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Michael Mart

From left, trustees Bob Juliano and Drew Biondo, Mayor Lauren Sheprow and Deputy Mayor Rebecca Kassay. Not pictured, trustee Stan Loucks. Photo by Aidan Johnson
By Aidan Johnson

Monday, July 10, marked Lauren Sheprow’s first Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees meeting as village mayor. 

Sheprow led the new board through their business and reorganization meeting, in which the reconfigured village board voted to reject proposed code changes slated for the Maryhaven Center of Hope property on Myrtle Avenue.

Mayor Lauren Sheprow presiding over the Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees on Monday, July 10. Photo by Aidan Johnson

Maryhaven Center of Hope

The proposed code amendments were an effort by the previous administration to preserve the historic building on the Maryhaven site. [See story, “For Maryhaven, Port Jeff village board weighs historic preservation, density and conservation,” April 29, TBR News Media website.] 

It would have created a special permit application to allow the village board to designate specific parcels that contribute to Port Jefferson’s architectural and aesthetic character. 

If approved, an applicant meeting these criteria would have qualified for relaxed standards for land use, allowing for additional height and stories without additional clearing.

During the public comment period Monday night, former village trustee Barbara Ransome addressed the continuing concerns over the property.

“I’m hoping that there are no quick decisions about changing codes for potential developers,” she said. “I think we heard at the [May 1] public hearing a lot of concern about the infrastructure, about losing a wonderful area that people feel is just going to be too crowded with that kind of density.”

Trustee Stan Loucks, not pictured, left the village board meeting after learning he would not be reappointed as liaison to Port Jefferson Country Club. Photo by Aidan Johnson

Reorganization

But not all went smoothly at Village Hall.

Trustee Stan Loucks, who ran in this year’s village election alongside mayoral candidate Kathianne Snaden, left directly after the board’s reorganization meeting, skipping the general meeting altogether after Sheprow revealed he would no longer serve as liaison to the Port Jefferson Country Club.

“I feel very strongly that I’ve had an impact on the resurgence of the country club,” Loucks said. He went on to say that he did not think he could “work any further with this board.” 

Village clerk Barbara Sakovich will leave the village government after more than 13 years in that role. Her retirement will take effect July 19. The trustees expressed their gratitude for her years of service. Silvia Pirillo will take over as the new clerk.

Sheprow appointed trustee Rebecca Kassay as deputy mayor and commissioner of environmental stability.

“It is an honor to step into the position of deputy mayor because it helps me better serve the village and work [especially with] flood resilience and climate studies,” Kassay said in an interview after the meeting. 

“I’ve been talking to organizations like [the United States Geological Survey], and having the title of deputy mayor shows that the village is taking these climate resilience issues very seriously,” she noted. “I’m very glad to be representing the village in this way.”

Trustee Bob Juliano will serve as commissioner of public works and parks. Loucks was appointed commissioner of recreation, and newly appointed trustee Drew Biondo will be commissioner of buildings and communications.

Harry Faulknor will continue as the Port Jefferson Harbor commissioner.

Sheprow will serve as commissioner of finance and public safety/court/code.

A motion to appoint Donald Pearce as village treasurer failed — he held the post previously before resigning in 2015. Juliano suggested that while Pearce is excellent to work with, he was displeased that Denise Mordente was not reappointed.

Code enforcement chief Andy Owen delivering his department’s monthly public safety report. Photo by Aidan Johnson

Public safety

The general meeting started with a brief presentation from Code Enforcement Bureau chief Andy Owen and chief of patrol James Murdocco.

Owen clarified that the code department does not save and store private information through its automatic license plate readers, which are used to identify if a car has a valid Port Jefferson parking permit or a meter is paid.

He also announced that foot patrols downtown would begin after this weekend’s Port Paws Dog Festival. Owen said he is also planning on starting a bike patrol unit.

In June, 60 incident reports were written, consisting of noise complaints, traffic conditions and public disturbances.

A total of 206 summonses were written in June for incidents such as uninspected vehicles, missing license plates, parking without a permit or overtime meter parking. 

Murdocco reported there have been over 200 incidents at the Port Jefferson train station since January, with many happening after 9 p.m.

Murdocco also announced the start of an informational Facebook page for the code bureau.

Public comment

During the public comment portion, held before the trustee reports, multiple residents voiced concerns about the potential overdevelopment of the park at Roosevelt Avenue. Myrna Gordon, along with other residents, suggested these developments would not be conducive to the area’s quiet character.

Sheprow announced a planned Parks and Rec Advisory Council meeting on July 26. All residents of the Roosevelt Avenue area are invited.

Michael Mart also touched upon the issue of transient housing — such as Airbnb facilities — in Port Jefferson, expressing a desire for the board to limit the rental time of a house to 30 days per renter.

After a resident asked how villagers could get involved with the different committees and task forces, Kassay said they are currently working on an online forum where residents could enter their information and the committees on which they would like to participate.

