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Jane Bonner

Above, Lily Bonacasa, daughter of American war hero Louis Bonacasa, holding her father’s portrait. Photo courtesy Deborah Bonacasa

Deborah and Lily Bonacasa are a mother-and-daughter team who have distributed thousands of toys to needy children over the last three years during the Christmas season. 

When Lily was a second grader, she sat on Santa’s lap as he asked what she wanted for Christmas. She said she only wanted to help children who were less fortunate, those who couldn’t receive gifts. Knowing her story, Santa began to weep.

Deborah and Lily live in Sound Beach. But Deborah grew up in Lemoore, California. After graduating high school, she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was sent to a base in Utah. As an information manager, she provided networking and computer support to 75th Air Base Wing members. While in uniform, she met her future husband Louis.

Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa

Louis Bonacasa was a local kid. He graduated from Newfield High School in 2002. Deborah described Louis as someone “who demonstrated a boundless amount of energy toward playing baseball, being with his friends, hiking, shooting and demonstrating humor amongst his loved ones.”  

In high school, Louis watched the attacks of 9/11. It inspired a love of country and a commitment to serve, and he soon entered active duty in the Air Force. Louis quickly rose through the ranks, presented with accolades for his devoted duty to the nation. Louis soon reenlisted as a security forces member of the New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach. He then transferred to Stewart Air National Guard Base 105th Airlift Wing in Newburgh where he deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and Qatar.  

Seven years ago, on Dec. 21, 2015, Louis was killed by a Taliban suicide bomber near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. Louis was working as a tactical security element truck commander, tasked with the dangerous job of gathering intelligence on the operations of the enemy outside of this major air base. His assignment was hazardous, as he was often the “eyes” of Bagram to protect it from the enemy. 

On patrol, Louis was approached by a suicide-bomber motorcyclist. To protect his men, Louis positioned himself between this adversary and his comrades, and he was killed with five of his soldiers.

Louis is honored with several sites by local and state governments to remember his ultimate military sacrifice. On Rocky Point Yaphank Road toward Middle Island, a major thoroughfare connecting the North and South shores was named in his honor. For travelers on the Long Island Expressway, they are reminded of the memory of Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa on the bridge that connects the northern and southern service roads on Yaphank Avenue. 

Above, members of Lily’s Toy House during a gift donation event in Rocky Point Saturday, Dec. 3. Photo by Raymond Janis

Lily’s Toy House

In 2016, Mark Baisch of Landmark Properties and Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 Cmdr. Joe Cognitore presented Deborah and Lily with a new $350,000 home in Sound Beach that was sold to the Bonacasa family for less than $200,000, according to CBS New York.

Deborah was thankful for the altruism shown to her family during that highly delicate moment. After Lily spoke to Santa Claus, Deborah believed it was time to pay it forward. 

Deborah spoke of her desire never to want to turn down families that are unable to purchase gifts. The Bonacasas have created two nonprofits, Lily’s Toy House and the SSgt Louis Bonacasa Memorial Fund. Working with Long Island Helping Hands, they target needy families.  

In 2020, Lily was interviewed by Savannah Guthrie on the “Today” show. Lily presented a brilliant smile and spoke to America about her goals in helping other children have a lovely Christmas.

The holiday demand has grown due to COVID-19 pressures and rising inflation. Three years ago, there were about 1,000 donated toys collected. Today Lily’s Toy House has distributed over 3,000. Deborah hopes to expand this program to accommodate families across this state and region, especially to military families. 

Lily is a sixth grader at Rocky Point Middle School, where she is a well-rounded student, determined to help others. As a young lady who lost her father, she can speak to others about handling adversity at an early age.  

Reactions from the community

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) has followed firsthand the efforts of the Bonacasa family. “Staff Sergeant Bonacasa gave his life for his country, so we can all live free,” Bonner said. “Deborah and Lily have honored his service so meaningfully with their annual toy drive.”

