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Fort Salonga

Construction aims to improve the area's ability to withstand storms without damage

A utility pole downed during Hurricane Sandy. File Photo.

More than five years after Hurricane Sandy wiped out electricity to more than 90 percent of Long Island residents, PSEG is making improvements to its power grids in the Town of Huntington.

PSEG Long Island announced Feb. 16 it will begin a four-month circuit reliability project in East Northport and Fort Salonga to replace existing wires, install more durable utility poles and move some of the main electrical lines underground. The work is expected to begin by the month’s end.

“PSEG Long Island works hard every day to ensure that its customers have the most reliable and resilient service possible,” said John O’Connell, vice president of transmission and distribution operations for PSEG Long Island, in a press statement. “Undertaking this FEMA-funded project in East Northport and Fort Salonga ensures that even more Long Islanders are served by equipment that can withstand extreme weather and provide the kind of service that our customers deserve.”

The project will affect approximately 3.25 miles along the following streets: 10th Avenue between Athens Court and 2nd Street North; Vernon Valley Road between Crest Drive and Fort Salonga Road/Route 25A; Dickinson Avenue between Vernon Valley Road and Laurel Road; Fort Salonga Road/Route 25A between Vernon Valley Road and Deauville Court; and Middleville Road between Fort Salonga Road/Route 25A and Highwood Drive.

Our crews will be knocking on doors; if nobody is home then a door hanger will be left.”
—Jeremy Walsh

In this area, crews will be replacing selected utility poles with new ones approximately 2 to 3 feet from current locations. The poles are approximately the same height but have a stronger base to prevent toppling during storms, according to PSEG’s public construction plans.

PSEG warned that local residents may experience traffic or temporary electrical outages as construction progresses. Notification will be given of any planned outages, said Jeremy Walsh, PSEG spokesman.

“Our crews will be knocking on doors; if nobody is home then a door hanger will be left,” he said. “As much face-to-face contact that can be done will be done.”

In addition, PSEG is also looking to move its main electrical lines underground in the following areas: 10th Avenue between Athens Court and Elwood Road; and Elwood Road between 10th Avenue and the electrical substation north of Pulaski Road.

The work is funded by more than $729 million of federal recovery funds received in a 2014 agreement between New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and tropical storm Irene. A breakdown of how money will be spent in East Northport and Fort Salonga was not available from PSEG Long Island,
according to Walsh

This is the 14th section out of more than 35 circuits in the Town of Huntington to which PSEG has planned to make grid improvements. The order in which the improvements are made largely depends on when engineering approval is received, availability of necessary materials and understanding of the impact of construction traffic, Walsh said.

“We try not to inundate any single area with too many crews at once out of consideration for our customers,” he said.

Clarification: PSEG crews will be replacing selected utility poles on the specified routes but not all, as previously indicated.  Story updated Feb. 22 at 1:16 p.m. 

Fort Salonga resident Wayne Trumbull ran his first marathon in honor of his friend Paul Gugliuzzo who survived respiratory failure. Photo from Wayne Trumbull

To honor his close friend’s fight for life, a Fort Salonga resident took his mark in Staten Island Sunday morning for the run of his.

Wayne Trumbull was among the 50,000 participants in the TCS New York City Marathon Nov. 5, running the 26.2-mile race from Staten Island to Central Park to commemorate his friend Paul Gugliuzzo’s perseverance during a harrowing battle with lung failure last year. It was his first time running a marathon.

Trumbull, 50, ran as a member of the American Lung Association team and raised $11,000 for the organization leading up to the marathon. The funds raised will go toward research, advocacy and medical equipment for lung diseases.

Trumbull, a professional tax partner and part-time sports coach, completed the five-borough race with an unofficial time of four hours, 29 minutes, to the roar of thousands of people lining the streets. The loudest of cheers for him came from members of the Fort Salonga community, including Gugliuzzo, who gave Trumbull a high five as he passed by.

“It’s not easy for a casual runner like me to run 26 miles, but when the chips are down, I’m focusing on what Paul went through,” Trumbull said prior to the race. “He was on the brink of death and he bounced back. This is very motivating and emotional for me.”

Wayne Trumbull and his friend Paul Gugliuzzo. Photo from Wayne Trumbull

Gugliuzzo — a Fort Salonga resident, former construction manager and a friend of Trumbull’s since their sons joined the same Kings Park youth baseball team 10 years ago — was diagnosed with upper lobe emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 2009.

