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Open Space

Republican Party nominee Edward Flood and incumbent state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). Photos by Rita J. Egan

In New York’s 4th Assembly District race, incumbent Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is up against Republican Party challenger Edward Flood. During an office debate with TBR News Media, the two candidates confronted various issues, from affordability to the environment, prescription drug costs and more.

Introductions

Before entering government, Englebright was a trained geologist, museum curator and educator. He served as a Suffolk County legislator and then ran for the state Assembly, where he has served since 1992. 

He is chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation. He said he is running for reelection to continue his work promoting clean air and water, among other legislative issues. 

Flood is a practicing attorney based in Port Jefferson. He is also an assistant town attorney for the Town of Brookhaven, where he tries quality-of-life cases and environmental crimes. He said he is running because he has observed changes in the area’s cost of living and heightened public safety concerns, and seeks to rectify those issues.

LIRR electrification

On the subject of electrifying the Port Jefferson Branch line of the Long Island Rail Road, Englebright advanced his multiphased approach. First is cleaning up any remaining contamination of the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site, a 126-acre property at the core of the electrification plan.

The assemblyman then favors moving the terminus of the North Shore line onto the Superfund site, enabling a new rail yard to support the electrification process. 

“At this point, we have something that has transformational potential for the entire region,” he said. “We should be looking at this as what it is, which is a regional, statewide and even national model.”

Flood agreed with Englebright, referring to electrification as “the common sense thing to do.”

“It’s kind of a win-win because it will reduce contaminants going into the air … and it will also help speed up the process of getting rid of the Superfund site,” he said. “Like any other project with the MTA, the MTA drags their feet.” The challenger added, “I think we get the short end of the stick with them as Suffolk County residents, where they like to have our money but don’t like to give us a seat at the table.”

Declining student enrollment

One of the critical issues facing policymakers of this region is declining student enrollment in school districts throughout the area.

For Englebright, attracting families with students requires cutting costs where possible. He cited the Comsewogue School District, which put solar panels on top of the Terryville Road Elementary School, as an example of exploring creative ways to limit costs within the district.

“That was an experiment of sorts,” the assemblyman said. “That installation was completed in ‘96. Today it’s saving that school district $40,000 a year, just that one roof.”

Flood held that attracting and keeping families with children on Long Island is a matter of lowering the cost of living.

“I think that’s the overwhelming reason why you’re seeing a decrease in enrollment,” he said. “The only way that’s going to change is if we can make Long Island a more affordable place for the youth to stay. … We have to make Long Island more affordable so people can afford to raise families here.”

Affordable housing 

The problem of affordability is not limited to the youth, according to Englebright. He advocated expanding affordable housing options to those living beyond or entering retirement age.

“Part of the housing issue is not only providing housing for young people but also for the pioneers of suburbia who now have three or four empty bedrooms in the house,” he said. “They need housing opportunities that will, in turn, enable them to stay in the community, so we don’t lose them.”

To remedy the housing and unaffordability problem, Flood supported exploring more opportunities for mixed-use development. “We do need to find cheaper housing,” he said. “Going to a Fairfield, or something like that, where they’re just going to build these giant complexes and charge astronomical fees … doesn’t really do much for our community.”

Englebright added that the housing crisis is linked to the ability of Albany to support the creation of new jobs. “The issue of housing continues to be a barrier,” he said. “The antidote to that is developing new jobs so that people can afford to stay. Too many young people are just priced out.”

For Flood, the state government can support local communities by lowering taxes. “I do believe on a statewide level that we can reduce the tax burden by canceling contracts that are no longer effective, doing a better job with how we spend money,” he said.

Prescription drugs

Flood was given the opportunity to respond to a letter to the editor published last month criticizing his platform on prescription drugs. [See letter, “Flood’s dangerous rhetoric on prescription drugs,” The Port Times Record ePaper, Oct. 6.]

Responding to this critique, Flood said his platform acknowledges the realities of business. “The only way to reduce the cost to the citizenry is to reduce some of the costs to the manufacturer,” he said. “Obviously, you can sue — and you can still sue for massive amounts — but the insurance for what pharmaceutical companies are paying is astronomical.” 

He added, “It’s not saying that the individual, if there was an issue, wouldn’t be compensated. It would just be that it’s a common-sense measure to say that they can’t increase the cost to the pharmaceutical companies so much that they have to, in turn, turn it around on you [the consumer].”

