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Lee Koppelman

County Executive Steve Bellone, Legis. Sarah Anker and Assemblyman Steve Englebright were on hand for the ground-breaking ceremony of the North Shore Rail Trail project Oct. 25. Photos by Kyle Barr

On the freshly mowed grass of a right of way in Miller Place, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) held up a yellowing booklet and from it unfurled a map of Long Island. The booklet was from 1972, and the map showed plans for a trail along the North Shore from Wading River to Mount Sinai.

On Oct. 25, little less than 50 years since the first county planner, Lee Koppelman, drew up those plans, officials finally put the first ceremonial shovel in the ground for the 10-mile rails-to-trails project, now dubbed North Shore Rail Trail.

Construction is set to begin in early November.

“This site will become a premier destination for hiking and biking,” the county exec said.

County officials were joined by town, state and town representatives, various civic leaders, along with hiking and biking enthusiasts to dig the first ceremonial dirt piles and pop the cork on a bottle of champagne. 

Officials said construction will start in Mount Sinai and continue through to Wading River. County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said building it could take close to two years to complete. Officials had an expected finish date for fall 2021. The trail will not officially open until the entire project is completed, Anker said.

Local and state officials break ground on the North Shore Rail Trail project Oct.25. Photos by Kyle Barr

Some area residents are unhappy with the new trail, including several whose homes abut the right of way where the trail will extend through. Rocky Point resident Gary Savickas, who has long been a vocal opponent of the new trail, said his property currently overlooks the fence in his backyard which borders the right of way, and walkers will be able to look directly into his yard.

Anker said the county is planning to work with Rocky Point Civic Association in gathering together funds to address barriers and other measures to help with privacy concerns, but there is no word of when that funding will come. 

The current 3-mile Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail has entered its 10th year, and Herb Mones, Three Village Civic Association trustee and active member of the Friends of the Greenway, said many of the complaints he has heard with the new trail are ones he heard during the Setauket trail’s development.

“Now when I walk on the greenway, those very same people will walk up to me and shake my hand,” he said. “The attitude changes, but the attitudes are a result of not having enough of these recreation corridors for people to appreciate.”

For those who enjoy hiking and biking, the tune is much different. Elyse Buchman, who owns Stony Brookside Bed & Bike Inn in Stony Brook along with husband Marty, said she knows many who will use the trail. On Oct. 13, she and several hundred people from all over the Northeast raised money for the New York Bicycling Coalition, but some who wanted to come to that event didn’t, with many bikers having qualms about riding on roads as congested as some on the North Shore.

“This is a destination, this is for our long-distance riders who want to get to the North Fork, and get there safely,” Elyse Buchman added.

The $8.82 million trail is being funded through federal and state grants, along with Suffolk County funds. The trail was finally confirmed with Bellone signing legislation last year.

Though there are likely people who will want to use both the North Shore Rail Trail and Greenway Trail, they will have a 1-mile stretch between their two end points with several roads in between. The county exec said they are currently creating an interconnected hiking and biking plan, with a general idea to make Suffolk a regional destination for hiking and biking. Included in that plan is a scheme to connect the two ends of the separate trails, though he added there is no definite plan to do so. 

“The connection is a priority,” Bellone said.

 

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Project part of near-decade-long attempt to revitalize area

Route 112 was proposed for a bike route connecting the Port Jeff and Fire Island ferry. Photo by Kyle Barr

Beginning at the end of April, Port Jefferson Station residents will start to notice new rustic lights being installed along Route 112 near Joline Road as part of the early stages of a long-awaited project. 

New rustic street lights along Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station, near Port Jefferson Cinemas. Photo by Kyle Barr

The installation of the rustic lights is part of the main street project, which dates back to a 2008 hamlet study done by Louis Antoniello, a former Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association president and Lee Koppleman, a longtime Suffolk County planner. When the first phase of the project is complete, the lights will be installed at various points throughout Main Street in Terryville on Route 112 between Bicycle Path and Route 347.

Antoniello, who co-chaired the initial hamlet study with Koppleman, said the idea to install these rustic lights came about due to answers from a questionnaire put to residents several years ago. 

“They told us what they liked about the area and what they didn’t,” he said. 

Antoniello, a Terryville resident, said many residents expressed the desire for the preservation of important buildings in Port Jeff Station, more open space and, most importantly, they wanted an identity. That identity would start with improving Main Street. 

The former civic president also said people in the community wanted places to go on Main Street where they could go shopping, eat and enjoy the area. 

“The area [Port Jeff Station] has a lot of history and landmarks,” Antionello said.

Another factor in the project is to repair buildings and get businesses to come that will benefit the community. 

Antoniello said the process to get the funds needed to begin the lights installation took a long time to come about. 