His conditions progressively worsened, and in March 2016 he underwent a bilateral lung volume reduction surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. His doctors initially advised it would keep him in the hospital for a week. Medical complications occurred, however, and the day after the surgery, Gugliuzzo went into respiratory failure. He was placed into a medically induced coma for five weeks. He spent 107 days in the surgical intensive care unit — during which time his blood was oxidized with an ECMO machine and he battled multiple bouts with pneumonia. He was released from the hospital in August 2016.

Throughout the lengthy ordeal, Trumbull spent every Friday night at his friend’s bedside offering Gugliuzzo’s wife, Patti, and family members a much-needed reprieve as they were there 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Wayne supported us at a time when we needed it most,” Patti Gugliuzzo said. “Truly, if it weren’t for Wayne and our friends in Fort Salonga who rallied around us, I don’t know how we would’ve made it.”

It was during these nights Trumbull realized he had to do something significant for Gugliuzzo.

“At that point I didn’t know if it was going to be to honor his life or his battle — fortunately it ended up being his battle,” Trumbull said.

A casual runner who had previously only competed in Northport’s Great Cow Harbor 10K and other smaller races for charity, Trumbull began the process of fundraising for the American Lung Association. He learned that it was a sponsor for the New York City Marathon.

The marathon was never something I had on my bucket list, but I knew it was significant and something that took a lot of effort and commitment, and would be a fight in and of itself,” he said. “This is just what I consider being a good friend.”

As the 2016 American Lung Association’s team filled its limited spots by the time Trumbull pursued entry, he applied for this year’s team as soon as they took applications. He was part of a strict training program beginning this past summer and ran five days a week for four months in preparation.

Gugliuzzo, who said his lungs are better now than they’ve been in 15 years, is in the process of rehabilitating himself. He’s looking to Trumbull’s participation in the marathon as motivation to hop on the treadmill every once in awhile.

“If Wayne can do 26 miles, I can do two,” Gugliuzzo said. “Me inspiring him in turn inspires me back. It’s heartwarming what he’s done for me.”

He said his hope one day is to run in the Great Cow Harbor 10K alongside Trumbull.

A conceptual rendering of the proposed K.I.D.S. Plus adult group home in Greenlawn. Photo from Facebook

Greenlawn residents rallied before Huntington Town officials Oct. 17 seeking answers to their questions about proposed plans for a group home on Cuba Hill Road.

More than a dozen community members spoke out at the town board meeting in which the Northport-based nonprofit K.I.D.S. Plus presented plans for an 8,000-square-foot group home for adults with physical and developmental disabilities. Residents raised concerns about traffic, noise, overall size of the home and density of group homes in the area, but ultimately found themselves with more questions than answers.

“I’m really trying hard not to have the knee-jerk reaction of not in my backyard,” said Manan Shah, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner. “We want to be partners. We want to understand. But to ask us to give you an 8,000-square-foot home without giving us information is unfair.”

Sergio Gallardo, of Greenlawn, said the Cuba Hill Road residents weren’t given an opportunity to speak with K.I.D.S. Plus founder Tammie Topel to learn what types of disabilities the home’s residents would have or review the business plans.

“We assumed you would have sat down with the people who live in the area prior to this hearing,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said. “Obviously, that didn’t happen.”

Topel, a Northport resident and member of the Northport school district’s board of education, is a well-known advocate for children with special needs as she has spoken publicly on several occasions about her son, Brandon, who is diagnosed with autism. She explained her “dream” plan is to build a group home for eight adults, 21 years of age and older, on the 2-acre wooded lot. The house would have an administrator/coordinator on site 24/7 to oversee the health and safety of residents in addition to a rotating staff of specialists and caregivers based on individual residents’ needs, according to Topel.

“There is a waiting list in New York state of greater than 11,000 people who need homes and we are trying to mitigate the problem,” she said. “We are trying to provide assistance for parents of children, young adults and adults who need a supportive independent place to live.”

However, residents were quick to point out that the K.I.D.S. Plus home would not be the first facility of its type in community.

“Within a half-mile of my home in any direction, and my neighbors as well, there are three group homes already — this would be a fourth,” said William Whitcomb, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner of 10 years. “Regardless of the nature of the residents, four is simply too much.”

Another major concern voiced repeatedly was the proposed size of the group home in comparison to the existing homes. Neighbors expressed fears that it would alter the area’s character, giving it a more commercial feel.

“The homes tend not to be very large; the properties are large, that’s why we like to live there,” said Taylor McLam, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner who said his residence is approximately 1,200 square feet by comparison. “Seven times the size of my house seems a little much.”

