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Patchogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community revitalization in context

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

— Richard Murdocco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Patchogue model

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

— Paul Pontieri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Differentiating Upper Port

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

— Margot Garant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six Acre Park

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

­— Rebecca Kassay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Identifying the public good

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

— Bruce Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The steamship Nonowantuc, which ran from Bridgeport to Port Jefferson, 1884-1902, is shown underway in Port Jefferson harbor. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

On July 4, 1840, the diarist George T. Strong arrived in Port Jefferson for the holiday, not on a packet or other sailing ship, but on the Sun, the first in a succession of steamboats to make regular runs between New York City and the village.

In his account of the trip, Strong wrote that the Sun had left Manhattan at 8 a.m., stopped at Cow Harbor (Northport) and arrived in Drowned Meadow (Port Jefferson) at 2:30 p.m., all in all “a comfortable voyage.”

Excursion ticket for the steamer Favorite which sailed the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson route. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

The vessel had carried about 100 passengers who were entertained by a “cotillion band” that, according to Strong, had “squeaked, twanged, and tooted Hail Columbia.”

The Sun, which began serving Port Jefferson in spring 1840, was replaced during the ensuing years by a series of steamers including the Mt. Pleasant, Suffolk, Island Belle, Golden Gate and John Faron.

The steamships typically ran for three seasons but discontinued service during the winter months. Over time, Huntington and Stony Brook were added to the ports of call. Stages were made available in Port Jefferson to convey travelers to Old Mans (Mount Sinai), Miller Place and other locations. The Mt. Pleasant charged 50 cents for passage from New York City to Port Jefferson while the Suffolk priced tickets at 75 cents and the John Faron at $1.00. 

Long at the mercy of outsiders who had monopolized steam navigation on the sound, a group of prominent businessmen from Port Jefferson and the vicinity began talks in 1858 to incorporate the Long Island Steamboat Company as a way to exercise more local control over routes, schedules and fares.

Engraving of the steamship Ocean Wave from an 1860 stock certificate issued by the Long Island Steamboat Company. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Led by investors Thomas Ritch, Reuben Wilson and Thomas Strong, the company purchased the sidewheeler Ocean Wave which started its trips between New York City and Port Jefferson in summer 1859.

In July 1860, the Ocean Wave struck a rock off Crane Neck, beached but safely landed her passengers. Although the steamer was repaired and returned to service the following month, low ridership led to the company’s bankruptcy and the sale of the Ocean Wave in a December 1861 auction.

Beginning with the Pioneer, a succession of steamboats followed the Ocean Wave. Often cited in the diary of Azariah H. Davis, the Sunbeam made the New York City run from 1867-1868 and the Mattano from 1868-1869, both sidewheelers stopping at Stony Brook. 

With the coming of the Long Island Rail Road to Port Jefferson in 1873, the public had a convenient means of traveling between the village and New York City other than on a steamboat. As business opportunities in one market came to an end, attention shifted to developing a steam ferry link between Port Jefferson and Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The June 1860 schedule for the sidewheeler Ocean Wave which ran from New York City to Port Jefferson with a stop at Stony Brook. Photo from the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

The steamer Brookhaven, known locally as the “Little Bedbug,” ran the Port Jefferson to Bridgeport route from 1872-1881 except for 1873-1874 when it was covered by the Spitfire. Besides carrying passengers, the steamships transported strawberries and other produce from then agricultural Long Island to industrial New England. 

Succeeding the Brookhaven, the 115-foot Favorite crossed the Sound from 1882-1883 and became well known for her special excursions to visit P.T. Barnum’s circus in Bridgeport and to see Jumbo the Elephant. 

The incorporation of the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company in 1883, followed by the beginning of ferry operations on the 120-foot steamer Nonowantuc in 1884, brought order, consistency and dependability to cross-Sound travel, a tradition of service which continues today. 

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.     

File photo

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy D. Sini (D) and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart announced the indictment of a Centereach man for allegedly stabbing and critically injuring a police officer following a motor vehicle crash in which the defendant was driving while impaired by methamphetamine.