Englebright retorted Flood’s position: “My distinguished opponent is obviously biased toward business,” the assemblyman said. “I was not surprised by the answer, but what we really need is, if we’re going to have a benefit of doubt, it should be in the direction of the consumer.”

Environment

The candidates debated some of the pressing environmental phenomena unique to the area. Englebright firmly supported the continued preservation of open spaces.

“If you preserve open space in a community plan, that allows open space to give its benefits, including environmental benefits to nearby streams from runoff,” he said. “Many of the woodlands that have not been built [upon] deserve preservation.”

Tangentially related, communities along the North Shore are experiencing the effects of eroding bluffs and cliffs. Most notably, the Village of Port Jefferson is deciding on a proper action plan concerning the village-owned country club atop the East Beach bluff.

Englebright did not favor manmade efforts to armor these bluffs. “The entire coastline is a dynamic reality,” he said. “Port Jefferson would be wise to reconsider the advice that they’ve been given by the engineers that they’ve hired. Engineers tend to think they can fix it.”

He expressed his support for the upcoming $4.2 billion state environmental bond act: “We need that money. About a third of it will be for coastline stabilization and activities that are related to climate change.”

Flood also supported the bond act, stating, “I agree with the bond act, and I agree we need something to step in.”

As for the eroding cliffs, he said he would follow the expertise of scientists. “I would rely a lot upon the advice of those people who are scientists, the people who work in this field every day and come up with a solution.”

Partisanship/polarization

In a period of intense partisanship and polarization at all levels of government, the candidates offered their favored approach to working across party lines and building common ground.

Flood said many issues confronting the state government do not lend themselves to vehement policy disagreements. He attributed the lack of bipartisanship to an inability of legislators to treat each other with respect.

“At the end of the day, people want safe streets, they want economic opportunity for their children, people want clean water and clean air, people want an ability to advance their careers,” Flood said. “Two people are able to sit across the table from each other and express their ideas. Maybe they don’t agree, but they can do it in a fashion that is respectful of each other.”

Englebright said his record indicates that he “keeps an eye on the prize,” not allowing partisanship to get in the way of progress for his constituents. He invoked his productive working relationship with former state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) as the kind of work that can occur when policymakers check their party affiliation at the door.

“The prize is getting things done for the people that sent you [to Albany],” he said. “I actually enjoy working across the aisle. When Senator LaValle was there, we did a whole variety of really important bills.”

The assemblyman added, “If somebody is also willing to pursue the objective of the overarching public benefit and set partisanship aside, I will be the first to work with them.”

Voters will decide upon their preferred state Assembly candidate for the 4th District on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Brookhaven Town councilman on redeveloping the Middle Country Road corridor

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), above. Photo from Brookhaven Town website
Part I

Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) has worked on several major initiatives during his time at Town Hall. In Part I of this two-part interview, LaValle discusses the recent completion of paving projects in Selden, the need for sewers on Middle Country Road, his background in government and the influence of his family on his decision-making. 

Could you discuss the recent paving projects completed in Selden and your ongoing work with the Town Highway Department?

Well, that is a major, major issue in my area. I have the smallest geographic area in the whole town. Our districts are broken up by population — about 80,000 people in each district — but my area is a very dense, compact area. What that means is that, obviously, I have a lot of roads, a lot of neighborhoods, a lot of businesses.

One of the things that we did a few years ago was that we made a commitment that we were going to spend $150 million on the town end, which is $15 million a year for the next 10 years, in paving. We made a pledge to the community that that’s what we were going to do to try to help the infrastructure in the town. We’ve been on target with that.

How have you coordinated with Suffolk County to bring sewers into downtown areas within your district?

That is absolutely crucial for the growth of the business community in Centereach and Selden along the Middle Country Road corridor. Hundreds and hundreds of businesses that run up and down this road are unsewered, and even the houses there, every one has a cesspool.

Our big issue on Middle Country Road is that if you look at these lots, they’re all half-acre and acre lots. So what can you build on it? You can’t really get the nice restaurants that other areas have, and that hinders how we can develop and how we can move forward.

We’ve had a lot of success in redeveloping a lot of these lots throughout this corridor, but bringing [sewers] here allows us to take some of these beat up lots and have developers come in and combine them and build something new, whether it’s a two-story office building or a nice restaurant. Because with that sewer capacity, you have the ability to do that.