Jules Smilow, a resident of Darryl Lane, expressed sympathy, saying that a group home that was more commensurate in size to the existing residences would be more agreeable.

Many Greenlawn property owners, including Rebecca Gutierrez and Stephen Wuertz, pointed to the three existing group homes in the area with concerns of noise from handicapped transportation and delivery trucks, increased traffic and possible behavior incidents involving future residents.

“I think one of the things that is happening here is some people don’t know what disability looks like and what it is all about,” said George Wurzer, a licensed clinical social worker.

Wurzer said he operates a number of group homes for children diagnosed with autism. While many were met by resistance  from their surrounding communities at first, he said that over time there was more acceptance and the neighbors learned more about developmental disabilities from the experience.

“Tammie’s vision is the next evolutionary stage in helping people with disabilities,” Wurzer said.

Petrone admitted it was, in part, the town’s fault that residents did not have critical information to fairly evaluate the group home proposal. He directed Anthony Aloisio, the director of planning and environment, to arrange for a community meeting between residents and Topel.

Topel has posted a proposed blueprint of the building on the K.I.D.S. Plus Facebook page. There are several upcoming public meetings to provide those interested  with more information Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at Signature Premier Properties in East Northport, and Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. at Cause Cafe in Fort Salonga.

Owl Hill estate is located south of Sunken Meadow State Park in Fort Salonga. Photo from Douglas Elliman Real Estate

Standing for decades as the hamlet’s best-kept secret, an old, secluded manor nestled within a sprawling stretch of property in Fort Salonga has come out of hiding — with a price tag of $6.45 million.

The Owl Hill estate, located at 99 Sunken Meadow Road, spans 27.63 acres and is the largest parcel of 1-acre residential-zoned land in Suffolk County. It is up for sale for the first time in more than six decades. It’s now the most expensive property in Fort Salonga.

Owl Hill estate, a 6,500-square-foot home in Fort Salonga, was built at the turn of the 19th century and includes features such as a library. Photo from Douglas Elliman Real Estate

The 6,500-square-foot home, whose construction began in 1897 and doors opened in 1903, sits surrounded by a serene haven of wooded forest and towering oak trees. The house has been occupied, and maintained, by the same Manhattan-based family for more than half a century as a summer and weekend residence. Maya Ryan, the current owner, who was unable to be reached for comment, recently decided it was time to pass the property onto another family or developer — according to Owl Hill’s listing agent Kelley
Taylor, of Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

Taylor said she’s lived around the corner from the property for more than 20 years and never heard of it until recently.

“That’s where the ‘hidden’ comes from in hidden gem,” Taylor said, calling the Owl Hills house one of a kind. “It’s pretty remarkable — like nothing you’d expect to see in Suffolk County or on Long Island. It’s never been developed on.”

The palatial estate, which the listing agent compared to Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill home in Oyster Bay, is only 50 miles from New York City and contains more than 20 acres of completely untouched land. There hasn’t been a single renovation to the property since the 1940s when its
occupants expanded the kitchen.

The interior of the home speaks to the architectural elegance of a bygone era with original tiger oak and mahogany hardwood floors. There are five en suite master bedrooms and three staff bedrooms, with a soaring fireplace in each, as well as an expansive music/living room, a wood-paneled dining room and a massive basement. Outside, there’s a wrap-around porch and a two-car garage, all within what Taylor calls a magical forest.

It’s pretty remarkable — like nothing you’d expect to see in Suffolk County or on Long Island. It’s never been developed on.”

—Kelley Taylor

As for potential buyers, she said she’s seen a majority of interest from developers, including one evaluating the property as the site of a 55 and better community. But, she said, the owner has preserved  3.75 acres of the property under New York State’s Transfer of Development Rights.

“A big family would certainly love the generousness of the estate, as would anyone who appreciates the particular beauties of well-made historic homes,” said Dawn Watson, public relations manager at Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “It’s quite extraordinary and the parklike property is expansive and lush.”

In March, the Town of Smithtown and the county raised a $1 million grant to be used to preserve a portion of the Owl Hill property for open space.

Smithtown scholar Corey Victoria Geske said although the property has been around so long, there still isn’t a lot of information in regards to its historical details.

“Owl Hill is another example of beautiful architecture in Smithtown for which the architect, to my knowledge, is as yet unknown,” Geske said. “This is the kind of house that deserves that kind of research attention because it’s so special with regards to interior detail and its location, built high on the hills of Fort Salonga.”

Stacey Wohl, at center, recently reopened the Cause Cafe, a restaurant that employs people with disabilities. Photo from Facebook

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A Northport restaurateur is hoping the third time’s a charm as she attempts to blend together the best of two worlds in a newly opened Cause Cafe.