The councilwoman added, “Lily is a remarkable young girl, who faced a great loss, decided to follow in her father’s footsteps by helping others. The community appreciates all that Deborah and Lily do to bring joy to children in need.”

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) said he is reminded of Louis every time he drives to the Riverhead Correctional Facility. The county sheriff appreciates Lily’s thoughtful spirit and compassion. 

Lily is an “inspiration to all of us, despite losing her father at a young age while he protected Americans in Afghanistan,” he said. “She was still able to think of others before herself, and her dedication to ensure that those most in need have a wonderful Christmas through Lily’s Toy House reminds all Suffolk residents of the true meaning of Christmas.”

Above, Lily Bonacasa. Photo courtesy Deborah Bonacasa

First Lt. John Fernandez, of Rocky Point, is in awe of the patriotic spirit that Lily inspires. “What does it mean to give?” he said. “Staff Sergeant Louis Bonacasa did not lose his life for our country. He gave it heroically for his family and nation. Despite his family’s unfathomable sacrifice, his wife, Deborah, and daughter, Lily, found the strength to continue to give by donating toys to children during the holidays and those who continue to serve today. This shows a depth of courage and love that should be emulated.”

Cognitore described the immense cost the family paid in defense of the nation, calling the support toward the family mortgage “not a handout, but rather a hand up.” He reflected on the positive work the family has done since. 

“It has been a wonderful experience to see Lily speak at veterans and charitable events,” the post commander said. “There is no price that could be attached to the valuable community initiatives that both mother and daughter perform for our citizens during the last several Christmas holidays.”   

James Moeller, Lily’s middle school principal, said he is amazed by her fortitude. “Lily is a hardworking and quiet girl who is always willing to help her teachers and classmates,” he said. “On a regular basis, she is a positive young lady who always wears a big smile on her face. It’s no surprise that Lily is a driving force behind this wonderful toy drive that her family continually organizes.”

Through her charitable endeavors, Lily continues to follow in her father’s footsteps by sharing love and generosity toward others during Christmas. 

For adding light and joy into the lives of others and for honoring her dad’s legacy, TBR News Media recognizes Lily Bonacasa as a 2022 Person of the Year.

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College.

Photo by Raymond Janis

Hundreds of community members gathered on Saturday, Dec. 3, at the intersection of Broadway and Prince Road in Rocky Point for the hamlet’s 38th annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony.

The Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce held the event in honor of the late Linda Albo, the originator of this local annual tradition who passed away in the spring. Gary Pollakusky, president and executive director of RPSBCC, summarized Albo’s example of community advancement.

“She was an avid community advocate and cared deeply about the community in a way that made a difference,” he said. Albo’s impact would be felt once again through the success of this year’s tree lighting.

The program commenced with a presentation of the colors by Boy Scout Troop 244. Girl Scout Troop 604 then led a singalong, performing “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” 

After a 10-second countdown, the Christmas tree was lit as attendees rejoiced in a collective cheer.

Musicians from Rocky Point High School’s brass choir and jazz band delivered wind performances. Soloist Katie Romano, also from RPHS, sang a moving rendition of “Silent Night.”

At the commencement of these performances, the audience was greeted with one final surprise. 

Excited children lined sidewalks and parking lot entrances in feverish anticipation of their hero, Santa Claus. 

Like a shining knight upon horseback, Saint Nick entered atop a fire rescue vehicle from the Rocky Point Fire Department, the sirens blaring and lights flashing. On the main stage, he greeted the many children in attendance, asking them what they would like for Christmas. Their smiling faces and innocent laughter would fill the evening air with joy and cheer.

Public officials also joined the festivities. New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) expressed her gratitude for those involved in coordinating the event and for the gradual return to normal after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Kids are seeing Santa for the first time in their lives because of COVID when Santa wasn’t really around,” she said. “It’s so nice to see all of the smiles on their faces and families coming together.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) called it an honor to be part of such an event and witness the community coming together again.

“You see people from every age, every religion, every walk of life come here and celebrate,” she said. “Rocky Point is one of the most involved communities in my district and the most populated, so when you have so many great community events, it’s wonderful.”