That’s really why it will be a huge game changer for this area. It will bring good new development down the road. When I was with [the late Suffolk County Legislator] Tom Muratore [R-Ronkonkoma], we kind of started that process to get the sewers going. Now [county Legislator] Nick Caracappa [C-Selden] has jumped into office and it’s really getting supercharged right now.

The county is going to be setting this up, but it gives the town the option — because I deal with rezoning — to be able to start talking to property owners and say, “Hey listen, we have sewers coming down here. If you put this lot together and this lot together, then we could do this.” That’s when you really start getting some exciting opportunities with new businesses and various other things that we want to come into the area.

To follow up, what is your organizational philosophy toward commercial redevelopment?

I think the big key is that when you look up and down the road, we have some small lots that are a quarter-acre or a half-acre — all beat up properties. Right now, anybody coming in and buying them asks, “What can I really do with them?”

Take a look at the property values on Middle Country Road. Some 37,000 cars drive down the portion of Middle Country Road in my area every single day; 37,000 is a massive number — a lot of cars. And great property values. It’s prime real estate, but for developers to come in, you need to have the sewer capacity to be able to build a two-story building on an acre lot, and right now you can’t do that.

If you’re a developer, you have to spend money to buy the property, then money to build it, and then you have to be able to rent it to make your money back. Let’s be very honest about it. That’s what developers do. That’s what businesspeople do, they’re here to make money. So you have to be able to attract them in. By giving them sewers, you will then give them the capacity that their money will go out to redevelop, but it’s also going to come back to them because they’ll be able to bring in new businesses.

We’ve come a long way in the last nine years. The big thing for me as far as developing properties is developing that relationship with the business owners and the property owners, being a straight shooter, telling them, “Hey, this is going to work and this is not going to work.” It’s about not wasting people’s time.

A mentor of mine once asked me, “What’s the most important thing in business?” At the time, I was young — like 24 or 25 — and I said money. He said, “No, not even close.” The most important thing in business is time. If you’re a service provider, it’s the time from when your order is made to when you provide that service to your client. Or if you’re a builder, it’s the time it takes to buy the property, to get through the zoning process and to finish off building. If it takes more time, it’s going to cost you more money.

For me, I like to be a straight shooter with the developers, with the property owners, with the businesspeople, and say if it’s not a realistic concept, don’t string people along, just tell them. If it is a realistic concept, then how can we get you from point A to point B? How can we get you from when you buy the property to when you develop the property?

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

I started off many years ago, after I graduated college, as chief of staff for Dan Losquadro [R] when he was a [county] legislator many years ago [and is now town highway superintendent]. I worked with Dan for about two years and then I went into the private sector — I owned a title agency for about four years. We have since sold that business and I went into the mortgage business, which I still do to this day.

During that time a bunch of years back, I was asked to come back part time to the [county] Legislature to work for Tom Muratore. He was about a year into the job and was trying to figure out his way a little bit. I decided to come back and I was with Tom for about three years. Then the opportunity to run for Town Council came up.

I never really thought that I would run for office, even though my family had been in office. I didn’t think that was what I wanted to do, but I had a lot of friends and family and people in the community come up to me — because they saw all the work that I was doing with Tom — and they said, “Listen, you do a great job and we really need you to run for the Town Board. We think you could do a great job here.”

I took that run back in 2013 and I was fortunate to get elected. I’ve been a sitting town councilman ever since. It’s been nine years of working on a lot of things within the district and it’s really something that I’ve grown to love and enjoy.

How has your family shaped your approach to public service?

My brother, John [Jay LaValle (R)], was a town councilman and a town supervisor. My cousin, Ken LaValle [R-Port Jefferson], was a state senator for over 40 years. They had very different styles when they were in office. When I was a kid, I watched how they worked.

Ken was very statesmanlike in the way he went about things. John was very aggressive and would take care of business and kind of push things and run around with a lot of energy. I kind of look at both of them and have learned from both styles.

I think there are opportunities to be aggressive when you have to push things and show excitement, like my brother John. I also think there are other opportunities when, like my cousin Ken, you have to sit back, listen, take it all in, really understand the situation, and do your homework to make sure that you know what you’re talking about. I think both of those styles kind of mesh with who I am.

Part II

For over a decade, Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) has worked on the Selden Park Complex. Now he can see the finish line. In Part II of this two-part interview, the councilman reflects upon the role of parks, open spaces and the mentorship of the late Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), under whom LaValle served as legislative aide.

What is the status of the Selden Park Complex?