Stacey Wohl, former owner of Our Table, reopened her dining room on Fort Salonga Road Sept. 29 to bring back Cause Cafe. She hopes to pair her passion for fine food and wine with a supportive hands-on daytime-work environment for young adults with cognitive and developmental disabilities.

“I’m melding together both restaurants,” she said. “It will be an upscale eclectic Caribbean- and Mexican-inspired restaurant with food I like, but also supporting the cause.”

A patron at the new Cause Cafe bar. Photo from Facebook

Wohl first opened Cause Cafe in Spring 2016 as a small coffee shop offering breakfast foods, sandwiches and more. Inspired by her two children, Brittany and Logan who both have autism, she offered employment and hands-on job training to young adults with disabilities. Unfortunately, its doors closed in February 2017.

The small cafe was quickly transformed into Our Table, which focused on the trend of farm-to-table dining featuring local ingredients. But the upscale restaurant wasn’t a good match for the area, according to Wohl, who said she gained much from the experience.

“I learned that sometimes people just want comfort food,” she said. “I also wanted food that’s reasonably priced that I could take out for my kids, that’s also healthy.”

The restaurateur has decided to blend her former eateries together in the latest incarnation of Cause Cafe. The food will be prepared by a new chef, Seth Sloan, formerly of Hotel Indigo’s Bistro 72 in Riverhead.

Diners will find familiar dishes from Our Table’s brunch menu, according to Wohl, but the French toast gets a Caribbean-inspired makeover by adding some mango. During the day, there will be salads, wraps, paninis and baked goods,  served up by individuals with disabilities or available for takeout.

A menu item at Cause Cafe. Photo from Facebook

In the evenings, the former staff of Our Table will take over presenting upscale dishes such as marinated grass-fed skirt steak in a chimichurri sauce and pan-seared wild Salmon with a mango sauce. The drink menu features an extensive wine and beer selection now that the establishment has secured its liquor license.

“I’m a wine aficionado and love visiting the vineyards, but they require travel,” Wohl said. “Long Island has some amazing wines, but not many people know it.”

Her wine list includes Bedell Cellars as well as boutique bottles made by Anthony Nappa, who also works for Raphael in Peconic. Local beers available on tap include brews from Great South Bay Brewery, Greenpoint Beer and Ale, and Sand City Brewing.

“My goal is to open up multiple stores and get Cause Bakeries going again,” Wohl said.

She said she hopes to develop a chain of eateries that can combine job training for individuals with disabilities and a fine-dining experience.

In addition, Wohl said she wants to cultivate a business relationship with local wineries to expand the sale of baked goods made by young adults with disabilities in her shop, with proceeds going to nonprofits and organizations that help these individuals.

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Eugene Coyne’s mugshot. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County Police Major Case Unit detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that killed a pedestrian in Fort Salonga Sept. 29.

Nicholas Pineda-Maldonado, 58, was operating a stand-behind lawn mower on Sunken Meadow Road in the roadway when he was struck by a 2008 Saturn that was traveling southbound on Sunken Meadow Road near Trescott Path at approximately 4:30 p.m.

Pineda-Maldonado was transported to Saint Catherine of Sienna Medical Center in Smithtown for treatment of serious injuries. He was later transported to Stony Brook University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead Sept. 30. The driver of the Saturn, Eugene Coyne, 69, of Kings Park, was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check. Coyne was held overnight at the 3rd Precinct and scheduled for arraignment at First District Court in Central Islip Sept. 30.

A woman enjoys a bite at Our Table. Photo from Stacey Wohl.

Farm to table dining has become a popular trend, and one Fort Salonga spot intends to bring an even more localized experience to residents with Our Table.

Owner Stacey Wohl is recreating the space that has been known for the last year as Cause Café, a restaurant that offered jobs to young adults with cognitive and developmental disorders, such as autism. Our Table is not doing the same. Wohl said it was time for a change, and that change came in the form of Northport-native chef Michael Heinlein.

Heinlein came in as a guest chef while Wohl was still running the business as Cause Café, and brought up the idea of working together and creating an organic, healthy menu.

Stacey Wohl is trying a new venture, leaving Cause Café behind. Photo from Stacey Wohl.

Wohl loved the idea. “I eat organic, I eat healthy food and it’s very difficult if you’re trying to eat gluten free or organic to take your kids anywhere to go out to eat — there’s very few places to go,” she said. “What we’re trying to do here is offer a nightlife place where you can meet a friend or go on a date while also having a healthy meal — instead of going to health food stores to eat clean.”

