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Lee Koppelman

The street-level view of the Port Jefferson Crossing apartments, a 45-unit affordable housing complex opening within weeks. Photo by Raymond Janis

The transformation of Upper Port is happening in real time after years of well-documented social issues and underinvestment.

In the coming weeks, the village will complete two major initiatives. Station Street will soon open to traffic, and the Port Jefferson Crossing apartments, a 45-unit affordable housing complex developed by Conifer Realty, will launch.

As these projects open, further planning is in full swing. Conifer is working with the Village of Port Jefferson Planning Board on a second development located at the Main and Perry streets intersection. Meanwhile, the Board of Trustees is actively pursuing a vision for the proposed Six Acre Park along Highlands Boulevard.

In an exclusive interview with Mayor Margot Garant, she summarized the activities. “I think we’ve made great progress,” she said. “I think it’s a great start to what will continue to make [Upper Port] a safe and welcome place.”

Completing these projects marks the next chapter in a multiyear village undertaking to revitalize its uptown. Yet as the area undergoes its metamorphosis, a broader conversation is emerging.

Community revitalization in context

A good plan is the genesis of effort and conversation between the constituents, elected officials, economists, environmentalists, civic organizations, resident groups, business owners and, yes, real estate developers.’

— Richard Murdocco

Richard Murdocco is an adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at Stony Brook University. His writings focus on land use, economic development and environmental policies on Long Island. In an interview, Murdocco detailed the regional and historical context surrounding redevelopment efforts in Port Jeff.

Downtown revitalization on Long Island dates back at least six decades, said Murdocco, when communities started tackling the effects of suburbanization and population boom.

“Downtown revitalization is not anything new,” Murdocco said. “The first comprehensive plans were drafted in the early ’60s by the Long Island Regional Planning Board and Dr. Lee Koppelman. Those identified key downtown areas where to focus growth, and the whole point of the plans was to mitigate the ever-ongoing suburban sprawl that western Suffolk County, especially, was getting a taste of at that time.”

With the eastward expansion of the Northern State Parkway and the construction of the Long Island Expressway, downtown areas soon became targets for growth. Ideally, this growth consisted of additional multifamily housing options, expanded retail sectors and developing neighborhoods near train stations.

Although development plans today are often pitched as novel or innovative, Murdocco contends that the general framework underlying revitalization has been replicated across generations.

“These concepts are as old as city building,” he said. “It may be new for Long Island, but it’s not new in practice.”

The view of Port Jefferson train station from the Port Jefferson Crossing apartments. Photo courtesy Margot Garant

The Patchogue model

‘For an area to be successful, there has to be people and there has to be a reason for people to be there.’ 

— Paul Pontieri

Today, proponents often cite the Village of Patchogue as a cornerstone of community revitalization on Long Island. Spearheading these efforts is Paul Pontieri, who has served as the village’s mayor since 2004. 

In an interview, Pontieri detailed his approach to community building. For him, areas that thrive are those with people.

“For an area to be successful, there has to be people and there has to be a reason for people to be there,” he said. “Businesses go where people are.”

Another priority for Pontieri was attracting young families into Patchogue. “We have a lot of young families,” he said. “That happened because we provided the kind of housing they can afford.”

Apartments were central for creating affordable housing options, according to Pontieri. While existing rents may appear overpriced to some, he believes these rent payments are preferable to the mandatory down payments when taking out a mortgage.

“Right now, if you have to put 20% down on a $500,000 home, you’re telling me that a 22- or 23-year-old that just got married has $100,000 to give on a down payment — it’s not going to happen, and that’s the reality,” he said. “You have to have the apartments because they will come into the apartments and begin to save their money, even though the rents on those apartments seem exorbitant.”

Pontieri holds that Long Island communities today face the challenge of drawing and keeping youth. According to him, young people will inevitably move away from unaffordable areas.

“You have a choice: You can sit there in your house — you and your wife at 75 years old — and your kids move someplace else because they can’t afford to live in your village,” he said, “Or you make your community user-friendly, kid-friendly, young-family friendly.” 

Murdocco said Patchogue had been held up as the standard-bearer for community rejuvenation because Pontieri more or less carried his vision through to completion. Though revitalization brought unintended consequences for Patchogue, such as magnifying a “parking problem that was enhanced and amplified by growth,” Murdocco said the example is generally regarded favorably.