Now this is something that I’ve been working on since I was aiding Tom Muratore 12 years ago. This is going to be the largest park in the Town of Brookhaven — 24 acres that we’re breaking ground on.

Heritage Park [in Mount Sinai] is a park that’s at the end of County Route 83. When we started talking about this with the community years ago, people said, “That’s something we want. Can we do that?” And now we’re right there.

Phase I was to bring back the two Little League fields near Grace Presbyterian Church. I actually grew up playing baseball on these fields. Grace used to lease them to the Little League, but then Grace was having issues with its insurance, so [the fields] went fallow. We were able to work with the county to buy this property. The deal was cut so that the county would buy the properties and the town would develop them. Veterans [Park] used to be a baseball field. We then came in, redid it, and now it’s a multipurpose field for all the kids. That was Phase II.

We just broke ground recently on the third and final phase, the biggest phase that we have going on here. We’re building two additional baseball fields, a basketball court, pickleball courts, playgrounds, a concession stand, shade shelters throughout, a storage facility for our guys and batting cages. And for the first time in the town’s history — and I always like to be the first guy — I was the first guy to pickleball and now I’m going to be the first guy to roller and deck hockey.

This really comes back to my childhood growing up in Centereach. We had two deck hockey and roller hockey rinks, and I would play deck hockey with my friends. We talked about it and said, “You know what? This is a good idea. Let’s bring this back to the community.” It will be the first time ever that we’re bringing that back.

I kind of refer to this as a generational park. This is where we hope that families that come to the area will walk their children around in strollers around the walking trails. Then when they get a little bit older, they bring the kids over to the playgrounds. Then they get a little bit older and play any kind of sport, whether it’s softball, baseball, lacrosse, soccer … whatever sport they want. Then the kids go off to college, and hopefully they come back to the community where they’re going to be doing the same thing and raising their families using this facility.

What is your office doing to protect open spaces?

Just this past year in the Centereach/Selden community, right on the corner of Old Town Road and County Route 83, there’s a parcel over there that we just made a preserve. That happened to be a town property, and we saw an opportunity to kind of protect it and consider it a nature preserve.

That’s something that I think is really important that we do and that we continue to do as a township. You have to keep in mind that our drinking water is extremely important to what we’re doing — it’s right under our feet. And protecting our lands protects that drinking water. Bringing sewers protects that drinking water, so that’s a critical issue for us.

What do you foresee as the long-term impact of bringing more public funds into the Middle Country area?

It’s one of the reasons I ran for office nine years ago. I grew up in this area, and I can tell you the sentiments of people back then. Generally, we were looking around at all these other communities and watching what they were building — money going here, they’re building a park there, preserving property over here. They said, “This guy’s getting this, they’re getting that, and what are we getting? Are we getting our fair share here?”

That’s something I focus on every day, about how we can rebuild and what money we can bring in. Bringing in new development is one thing — the town doesn’t put money into that. I have to go out and recruit people and work with businesspeople. But making sure our parks are up to par, making sure we’re getting extra money for our roads, these are things you are required to do as a town councilman.

As far as parks go, in my time here, we really have run through all of our parks. We have built a dog park since I’ve been here. We rebuilt Iroquois Avenue Park [in Selden] completely — the walking trail, everything is getting redone.

I grew up less than a mile from the Centereach Pool Complex. When I was a little kid, I would go up and play basketball. When I got elected, the backboards at Centereach Pool were rusted out and the ground was broken up on the basketball courts. It had been just horrendous. Since I’ve been in office, we’ve redone the basketball courts. We’re the first facility to have pickleball, we’ve built sun shelters, we’ve rebuilt the bathrooms and redone the walking trail.

Can you describe the mentorship of Tom Muratore and his influence on you now?

Tom was an unbelievable guy. We were a good team. He was the vice president of the [Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association] before he became a legislator. He was a soft-spoken guy, wasn’t the kind who was flashy or who would always jump to the mic. That wasn’t Tom.

Tom was a guy who liked to work with people and had the biggest heart of anybody I’ve ever known in politics. He just cared for everybody, didn’t need to get credit for things, just wanted to make the community a better place.

He hired me when I was young and aggressive, bouncing off the walls with a lot of energy. And he was a great mentor because he would look at me sometimes and just say, “Kevin, we can pass it today and just push it through, or we can pass it tomorrow with everybody’s consensus.” Or say, “Let’s take our time and get everybody on board.”