Reports

Juliano announced he would be starting office hours and that his door was always open. He also said that he gave the interim attorney a proposed code change so that when developers apply through the Industrial Development Agency for pilots or property tax exemptions, they would start at whatever they were paying now instead of at zero.

Biondo shared that he had toured a few of Port Jefferson’s facilities as the liaison to building and planning. He said he would discuss with the mayor and village attorney how they can streamline government processes.

Kassay said the Complete Streets and Walkability Plan is moving forward. She also said the board is still working on mitigating flooding challenges, though the problems cannot be eliminated. However, they are working on a study to see which areas need to be focused on for flood mitigation.

Kassay and Andrew Kelly, from Hauppauge-based VHB civil engineering company, are working on assisting grant writers with the documentation needed to apply to the New York State Environmental Protection Fund to progress to the next step for the planned Six Acre Park, which consists of taking a concept and making “show ready” plans for the park. 

Sheprow announced she had appointed an ethics attorney to update the village’s ethics code. She also said that she has met with representatives from Stony Brook University’s Student Affairs office, and they have expressed interest in using Port Jefferson as a “living laboratory.”

The Board of Trustees also passed a resolution to create a budget and finance committee, and has been working to recruit members of a short-term and long-term rental evaluation working group.

Sheprow added that the board is considering establishing a working group to advise on policies related to the Port Jefferson Power Station to explore declining public revenue and possible repowering.

The board will reconvene Monday, July 24, at 3:30 p.m.

Slow down multifamily development in Port Jeff Station/Terryville

Certain multifamily housing project proposals are progressing too fast in the hamlets of Port Jefferson Station and Terryville.

In Port Jefferson Station, starting at the intersection of Terryville Road and Main Street (aka Route 112), traveling north there are proposals to build four multifamily housing communities.

Proposal 1 will be built at the shopping center where the post office is located. Proposal 2 will be built at the old Malkmes Florists on Oakland Avenue. Proposal 3 will be built on Cherub Lane. And Proposal 4 will be built adjacent to the railroad tracks on both the east and west side of Main Street. 

As a result of these proposed multifamily housing projects, our communities have requested an environmental impact statement and a comprehensive traffic study. Both requests have either been ignored or denied by the Town of Brookhaven.

This is not an anti-development letter. It is a shoutout to our Brookhaven elected officials to slow down the process of reviewing these proposed multifamily housing projects. 

It is time to perform the necessary studies to help us better understand how these proposed projects will affect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the current and future traffic patterns in our communities.

We have a right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and feel safe in our communities without worrying about increasing traffic on our neighborhood streets. It is time to complete the necessary studies so that we can better understand how these multifamily housing projects will affect our quality of life. 

Multifamily housing is not a cure all, and there are times when such projects cause detrimental quality-of-life issues that cannot be reversed.

Please slow down and complete the necessary studies.

Louis Antoniello

Terryville

Consider eminent domain for Maryhaven

In the United States, governmental bodies, at all levels from federal to a village, have an obligation to promote, and often provide, resources for the general welfare of their population. 

In Port Jefferson vacant land is becoming a precious resource for uses that could provide and promote our general welfare. To that purpose, governments have the authority to gain ownership of land through the process of eminent domain. 

Our village government held a public hearing on May 1 regarding a code change that would specifically allow a developer of the Maryhaven property to purchase the entire property, and construct as many as 192 condominium units. Special permission to do so is contingent on the builder’s willingness to maintain the outer walls of the existing historically important building known as the Maryhaven Center of Hope.

A building that was used for generations to help many in need — young children with severe disabilities, and later to house and aid those who required group living quarters, training for minimal paying jobs and other needs for their adult lives. 

Without dishonoring the building that served those with the greatest needs for survival, it is difficult to understand how the proposed code change aimed specifically at “saving” the Maryhaven building is achieved by gutting the structure for the creation of expensive condominiums, a clubhouse and a swimming pool within, all to serve a private luxury gated community.

How does the proposed code change honor those that spent their professional lives providing for those with the greatest needs for their survival?

The future of this land is of particular importance at a time when the effects of climate change, ushering in periods of rain beyond current capacity to mitigate the potential of severe flooding, threatens our fire department and, possibly in years to come, the accessibility of our current Village Hall. 

Now is the time to plan for a new Center of Hope with uses that promote and provide for the general welfare of those who follow us. The use of eminent domain to secure that property would honor the building and its grounds in service to the public, the fire department and village government operations.

Michael Mart

Port Jefferson

Local crime exposes bail reform dangers

In an effort to champion the successes of cashless bail, letter writer David Friedman cited a study done by the Data Collaborative for Justice [“Eliminating bail reduces recidivism,” TBR News Media, April 27]. Along the way he took the opportunity to make inaccurate personal assumptions about me, while criticizing respected Albany District Attorney David Soares [D]. In a clumsy effort to paint me as insincere, Friedman applies the term “crocodile tears.”

