Three military daughters at three different Comsewogue schools were surprised by the early return of their father, Staff Sgt. William Flaherty, directly from Iraq.
Flaherty first stopped at Comsewogue High School to visit his oldest daughter, Taliah. High school principal, Mike Mosca, called her to his office. Her face immediately changed from a worried look to elation upon seeing her father.
“Staff Sergeant Flaherty is a longtime member of our Comsewogue family and a former CHS graduate,” Mosca said. “We were thrilled when he reached out to us with this request.”
Next, Flaherty went to Norwood Avenue Elementary School to see his daughter, Vienna, where he walked inside the cafeteria and greeted the excited kindergarten students. Finally, he was off to Boyle Road Elementary School to see his third daughter, Mia, and then down the hall to the universal pre-kindergarten class where his wife works.
“We have a deep respect for the military and family here in our community,” Superintendent of Schools Jennifer Quinn said. “It was a great day for all and not a dry eye in any of the three schools he visited.”
Kylie Schlosser is a sophomore at Comsewogue High School.
Huntington residents left a recent planning board meeting with a bad taste in their mouths, thanks to a proposal to build a Del Vino Vineyards winery directly next door to Norwood Avenue Elementary School.
Frederick Giachetti, owner of the 10-acre property, said in June that he wanted to grow grapes and open a 94-seat wine tasting room instead of subdividing the land into seven residentially zoned properties, which was the original proposal. Community members and the Northport-East Northport School District said they strongly disapproved of the plans due to safety and health concerns for students at Norwood Elementary during a Huntington Planning Board meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 3.
Attorney Carrie-Anne Tondo spoke on behalf of the school district and accused the applicant of not being “neighborly” by skipping several parts of the site plan review process typically requested by the planning board. But Attorney Anthony Guardino, who was representing the applicant, said Del Vino Vineyards is not required by the state to even submit a site plan. He said the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets does not recommend site plan approval for farm operations, including wineries.
“However, if a town does not follow that recommendation, and requires site plan approval, the dept. suggests that the site plan review process for farm operations be streamlined and expedited,” Guardino said in an email.
Guardino said that the school district was referring to requirements from a different type of classification under New York State’s Environmental Quality Review standards.
“Based on a NYS Dept. of Agriculture and Market’s publication…the application should be classified as a Type II action under SEQRA, which would make it exempt from the SEQRA review process altogether,” Guardino said. This includes a traffic study.
“The fact of the matter is we didn’t have to submit anything,” he said. “We’re here before you because we agreed to do the site review but we don’t have to be.”
Guardino said he suggested that if the planning board really wants these extra studies done, they should take it up with the state. But he said Del Vino Vineyards is “fully complaint with the law.”
The district’s biggest concerns included the winery’s hours of operation, pesticide uses, traffic problems, and student safety.
“The board of education takes very seriously the protection of the 365 students who attend the school,” Tondo said.
She also said a traffic study is currently missing from the vineyards site plan approval, and with a proposal of 60 parking spaces, a traffic study is “clearly warranted.”
According to Tondo, the school has bus traffic patterns on the weekdays, and on weekends, the school is used for many different events including soccer games and various club activities. So additional traffic in this area could have an adverse impact, she said.
Tondo also said the school would have a better understanding of how much traffic would be affected if the vineyard released its hours of operations, but they have yet to do so.
“All we’re asking for is full disclosure and transparency, which shouldn’t be issues if you’re looking to be a good neighbor,” she said. “I don’t know why there can’t be some compromise to alleviate concerns for hours of operations.”
Guardino said that the board does not have any power over the deciding for closing and opening hours.
“Hours are at the discretion of the owner within…this board can’t control that,” he said.
Student interaction with patrons at the vineyard was another concern, and Tondo asked if the vineyard is exploring security services. To this problem, Guardino said that building plans included a landscape buffer between the vineyard parking lot and the school, as well as a 10-foot deer fence, and he said he saw no instance where students would be able to converse with patrons.