Jonathan Nunez, 25, is charged with Aggravated Assault on a Police Officer, a class B violent felony; Assault in the First Degree, a class B violent felony; Assault on a Police Officer, a class C violent felony; two counts of Assault in the Second Degree, a class D violent felony; Assault in the Third Degree, a class A misdemeanor; Resisting Arrest, a class A misdemeanor; Leaving the Scene of an Incident Resulting in Physical Injury, a class A misdemeanor; Reckless Driving, a misdemeanor; and Operating a Motor Vehicle While Impaired by a Drug, a misdemeanor.

At approximately 10:30 p.m. on April 10, Nunez was driving a 1999 Mercedes Benz southbound on South Ocean Avenue in Patchogue when he was allegedly observed driving erratically with no headlights on by Suffolk County Police 5th Precinct Officer Christopher Racioppo.

Racioppo activated his emergency lights and attempted to pull the vehicle over, at which time Nunez allegedly fled at a high rate of speed and crashed into a 2004 Nissan at the intersection of South Ocean Avenue and Brook Street.

Nunez allegedly exited his vehicle following the crash and fled on foot into the yard of a nearby residence. Nunez then allegedly became engaged in a physical altercation with Racioppo and stabbed him in the leg, severing his femoral artery and a vein.

Two good Samaritans assisted responding 5th Precinct officers in rendering emergency medical aid to Racioppo and apprehending Nunez.

“This defendant was allegedly high on drugs and driving erratically, and instead of pulling over and complying with lawful commands, he decided to speed through a residential area and ultimately attacked a police officer,” Sini said. “These are all conscious decisions that the defendant made — decisions that put so many peoples’ lives at risk —including Officer Racioppo, who is lucky to be alive thanks to the swift actions of the responding officers, good Samaritans, and the medical professionals at both Long Island Community Hospital and Stony Brook University Hospital. I’ll say this clearly and unequivocally: We will do whatever it takes to hold this defendant accountable for his horrific actions.”

Racioppo was transported to Long Island Community Hospital in East Patchogue and then transferred to Stony Brook University Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery for the ruptured artery and was in critical condition. He was released from the hospital on April 26.

“Officer Racioppo is thankfully home today, but he has suffered a grave injury that will take a lot of time to come back from,” Commissioner Hart said. “It was a lesson in courage that we saw when Officer Racioppo was viciously attacked and officers came to his rescue without question. I want to thank the District Attorney and his team on behalf of the men and women of the Suffolk County Police Department for holding this defendant accountable and bringing him to justice.”

Following the incident, the driver of the Nissan was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. Nunez was transported to Long Island Community Hospital.

“The defendant was extremely combative and extremely violent,” Sini said. “At no point did he have any interest in complying with lawful commands by members of the police department, and that behavior continued when he was brought to the hospital, where he was combative with the medical staff as well.”

Nunez was arraigned on the indictment before Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen Braslow and was remanded without bail. He is being represented by the Legal Aid Society and is due back in court on June 2.

If convicted of the top count, Nunez faces a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in prison.

 

Ryan Degnan smiles big while playing at GiGi's. Photo by Julianne Mosher

A group of Long Islanders saw a need for a safe space for people with Down syndrome and, despite COVID-19, they made it happen.

Founded in 2003, GiGi’s Playhouse is an international network of achievement centers, providing free therapeutic and educational programs for people of all ages. This month, the nonprofit’s 52nd location — and Long Island’s first — will open in Patchogue. 

But families from across both North and South shores helped bring this safe space to life. 

Mike Cirigliano, board president. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Mike Cirigliano, board president and owner of Cirigliano Agency, said that GiGi’s Playhouse Long Island will help fill a void for families of loved ones with Down syndrome. Over the course of several years, the group tried to find the perfect site, scouting locations across Long Island. They eventually settled on 100 Austin St. (in Patchogue), where they took over three of the four units inside the building. 