Heinlein, a Northport High School graduate, said the menu is more than just farm to table because of where the company will get its ingredients.

“Everybody uses the term farm to table and I think it’s kind of overused — I think it’s more local to table than anything,” Heinlein said in an interview.

And Our Table intends to bring local products, currently getting produce from farms on Eastern Long Island, but planning to buy from the Northport Farmers Market once the season begins. All the seafood is wild caught instead of farm raised, and the beef is grass fed. Wohl said the pair also intends to offer biodynamic local wine, meaning wine with grapes that are grown organically without the use of pesticides.

Wohl said Our Table’s menu is diverse and offers something for everyone.

“Michael is very eclectic and creative, he draws from a lot of different global influences,” she said. “There’s so many flavors going off in your mouth at once — he’s just using a lot of creative foods and ingredients. It’s food that’s going to make you feel good.” Items include jumbo lump crab cakes and deconstructed chicken tamales.

Heinlein agreed he thinks people will enjoy his menu.

“It’s a good mix of the healthy grains and other ingredients, while still getting that fun fine-dining experience,” he said.

Wohl said Our Table also has an in-house pastry chef to make fresh desserts.

“You’re not coming in here and getting a frozen piece of cheesecake,” she said.

Our Table is set to launch this weekend, with hours from 5 to 10 p.m. daily and Sunday brunch. The restaurant is located at 1014 Fort Salonga Road.

Staff members of Cause Café gather outside the front entrance. Photo from Stacey Wohl

By Ted Ryan

Along Fort Salonga Road is a quaint café, filled to the brim with baked pastries and freshly brewed coffee. But the best part of this shop isn’t the treats, it’s what the café is doing for the community.

Stacey Wohl is the founder and president of Cause Café, a small business that offers jobs to young adults with cognitive and developmental disorders, such as autism.

It is for this reason that Wohl and the staff at Cause Café have been named People of the Year by Times Beacon Record News Media.

Wohl got started in the coffee business through working sales in a newly acquired coffee company with her ex-husband. During her time working sales in this new business, she had her two children, Brittney, 19, and Logan, 17, who were both diagnosed with autism. Wohl eventually stopped working to take care of them.

In 2010, Wohl moved to Northport, where she founded her own nonprofit, called Our Own Place, after getting assistance from friends who were also in the nonprofit business. The company provides unique opportunities to special-needs children and their single parents. The organization’s ultimate mission is to open a weekend respite home for families of children with cognitive disabilities that will provide job training and socialization skills to its residents.

Two years later, Wohl started her own coffee business, Our Coffee with a Cause Inc., a business that employs individuals with cognitive and developmental disabilities, and funds local charities that support them. It was created in response to the growing concern for special-needs individuals on Long Island who are aging out of schools to find job opportunities and a learning environment to acquire real-life skills.

And on May 7, Wohl opened Cause Café in Fort Salonga.

Alex Alvino, the head chef of Cause Café said he appreciates the chance Wohl has offered to not only him, but to those with special needs as well.

“Stacey’s been great,” he said in a phone interview. “I’m thankful for her for giving me this opportunity; it’s such a humbling experience to be a part of this. I really think this place has potential, and within a couple of months, it’s just going to take off.”

Wohl’s children are both actively involved in the café as well.

Brittney works at the café after school and on weekends where she busses tables, frosts cupcakes and assists Wohl in instructing a cupcakes class the café offers. Logan busses tables, works behind the counter and takes out the garbage.

Wohl said she is looking to change the business model of the Cause Café into a nonprofit so it can offer more opportunities, like the ones her children have, for those with disabilities.

“It makes sense for us and for the business model so that we can hopefully get grants and donations to be able to hire more kids with special needs,” she said.

And the demand for jobs for young adults with disabilities is high. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was about twice that of those without disabilities.

Wohl can vouch for the need of more jobs for the disabled — she experiences it first hand regularly.

“I get three or four calls a day, or people walking in with their resumes, or parents walking in for their child, or job coaches coming in, all asking me for jobs,” she said. “And we need to get more customers first before we can hire more people,” said Wohl.

Dorina Barksdale is one of the parents whose child, Johnathan, was able to find work at the café.

“Johnathan loves his job, and he feels accepted and wants to work at the café,” she said in a phone interview. “I see Stacey twice a week, she’s compassionate and offers a family atmosphere for Johnathan to work in. Stacey wants to make a difference for my son as well as for other kids with disabilities who want to work.”