I’m an aggressive guy. I like to keep moving and get things going. Tom kind of put the brakes on me. He taught me to take a little extra time to build that extra consensus, making sure everybody’s on board. There were just so many different lessons that I learned from him.

Next year, when we open up [the Selden Park Complex], it will be weird not to have him here. But I know he’s looking down with a big smile on his face, and he’s glad we’re going to finish this out for the community. Something we started together.

From left, Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner, Suffolk Legislator Sarah Anker and Town Supervisor Ed Romaine join together Nov. 23 announcing the purchase of property for open space in Mount Sinai. Photo by Kyle Barr

Town of Brookhaven and Suffolk County officials are combining efforts and funds to protect 15 acres of wooded property in Mount Sinai. The land combines with previous purchases to save a total of nearly 60 acres of land from any potential development now or in the future.

The $1,653,300, 15 acres purchase, which was formerly owned by the Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai, is in addition to 44.3 acres that had been acquired by both parties in 2014. The purchase was made based on a county bill passed in 2017.

“My hope is that purchasing this parcel will help protect the environmental integrity of the area and provide our community residents with another county park to visit and enjoy the natural beauty of Long Island,” Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said at a Nov. 23 press conference announcing the purchase. “We’re happy to see government at different levels working together — this is how you get things done.”

The county is picking up 75%, or $1,239,975 of the cost, while the town is covering 25%, or $413,325 of the total. The money used to purchase the land was taken from accounts meant to preserve open space. Officials said the property was at risk of being bought and developed on.

Anker added that with the current pandemic, the county has seen a rise in the number of people visiting parks and adding more land will only increase residents’ options. 

The now fully acquired 59.3 wooded acre lies over a groundwater aquifer and is within the watershed of the Long Island Sound national estuary, serving as a source of freshwater for the estuary system. 

Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said he was also happy to partner with Suffolk in such land preservation deals, as with the combined funds they have “the financial resources to ensure this happens.” The deal also means nobody can come in to develop on the property.

“We want Brookhaven town to look like Brookhaven town, and not like Queens,” he said. “The way we do that is by saving our groundwater, preserving our open spaces and having habitats for animals — along with all the things that are important to protecting our shoreline.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said the land holds a unique significance to her family. Her husband, John Sandusky, grew up in Mount Sinai and traveled those woods as a young man.

“We’ve seen a whole lot of development,” Bonner said. “Some of it good — most of it bad … the last thing Long Island needs is another housing development and more traffic.”

The Little Portion Friary, bordering the new land purchase, was bought by Hope House Ministries back in 2015 and is now being used to help people fight addiction.

Both county and town reps touted open space purchased using joint ventures between the two municipalities, including Cordwood Landing County Park in Miller Place and Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. The county has recently purchased other parkland in the local area, including Pine Lake in Middle Island and Chandler Estate in Mount Sinai.

The next step, Anker said, is to clean up some of the trails in the newly purchased parkland. 

The area east of Comsewogue High School and south of Route 112 will be protected under new legislation. Image from Google Maps

A Suffolk County legislator is looking to protect Port Jefferson Station and Terryville’s groundwater, and if her plan reaches completion, it will also preserve a massive chunk of green space.

The county passed a bill sponsored by 5th District Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) Oct. 3 that allows Suffolk to begin seeking appraisals from landowners of 62 separate properties within the Terryville Greenbelt, an approximately 75-acre plot of land, of which about 40 acres has already been preserved by Town of Brookhaven through open space land acquisitions.

The town is allowed by law to acquire open space based upon environmental sensitivity. Hahn’s bill allows for the appraisal of about 17 acres of the remaining unprotected land within the parcel, designated as a special groundwater protection area, located south of Route 112 and adjacent to the rear of Comsewogue High School. The bill requires signing by County Executive Steve Bellone (D) before it becomes law; then further legislation will be required to complete the purchases.

“For the past 50 years the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville community has worked to offset its rapid growth with safeguards of its quality of life and environment,” Hahn said in a statement. She also serves as the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee. “Protecting these parcels, located within a special groundwater protection area in perpetuity highlights the continued commitment of Suffolk County to being a partner in this careful balance that ensures not only the local environment but also our resident’s quality of life.”

The plan has been in the works since 2003, when Terryville resident and preservation proponent Louis Antoniello began advocating for the protection of the greenbelt. After years with minimal action, in 2010, with support from former Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko (D) and former Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld (D-East Setauket), Brookhaven purchased 16 parcels of open space within the Terryville Greenbelt for $648,000.