Located right off Sunrise Highway, he said the spot is easy for families to get to whether they come from Nassau County or the Hamptons. 

“There is a true need for this on Long Island,” he said. “This is where people can come — a place where parents who need a place to go with their child can come play, hang out.”

But it’s not just a place to chill. Board member Karyn Degnan said it will offer programs for people with a prenatal diagnosis to those adults with Down syndrome.

“Moms and dads can go to this common place to talk and share their stories,” she said. “They can grow with the center.”

The new facility offers everything from fine motor skills to speech and socialization programs, to tutoring, exercise classes and even a kitchen where young adults can learn how to cook.

The Degnan family. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Degnan, a Centereach mom of three, said two of her children have Down syndrome: Sal, who’s 11 and daughter Ryan, who’s 5.

“As my kids grow, they have a teen center there — a place where people can go as they grow into their young adulthood life,” she said. “It’s a place where they can feel like they belong.”

Cirigliano said that although the fundraising aspect and search for a spot has been years in the making, they officially signed the lease in early February. Over the last month, the group of 50-plus volunteers helped turn the office spaces into a vibrant, exciting place.

“What’s really cool is I brought my kids with me so they can see the before and after,” Degnan added. “After we were done with the construction, I could feel their positive energy and their love for it. When they were able to witness it being all done, there was this happiness that was beaming from them.”

She said her 11-year-old can’t wait to hang out there with his friends. 

Derek DeProspo plays on a toy car inside GiGi’s Playhouse. Photo by Julianne Mosher

One of those friends is Derek DeProspo, an 8-year-old from Selden who also has Down syndrome. His grandmother, Elizabeth Rahne of Selden, is GiGi’s new program director.

“It’s an incredible organization and has incredible mission,” she said. “It’s giving parents and families the support they need to help their children become the best they can be.”

Rahne said groups like the ones at GiGi’s Playhouse are important for new parents.

“It’s an overwhelming diagnosis,” she said. “You don’t know how much they’re going to progress or what they’ll able to accomplish.”

But Derek runs and plays with the kids inside the center — an inclusive space where kids who are neurotypical, on the autism spectrum or who have Down syndrome can play, dance, create and socialize with no judgment or fear. 

“I’m so proud of what he’s able to do now,” she said. “I think people need to hear the story that our children do have some difficulties, but they can accomplish so much more than people think. We need to celebrate their uniqueness.”

Angelique Sternberger, of Port Jefferson Station, lost her 3-year-old son, DJ, eight years ago. 

“When DJ was born, the doctors came to us and told us he had Down syndrome,” she said. “They always focus on the worst things possible, but it’s all about what these children can do.”

She joined GiGi’s Playhouse in 2017 in memory of him and is now the board secretary. 

Port Jefferson Station’s Angelique Sternberger with her late son, DJ. Photo from Angelique Sternberger

“It’s helpful to have a place where you can go if you need some assistance,” she said. “I wish I had a GiGi’s Playhouse when DJ was born.”

This April, DJ would be turning 12 and, looking back, Sternberger thinks he would be thrilled to know what his mom has helped accomplish.“I’m sure he would love it here,” she said. “He was such a social child …  he was the mayor of his school, and he would love being able to interact with other kids.”

Run solely on donations and fundraisers, GiGi’s Playhouse is 99% volunteer based. The only paid employee is the site manager, who opens and closes every day. 

Cirigliano said that people who want to donate can do so online at gigisplayhouse.org. He said that they will be highlighting donors on their front door every month to say “thank you” for making this all possible. 

And the opening comes at a special time for the Down syndrome community: March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day, and the Long Island chapter of GiGi’s Playhouse is officially opening its doors one day before. From 10 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. on March 20, a virtual grand opening will be streamed through Facebook and online.

Everyone is welcome at GiGi’s Playhouse in Patchogue. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Due to COVID-19, families who want to start using the achievement center’s services must schedule an appointment online. 