I’ve spent over three decades working with special needs and at-risk children ranging in age from preschool to high school. Responsibilities included teaching, meeting with parents and working with multidisciplinary teams that included probation officers, child protection specialists, social workers and psychologists. We had uplifting successes and heartbreaking disappointments. Tears, whether for joy or sorrow, were genuine.

Soares, shamefully silenced by his own party for condemning cashless bail, had a different take on much of the Collaborative Justice “data.” But an area where he could agree was the study’s very own “Summary and Conclusions.” Here were highlighted the dangers of “increased recidivism for people with substantial recent criminal histories.”

That terrifying scenario became reality in Suffolk County.

On April 24, Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney [R] announced the recent seizure of guns and narcotics: “Law enforcement was able to recover … approximately 268 grams of fentanyl, which could kill 134,000 people.’’

Tierney blamed bail reform laws: “Out of the 21 individuals arrested, we only got to seek bail on 11.” Consider that fact, knowing 350 of our neighbors died of fentanyl overdoses last year.

On May 11, Michael Lafauci, a six-year veteran assigned to the 6th Precinct’s Anti-Crime Unit, barely survived a gunshot wound. The alleged shooter was Janell Funderburke. Last August, he and three others were arrested after fleeing police, then crashing a 2018 BMW. Suffolk cops pulled them from that burning vehicle and, in the process, found a handgun and drugs.

Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association President Noel DiGerolamo linked Lafauci’s horrific wounding to what he considers New York’s failed bail reform law, saying this suspected gang member “should never been out on the street.” He continued, “An individual who one day is rescued by Suffolk County police officers … only … for him to attempt to kill one. This is what our leaders in Albany have created.”

Counting on those 10 enjoying a cashless bail release, as described by Tierney, after their drug bust to “reform”? Ask DiGerolamo, the two DAs and, most importantly, Officer LaFauci.

Jim Soviero

East Setauket

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Richard Rosenberg, left, and Michael Dubb, attorney and principal respectively at the Jericho-based Beechwood Organization during a May 1 public hearing at Port Jefferson Village Hall. Photo by Raymond Janis

Ten minutes before 6 p.m., every chair in the house was already taken. Behind the gallery, some sat on tables, others on desks. A standing crowd began to form. Younger attendees yielded their seats to their elder counterparts. All were in for a long night.

The board room at Village Hall could not contain the audience gathered on Monday night, May 1, for the Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees public hearing on the Maryhaven Center of Hope property on Myrtle Avenue.

“It’s great to see a full room,” said Mayor Margot Garant. “That means this community is engaged.”

The village board is considering modifying the zoning code and proposing an incentives package to encourage the historic preservation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings and structures.

The Maryhaven property is currently zoned as a Professional Office P-O District. Under the existing zoning code, an applicant within the P-O District can request a special-use permit for Moderate-Density Residence R-M District development.

Village attorney Brian Egan explained the motivations guiding these potential code changes.

The Maryhaven “building is certainly worth keeping,” he told the sea of residents in attendance. 

Convincing the owners of that building to preserve it, however, represents a quandary for village officials. The existing zoning code lacks a mechanism to sway developers toward historic preservation.

“There is no obligation to save that building,” Egan said.

The proposed code amendment would create such a mechanism — a special permit application. Egan referred to this application process as “another layer of control” for the village board, enabling it to designate specific parcels that contribute to the village’s architectural or aesthetic character.

If a parcel meets these criteria, determined by the Board of Trustees, then the applicant would qualify for “slightly relaxed standards” under the R-M code, Egan stated. 

In the previous week’s work session, they agreed those relaxed standards would be allowances for additional height and stories but no additional clearing — a tradeoff of density for historical preservation and conservation.

Developers from the Jericho-based Beechwood Organization, the firm negotiating with Catholic Health to acquire the Maryhaven property, attended the public hearing. Michael Dubb, principal at Beechwood, stated his intention to preserve the historic building on-site.

“It would be easier for me as the developer to knock that building down … but that wouldn’t be the right thing to do,” he said.

Richard Rosenberg, an attorney for Beechwood, expanded upon the firm’s vision for the site.

“The intention is to keep the original part of the structure, which is around 40-45,000 square feet, demolish the rest,” he said. “There is asbestos, there is lead-based paint. We have to clean it up according to regulations.” He added, “It’s a big ticket item.”

Public input

Following the presentations by Egan and Beechwood, the board took comments from the public. During that period, community members expressed a recurring message:

“I think the big problem that many of us have is density,” resident Eric Sackstein told board members. This general sentiment echoed throughout the evening.

Former village trustee Virginia Capon, who had chaired the Comprehensive Plan Committee, expressed her appreciation for the board in its willingness to preserve the historic structure.