“The dream of creating a greenbelt around Comsewogue High School started back in 2003 — we never gave up on the dream and now the dream is going to become a reality,” Antoniello said in a statement. “The preservation of the property helps to protect our drinking water; creates an ecosystem for the many species of animals that make the greenbelt their home and it creates a living biology classroom for the children in the Comsewogue school district.”

Antoniello, who thanked Hahn and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for their efforts in advancing the legislation during a phone interview, said the preservation of the land is important because it filters more than a million gallons of water per year that then proceeds into an aquifer, which holds much of the area’s drinking water. Antoniello also served as chairman of the Land Use, Parks and Open Space Committee for a 2008 Port Jefferson Station/Terryville hamlet study done in cooperation with the town.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, nearly all of Long Island’s drinking water comes from underground aquifers.

Charles McAteer, chairman of the Setauket to Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail and also advocate for the preservation of open space, spoke in favor of Hahn’s bill.

“It is good to see more acres set aside to remain as Long Island woods for future generations to enjoy,” he said in an email. “This will allow the treed land to filter down rainwater to our Long Island aquifer system. It is a win-win for all of us in the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville hamlet.”

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The Gentlemen’s Driving Park is currently overgrown and hidden, but will soon be restored. Photo by Elana Glowatz

By Elana Glowatz

Officials are on track to restore a piece of Long Island history, bringing an abandoned and forgotten horse-racing site back to life.

The Cumsewogue Historical Society has a ticket to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park from July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz
The Cumsewogue Historical Society has a ticket to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park from July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Brookhaven Town finished purchasing a swath of wooded land off of Canal Road in Terryville at the end of 2013, after Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith discovered the faint outline of the horse track and dug up information about what was once called the Gentlemen’s Driving Park. The town now owns the entire 11-acre site.

Today it’s an overgrown path hidden among trees, but the Gentlemen’s Driving Park used to be a place where Victorian Era bettors watched men race around the half-mile loop — counterclockwise — behind horses in carts called sulkies. It was part of a circuit of harness racing tracks in the Northeast, according to Smith, but likely fell into neglect with the rise of the automobile.

But cars have also helped keep the track viable: Smith previously reported that at least through the mid-1950s, kids raced jalopies around the track, preventing it from becoming completely overgrown.

Smith said on Monday the effort to restore and preserve the track is moving slowly, but there has been progress since the town finished acquiring the property. There are plans in place to clear the track to about 20 feet wide, although leaving larger trees in place, and to move up the southern curve of the oval, he said.

Jack Smith takes a closer look at a wrecked car on the Gentlemen's Driving Park track around the time he first discovered the forgotten historical spot. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Jack Smith takes a closer look at a wrecked car on the Gentlemen’s Driving Park track around the time he first discovered the forgotten historical spot. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Currently, a small PSEG Long Island facility cuts into that southern tip. Rather than moving the facility or leaving the track incomplete, the town would retrace that small section of track, slightly shortening the loop but completing the oval so as to make a walkable path for visitors.

“The town is in the process of working on the track to restore the track as closely to the original footprint as possible,” Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said in a statement this week. “There will be some adjustments needed and the town is actively working on that.”

If all goes according to plan, the councilwoman said, the restored track could open late in the summer or early in the fall.

“The important thing is that it will be an oval,” Smith said Monday. “We want to keep some of the historical integrity.”

His goal is to put informational signs around the track that will teach people about its history.

The Gentlemen’s Driving Park is currently overgrown and hidden, but will soon be restored. Photo by Elana Glowatz
The Gentlemen’s Driving Park is currently overgrown and hidden, but will soon be restored. Photo by Elana Glowatz

The driving park was adjacent to well-known horse trainer Robert L. Davis’ Comsewogue stables, now the Davis Professional Park. After hearing rumors of such a track in Terryville, Smith discovered it by looking at an aerial image of the neighborhood taken during the winter, when the foliage was less dense. He saw the faint shape in the woods near Canal Road and went walking in to find it. Since that visit, he has uncovered a broken pair of Victorian-era field glasses near the finish line on the track’s west side, which may have been dropped and trampled. He also has a ticket from a racing event on July 4. 1892.

Once restoration work is completed, Cartright said the town hopes to work with the historical society and the community “to hold a kickoff event to highlight the track and its history.”