Wohl said she believes the reception of the Cause Café has been good, especially during its early months, but acknowledges the fact the number of opportunities for those with special needs is dependent on the demand for business.

“The community was very supportive of us the first few months when we opened, and we just need to remind them again that we are here,” said Wohl.

Even though owning a business such as this comes with difficulties, Wohl has no doubt that the rewards outweigh the risks.

“When you come in here, you see that you are giving a kid a job that might not have a job. … When you are buying it [coffee] from us, you are helping to employ someone that would be sitting home otherwise and not having an opportunity to work,” she said.

The proposed plan for the Indian Hills Country Club. Photo from Northwind
The proposed plan for the Indian Hills Country Club. Photo from Northwind

By Victoria Espinoza

Fort Salonga residents are waging battles on two fronts. One fight is to prevent the rezoning of the Indian Hills Country Club, and the other to ensure their civic association is fairly and accurately representing them.

Earlier this year, Jim Tsunis, of the real estate agency Northwind Group, applied to Huntington Town to change the zoning for the property from one-acre single family to open space cluster district. The proposal includes plans to build 108 townhomes and two cottages in several areas on the golf course. Northwind refers to the townhomes as houses for a 55 and over community, and said their plan will preserve 120 of the 143 acres at Indian Hills, won’t impact the views of the club from Breeze Hill Road and Fresh Pond Road, and will preserve the character of the neighborhood.

But residents are far from convinced. They fear the impact the development could have on the environment, traffic and safety during construction, and property value of the homes in the area.

Division within the Fort Salonga Association

Members of The Fort Salonga Association and Fort Salonga Property Owners Association expressed these concerns, however, FSA sent Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone a letter approving the plan at the end of November.

Frank Capaccio, president of FSA, said in the letter that reaching the decision was difficult, but he explained that preserving the golf course is most important for residents.

“Our organization, for 70 years, has always been an advocate for what is best for the community at large,” Capaccio said in the letter. “While some feel the golf course should remain untouched and others feel 100-plus single family homes are a better alternative than townhouses, we disagree. The main purpose of establishing our organization was to preserve the quality of life and open space in our hamlet. Preserving the golf course does this.”

“We’re in a place we don’t want to be. We’re sort of fighting the FSA and we need to be fighting the developer. As we see it at the moment, there really is no difference.”
—John Hayes

The president acknowledged in the letter that the decision wasn’t unanimous among board members, and unknown decisions could still affect the plan.

“This was not an easy decision, and the ultimate configuration of development, including size, type, and quantity of homes, is yet to be determined,” Capaccio said.

Many residents are wondering why the association was compelled to make a decision so soon, before analysis was complete and a plan was finalized.

FSA director, William Berg said the board had initially planned to create a special committee to conduct an in-depth review of the plan’s environmental impact before any decision was reached.

“I volunteered … and [Capaccio] said he was going to contact other people, and then we never heard about a meeting or anything,” Berg said in an interview. “And then [25 days later], he emailed, saying it was time to have a vote.”

Berg said a fellow board member made a motion to delay the vote until the special committee was formed and able to share their findings, but it was declined, and the vote was carried out via email.

“One of the largest not only developments, but changes in zoning to occur in Fort Salonga’s history, there was no debate, there was no discussion,” Berg said.

According to Berg, 10 board members voted for it, two voted against, and one abstained. He said he doesn’t have the names of any of the members who voted for it. “It’s a secret,” Berg said.

At the last town board meeting, Petrone said the proposal was still in the early stages and the Huntington Zoning Board had not yet fully reviewed the plan to even schedule a public hearing.

“One of the largest not only developments, but changes in zoning to occur in Fort Salonga’s history, there was no debate, there was no discussion.”
—William Berg

John Hayes, president of the FSPOA and member of the FSA, said he doesn’t understand why a decision had to be made so quickly.

“It’s almost unprecedented for a civic association to go basically against the residents who clearly oppose it, at this stage of the game,” he said. “It is beyond any comprehension; we’re just scratching our heads. What’s the motivation here?”

Berg agreed the email vote was unusual.

“They can have email votes on minor issues, but when you have something like this, you normally would have a meeting and vote on it,” he said. “And it wouldn’t be done over a holiday weekend, in a rush.”

The FSPOA held a meeting a week earlier to explain the downzoning issue to their members, and Capaccio was present. Andrew Rapiejko, an FSA and FSPOA member who worked on the presentation, said it was announced at the end of the meeting that the FSA had posted a letter supporting the downzoning.