“Overall, it’s lauded as a model because they did it,” the adjunct professor said. “For all intents and purposes, the area is thriving relative to what it was.”

Differentiating Upper Port

‘Our little footprint can’t really hold as much as Patchogue.’ 

— Margot Garant

While Garant acknowledges the utility of Pontieri’s method for Patchogue, she points out some key distinctions unique to Upper Port.

Like Pontieri, she holds that the neighborhood’s success depends on the people it can attract. “I believe that new residents and the new opportunity will drive an economic base and new economic success,” she said. Though arriving at this new resident base, Garant is employing a different approach.

For one, the two villages differ widely concerning their respective topographies. When organizing a plan, Garant said Port Jefferson must operate within the confines of limited space, further constrained by the existing built environment.

“Patchogue is flat, and it’s a grid system, so you can spread out there and have larger parcels that connect to the heart of your village,” she said. “In Port Jefferson, we’re in a bowl. We’re surrounded very much by residential [zones] on both sides of Main, so I see us as able to grow a bit differently.” 

Tying into the issue of topography is the matter of density. Garant maintains Pontieri had greater flexibility, enabling vertical and horizontal expansion to accommodate a growing population. “Our little footprint can’t really hold as much as Patchogue,” Garant said. 

Applying the Patchogue model to Upper Port is further complicated by the historical and cultural differences between the two villages. Garant stated she intends to bring a family oriented culture to Upper Port. In contrast, Patchogue attracts a more robust nightlife scene accentuating its bar and restaurant culture. 

“I just have a different philosophy when trying to revitalize the neighborhood,” Garant said. “I think Patchogue became known for the young, jet-setting community, the Alive After Five [street fair] bringing people to Main Street with a different sort of culture in mind. We’re looking at making things family oriented and not so much focused on bars and restaurants.”

In an email statement, trustee Lauren Sheprow, who emphasized revitalizing Upper Port as part of her campaign earlier this year, remarked that she was impressed by the ongoing progress. She remains committed to following the guidelines of the Port Jefferson 2030 Comprehensive Plan, published in 2014. 

Referring to the master plan, she said, “It does appear to be guiding the progress we are seeing take shape uptown. It would be interesting to take a holistic look at the plan to see how far we have progressed through its recommendations, and if the plan maintains its relevance in current times where zoning is concerned, and how we might be looking at the geography east of Main Street.”

Six Acre Park

‘The Six Acre Park is something that I see as a crucial element to balancing out the densification of housing up there.’

­— Rebecca Kassay

Along with plans for new apartments, Garant said the proposed Six Acre Park would be integral to the overall health of Upper Port. Through the Six Acre Park Committee, plans for this last sliver of open space in the area are in high gear. [See story, “Six Acre Park Committee presents its vision.”]

Trustee Rebecca Kassay is the trustee liaison to the committee. She refers to the parkland as necessary for supporting new residents moving into the village.

“As far as Upper Port, I am hoping and doing what I can to plan for a vibrant, balanced community up there,” she said. “The Six Acre Park is something that I see as a crucial element to balancing out the densification of housing up there.”

Plans are ongoing to convert the remaining six acres of open space along Highlands Boulevard into a tranquil, arboretum-like setting. Photo courtesy Rebecca Kasay, taken from Google Maps Street View

With more density, Kassay foresees Six Acre Park as an outlet for the rising population of Upper Port. “Everyone needs a place to step out from a suburban or more urban-like setting and breathe fresh air and connect to nature,” she said. “The vision for Six Acre Park is to allow folks to do just that.”

In recent public meetings, a debate has arisen over a possible difference of opinion between the village board and the planning board over active-use space at Six Acre Park. [See story, “PJ village board … addresses Six Acre Park.”]

Garant said the Board of Trustees has yet to receive an official opinion on behalf of the Planning Board. Still, the mayor does not see sufficient reason to modify the plan.

“We’re talking about creating an arboretum-like park used for educational purposes,” she said. “At this point in time, we don’t have enough land. The uptown population is welcome to use the rest of the parkland throughout this village.” Garant added, “But we are extremely mindful that when the new residents come to live uptown and they bring their needs, there’s a lot more that’s going to happen uptown and a lot more opportunity for us to make adjustments.”