But she objected to the board’s proposed remedy to the problem, suggesting that the board consider the village in its entirety before changing the zoning code.

“That building is beautiful, but I don’t think this is the way to preserve it,” she said.

The former trustee added that numerous other factors weigh into the Maryhaven calculation, such as its nearby steep slopes, which can cause issues with flooding. Capon advised the board to explore options that do not incentivize greater density.

“If you can come up with a way of preserving this building that maybe doesn’t overdevelop the parcel, that would be my recommendation,” she said.

Several other differing proposals were offered for the adaptive reuse of the site. Michael Mart, citing the flooding concerns over the Port Jefferson Fire Department building on Maple Place, proposed relocating the fire station to the higher elevation at the Maryhaven property. 

Another resident, Steve Velazquez, proposed selling Village Hall and headquartering the village’s municipal operations at Maryhaven.

Discussions over Maryhaven remain ongoing as the board left the public comment period open for 21 days following Monday’s meeting.

PJCA president Ana Hozyainova, center. Photo by Raymond Janis

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

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

East Beach bluff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flooding

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

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

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

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

Land use

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot from portjeff.com/opentodayvideo/

Over a decade since disbanding, the Port Jefferson Civic Association was back in action Monday, Jan. 9.

Eighteen village residents filled the Meeting Room of the Port Jefferson Free Library, discussing several pressing local issues and establishing their priorities as a body.

Michael Mart was a member of PJCA under its previous configuration. He shared a history of the organization and why village residents have banded together in the past.

“The history and importance of the Port Jefferson Civic Association, as I recall it, was to serve as a vehicle by which individuals come together,” Mart said. “Its concerns are essentially local in nature: streets, safety, recreation, parks and open government.”

He added the civic association “acts to represent opinions, concerns and agendas of its members to the local governing body.”

Mart said PJCA has functioned in various capacities in the past. At one time, it had produced a regular newsletter, held meet-the-candidates events, offered scholarships to local students and even took the village government to court.

PJCA was “a very active group,” Mart said. “It starts small here, like in this room, and makes itself known to other residents, offering to give voice to their concerns.”

The members of the newly formed civic gave introductions, outlined their reasons for joining and discussed their priorities. 

Ana Hozyainova, a 2022 candidate for village trustee, organized the event. She stated her goals for the civic body.

“I hope that we can have a group that can be a force for discussion and greater transparency in the village,” she said. 

Myrna Gordon discussed communications between the village and residents and other environmental themes. “I would love to see better transparency or communication and more of our village residents getting involved in the important issues that we face,” she said.

Other residents echoed the call for greater transparency within the village government. 

Among them, a 2022 trustee candidate for the Port Jefferson school board, Paul Ryan, identified a supposed divide between the public will and the decisions made by elected officials.

“Since I ran for the BOE last year, I’ve noticed a lot of disconnect between what people want and think is important and what is happening, the decisions that are being made,” he said. “I hope as a civic association, we can channel that voice more strongly and more effectively to make positive change.”

Suzanne Velazquez, candidate for village trustee in 2021, spoke of the “sense of apathy that has crept in” among residents. She also considered the civic association as fulfilling a necessary community end. 

“I have had a lot of good conversations about the need to revitalize the civic association,” the former trustee candidate said.

Holly Fils-Aime, president of the local environmental group EcoLeague, described continual development within the village as among her priorities. 

“We really have to consider how overdeveloped Long Island is,” she said, adding that residents must be vigilant about looking out for their forests, wildlife and the natural environment.

Steve Velazquez echoed this sentiment. He criticized the alleged overdevelopment of Upper Port, arguing that plans for the property that formerly accommodated PJ Lobster House are “not in character with this village.” Velazquez expressed a desire to see a “true historic district” within Port Jeff village.

In common, those in attendance voiced similar concerns over the perceived lack of transparency, environmental issues and the implementation of projects without resident input. Bluff stabilization at East Beach, according to Mart, encompasses each of these themes.

Referencing the $3.75 million the village recently received to construct an upper wall between the East Beach bluff and the Port Jefferson Country Club clubhouse, Mart said the money “is not the issue — the issue is that we didn’t get to vote on it.”

Also in attendance was guest speaker John Turner, conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society. He advocated for a villagewide open-space program along with a sustainability plan.

Turner pinpointed specific examples on Long Island of progress concerning the environment. He cited the novel irrigation system at Indian Island Golf Course in Riverhead, which uses wastewater from a sewage treatment plant to irrigate the golf course. 

“That wastewater is no longer dumped in the river and the bay,” Turner said. “The nitrogen is all taken up by the grass,” averting contamination of local surface waters. He suggested the village could explore comparable wastewater reuse opportunities.

He added, “The other beauty about this water reuse, from a water quantity perspective, is that we have water quantity challenges on the Island. … Using that water for the golf course means that 66 million gallons of water stay in the ground.”