He first spoke with Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) about the proposed lights project and with his assistance was able to get  approved a $150,000 grant from New York State in November 2016 to help purchase the lights. 

Despite being approved, Antoniello said the money was not received until almost two years later. 

“I contacted the governor’s office on my own and asked for assistance,” he said “This began the process of getting the money released.”

The former civic president said the state holds on to grant dollars for months, sometimes years. This, he was told, by elected officials is common practice. Once the money was released, he worked with engineers and the Town of Brookhaven Street Lighting Department in preparation for the lighting structures to be installed. 

The $150,000 grant will cover the Nesconset Highway/Joline Road section installation. This comes after the installation of the lights on the eastern side of Route 112 by the new ShopRite center. Antoniello said he plans to try to get another grant from New York State and will be applying to the Downtown Revitalization Grant Program to get additional funding for the Main Street project. 

This won’t be the first time Port Jefferson Station has applied for the downtown revitalization grant. 

“They said we aren’t a true main street, we have too much traffic and we don’t have enough buildings,” Antoniello said. “It’s a lot of excuses — hopefully this time it will be different.”

Brookhaven town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said the antique lighting project is a long-standing community project connected to the revitalization of Route 112 and promoting and enhancing the existing “main street corridor.”

“Many current and past members of the civic association were very involved with supporting and championing this project,” Cartright said. “Main street is the heart of any downtown community and the antique light project helps create a sense of place in the community. This in turn helps to attract additional businesses to the area.”  

Some of the lights are already installed near Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace and residents are already taking notice.

“Somebody told me it looks great and are glad that they are finally up,” Antoniello said. 

The Terryville resident also had ideas for other proposed projects in the area, including putting a historic marker on Patchogue Road, as it served as the road for stagecoaches back in the 19th and 20th centuries.   

He also plans on helping with the construction of a community park located at the intersection of Route 112 and Nesconset Highway where the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce-owned train car resides. Antoniello said once funding becomes available they will move forward with constructing the park.

Lee Koppelman, right is presented with a replica of the sign that will mark a nature preserve dedicated in his honor, by Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine. Photo by Alex Petroski

A public servant with more than four decades of planning experience now has a nature preserve with his name on it to honor his life’s work.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) hosted a ceremony at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket April 13 to dedicate a 46-acre parcel of woodlands in Stony Brook in honor of Lee Koppelman, who served as the first Suffolk County planner, a position he held for 28 years. He also served as regional planner for Suffolk and Nassau counties for 41 years.

“When you come to talk about preserving land; when you come to talk about planning communities; when you come to talk about vision; when you come to talk about master planners and you put that with Suffolk County, only one name comes up,” Romaine said of Koppelman. “When I look at the picture of the woods that will be named for Dr. Koppelman I can think of no better tribute to this man … Suffolk is in a large part what it is today because of this man’s vision, our master planner.”

Romaine lauded Koppelman for his dedication to preserving nature, including shoreline, wooded areas, wetlands and more. State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who served on the Suffolk County Legislature along with Romaine in the 1980s when Koppelman was also working for the county, repeatedly used the word “bold” in thanking Koppelman for his dedication.

“Suffolk is in a large part what it is today because of [Lee Koppelman’s] vision, our master planner.”

— Ed Romaine

“We had a master planner with a vision for this county that was daring and bold and unprecedented for any county in the United States,” Englebright said. “To set aside parkland — not like little pieces of confetti, but as whole sections of ecosystems and landscape segments — bold ideas. Not only was Dr. Koppleman the master planner, he was a master administrator. He hired extraordinary planners, talented people to serve with him.”

According to a press release from the town, Koppelman is regarded as the father of sustainability on Long Island, calling him the first of the “power players” to conceptualize the idea of preserving space in the interest of health and future generations. The Lee Koppelman Preserve is a heavily wooded parcel with a variety of deciduous tree and shrub species, or foliage that sheds its leaves annually. The town has owned the Stony Brook property just east of Nicolls Road and south of Stony Brook University, for about 45 years, using it as passive open space.

Cartright said she was honored to be a part of the dedication to such a prominent figure who had an impact on her district.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much time to work with Dr. Koppleman as it relates to land use and planning, but it is clear to me he has left an indelible mark here within our community,” she said.

Koppelman joked that he wished the ceremony didn’t sound so much like a eulogy, though he said he was honored to be recognized by people he had considered friends for so long.

“Having that from them is a particular pleasure,” he said.

His wife Connie Koppelman was also in attendance and joked she had heard her husband honored so many times it was getting old, but called it very pleasing to hear once again how much his work was appreciated by those around him.

Koppelman currently heads the Center for Regional Policy Studies at Stony Brook University.