Identifying the public good

In my opinion, property owners have allowed their buildings to deteriorate so that they would be able to sell the properties to — in this case — subsidized developers.’ 

— Bruce Miller

New development, in large part, is made possible by the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, which can offer tax exemptions to spur economic growth. Former village trustee Bruce Miller has been among the critics of Upper Port redevelopment, taking issue with these IDA subsidies.

“It’s an open secret that the properties were very poorly maintained up there,” Miller said. “In my opinion, property owners have allowed their buildings to deteriorate so that they would be able to sell the properties to — in this case — subsidized developers.”

In Miller’s assessment, while the projects are taxpayer supported, their community benefit is outweighed by the cost to the general fund.

“The buildings that are being built are paying very little in the way of taxes,” Miller said. “At 10 years it ramps up, but even at 15 years there’s not much tax they’re paying on them.”

Responding to this critique, Lisa Mulligan, CEO of Brookhaven IDA, released the following statement by email: “In accordance with our mission, the Brookhaven IDA is committed to improving the quality of life for Brookhaven residents, through fostering economic growth, creating jobs and employment opportunities, and increasing the town’s commercial tax base. The revitalization of uptown Port Jefferson is critical to the long-term economic well-being of the region, and housing is one key component of this.”

Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), who represents Port Jefferson on the Town Council, also took issue with Miller’s claim. For him, the purpose of IDA subsidies is to identify benefits to the community and advance the public good.

“So often, there is no public benefit,” he said. “If it’s the will of Port Jefferson Village to revitalize an area that has struggled to attract investment for many years, that may be an appropriate use of IDA funding.”

However, Kornreich also acknowledged that these tax incentives come at a cost for ordinary taxpayers. For this reason, it remains crucial that the IDA has a firm grasp of the public good and advances that end alone.

“When this unelected body gives these benefits to a developer, it’s a tax increase on everyone within that taxing district … they are increasing your taxes,” the councilmember said. “When you pay those increased taxes, what you’re doing is supporting this vision of a public good.” In instances where the IDA functions without a view of the public good, he added, “It’s a huge betrayal.”

Garant suggested that ridding Upper Port of vacant lots constituted a public good in itself. While IDA benefits may mean short-term sacrifices for village residents, the tax exemptions will soon expire and the village will collect its usual rates.

“For us in the short term, we might be making a little bit of a sacrifice, but I can tell you right now what I’m making on the payment in lieu of taxes program is more than what I was getting on those buildings when they were blighted,” she said. “Six, seven, eight years down the road, when we’re at the end of those PILOT agreements, we’re going to be getting a sizable tax contribution from these properties.” She added, “I was looking down a 10- to 15-year road for the Village of Port Jefferson.”

Murdocco foresees opportunities for continued discussions within the village. According to him, community development done right is highly collaborative, uniting the various stakeholders around a common aim.

“A good plan is the genesis of effort and conversation between the constituents, elected officials, economists, environmentalists, civic organizations, resident groups, business owners and, yes, real estate developers,” he said. “I know for a fact that in Upper Port Jefferson, a lot of that did happen.”

The SBU adjunct professor added, “In terms of defining a public benefit, it depends on what the community wants. Do they want economic growth for an underutilized area? Do they want environmental protection? Do they want health and safety? That all depends on the people who live there.”

File photo/TBR News Media

By Warren Strugatch  

Twenty years ago almost to the day, I met Lee Koppelman, widely regarded as Long Island’s planning czar. Koppelman at the time was well into his four-decade run at the Long Island Regional Planning Board. I was two years into my own tenure as Long Island business columnist at The New York Times. I came to cover the planning board’s April 2002 meeting simply because Lee had gotten both Nassau and Suffolk county executives — Tom Suozzi and Robert Gaffney at the time — to share a podium.

Warren Strugatch was a business columnist for The New York Times when he first met Lee Koppelman

Koppelman told me: “If the two county executives are really going to work together, it augurs well not just for good governance but for good planning. It raises the possibility that we will be able to tear down the imaginary Berlin Wall that divides the Island at Route 110.”