For his part, the historical society president has said he would like to hold a fair in which people will re-enact the late 1800s horse races with vintage sulkies or participate in a carriage parade.

“We can’t be happier that it’s been preserved,” Smith said.

The Friends of Cordwood are trying to preserve the Cordwood Landing Nature preserve. Photo by Giselle Barkley

After years of frustration, the Friends of Cordwood Landing have had enough.

On Thursday, Oct. 15, the group had a rally alongside residents, environmental activists and elected officials to fight for the preservation of a parcel of land next to the Cordwood Landing Nature Preserve, a county park in Miller Place. The rally was held to help the Friends of Cordwood find a different means of acquiring the land after the group hit a standstill with county legislators.

According to Tom Cramer, one of the founding members of Friends of Cordwood Landing, any resolution regarding the purchase of property must go through the county legislator — Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai). Cramer said getting in touch with Anker regarding this issue was difficult when he and the Friends of Cordwood attempted to get an appraisal for the property.

The interaction ended with the Friends of Cordwood turning to Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). Cramer said Hahn helped the group push the resolution through, and an appraisal was done for the property.

While Cramer said Anker didn’t follow up with the group’s initial resolution proposal, Anker said she did all that she could to assist the organization. The resolution was Anker’s first piece of legislation, according to an email from her office. Her office also said the county did an appraisal of the property. The county offered $783,000 to the original owner of the parcel and the owner refused the offer. In September of 2014, Mark Baisch, the developer, purchased the property for $750,000.

Cramer said Baisch asked for $1.25 million for the approximately 5.5-acre property, and they increased the appraisal to $930,000. After Baisch refused this offer, Cramer claims Anker said Baisch and the Friends of Cordwood were in collusion with one another and were attempting to defraud the county. Cramer said they were not.

Anker denied the idea that Baisch and the Friends of Cordwood were working together.

With the tension between those involved, Baisch refused to sell the property to the county and is currently in the process of going through the town to handle the matter. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) attended the rally last Thursday. According to Cramer and Bonner, Romaine was promising to pay 30 to 35 percent of the property’s cost.

“In our mind, it’s illogical to build houses near a nature preserve,” Bonner said about Baisch’s plan to put houses on the property. She added that the wildlife in the area would be affected.

In a phone interview, Anker said her goal was to help preserve the property, as it is one of the last few tracks of land in the North Shore area that needs to be preserved. According to Cramer, many residents thought the property was part of the Cordwood Landing county park, which lies adjacent to the piece of property.

Now it’s simply a waiting game, as Baisch waits for his plan for the property to be approved by the town.

Bonner said the town is working on it.

“We are ready, willing and able partners … [the property] has always been on our radar,” Bonner said in a phone interview. “It will make a wonderful addition to the Cordwood Landing.”

Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Huntington Town Board is considering partnering with Suffolk County to buy the development rights of a Greenlawn Christmas tree farm.

The board held a public hearing on Tuesday to discuss a plan to buy a conservation easement and the development rights of the Tilden Lane Farm on Wyckoff Street in Greenlawn. The Tilden family has operated the farm for generations, and the property has been recognized as a National Bicentennial Farm for its more than 200 years of continuous farm use.

The town would use money from its Environmental Open Space and Park Fund and would split the cost with Suffolk County, according to a Town Board resolution.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said the legislator supports the move: “Few and far between are there opportunities in this district to have open space preservation, so he is in support of this.”

Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), who sponsored the measure, said he brought it forward because it was a “win-win” in that it offers the possibility to preserve the land, but also allows the Christmas tree operation to continue. Cuthbertson said he’s frequented the farm on occasions.

“It costs us less to outright purchase and allows something that’s a very compatible use to continue,” he said.

Asked how much the development rights would cost, Cuthbertson said the town is at the “beginning stages” of that process.

At this week’s public hearing, members of the Tilden family urged the board to move forward with the acquisition of the development rights, which would preserve the property as farmland forever. Six years ago, the town and county made an offer to buy the rights, and an appraisal of the property was done, but the farm’s owner at the time turned the offer down, according to town spokesman A.J. Carter.

The opportunity came up again when the current heirs became interested in selling the land.

“We’re trying to keep our Christmas tree operation going,” Bruce Tilden said. “We’re thankful the town is supporting this endeavor and we’re looking forward to keep it going.”

Neighbor Jane Irving also urged the board to move forward with the purchase, noting that the Tilden family “has always been good neighbors.”