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) also took part in the fun. She said events like this remind her of what a joy it is to live in this proud hamlet.

“I have been involved in this tree lighting for as long as I’ve lived in Rocky Point,” she said. “Now 38 years later, it’s just great to do it in memory and honor of Linda Albo. We do it every single year, and we hope that she’s proud of the work we all did.”

— Photos by Raymond Janis

Hundreds of courageous community members plunged into the icy waters of Cedar Beach on Saturday, Nov. 19, during this year’s rendition of the Freezin’ for a Reason Polar Plunge.

The Town of Brookhaven puts this annual event together to raise money for the Special Olympics New York organization. Proceeds from the event support training for athletes, equipment, health supplies and attire. 

Saturday’s event has raised over $128,000, according to the nonprofit’s website which proclaims that it “provides inclusive opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to discover and unleash the champion within.” 

Hundreds of plungers from across the region participated in the plunge, with many more spectating warmly from afar. Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), a perennial “plunger,” made the daring plunge again.

In an interview with Bonner, she was asked what motivates her to take the cold water dip year after year. Her response, jokingly: “We ask ourselves that every year,” she said.

Bonner, who took the plunge this year with Special Olympians Daniel and Joey, said she finds renewed joy and optimism through her involvement in the activities. 

“When you meet all those Special Olympians and interview them … it’s impossible not to get caught up in the adrenaline and momentum of supporting them and other athletes,” she said. “It’s about $400 to $500 per athlete per sport, and no family is ever charged,” adding, “These plunges … help out so many athletes and families.”

Plunging with Bonner was Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney (R). Before making his plunge, the district attorney expressed some apprehensions, joking, “Unlike Jane and the rest, I am a coward so I’m trying to figure out what brought me to this stage.”

Despite his self-professed reluctance, Tierney did take the plunge. Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), on the other hand, also made an appearance though avoiding the frigid waters. 

During a speech, the town supervisor described the plunge as a meaningful sacrifice in serving the greater good. “At the end of the day, you may be a little cold, but this world is going to be a lot happier for what the people are going to do plunging today,” he said.

This year’s polar plunge brought together hundreds of athletes, students and community members who suffered in unity. Bonner said an event such as this makes the community a better place.

“Regardless of political affiliation, color, economic status — there’s no barrier,” the town councilwoman said. “We’re all doing this same thing for the same cause, and it’s hard not to feel good about it at the end of the day.”

— Photos by Raymond Janis 

 

Tucked away off Defense Hill Road in Shoreham is a thriving bicycle motocross community that races twice a week from April to October. The facility was founded 40 years ago this month. 

Its competitive bicycle racing on a permanent road course attracts riders from all over the Northeast. The New York BMX State Championship event has been hosted there in recent years. Shoreham BMX has leased the property from the Town of Brookhaven for $1 a year since its inception. 

Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) was on hand to present a town proclamation commemorating the milestone. She quipped to the crowd that it’s the only fee that has been inflation proof for the last 40 years.

The barbecue grill never missed a beat, feeding the riders and families for the duration of the race card. There were championship bikes on display representing the winning BMX bikes dating from 1982 to the present day. There were also tables with any kind of bike accessory or part that a BMX rider could want or need. 

The organization prides itself in offering a healthy lifestyle choice that’s enjoyed by riders who are just tall enough to reach the pedals to senior citizens. 

— Photos by Bill Landon

At the site of the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Memorial in Rocky Point Aug. 5, veterans, public officials and community members joined U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), the Republican nominee in this year’s New York gubernatorial contest, to champion legislation that would expand peer-to-peer veteran support services nationwide.

The PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Memorial in Rocky Point, the site of this press event.

The Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project, initiated in 2012 by Zeldin when he was a state senator, is a peer-to-peer program that assists veterans through support groups and other resources. The program is designed to promote mental health and alleviate the challenges of those affected by post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

“As I travel around Suffolk County for years, I have had countless veterans tell me that because of the Dwyer program, they are alive, they have a job and they have a family,” Zeldin said. “They credit the support that they have gotten from the Dwyer program for their ability to be able to cope with the mental wounds of war.”