The potential breakthrough never happened. I didn’t think Koppelman thought it would. The interview comment however was classic Koppelman: insightful, erudite, flinty, yet optimistic.

Long-time Setauket resident Lee Edward Koppelman died March 21, two months shy of his 95th birthday. Up until recently, he was still going to work, teaching Public Policy classes at Stony Brook University, after a lifetime of public service.

Koppelman made his name in planning by advocating open space preservation, water quality protection, coastal zone management, and other efforts to balance quality of life with sustainable economic growth, affordable housing, and other quality of life goals. He also mentored three generations of planners, who continue his legacy.

Koppelman’s resume featured long stints as Suffolk County planning director, Regional Planning Board executive director, and director of Stony Brook University’s Center for Regional Policy Studies.

In Suffolk, he bolstered low-density development patterns, strategically expanded roadways, preserved open spaces and protected water supplies. His advocacy helped Suffolk maintain its rural nature even as Nassau grew more congested. Recognizing the need for well-planned development, he helped launch the Hauppauge Industrial Park, Ronkonkoma’s industrial center, and the county court complex in Central Islip.

He also helped extend the Long Island Expressway and Sunrise Highway eastward into the Hamptons, continuing the infrastructure expansion initiated by Robert Moses, variously a mentor, ally, and sharp-elbowed opponent. Later in life, Koppelman enjoyed referencing a letter from Moses which opened: “Dear Knucklehead.”  

Koppelman’s non-salaried regional planning board role was mostly advisory. He was however compensated for numerous studies. He also labored over and drafted four master plans for Long Island, producing enough volumes to line several bookshelves. His 1970 plan alone comprised 60 volumes. Even he laughed at the implausibility of reading them all.

Koppelman is the author or co-author of more than 20 books, including Urban Planning and Design Criteria (Van Nostran Reinhold, 1982), a widely used grad school text. Many of his grad students and protegees have gone on to influential careers themselves.

Over the years, I interviewed Koppelman many times. Lee always made time available, briefed me on the issues, and occasionally needled me with a smile. He displayed an impeccable command of facts. Decades after a discussion he could recite the evidence cited by both sides.

Lee Koppelman was born May 19, 1927, in Manhattan. Raised in Astoria by parents who owned small floral wholesale businesses, Lee joined the Navy in 1945. He returned to start a landscape architecture business; earned an undergrad degree in electrical engineering from City College (1950) and a master’s from Pratt (1964); and a Ph.D. in public administration from New York University (1970).

Lee entered urban planning during the late 1950s when, as president of the Hauppauge Civic Association, he devised a plan that sought to balance economic Lee with sustainable land use management principles. Soon thereafter, Suffolk County executive John V. Klein hired him as director of the Suffolk County Planning Department, where he stayed from 1960 through 1988.  He was named executive director of what was then the Nassau-Suffolk County Regional Planning Board in 1965, making him effectively the region’s planning czar — even if precious little regional planning took place.

Also in 1965, Koppelman joined Stony Brook University as adjunct professor in the marine sciences department. He was named director of the university’s Center for Regional Policy Studies in 1988 and taught classes until September of last year.

Last year, I called Lee seeking his signature on a petition opposing the Gyrodyne company’s development plans for Flowerfield in St. James. My old friend voiced strong opposition to the project but couldn’t sign the petition. I told him I understood. His last words to me were: “Warren, you were always on the side of the angels.”

  Lee Edward Koppelman, may you rest in peace.

 Warren Strugatch is a journalist, consultant, and civic advocate in Stony Brook.  

Lee Koppelman, sitting, in April 2018, was presented with a replica of the sign that marks a nature preserve dedicated in his honor by former Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine. Photo from 2018 by Alex Petroski

After the passing of Lee Koppelman, Suffolk County’s first regional planning board director, he is remembered fondly by those who knew him and his considerable work.

File photo/TBR News Media

Koppelman, of South Setauket, died on March 21, at age 94, at Stony Brook University Hospital.

“Lee Koppelman was a true pioneer whose comprehensive vision for sustainable development on Long Island was well ahead of his time and laid the foundation for countless initiatives we are still pursuing to this day,” said County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in a statement. “Lee’s push, against political backlash, to preserve open space, manage coastal erosion and improve water quality has had a lasting impact that spans generations.”