“Children with Down syndrome like to follow their peers,” Sternberger said. “We want them to be able to socialize. So, come to GiGi’s and we’ll be there with open arms.”

GiGi’s Playhouse will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays. To view the hours of operation, visit gigisplayhouse.org/longisland.

Coco Teodoro, owner of Cocomotion yoga studio in Miller Place, has hosted free online yoga classes during hte pandemic, but is concerned about his business. Photo by Julianne Moser

They went from selling out classes several times a day, to having one person in a class.

Coco Teodoro, owner of Miller Place and Patchogue-based Cocomotion Yoga + Movement Space, said that the virus has hit his industry just as hard as others. 

“Our business, just like rock concerts, musicals, they’re in the business of bringing people together,” he said. “And that’s the one thing we can’t do. So, our entire business model is toast because if you’re good at bringing people together, then what are you good at after that?”

Teodoro said that because of the pandemic, he has lost 90% of his business — just one of many things that hit him hard in 2020.

“I kept telling everybody that this is the year of loss for me,” he said. “I lost my mom just a few months ago, then lost my job [at an advertising firm in Manhattan] of 17 years, and then I could end up losing my business.”

But Teodoro tries not to be negative. There’s hope and he sees a silver lining, despite the hardships he and his colleagues are facing because of the coronavirus. 

“I always felt that as long as I can teach, I can always make it in this world,” he said.

Teodoro, a certified instructor, has been practicing yoga for more than 20 years. He opened his first location in Miller Place five years ago and added a second space on the South Shore in 2017.

In March 2020, he was all ready to open up his third location on top of that in East Setauket. He took over the second floor of the Country Corner Bar on Route 25A and then the virus hit.

The front of Cocomotion in Miller Place. Photo by Julianne Mosher

While they are still renting out the other two locations, they haven’t been able to use their Patchogue and new Setauket spaces yet. 

Teodoro said they are focusing on maintaining their flagship spot in Miller Place because it’s the largest out of the three. They just recently opened up to in-person classes, where they marked spots on the floor six-feet apart. A class that once held nearly three-dozen people can now only hold eight.

“We feel like this is the safest place to practice,” he said. 

And it’s been hard, he said. Early on in the pandemic, Teodoro had more than 20 instructors on his payroll, now he has just two — who are doing their classes for free. Since March, he and partner Jane Irvine were putting out over 500 yoga classes online for no charge. 

“We’re actually going out of business and working at the same time,” he said. “We’re literally staying here so we can hold on to the community that we built.”

And that community has become their family.

“We know every single person,” Irvine said. “We know what’s going on in their lives. We know their children, we know what’s happening. So, we’re here, and we say that we love this family. This is our family.”

Irvine said the community has been as supportive as they could be during this difficult time, and while the business is struggling, the teachers at Cocomotion just want to make others feel better because they know of the impacts stress can cause someone.

“Pre-COVID, people would have multiple memberships,” Teodoro said. “They’d have a membership at the local gym, then they’d have a membership at the yoga studio, and then they might have a psychiatrist, as well.”

That’s how this studio is different than the rest, adding, “We decided to squeeze all three of those in.”

Irvine said that now more than ever, people need a ritual.

“People need something to devote their time to, otherwise the mind is just going to go crazy,” she said. “It gives you a focus, a point in your day to do something to take care of yourself.”

Cocomotion’s free classes are still available on their social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, but he’s encouraging people to take advantage of the sacred space he worked half a decade on in Miller Place.

“Everything that we’ve built is our dream,” he said. “So yes, we’re going to struggle — everybody’s struggling at this moment in time. But ultimately, we still get to wake up and have this community that we love and do what we love to do.”

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Suffolk County police car. File photo

Suffolk County Police 5th Squad detectives are investigating a crash that killed a St. James woman who likely suffered a medical emergency while driving Oct. 11.

Nancy Prete was driving a 2018 Nissan Frontier westbound on Montauk Highway at the intersection of North Prospect Avenue when she suffered an apparent medical emergency and veered off the road, striking a utility pole at approximately 5:10 p.m., according to police.