Zeldin credited the success of the Dwyer project to its design, which was tailored to meet the needs of veterans. The peer-to-peer setting, moderated by veterans trained to lead discussions around personal and highly sensitive matters, offers a unique venue for vets to open up to those who are best equipped to understand them.

Zeldin is sponsoring legislation — H.R.1476 PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program Act — that would make these services accessible for veterans nationwide.

“The Dwyer program needs to be expanded nationally,” the congressman said. “To the [other 534] members of Congress … please do everything you can to co-sponsor this bill.” He added, “Get educated on what peer support should be all about and let’s get this over the finish line and passed into law.”

Zeldin was joined by a host of veterans leaders and public officials representing various levels of government. His efforts to expand the Dwyer program were backed by Joe Cognitore, commander of the VFW Post 6249, based in Rocky Point. Cognitore discussed the lasting effects of combat and the difficulties that veterans encounter when they return from active duty.

Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249, discusses the challenges of post-traumatic stress disorder

“Post-traumatic stress affects all of us,” the post commander said. “The statue you see behind us was put up this past year and it represents the post-traumatic stress that we all go through — not just veterans but all walks of life.”

State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) expressed support for the bill as well. She emphasized the uniqueness of the peer support offerings through the Dwyer program.

“Nobody knows the devil and the demons more than veterans,” she said. “Today, New York State has $7.7 million in its budget this year for this program, but it’s not enough,” adding, “I am here at Congressman Zeldin’s plea … to acknowledge our veterans and realize what they need in order to be successful and reintegrate into life after coming home.”

State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead), at podium, on why the Dwyer program should be expanded nationally

State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) spoke of the success of the Dwyer program locally and the need to bring the program onto the national stage.

“It makes so much sense now to see the success of the program,” he said. “It’s something that should have existed for many, many years, but this is the sort of effort that you need to get those ideas … to ultimately come to fruition and then to show the success that we have seen.”

Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden), the majority leader in the Legislature, shared how the Dwyer program supports those in the community. Caracappa, who also chairs the county veterans committee, stressed that veterans issues are human issues that need to be met with human solutions.

“These are our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters … these are our family members,” Caracappa said. “I’m proud to say that this project is a product of Suffolk County.” Due to its success locally, Caracappa advocated “bringing this forward on a national level.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) offered her support for the proposed legislation 

Also on hand was Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), who was instrumental in helping the town secure the land where the Dwyer memorial now resides. [See TBR News Media story, “Students, elected officials reflect on new Dwyer statue” (Jan. 21, 2021)].

Bonner spoke of the hidden wounds of war. “Not all war injuries are visible,” she said. “So it’s incumbent upon us to do everything that we can do as citizens and residents to make sure that this legislation is passed federally.”

Following the press conference, Zeldin was asked what he would do to relieve the plight of veteran homelessness if elected as governor. He highlighted the need to improve outreach initiatives and bring down any barriers that may impede those efforts.

“Outreach to the homeless, outreach to people who are struggling with mental health issues, is not just about what you say to them, but also about being able to listen to people in need and hear those stories,” the Republican gubernatorial nominee said. “If there’s any type of red tape that’s preventing those conversations, then that red tape needs to get torn down.”

Brookhaven Town councilwoman rolls up her sleeves in District 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

What initially drew you to the Rocky Point community?

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

What is it about this area that makes it unique?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your office doing to protect the environment?

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

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

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

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

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

The Sound Beach Civic Association hosted its annual Memorial Day service at Veterans Memorial Park May 31.

Attendees of the event included New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead), Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), musicians from Rocky Point High School and veterans representing each branch of the armed services. 

Deacon Bob Mullane, of St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church, delivered the invocation for the event. “We have gathered here today to remember those who have died in service to this country,” he said. “We commend them for their courage in the face of great odds. As citizens of this great nation, we remember the sacrifices, and those of their families and friends, with deep gratitude.”