Bellone added, “As a county, we continue to pull his ideas ‘off the drawing board,’ with more than 20,000 acres of open space and farmland being preserved, as well as continued investments into downtown sewering, water quality improvements and public transit corridors.”

Before his illustrious career, Koppelman was born in Harlem on May 19, 1927. He grew up in Astoria and graduated from Bryant High School in Queens. His parents owned greenhouses in addition to a flower shop in Manhattan.

Koppelman was a Navy veteran who joined in 1945. He held a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from City College of New York and a master’s degree from Pratt Institute. He also earned a doctorate in public administration from New York University.

After he was married, Koppelman and his wife, Connie, moved to Hauppauge, where the planner, then president of the Hauppauge Civic Association, would play an instrumental role in the development of the Hauppauge Industrial Park.

In 1960 the Koppelmans moved to Smithtown and in the late 1980s to East Setauket. In 2014, he and his wife moved to Jefferson Ferry’s independent living in South Setauket. According to his son Keith, Koppelman designed and built his homes in Hauppauge, Smithtown and East Setauket. 

Koppelman served as the first Suffolk County regional planning board director for 28 years, from 1960 to 1988, and also served as the executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk Regional Planning Board from 1965 to 2006. He was an early advocate for preserving open space and was responsible for drawing up Suffolk’s first comprehensive master plan in 1970.

In an article by historian Noel Gish posted to the Stony Brook University website, he described Koppelman as “a planning gymnast, contorting and twisting his way through the development of the post-World War II period on Long Island.”

In addition to his accomplishments in his planning career, Koppelman was a professor emeritus at Stony Brook University, where he taught until last semester, according to his son. In 1988, he was appointed director of the Center for Regional Policy Studies at the school. The center handles research projects including governmental productivity, strategic economic planning and environmental planning.

“Lee Koppelman was a true pioneer whose comprehensive vision for sustainable development on Long Island was well ahead of his time and laid the foundation for countless initiatives we are still pursuing to this day.”

— Steve Bellone

According to his profile on the university’s website, his focus was “the environmental policy aspects of regional planning and has been specifically directed toward coastal zone management.”

Among his accomplishments listed on the SBU website, he was project manager for research “including coastal regional planning, comprehensive water management, shoreline erosion practices and related studies.” He was also involved “in the development of synthesis techniques for relating coastal zone science into the regional planning process.”

Leonie Huddy, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Political Science, said Koppelman was “a leading member of the Stony Brook Political Science Department for over five decades and trained generations of local and regional leaders and policy analysts. He will be sorely missed.”

Koppelman also served as executive director of the Long Island Regional Planning Board and was chairman emeritus of the Town of Brookhaven Open Space and Farmland Acquisition Advisory Committee.

A 46-acre parcel of woodlands near the Stony Brook campus was named after him during a ceremony in April of 2018. Now known as Lee E. Koppelman Nature Preserve, the property east of Nicolls Road and south of the university has been owned by the Town of Brookhaven for nearly 50 years and was used as passive open space.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), who was a county legislator in the 1980s, said in a phone interview he worked closely with Koppelman during his time in the Legislature working on open space acquisitions in Suffolk County. Romaine was able to get one of the largest acquisitions with the former Havens Estate in Center Moriches. The acquisition included 263 acres of land, now known as Terrell River County Park, that sits from Montauk Highway south to Moriches Bay. He also worked with Koppelman on other acquisitions.

In later years, Koppelman hired Romaine, a former full-time teacher, to teach a graduate course at SBU in 2005. He described Koppelman as gifted and intelligent. He said the two may not have always agreed on matters, “but I always thought his heart was in the right place.”

“I thought he was a visionary, and people say, ‘Well, what does it mean to be a visionary or to have vision,” Romaine said. “Well, vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. He made quite visible to us the possibility of things that we should be working on as a county in terms of farmland acquisition, preservation, where development should take place.”

Romaine said he counts himself among others who “are beginning to see that his vision was for the, most part, the correct vision for the future of Long Island, and we regret those things where past leaders did not have the same vision — it was invisible to them to see what he was saying, what his vision was.”

The town supervisor said many would visit Koppelman’s office at SBU to seek advice.

Lee Koppelman in a recent photo from Jefferson Ferry where he lived.

