jefferson] Country Club, I got involved in tennis, belonging to the tennis membership up at the country club. I got involved on the tennis board and became chairman, then moved over to the golf side when it became reasonably priced. I got involved with the board of governors, became president and was later appointed to the [Country Club Management Advisory Committee].

In 2013, [Mayor] Margot [Garant] asked me to run for trustee. At that point in time, I was not interested. In 2015, I did relent and ran for trustee and was elected. I was elected again in 2017, 2019 and 2021, and I’m running again now.

I am involved in the recreation and parks in the village. And, of course, the country club is my main goal. Right now, we have a lot of projects going on up there.

My entire career, my goal has been to work for people and work with students of all ages and backgrounds. My main interest right now is to continue working in pretty much the same direction I have been going in. I’m interested in serving the public, continuing what I did for 34 years [in education].

Note to our readers

We intend to interview each of the declared candidates for village office, starting with those running for trustee, then mayor. In keeping with past practice, we first interview incumbents seeking reelection, followed by nonincumbents, selected alphabetically.

PJCA president Ana Hozyainova, center. Photo by Raymond Janis

The general meeting of the Port Jefferson Civic Association on April 12 was briefly delayed due to a lack of chairs as over three dozen people filled the Meeting Room at the Port Jefferson Free Library.

The body approached an array of local issues, from the East Beach bluff to flooding to green space preservation, among others. With village elections along the horizon and plenty of business on the local agenda, the civic has quickly emerged as a forum for the many interests and stakeholders of the community.

East Beach bluff

Former Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Mike Lee made a presentation on historical and environmental developments at East Beach, which has eroded considerably in recent years, now endangering the Port Jefferson Country Club restaurant and catering facility from falling off the cliff.

During his administration, Lee said an engineer had advised him that a problem with the jetty system at Mount Sinai Harbor was contributing to the erosion, placing village officials in a difficult bind.

“The village was aware of [the jetty problem], but it’s not our property that we can work on,” Lee said. “We don’t have anything to do with the inlet,” which the Town of Brookhaven maintains.

Given how coastal erosion spans across municipal boundaries, Lee suggested bluff stabilization would not yield a long-term resolution. “Stabilizing, it’s going to be a never-ending battle,” the former mayor said.

Ray Calabrese, a former Brookhaven Town councilman and Port Jefferson Planning Board member, conveyed to the body engineering advice he received in the 1970s.

“Leave that bluff alone,” he said. “Nature is doing its thing. It’s replenishing that beach. Frustrate it, and you lose the beach.” He concluded, “Don’t build near bluffs.”

Civic president Ana Hozyainova noted that among other reasons, PJCA was formed to offer residents a louder voice in decision-making over the bluff.

“One of the animating reasons why we got together as a civic association was the bluff and the fact that we didn’t have a vote and a public discussion about what needs to be done with it,” she said.

Flooding

Lee also touched upon ongoing flooding concerns within Port Jefferson, which was originally called Drowned Meadow due to the phenomenon. Though stormwater infrastructure installed decades ago may have been satisfactory for its time, Lee said, the flood load has increased considerably, aggravating these historic challenges.

“We have an inadequate stormwater system,” he said. “When it was built, it was adequate for then, but we have just too much to deal with. It just floods and backs up, and the bad part about it is that it invades the sanitary system.”

PJCA member Michael Mart expressed alarm over the long-term prospects of the Port Jefferson Fire Department’s fire station on Maple Place, which in a recent climate resilience meeting was noted for heightened risk of flooding. [For more on this village meeting, see story, “As Port Jeff braces for heightened flooding,” The Port Times Record, April 13.]

“My question is this: Does the fire department or the village have the right of eminent domain for properties that we desperately need?” Mart said. “If we do have that, aren’t we obligated for the long run to pursue that as far as we can?”

Land use

Much discussion centered on potential code changes to protect trees, preserve open space and limit clearing of woodlands. With a village public hearing scheduled for May 1 on the future development of the Maryhaven property, the body discussed whether new development is environmentally optimal.

Civic vice president Holly Fils-Aime tied the issues of flooding and land development, stating that additional paved surfaces could exacerbate concerns over stormwater runoff.

“Everybody is seeing the flooding — the roads become rivers — and it actually ends up in the harbor,” Fils-Aime said. “None of this is really filtered in any way, and the more development we have obviously adds more stress on all of these systems.”

Citing a 2016 report from the New York State Comptroller’s Office, the vice president added that preserving existing green spaces and creating new ones serves a wide array of fruitful purposes.

The report mentions open spaces can protect water quality, protect biodiversity and promote outdoor recreation, among other public benefits.

“My real worry is that the more development we have, the less our village is going to be viable in terms of drinking water,” Fils-Aime said.

PJCA will meet next on Wednesday, May 10, at 7 p.m. in the Port Jefferson Free Library. Candidates for village offices have been invited to present to the body.