Expressing her vision for the civic, Gordon said the organization could prevail so long as its members stay persistent. “You have to stay the course,” she said. “We can’t get tired. We have to support each other, we have to ask questions, and we have to go in front of our village trustees and ask, ‘What is going on?’”

File photo by Heidi Sutton/TBR News Media

The Port Jefferson Village Board met on Monday, Oct. 3, for an afternoon packed with important business. 

Business meeting

Mayor Margot Garant

For its first order of business, the board unanimously approved a bond anticipation note to finance construction for improvements at the Old Homestead/Oakwood Road recharge basin. The BAN will enable construction to begin without the village having to draw from its operating budget. 

This project, according to Mayor Margot Garant, is primarily subsidized through a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration. 

“We’re still waiting for the grant to come in from FEMA, but we have to pay the bill,” Garant said. “Hopefully, that money comes in before the end of the year.”

The board approved Garant’s appointment of Shane Henry to the Architectural Review Committee. Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden, trustee liaison to ARC, anticipated Henry’s expected contributions to the committee.

“He’s young, enthusiastic, and he wants to get more involved,” Snaden said. “I think he will be a great addition.” Garant added that she is looking forward to drawing from Henry’s contracting and historic preservation background.

Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden

With trustee Lauren Sheprow voting “no,” the village board approved a 4-1 resolution for the 2023 rate increases for the Port Jefferson Country Club. Stan Loucks, trustee liaison to the country club, said these rate increases are based upon a unanimous recommendation from the Country Club Management Advisory Committee. 

The rate increases, according to Loucks, will enable the country club to make renovations to bunkers, improvements to cart paths and cover other unforeseen expenses.

“The rates that have been presented will increase our revenue by $100,000,” Loucks said. “That is an … increase in the overall budget, which I feel — I hope — is adequate.”

Defending her vote against the resolution, Sheprow expressed uneasiness about membership rate increases. She advocated exploring and exhausting other options for raising revenue before placing added costs on members.

“When I was the chair of the CCMAC, I did not agree with raising membership rates because I felt like there was an opportunity to find new revenue … without putting the revenue on the backs of the members,” Sheprow said. “We’re playing on this product that isn’t the A-plus product that it’s been. It’s kind of a C-level product, and we’re asking our members to come back next year and pay more for something that they don’t have yet.”

General meeting

Trustee Stan Loucks

After a brief interim for an executive session, the trustees moved upstairs for the general meeting. During that time frame, there were several exchanges between the public and the village government.

Chief of code enforcement Fred Leute reminded residents to drive carefully on village streets as schools are again in session. He also reported a speeding issue on Brook Road near the high school. “Brook Road is not a road you want to go fast on,” he said. “When you go down that hill, slow down.”

A Suffolk County Police Department representative told Port Jefferson residents to remain alert to the ongoing crime trends of catalytic converter thefts and phone call scams. 

During her report, Sheprow announced that she would present findings from her internal communications audit at a future meeting. She also reported that the Country Club Social/Hospitality Task Force has already met several times and is working with the restaurant management of The Waterview to “create a more welcoming, accessible and fun environment up at the country club.”

Trustee Rebecca Kassay reported that she is continuing to coordinate with Snaden on a “complete streets concept” for Port Jefferson.

Trustee Rebecca Kassay

“I am highly recommending that the village looks into investing into a study, which can be anywhere between $30,000 and $80,000,” Kassay said. “This would be something that benefits all residents. It would assess how to make the village more walkable and potentially more bikeable as well.”

Loucks gave an update from the parks department regarding removing vessels from village racks. “The vessels need to be removed by November 1,” he said. 

Snaden announced her effort to coordinate more closely with the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District.

“We’re going to have quarterly meetings moving forward just to make sure that everyone is on the same page with their activities and their events,” the deputy mayor said. “We can all collaborate and bounce ideas off each other, let each other know what we’re all doing.”

Garant gave a detailed report on several significant initiatives within the village government. There are ongoing discussions about giving a proper name to Station Street, a block in Upper Port opening later this month. 

Trustee Lauren Sheprow

“There will be a conversation about what we should call this new street as the new gateway to Port Jefferson,” the mayor said. “We do have a ribbon-cutting on the calendar for October 26 … It will be a great new start to a total revitalization of Upper Port.”

Bids for an upper wall to stabilize the East Beach bluff are due this Friday, Oct. 7. Garant announced that once the board has the final cost estimates, it will decide whether to approve the upper wall or retreat inland. For more on this local issue, see The Port Times Record’s story, “Port Jeff mayor estimates $3M for upper wall, trustees debate erosion mitigation strategy at village country club,” Sept. 29 edition, also tbrnewsmedia.com.

During the public comment portion at the end of the meeting, village resident Michael Mart advised the board to consider the future instead of the past when deciding upon the East Beach bluff.