“He was a guy with a tremendous amount of knowledge,” Romaine said. “He will be missed for a long time, and his contributions will go on long after his passing, so I have nothing but absolute praise for Lee Koppelman and his efforts to make sure that Long Island was somewhat more rational than it is today.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said Koppelman was a superb administrator who knew how to surround himself with expert master planners. He said Koppelman and the planners “reflected a sense of mission and a sense of strength,” and he leaves behind a great legacy.

“In the years in which sprawl was a menace, every morning, there was Lee Koppelman and his cadre of top-flight planners who offered another vision for Long Island and made a difference, and enabled us to really bring thought into the experience of what appeared to be a daily exercise in chaos on the roadways and in the hallways where approvals for construction were being granted,” Englebright said. “He was a breath of fresh air.”

Englebright said Koppelman’s legacy will continue.

“The expectation, which is really built on of his legacy, is that we will plan, we will reason and we will make thoughtful decisions regarding our land use and natural resource uses,” Englebright said.

Koppelman is survived by his wife, Connie; four children Lesli, Claudia, Laurel and Keith; and three grandchildren Ezra, Ora and Dara. A funeral was held Thursday, March 24, at Shalom Memorial Chapels in Smithtown.

“We shared our father’s time and attention with the entire community of Long Island,” Keith Koppelman said in an email. “We have always been and will remain incredibly proud of him. Working for a rational future for Long Island did take him away from us at times, but now we have reminders of him everywhere we travel on the Island.”

Jefferson's Ferry

Part two of three

Over its 20 years in existence, Jefferson’s Ferry has been home to a significant number of accomplished and creative older adults who have been groundbreakers, innovators, educators and artists. All were original thinkers with a desire to do something that hadn’t been done before, and many of these residents wrote books about their work, which can be found in the Jefferson’s Ferry library collection.

Lee Koppelman: visionary of open space preservation

Lee Koppelman

The Suffolk County landscape would look markedly different if not for Lee Koppelman. He was the first regional planning board director for Suffolk County. An early advocate for the preservation of open space, Koppelman drew up Suffolk’s first comprehensive master plan in 1970 and dominated planning on Long Island from the 1960s until he stepped aside in 2006. A leading professor emeritus at Stony Brook University who still teaches, Koppelman was appointed the director of the Center for Regional Policy Studies there. He is also chairman emeritus of the Town of Brookhaven Open Space and Farmland Acquisition Advisory Committee. The Lee Koppelman Preserve, a parcel of land on the Stony Brook campus, commemorates his stewardship of open space in the county.

The Town of East Hampton has also commemorated his contributions to Long Island’s open space, designating about 800 acres contiguous to and adjacent to Hither Hills State Park as the Lee Koppelman Nature Preserve. Koppelman is the author of 22 books, which include “The Fire Island National Seashore” and “The Urban Sea: Long Island Sound.” He and his wife, Constance, reside in an independent living apartment at Jefferson’s Ferry.

Carol Fenter holding her husband’s book ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n Roll: The Legacy of the Counter-Cultural Revolution.’ Photo from Jefferson’s Ferry

Fred and Carol Fenter; author and wife

As a high school social studies teacher, Fred Fenter had a front-row-center season ticket on the cultural revolution that marked the 1960s and ’70s. From that perspective, in 2008, he penned “Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n Roll: The Legacy of the Counter-Cultural Revolution.” What made his experience particularly radical was the transformation of the ultraconservative Bay Shore High School, a place of separate faculty rooms for men and women, strict dress codes, zero tolerance for even a muttered “hell” or “damn.”

Quite suddenly, to Fenter’s eye, the school swerved to embrace the anti-establishment fervor of the ’60s. Faculty rooms were converted to student space, the dress code disintegrated to rags and teachers had to find new ways to engage the more willful students. 

All of this was anathema to Fenter, who had to drop out of high school and join the U.S. Navy at age 17 to support his family. Upon his return, he finished high school at night while holding a variety of day jobs that included bank teller, shelf stocker at the supermarket and elevator operator. He earned his master’s degree while teaching at Delehanty High School in Queens and Division Avenue High School in Levittown, where he met his future wife Carol. Fred Fenter ultimately taught advanced history honors for 20 years at Bay Shore High School. 