“There were gasps in the room,” Rapiejko said. He added it was also announced Capaccio was in the room, if he wanted to make a statement. Hayes said he declined, which they understood, since he was at the meeting as a private individual, but the president assured residents their questions would be answered at the Dec. 6 meeting.

Three days after the letter to Petrone from the FSA was posted on their website, the civic association announced they were cancelling the annual general meeting slated for Dec. 6.

In the letter, Capaccio explained the FSA voted to support the zoning change, but not the specific plan put forward by the club owner. He acknowledged the FSPOA’s disapproval of the plan, and the reason behind cancelling the meeting was an issue with three FSPOA members seeking positions on the board of the FSA.

“We determined that their initial independent nominations did not meet our requirements, which means their names would not have appeared on the ballot,” the president said. “In at least the last 40 years, this is the only time the FSA has had to prepare for a possibly contested election. While our by-laws allow for independent nominations and provide a process for a contested election, this is essentially a new process for us. As a result, the FSA board has decided we must postpone our annual meeting and election for 45 to 60 days so we can process an open and fair election.”

Rapiejko said this came as a shock to FSA members.

“These nomination petitions were sent in end of October, so they had them for a month,” he said. “All three candidates were sent certified letters saying that they were disqualified from the election. And the reasons given were confusing.”

“The rezoning does not compromise our one-acre zoning. The purpose of the cluster zoning law is to preserve open space.”
— Frank Capaccio

Rapiejko said members who hadn’t paid their annual dues made the nominations, thus the disqualification. Rapiejko was one of those members, according to the FSA, and when he reached out to correct them, that he had in fact paid his dues, they acknowledged the error, but the disqualifications stood.

“I got a response that said ‘Well, at that time of year we get a lot of checks and there was an error inputting your data that has been corrected’ and that was it,” he said. “No apology, no saying that we’re going to undisqualify the candidate. That was it.”

No new meeting has been posted to the FSA’s website as of publication, and the organization did not return request for comment.

“The rezoning does not compromise our one-acre zoning,” Capaccio said in the letter. “Any homes, cluster or single family, will not exceed the one-acre yield of the property. The purpose of the cluster zoning law is to preserve open space.”

He also stressed the FSA intends to continually represent the interests of the community at large.

“We have never been a single issue organization, representing only the few,” Capaccio said.

Rapiejko said the FSA and FSPOA have worked hand in hand on issues before, and he had hoped this time would be the same.

“It really worked very well,” he said of the partnership, recalling another zoning issue from 2003. “After that issue was over, the [FSPOA] was dissolved and we re-established spring of this year. We fully expected this to work the same way, to have that relationship. It wasn’t a competition.” He said the FSA does great work, and almost all of the FSPOA members are also members of the FSA.

Hayes said the current situation is far from ideal.

“We’re in a place we don’t want to be,” Hayes said. “We’re sort of fighting the FSA and we need to be fighting the developer. As we see it at the moment, there really is no difference. The only party that has benefited from their decision is the developer. It’s hard to split them at the moment. To say it’s unusual is an understatement, I think.”

Northwind didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Opposition to the rezoning of the golf course

Beyond the issues within the FSA, residents have major concerns with the impact rezoning could have on the Fort Salonga community.

“Once you concede to the change in zone, now you’re talking about negotiating where you’re putting the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
—John Hayes

Hayes said some support the rezoning but not necessarily the site plan.

“Once you concede to the change in zone, now you’re talking about negotiating where you’re putting the deck chairs on the Titanic,” Hayes said.

Rapiejko agreed the decision was a bit premature.

“For the FSA to pull out one piece of what this project is, and the downzoning is just one piece of the whole plan, and say ‘Well, this we believe is going to be good and is not going to have an impact,’ it’s just irrational,” he said. “It’s not logical, and that’s why you never want to do it. You always want to look at the whole plan to make a decision on the whole plan and the impacts of the whole plan.”

The proposed plan from Northwind calls for two areas of 46 town homes on the golf course, one area with 16 town homes, and two cottages. According to Hayes, the plan would also call for the use of a narrow private road in Fort Salonga as access for residents of Northwind. According to the company’s website, the plan will preserve 120 of the 143 acres of land at Indian Hills.

Rapiejko has worked in the Suffolk County Health Department for close to 30 years, where he has gained experience in dealing with environmental issues, and he said the title of the new project is insulting to people’s intelligence.

“He’s changed the name to The Preserve at Indian Hills, and he’s billing this as a preservation effort,” Rapiejko. “When I look at this golf course, I don’t see a preserve. What I see is a developed piece of property. When I look at this proposal, I’m seeing it as a tremendous increase in development.”