“Rather than put all of our efforts into saving the past, please look forward to creating the future that we might want here,” he said. “And in doing that, I think it’s important the residents have an opportunity to express their views on the final decision, and maybe even, like with the school board [proposed capital bond projects], have an opportunity to vote on the final decision.”

To watch the full video of the general meeting, visit the village’s official YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bwpxXtRxmA

The fate of the clubhouse at Port Jeff Country Club is uncertain. Photo courtesy of Port Jefferson Village

Debate around the future of the Port Jefferson Country Club intensified on Monday, April 4, when longtime local residents confronted the Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees during a public session.

Myrna Gordon and Michael Mart both condemned the board for moving ahead with plans to curb coastal erosion at East Beach without first holding a public forum, arguing that an issue of this magnitude requires greater public input. “The bluff touches every resident … and there should be a public forum for this,” Mart said. Gordon added, “This is an important issue in this village … and on this particular issue, the ball was dropped.”

Responding to these charges, Mayor Margot Garant said the bluff projects are time sensitive, requiring prompt action on behalf of the village before its permits expire.

“This is an area regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers and the [Department of Environmental Conservation],” Garant said. “The window of opportunity is closing because our permits are not going to be there forever.”

History of the country club

Philip Griffith, historian of PJCC and co-editor of Port Jefferson historical society’s newsletter, chronicled the history of the country club since 1908. According to Griffith, the club originated as a nine-hole golf course designed for the residents of Belle Terre.

In 1953 Norman Winston, a wealthy real estate developer, purchased 600 acres of land in Belle Terre and added nine more holes, establishing the Harbor Hills Country Club. In 1978 Mayor Harold Sheprow leased the Harbor Hills club for $1 and in 1980 village residents approved the purchase of the property for $2.29 million by voter referendum. In 1986 the club was renamed the Port Jefferson Country Club at Harbor Hills.

“The club is 114 years old and it is not private anymore,” Griffith said in a phone interview. “Once the village took it over, it opened membership to all residents of Port Jefferson. Membership pays a fee and they operate the club not by using the residents tax money, but by membership dues paid to the country club.”

Due to the erosion of East Beach, the clubhouse, which sits along 170 acres of village property with golf, tennis and parking facilities, is in danger of falling down the slope. Village residents and elected officials are now weighing their options. 

Man vs. Mother Nature

TBR News Media sat down with Mayor Margot Garant in an exclusive interview. She addressed the rapid erosion of East Beach, the precarious fate of the clubhouse and the measures her administration is taking to address this growing problem.

“This is a village asset,” Garant said. “We always say that the country club is one of the five crown jewels of the village and I feel I have to do everything I can — and I will continue to do so — to preserve that facility because I think that’s in the best interest of the community.”

Projects to combat erosion have been ongoing since 2015. Intense storms, such as hurricanes Irene and Sandy, prompted shoreline restoration efforts on behalf of the village. However, as officials addressed the damaged beach, they spotted an even more alarming trend along the bluff.

“We noticed that the bluff started to have chunks of land just kind of detach and start sliding down the hill,” Garant said. 

Malcolm Bowman, professor of physical oceanography at Stony Brook University and distinguished service professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said eroding bluffs have become commonplace for coastal communities along the North Shore.

“It’s a particular problem on the North Shore of Long Island because these bluffs are very steep, they’re very high and they’re made of what we call unconsolidated sand,” Bowman said in a phone interview. “In other words, it doesn’t stick together and it’s only held together by vegetation, which can be very fragile and can be easily eroded.” 

In 2018 Garant filed permit applications with the DEC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These applications were subjected to multiple rounds of modification, with the approval process lasting over three years. During that period, the bluff continued to wither away.

“Because there’s no protection of the slope, we lost 16 1/2 feet of property in three-and-a-half years, so now the [clubhouse] is in jeopardy,” Garant said.

Man-made efforts to resist erosion do not offer long-term solutions, according to Bowman. Nonetheless, coastal engineering projects can buy valuable time for communities before large swaths of territory get washed away to the sea.

“In the end it’s futile because, basically, you’re buying time,” Bowman said. “You can fight it and you may get another 50 years out of it. And you might say, ‘That’s almost a human lifetime, so therefore it’s worth it.’ The taxpayers of the incorporated village — they’re the ones who are paying for it — might say, ‘It will allow me to enjoy the club for another 50 years and my children, maybe.’” He added, “Beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess.”

In a unanimous vote, the Board of Trustees approved a $10 million bond on Nov. 15, 2021, to finance bluff stabilization. The entire project will be completed in two separate iterations: phase I to secure the towline of the bluff, and phase II to preserve the clubhouse.

Phase I: Lower wall

“Phase I is going to consist of hardening the toe of the bluff with steel riprap rock and some concrete, as well as the revegetation of the bluff itself,” said Joe Palumbo, village administrator. “We’re basically creating a seawall there to slow down, or prevent, any further erosion.”