“Isn’t it wonderful that the Town of Huntington has a working tree farm within the town borders?”

Spencer’s spokesperson said the development rights purchase would be reviewed by the county’s farmland committee on Sept. 15.

DeForest Williams property is open to public

A scene at the grand opening of Wawapek Preserve in Cold Spring Harbor last weekend. Photo from North Shore Land Alliance

Local officials gathered to mark the grand opening of the Wawapek Preserve last Saturday. Located in Cold Spring Harbor, residents will now be able to walk through the 32-acre parcel’s trails and take in its unique nature.

Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the North Shore Land Alliance, Huntington Town, Suffolk County, New York State and the local community, $8.5 million was pitched in to preserve the property, following a negotiation that spanned years.

This property, once part of a 600-plus acre piece of land that encompassed the Wawapek Farm, has remained in the DeForest Williams estate for more than 100 years. Originally owned by Robert Weeks DeForest, a lawyer and philanthropist, the family expressed interest in having the property preserved in 2006.

Unfortunately, Huntington and Suffolk County did not have the funds at the time to purchase the land. But three years ago, threats of development become more foreboding, and the land alliance came on board to help guarantee that the property would be conserved.

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in a statement that the town is happy to have partnered with the county and the land alliance on the purchase, and he hopes that many people will walk these trails to see some of the unique flora and fauna that call the Wawapek Preserve their home.

These partners were able to raise the millions needed to purchase the property, with the help of the residents of the community, nonprofits and local businesses.

Eastern box turtles, a species on the New York State special concern list, and at least three state-protected plants have been documented on the land, Lisa Ott, president and CEO of the alliance, said in a press release.

It has also been discovered that it’s very likely Wawapek Preserve serves as a breeding spot and stopover habitat for many migratory songbirds and other species. The scarlet tanager, a neotropical migrant species, was expected to be discovered there, although comprehensive biological surveys have been limited due to restricted access.

Long Island has a strong commitment to protecting the habitats of endangered birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Long Island Field Office has worked with state and local governments to protect the habitat of birds like the piping plovers.

More than 60 percent of the land is comprised of mature hardwood forest, which protects air quality, provides erosion control and is home to a variety of wildlife, trees and wildflowers, according to Ott.

Local lawmakers including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), county Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), Petrone, Councilwoman Susan Berland (D), Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and former Councilman Mark Mayoka (R) gathered back in September 2013 at the DeForest Williams property, when the funds were first committed to make the purchase possible. Spencer called it an “incredible victory” at the time, and believed it was government work at its finest.

“The opening of Wawapek represents the ideal blending of conservation and community,” land alliance Chairman Carter Bales said in a statement.

Miller Place property could be developed

The property is adjacent to Cordwood Landing County Park off of Landing Road in Miller Place. Photo by Erika Karp

A parcel of wooded land next to Cordwood Landing County Park in Miller Place is up for grabs, and the community isn’t letting the land be developed without a fight.

The 5.4-acre parcel, which backs up to the more than 64-acre county park off of Landing Road, has value to the residents of Miller Place, and according to Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), constituents have been making it clear that the land needs to be preserved.

A website and Facebook group, operating under the name Friends of Cordwood Landing, was launched a few months ago, and the group has been advocating for the land’s preservation. A representative from the group could not be reached for comment.

Back in December 2014, Anker began the process of acquiring the land from its owner, Rocky Point developer Mark Baisch, of Landmark Properties. The legislature unanimously voted to start the acquisition process so that the county could protect the area, which Anker described in a phone interview on March 17 as “residential,” from possible commercialization or industrialization. The county has hired appraisers to determine the land’s worth. According to law, the county can’t pay any more than the appraised value.

Anker said she would like to see the land become a part of the waterfront property of Cordwood Landing.

“I am a true environmentalist,” Anker said. “I will do everything I can to advocate and move this parcel forward through the acquisition process.”

According to Town of Brookhaven planning documents, Baisch submitted a request for a subdivision back in January. In a recent phone interview, Baisch said he would like to build homes on the land. However, if the county’s offer is sufficient, he said he would sell the land.

Anker said the proposal to acquire the land is currently in its early stages and is awaiting approval from the Environmental Trust Fund Review Board. If approved, the proposal will head to the Environmental, Planning, and Agriculture Committee, of which Anker is a member. She expects the proposal to get there by April.

In 2013, the county tried to purchase the land from its original owner, but the owner refused to sell.