“Fred always wanted to write,” Carol Fenter said. “But with a family of four children to support, he had to put that dream on hold. He worked two jobs, which left little time for writing.” 

After his retirement from teaching, Fred and Carol became among the first residents at Jefferson’s Ferry. They moved in during fall 2001 seeking a lifestyle that suited Carol’s active social life and Fred’s desire to write. “Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n Roll” was written in its entirety at Jefferson’s Ferry.

“He came from nothing,” his wife said. “His father died when he was 14 and life became all work and no play. That made the cultural revolution of the ’60s and ’70s into a particular challenge. During World War II, the U.S. Navy took over control of cargo ships from various importers and shippers to augment its supply fleet. Assigned as a signalman on one of the so-called ‘banana boats,’ Fred never could understand how he survived the war. He didn’t have the youth that his future students would have.”

“He didn’t put himself into the book at all,” she added. “It’s all philosophical. He hits the movements of the times — anti-war, free love, civil rights, feminism — from all different aspects. He had it in his head and wanted to get it out.”

Fred Fenter passed in 2008, but Carol finds plenty to do at Jefferson’s Ferry. She is chair of the residents council, former chair of the Jefferson’s Ferry Foundation, has taught countless residents in her popular computer classes and has installed more than 100 modems in residents’ apartments. While she’s not a writer like her late husband, she is a voracious reader, consuming multiple books each week.

Joan Watson: ‘My Turning Points’

Joan Watson holding her book ‘My Turning Points.’

Dec. 1, 1952, was the last day 12-year-old Joan Watson was tucked into bed feeling safe and secure. Today, as clearly as the day in which it happened, Watson remembers waking up the morning of Dec. 2 to her mother’s suicide. This tragedy was the first “turning point” in Watson’s young life, the day her life changed forever. Gone was the affection of her mother, the family memories and the sense of stability. Unlike her mother, her father wasn’t affectionate. He was very strict and determined that his three children would learn responsibility. Frightened about what her life would be without that special love of her mother, she prayed for God to send someone to love her.

Her challenges didn’t end when years later, she left the family home to marry her high school sweetheart. After three years of marriage, her husband left and moved out of state, leaving her and their two daughters. Watson’s next turning point occurred when she lost her youngest daughter to illness at barely 2 years of age. Watson and her surviving daughter lived with the help of public assistance and Joan’s jobs as a school bus driver and waitress.   

But her story doesn’t end there — it begins anew. Through therapy and her faith in God, she tapped the inner strength and talents that allowed her to begin to take control of her life and start initiating her own turning points. She furthered her education with secretarial school and got a job typing medical records at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Smithtown. Watson began to achieve a modicum of stability and happiness.

A second marriage was full of love and support, giving her the freedom to be her best self. She achieved positions of increased responsibility and reward at work.

Then came another turning point, totally unexpected and serendipitous. While attending a party, Watson learned of a 60-minute program — a company, Mary Kay, was giving away diamonds and minks to reward its salespeople. While still working at the hospital, she started selling Mary Kay products and quickly reached the director level, making real money. Watson excelled at bringing successful consultants into the company by adhering to Mary Kay’s wisdom, “Help enough people get what they want, and you’ll get what you want,” Watson said. What determined her success was the ability to lift her consultants and teach them to do what she did. Mary Kay also taught her about investing. The recognition she received surpassed money as Watson’s motivator. In her eyes, God had sent her the love of many.

Watson wrote “My Turning Points” to make a difference in other peoples’ lives, to help them find their own turning point and make a difference in their lives. “My Turning Points” is among the most popular books in the Jefferson’s Ferry library. Reading the book has also spurred people to open up to her about challenges in their own lives. 

A Jefferson’s Ferry resident for six years, Watson values the community and the ease of her days. When she was widowed after 40 years of marriage 14 years ago, she knew that she’d have to find a continued sense of place and security. She reviewed her expenses and investments, sold her house and found a new home and friends while remaining close to her family. She is retired from Mary Kay, but still mentors and coaches women who have followed in her footsteps at the company. Watson’s pink Cadillac, parked outside her apartment, continues to be a conversation piece.

Linda Kolakowski is vice president of Residential Life at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket.

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.