Tondo also said the district would also like a notification of when Del Vino will be spraying pesticides on their crops because schools themselves are not usually allowed to apply pesticides to their grounds to prevent students from unnecessary exposure.
Guardino said that Giachetti plans to use “state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly pesticide applicators” that recycles whatever pesticides aren’t directly sprayed on a plant and has very little overspray.
Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he thinks this vineyard could be valuable to the town by providing more open space.
“We need open space and for someone from the outside to pay for it is a gift,” Trotta said. “Is this perfect? I don’t know. But I think that you have an opportunity here to work with this gentleman…and for us to preserve open space because once he sells that and builds houses it’s gone forever.”
Alice Abbate, a 25-year resident of Norwood road, presented a petition with more than 350 signatures against the vineyard. All four of her children walk to school everyday at Norwood Elementary.
“My children shouldn’t be afraid that there are 60 parking spaces they’re passing where people have been coming in and out after they’ve been drinking,” Abbate said. “When we bought our home 25 years ago, as did our neighbors, we bought it because it was in a nice quiet neighborhood on a street with a school. Maybe a winery is a good idea some other place.”
The soil at Norwood Avenue Elementary School is safe for children, an environmental engineer told the Northport-East Northport school board last week.
“I would expect concentrations in my own backyard would be very similar to what we found on the school property,” said Paul Lageraaen, the environmental services department manager for H2M architects + engineers.
Last month, the school board tasked Lageraaen’s firm with analyzing the school grounds to determine if the area had been contaminated with hazardous chemicals out of “an abundance of caution, and in response to low levels of contaminants found in the soil of a neighboring farming property proposed to be developed into a winery,” according to a statement from Superintendent Robert Banzer. Dust from a property that is proposed to be developed into a vineyard next to the school may have fallen on school grounds while the land was being cleared out, officials said. Lageraaen presented the firm’s findings at Wednesday night’s school board meeting.
Of the dozens of herbicides, metals and pesticides tested, only one was discovered at noteworthy concentrations. Arsenic, a common ingredient in pesticides before it was banned in 1991, was found at moderate levels in the northwest corner of the school. The proposed vineyard property is along the school’s eastern border.
This was not a great concern to Lageraaen.
H2M tested its soil samples against New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation Regulations Part 375. According to these regulations, residential areas should have a maximum arsenic concentration of 16 parts per million (PPM). The sample from that corner of the school was analyzed at 17 PPM. This was one of 16 samples taken from across the school grounds. The rest all tested below this level.
Lageraaen pointed out that regulations are not an actual limit.
“It’s defined as an objective,” he said. “It’s not a hard and fast action level.” This is because there isn’t a definitive consensus for what that level should be. For example, New Jersey regulations say that 19 PPM should be the maximum concentration for residential areas.
But the key finding Lageraaen cited was that were was no sign that soil around the school had been moved, disturbed or contaminated by a dangerous chemical.
“The soils that are at Norwood school are the same soils that have been there for 60 years,” he said. “If I found an area where suddenly arsenic or some other compound was at 100 PPM and everything else was at 15 PPM, then you have to be concerned.”
Once the presentation was finished, David Badanes, vice president of the school board, asked the central question for the board.
“I guess the bottom line question is this: Are the children that are going to play at Norwood safe?”
“Yes,” said Lageraaen, who also coaches community soccer at the Northport fields. “I have no qualms about returning there to coach or my kids playing on those fields.”
In closing out the discussion, board President Andrew Rapiejko said that the board has been in contact with the town about the proposed vineyard, and encouraged concerned community members to do the same.
In a phone interview on Thursday, Fred Giachetti, who owns the property and wants to develop it into a vineyard, stressed that he has contacted local officials and experts to ensure the property is managed responsibly.
“I have never been irresponsible and reckless in my whole life,” he said. “I’m a graduate of Northport High School. My wife and I have been trying to do something that is bringing back the agrarian traditions of our community because we have a great interest in it and a family history. We think it’s a wonderful idea — instead of building more McMansions or condos or townhomes, we could try and bring something back to the community that we’ve lost.”
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