Jimmy Henke, a longtime resident of Sound Beach and war hero, raised the American flag during the ceremony. While serving in Vietnam on a reconnaissance mission, his company came under intense enemy fire. After exposing himself to the gunfire, Henke carried a wounded comrade to a medical site. For his valiance in the face of tremendous danger, Henke was awarded the Bronze Star Medal. 

Following him, veterans from each of the armed services raised the flags representing their respective branch of services. Girl Scouts Julianna Gabrielsen and Anna Polyanksi laid the memorial wreaths.

Performances were delivered by students from the music department of Rocky Point school district under the direction of Amy Schecher. Tessa Cunningham, Alexandra Kelly and Brenna Kiernan sang both the national anthem and “God Bless America.” Daniel Curley and Shaun Sander performed “Taps.” 

The event was concluded by a wind rendition of “America the Beautiful,” performed by Shane McDonald, Ryan McDonald, Jasmine Pickenburg, Matthew Liselli, Hannah Gundel, Brayden D’Ambrosio, Piper Rinn, Aneesh Deshpande, Vivian Dorr and Justin Pititto with Curley and Sander.

To learn more about the Sound Beach Civic Association, visit www.soundbeachcivic.org.

— Photos by Raymond Janis

Veterans, community members and public officials gathered at the Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 for a Memorial Day service to honor the fallen. 

New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) attended the event. She spoke of how the sacrifices of American veterans have preserved the constitutional rights of citizens throughout history.

“We are very grateful for all of our veterans and their families who have fought for our freedoms, for our right to be here in America and for our constitutional rights,” the assemblywoman said.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) was also in attendance. She reflected upon the contributions veterans make to the community and on the deeply rooted legacy of service in Rocky Point. 

Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW 4269, delivers the keynote Memorial Day address

“Rocky Point is a very proud veteran community,” she said. “There is not a person alive that hasn’t been touched by a veteran who has been lost during war.” Commenting on the right of American citizens to free expression, she added, “Whether or not we agree on how people are expressing themselves, the United States is the best nation on Earth because we can express ourselves, and that’s because of those who have fought for our freedoms.”

Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249, delivered an address to the audience assembled at the post. He used his platform to celebrate the many freedoms afforded to Americans through the sacrifices made by servicemen abroad.

“The courage possessed by the men and women we honor today is something that cannot be learned,” Cognitore said. “It is something that is felt deep within. The willingness to die for our country is truly what makes America the home of the brave.”

Following this speech, an extensive list was read aloud of the names of the post members who are no longer alive. A bell was rung after every 10 names to honor their memory. 

To learn more about the various offerings of Post 6249, visit rockypointvfw6249.org.

— Photos by Raymond Janis

Supervisor Ed Romaine speaks during the Feb. 3 press conference at Town Hall. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Elected officials from local, state and the federal government recently voiced their anger and concern over Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) plans to eliminate certain single-family zoning laws across New York state. 

The comprehensive five-year housing plan would potentially invest $25 billion to create and preserve 100,000 affordable homes and tackle inequities in the housing market.

Last month, the governor announced the plan to make housing more affordable as part of the 2022 State of the State.

“In the wake of the pandemic, it’s crucial that we tackle the housing crisis and make New York a more affordable place for all,” Hochul said. “These bold steps are a major step forward in transforming our housing market, protecting affordability and increasing the housing supply.”

But on Feb. 3, local representatives in the Town of Brookhaven held a press conference blasting a major component of the proposal — changing zoning laws to allow more accessory apartments on premises, effectively eliminating single-family zoning.

Officials argued that under this plan, “the state would take zoning control away from local governments, eliminating local residents’ ability to voice objections to these apartments in their neighborhoods.”

They added that the bill would prohibit imposing parking requirements for these new apartments, which they said would result in cars clogging residential streets.