Prete, 76, was transported via ambulance to Long Island Community Hospital in East Patchogue where she was pronounced dead.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check. Detectives are asking anyone with information on the crash to call the 5th Squad at 631-854-8552.

Stock photo

Reacting to a stirring front page of the New York Times that included the names of people felled by COVID-19 the day before Memorial Day, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) took stock of all the county has lost, and protected.

The New York Times is a “reminder, when you look at it, of the fact that these are not just statistics we are reporting every day,” Bellone said on his daily call with reporters. The losses families, friends and caretakers have felt these losses keenly each day, causing an untold impact on the county, the state and the country.

Amid all the death and loss, Bellone said he takes comfort in the way Long Islanders have abided by social distancing and face covering restrictions, which has kept the unimaginably high death toll in the county — which increased another 12 to 1,834 over the last day — from being even higher.

“Thousands of people are alive today because of the extraordinary efforts” of everyone from first responders to business owners who have closed up their shops to reduce the spread of the virus.

Bellone urged residents to “continue to be smart.”

Bellone cited an incident in Patchogue at Dublin Deck on Friday night that included numerous videos of people crowding around a bar in clear violation of social distancing rules.

The owners of Dublin Deck have apologized on their Facebook page, saying said they had invited people in because of the rain. They acknowledged they were wrong and that it will not happen again.

“What we saw in those videos is unacceptable and not smart,” Bellone said. “Police are aware of that and will continue to follow up.”

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart explained that the owners were vocal and apologetic and that 85 precent of the patrons had cleared out by the time the police arrived. An officer stayed at the location until everybody had cleared and responded at other times to make sure it was in compliance.

Dublin Deck posted an apology to its social media site and indicated “there are no excuses when it comes to public safety.”

As for the viral figures in the county, the number of people who tested positive in the county in the last day were 162, bringing the total to 38,964. That figure excludes the 12,272 who tested positive on an antibody test.

Meanwhile, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 fell by 35 through May 22 to 374. That is the first time since Marcy 27 that total hospitalizations were below 400.

The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds declined by six to 119.

With 3,031 total hospital beds, the number of available beds was 1,041, which keeps the county on track to start opening on Wednesday. Similarly, with 230 ICU beds available from a total of 595, the number of beds occupied with COVID-19 patients is below the 70 percent maximum.

Over the last day, 45 people have been discharged from the hospital.

The county executive said four sites would be reopening for residents to purchase green key cards. The cost of the cards is $30 and they are valid for three years. The sites are at the east booth at Smith Point Park, at Indian Island County Park in Riverheads, at Blydenburgh County Park in Smithtown and at Sears Bellows County Park at Hampton Bays.

Bellone urged residents to practice social distancing at these sites and to wear face coverings.

A Qwik Ride vehicle currently on the streets of Patchogue. Photo from Qwik Ride

A new transportation service is ready to hit Huntington Village’s streets this August.

Qwik Ride plans to roll out a free shuttle service across downtown Huntington, offering visitors who park further away a ride to or between area restaurants, bars and stores with a simple click of an app or flagging down a ride.

“This transportation could be used in suburban areas where you have to find your parking spot, and you don’t want to leave it,” said Daniel Cantelmo, co-founder of Qwik Ride. “Where parking is so tough, people have turned around and left.”

Cantelmo said he and his fellow co-founder John Yancigay first came up with the business concept while on a trip to Nashville, Tennessee.

“This transportation could be used in suburban areas where you have to find your parking spot, and you don’t want to leave it.”

– Daniel Cantelmo

“We saw this free shuttle service that would take you anywhere in Nashville,” he said. “We thought it was pretty cool.”

This May, Cantelmo said they launched the service in his hometown of Patchogue using modified six-passenger golf carts to shuttle customers from the waterfront restaurants and bars to downtown businesses. The electric-powered vehicles are enclosed with a full set of doors, have heat and can continue to run through inclement weather — except for snow, according to Cantelmo. He said Qwik Ride has provided more than 700 free lifts to Patchogue passengers this month as of July 13, and he expects that number to continue to grow.