In its initial permit application, the village planned to construct a 20-foot-high steel retaining wall that would run approximately 650 linear feet along the toe of the bluff. However, due to concerns about the wall’s length and height, DEC asked the village to scale down its proposal.

“Part of the modification of the permit required us to eliminate the steel wall for the portion of the property behind the tennis courts,” Garant said. “We originally wanted to go in — I’m going to estimate — 650 linear feet and they pulled it back to about 450 linear feet.” The mayor added, “We went a little back and forth with DEC, saying we don’t understand why you’re making us do that, but we’ll do it because I’m trying to get something started to protect the integrity of the bluff.”

Phase II: Upland wall

After a 4-1 vote to approve phase I, the board is now considering ways to protect its upland properties, including the clubhouse, tennis courts and parking lot. Phase II involves constructing an upland wall between the clubhouse and the bluff to prevent any further loss of property. 

“The upland project will consist of driving steel sheets into the ground behind the village’s [clubhouse] facility, extending past the courts on the lower side and the upper side,” Palumbo said. “Some revegetation in front of that wall and behind the wall will also take place. I believe the wall itself will extend out from the ground about 15 to 24 inches so as not to impede the view that exists there.” 

The Board of Trustees is also exploring the option of demolishing the clubhouse, a less expensive option than building the upper wall, but still a multimillion-dollar project due to the cost of demolishing the building and adding drainage atop the cliff. “I’m trying to get all of that information together to put on the table, so that we can make an intelligent decision about the upland plan while we proceed with advancing the installation of the toe wall,” Garant said. 

Weighing the options

Although the village’s acquisition of the country club was finalized by voter referendum, residents have not yet voted to approve phases I or II. Garant believes voters had a chance to halt these projects during last year’s election process.

“When the Board of Trustees voted 5-0 to borrow the $10 million, that’s when the public had an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute,’” Garant said. “I could have put it out as part of the election that’s coming up or had a separate vote, but the clock is ticking on my permits.” She added, “I feel I have the authority — and my board has the authority — to do these kinds of projects.”

During the interview with Garant, she agreed that bluff stabilization was an unforeseen expense when the village purchased the property. Asked whether the country club is a depreciating asset, Garant maintained that the property has been a lucrative investment.

“It’s not just the building [that we’re protecting], it’s all of the country club’s assets,” she said. “The parking lot is a tremendous asset. I’m trying to preserve some of the sports complexes up there and even expand on them.”

One of the central arguments made for preserving the clubhouse is that the country club raises the property values of all village residents, and that to lose the facility would hurt the real estate market. Jolie Powell, owner of Port Jefferson-based Jolie Powell Realty, substantiated this claim.

“What makes us unique here in the incorporated Village of Port Jefferson is that we are one of very few [villages] that offers these amenities,” Powell said in a phone interview. “It adds value to the community and to prospective homeowners because they want to live in a village that has a private beach, country club amenities and pickleball.” She added, “The country club is essential to a prospective buyer who comes to the village. … They’re looking for amenities and the golf course is huge.”

When asked about the potential costs to village residents, Powell offered this perspective: “I don’t know what that cost will be for the residents, but it will be nominal. Our taxes are so low to begin with compared to every other community.”

Another sticking point is the long-term prospect of golf as a recreational activity. Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Center for Socioeconomic Policy and author of “Long Island, The Global Economy and Race,” said the popularity of golf has waned in recent decades. He suggests any proposal related to the preservation of the clubhouse should also include a plan to boost recreational activity at the golf course.

“Golf is not as widely played as it was 30 years ago,” Cantor said in a phone interview. “If the village puts up a retaining wall, then it has to also have a development plan or a plan for how it’s going to generate economic activity to pay back the loan for the retaining wall.”

Responding to Cantor, Garant said the COVID-19 pandemic has helped to revive interest in the sport. “Prior to the pandemic, I would say that might be right,” the mayor said. “Since the pandemic, the sport is booming. That program up there is so robust that they have not only paid back the money they owed the village to help them run operations, but they’re now exceeding their budget and have money to put up netting.” She added, “Right now golf is the thing.”

Since bluff stabilization is closely linked to the activities at the country club, Cantor suggested that an economic feasibility study may add clarity to this issue, allowing residents and officials to determine whether preserving the clubhouse is in the fiscal interest of the village. 

“In terms of economics to the village, other than the rent, all of the money that gets paid in the golf club stays within the golf club,” Cantor said. “They have to do a feasibility study on the economics of keeping it open.”

Factored into this multivariable equation are also the qualitative benefits that the clubhouse may offer to the community. Griffith packaged the country club with the library, school district, public parks and other amenities that raise taxes but contribute to the character and culture of the village.

“These are things that add not only to the monetary value, but also the cultural and aesthetic value of the village,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to see those kinds of things eliminated. Each of these amenities — these assets — are wonderful values that make this village what it is.” He added, “It’s not just a home. You’re buying into a community and a community has to offer something beyond your own little piece of property, and that’s what Port Jefferson does.” 