“Under Governor Hochul’s plan, every town, village and county overnight would lose the important zoning protections that keep them from looking like the crowded neighborhoods of the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn,” said town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). “That’s not what the residents of Brookhaven Town want. This wrongheaded plan will not solve our affordable housing plan, but it will devalue the homes and quality of life in our neighborhoods.”

According to Hochul, legislation will be proposed to require municipalities to allow a minimum of one accessory dwelling unit, known as an ADU, on owner-occupied residentially zoned lots. This legislation will allow for municipalities to set size requirements and safety standards for these dwellings. 

Currently the town allows accessory apartments on premises with specific regulations, including the owner of the lot upon which the accessory apartment is located must reside within the dwelling that contains the accessory apartment, and only one accessory apartment is permitted on the premises. 

According to the town, the minimum habitable area for an accessory apartment shall be 300 square feet and a maximum of 650 square feet, and in no case should it exceed 40% of the habitable area of the dwelling building in which it is located. The law states that in no event may there be more than one bedroom per accessory apartment.

Brookhaven officials — in bipartisan agreement — said that the plan and change to the law would force apartments into every home, utilizing basements, garages, rear yard sheds and buildings.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said that this proposal can have a significant impact on all of Long Island — not just the town.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner discusses how Hochul’s plan could impact her district of Rocky Point. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“Yes, we do need affordable housing choices, but we don’t need a broad stroke across the state to change the very character of the communities that we live in,” she said. “We need to maintain local control, and this takes away that control. If the governor really wants to help Long Islanders, she should do something about the ridiculously high property taxes.”

Bruce Sander, president of Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners, said that he and his neighbors bought their homes in single-family neighborhoods “so we could raise our children and grow out in our family community.”

“The ability for unscrupulous landlords to not be accountable to the local officials is just plain outrageous and dangerous,” he added. “We have seen basement apartments with illegal occupants catch fire and create unsafe environments throughout the community. If we lose control, we lose our communities. What is being proposed could lead to the destruction of the suburbs.”

Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) said that while he “appreciates” that the governor is trying to address the question of affordability, taking away the power of local zoning can lead to “chaotic development that may in the end undermine the very fabric of our communities and property values we’re trying to protect.”

“Zoning helps maintain the character of neighborhoods,” he added. “Zoning also provides tools to address these questions of affordability, however, and I don’t want that power to be taken away.”

In attendance with the Town Board was state Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) who said this change in legislation could result in “greater density for communities and place tremendous strains on every conceivable local service from the water we drink, to traffic and emergency services.”

“This one size fits all approach is not the answer to Long Island nor the state’s affordable housing crisis,” he added. 

While not in attendance during Thursday’s press event, local U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) and Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) both opposed Hochul’s plan.

“This blatant attack on suburban communities will end single-family housing as we know it, strip local control away from the New Yorkers who live there, tank the value of their homes, overcrowd their previously quiet streets, and on top of it all not do anything to solve our affordable housing problem,” said Zeldin, who is running on the Republican ticket for the governor’s seat. 

Suozzi, who is also campaigning for governor, said, “Governor Hochul’s radical housing proposal would ‘require’ all municipalities to allow accessory dwelling units on all residential properties and would end single-family housing as we know it.”

Hochul outlined more of her plan during her State of the State address last month, with another reason being to help municipalities rezone to foster multifamily housing near commuter rail stations in the New York City suburbs, including Long Island. 

Photo from Town of Brookhaven

On Dec. 4, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) celebrated the 37th Annual Christmas Tree Lighting in Rocky Point. 

The event was held at the corner of Broadway and Prince Road where residents were treated to holiday carols performed by local Girl and Boy Scout troops and holiday musical selections performed by the Rocky Point Eighth Grade orchestra, Middle School Brass Ensemble and the Rocky Point High School Jazz Band.

To the delight of the crowd, Santa arrived with the Rocky Point Fire Department and greeted the crowd with a hearty “Ho, ho, ho!”

“It is so much fun to attend our traditional holiday events in the community,” Bonner said. “Thank you to everyone who made it all possible and to Santa for taking the time to visit with the children at this festive holiday celebration.”