Rapiejko is worried about nitrogen pollution in drinking water.

“He’s changed the name to The Preserve at Indian Hills, and he’s billing this as a preservation effort. When I look at this golf course, I don’t see a preserve. What I see is a developed piece of property.”
—Andrew Rapiejko

“Nitrogen in our area is a huge, huge issue,” Rapiejko said. “And I see a very intense nitrogen use here.” He said the golf course is basically a peninsula surrounded by the Crab Meadow Watershed, the Long Island Sound and the Fresh Pond — and each would be sensitive to nitrogen and pesticides.

Rapiejko said the Suffolk County Health Department has been conducting a study on golf courses. A monitoring well for the Indian Hills Country Club found the current nitrate levels are more than five parts per million.

“That is prior to 32,000 gallons per day of sewage that he is going to be discharging as a result of his development, and discharging on site,” Rapiejko said. He added the plan calls for septic systems for each of the clusters, which will be recharged on site close to the water bodies. That could add more nitrogen to the waterways, as well as other things discharged from septic systems, like pharmaceuticals and personal hygiene products.

In the environmental proposal, nitrogen and phosphorus levels were tested at Fresh Pond in May and August — where most of the water from the area is discharged. Total nitrogen levels were 6.03 milligrams per liter, and 1.75 milligrams per liter for phosphorus. Rapiejko compared the numbers with Environmental Protection Agency water quality criteria recommendations, which recommend surface water nitrogen levels at 0.32 milligrams per liter and phosphorus levels at 0.008 milligrams per liter.

‘It’s kind of curious, because you do an environmental impact statement to asses the impact of what you’re proposing to do and to see if it’s significant,” Rapiejko said. “In this case, it’s obvious that there is already a significant impact with what is already here that needs to be addressed, no less worrying about impacts of a proposed development.”

Rapiejko said storm water runoff could also significantly impact the water quality at Fresh Pond.

Residents are also worried about the septic systems.

In this case, it’s obvious that there is already a significant impact with what is already here that needs to be addressed, no less worrying about impacts of a proposed development.”
—Andrew Rapiejko

According to the proposal, “each of these subzones will utilize a tertiary treatment system that is recognized by SCDHS, or one that may be approved as a pilot installation through SCDHS Board of Review approval.”

Rapiejko said this means the builder plans on using one of the new, innovative septic systems the county has been researching, which have not yet been approved and would require a variance from the town to use. The builder proposed The Preserve be used as a test site for one of the new systems.

“We don’t even know if these systems work or not,” he said.

Rapiejko compared this project to a similar development in Southampton — The Hills — which used the same engineer group as The Preserve. That project, if approved, would entail a golf course with more than 100 townhouses on the property, and Rapiejko said when he looked at the environmental proposal for that project, it came with seven alternatives.

The Preserve currently has two alternatives, one is no action, and the other is single-family, one-acre homes across the entire golf course, which would require eliminating the ponds and building on steep hills and slopes.

“Here he gave us one non-reasonable alternative,” Rapiejko said.

The plan calls for work from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, with 32.75 acres needing to be cleared. Residents cite increased traffic and possible safety problems for bikers and walkers as other concerns.

According to the proposal, the average selling price per unit is about $800,000, which would total more than $85 million if all units were sold. The property was sold for $13.5 million.

A petition condemning the rezoning, with more than 400 signatures of Fort Salonga residents, is circulating.

The Huntington Zoning Board hasn’t reached a decision, which is the next step in the process.

File photo

Suffolk County Police Second Squad detectives are investigating a single-vehicle crash that critically injured a man in Fort Salonga on Friday morning, Aug. 18

Samuel Luby, a Northport resident, was driving a 2016 Dodge pickup west on Fort Salonga Road at 7:55 a.m. when he lost control of his vehicle and struck a tree just west of Makamah Road. The Northport Fire Department responded to the scene, and said upon arrival they found Luby pinned in the vehicle by the dashboard and steering wheel.

Under the command of Chief of Department Brad Wine, EMS personnel immediately initiated life saving measures while firefighters joined by two Suffolk County Emergency Service police officers began the rescue effort. Utilizing multiple extrication tools, the truck was cut apart to allow access to the driver. With the process complete, EMS personnel stabilized the driver to prevent further injury by movement.

Luby was moved to an awaiting Northport Fire Department ambulance, and then airlifted via Suffolk County Police helicopter in critical condition to Stony Brook University Hospital.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check and the investigation is ongoing.  Anyone with information regarding this crash is asked to call the Second Squad at 631-854-8252.