Griffith added that he would like the issue to be put on the ballot so that residents have the final say. “I am in favor of having a public hearing on the matter and then having a public referendum. Let the people decide, just as they decided to purchase the country club.”

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Some residents and village officials object to a reduced recreation fee for private facilities at The Shipyard, here seen originally in construction. File photo by Alex Petroski

The Village of Port Jefferson has a lot of apartments on its plate, both those developments already settled into their foundations and those still in the hopper. 

So far, the experience for Port Jeff community members and officials alike has not left the greatest impressions.

Some points have become so contested that village officials voted to change the code to prevent similar experiences in the future.

The village held three public hearings Sept. 3 to propose changes to the village code. Two code changes were in direct response to complaints of the development of separate apartment complexes. One code change was for payment in lieu of parking and the other on what counts for reducing the recreational space fee owed to the village.

In the latter case, the village has moved to excise rooftop decks, patios and other common areas not accessible to the general public from being considered park or recreational facilities for the purposes of developers reducing the parkland fee paid to the village.

Mayor Margot Garant said the change has come after review of comments from the community, especially in regard to the fee paid by Tritec Real Estate Company, of which the mayor said is over $50,000, is still owed to the village.

“As we cannot enjoy the rooftop deck at Shipyard, we don’t think that should be taken into consideration when taking a calculation of the fee,” she said.

In August 2018, the village passed a resolution reducing the fee levied on Tritec for not including sufficient public green space, with the mayor arguing at the time the desire to have developers build amenities and green space for use by their tenants. At that time, Trustee Bruce Miller vehemently disagreed with the decision.

Just over a year since then, at the Sept. 3 meeting, Garant argued for a “bright line” code for the planning board to take into account in future developments, this time specifically pointing to the Tritec development for the code change.

Not all Port Jeff residents saw this as a complete victory. Michael Mart, a longtime Port Jefferson resident and regular watchdog, said he applauded the change, but argued the code as it previously stood could have been interpreted to prevent developments like Shipyard from getting recreation fees lowered for private amenities. 

“The planning board members shouldn’t make the difference because the code governs what the planning board does,” Mart said.

Garant disagreed. 

“[The recreation fee] was meant to make sure the village was getting an appropriate recreation fee for the stress that it puts on our public amenities,” she said. “Not to subtract the private amenities. I don’t think the language is strong enough as it exists to make that a protocol.”

Barbara Sabatino, a member of the planning board, said it had been informed the facilities would not be off limits to nonresidents.

“At the time we made that decision we were informed by Tritec that those outside decks that have view of the harbor could be accessed by the public, that it wasn’t Tritec residents only,” she said.

Representatives of Tritec did not answer multiple phone calls for comment.

Mart said the onus should not be just on Tritec for “pulling the wool,” but on the village and planning boards for not enforcing their vision of the code. 

The mayor said the village is still owed the fee from The Shipyard, which she added they can only pursue after the developer files the deeds with the Suffolk County Clerk’s Office. 

“I can’t really say when those deeds are recorded, but as far as I’m concerned, I want my money,” she said.

Also discussed in the meeting was a change to the code on payment in lieu of parking, citing another apartment development in the space that Cappy’s Carpets once occupied.

In a March public meeting, attorney’s representing Brooks Partners LLC, a subsidiary of Port Jefferson-based Gitto Group, said the Cappy’s Carpets project, known as Brockport, would have to pay for four spaces in payment in lieu of parking. The project is set to have 78 spaces of parking for its residents and for those working in the retail stores set to be located under the new apartments. 

The New York State Department of Transportation recommended removing two on-street parking stalls along Main Street for safer access to the property on Main Street. This did not sit well with some community members who saw it as a loss of parking spots in a village desperate for more lot space.

Garant attended that March meeting and agreed with those who criticized the project for the loss.

“But for that project we would still have two on-street parking spaces,” she said.

Bruce D’Abramo, the only board member to vote “no” on this code change, said it was out of the developers’ hands, having been ordered through the state DOT.

“In the case we are talking about the applicant who had no choice in this matter, it was the DOT who removed two on-street parking spaces on a state road that the village has no real control over anyway,” he said.

Mart, again, asked why the planning board did not make it a condition of their approval of the building’s site plans to mandate paying for the loss of the on-street spots.

“The planning board had the opportunity to make it a condition on the approval,” he said.

Chris Bianco, an attorney working on behalf of the village alongside Village Attorney Brian Egan, said the planning board would be on shaky ground if it made that a condition under the current code.

Garant acknowledged the change in code could present legal trouble down the road.

“I know everybody’s hands are kinda tied,” she said. “Somebody can certainly challenge me on that and take me to court, but I would rather be on the upside of that than downside of that.”