“We’ve had a lot of success in Patchogue,” Cantelmo said. “We know Huntington is going to follow suit. Huntington is a little more condensed.”

He sees the free shuttles as a potential solution to what he called a “twofold” parking problem in Huntington. First, area business employees come into work early and take up front-row or prime parking spots in the village throughout their eight-hour shifts, according to Cantelmo. Second, there are plenty of parking lots on the outskirts of town that are underutilized because they require a long walk.

“Uber is helping that situation, but we are taking it one step further,” he said.

The two co-founders reached out to Huntington Chamber of Commerce and Huntington Business Improvement District to invite business owners down to The Paramount to talk about the new service they would be launching with two vehicles, adding up to three more with time for a total of five shuttles. 

“It sounds like a great idea to free up some parking in town,” Ellen O’Brien, executive director of Huntington’s chamber said. “It’s innovative, it’s free, it’s cutting edge and it will free up parking spaces.”

“It sounds like a great idea to free up some parking in town.”

– Ellen O’Brien

The Paramount in Huntington is one business that was already on board with asking its employees to park further out to free up spots for customers. Adam Ellis, the theater’s director of marketing, said Paramount staff has been utilizing Huntington Town Hall’s lot for the last year and a half to use a shuttle bus to get back and forth to work.

“We hope the Qwik Ride program will help other businesses in town to offer their staff alternative transportation to their job while parking further from town to open up more spaces for guests as a way to improve parking in town,” Ellis said.

The free shuttles are paid for by advertising, according to Cantelmo, as local businesses are invited to buy space on the outside of each vehicle. He hopes these same businesses will commit to getting employees involved in parking in distant lots and hailing a Qwik Ride.

“Everyone has truly got to be on board,” Cantelmo said. “If The Paramount is on board but Honu [Kitchen & Cocktails] isn’t, then all it will do is open up more parking for Honu. The community has to work together, and everyone has to be on board. Then it will benefit everybody.”

Ru Jurow was able to afford this new home with the help of a grant from Community Housing Innovations. Photo from Douglas Elliman

By Guy Santostefano

For most, homeownership is a dream, and for many, it’s also a big challenge.

For some Long Islanders, owning a home seems financially out of reach, but that’s where Community Housing Innovations can help.

The cost of living continues to rise, while home and apartment rental costs make saving to buy a home nearly impossible. Lenders are now requiring larger down payments for many homebuyers — so a buyer seeking to land a modest $250,000 home on Long Island may need $25,000 cash up front, plus another $10,000 in closing costs. Saving $35,000 is not an easy task. But for those who qualify, help is available.

Community Housing Innovations is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-sponsored agency that assists first-time buyers in meeting the challenges of homeownership. From homebuyer education classes to credit counseling, and down payment and closing cost assistance, the company’s staff have the ability, and most importantly, the financial resources to help buyers realize their dream.

Grants earmarked for closing costs and down payments have averaged $25,000. Other programs offered through the nonprofit, in conjunction with the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, help a novice buyer arrange special savings accounts geared toward meeting down payment requirements.

“Being able to buy a home allows my children and I to have a sense of permanency and security.”

—Ru Jurow

Andrea Haughton, the director for home ownership at Community Housing innovations, reports that since 1997, 31 homes on Long Island have been purchased through the program, which has bases in Patchogue, Hempstead and White Plains.

For Ru Jurow, a graphic designer living in Farmingville, this program was critical.

A single mom, Jurow has been paying nearly $2,000 a month in rent and utilities for a small home in the Sachem school district.

“I wanted to stay in the same school district, as I have two teen children, both honors students,” she said. “And after 10 years in the same rental, we really needed more space and privacy for the kids.”

Jurow found a charming three bedroom, two bath home one mile from her current rental, and did a search on Google for grant programs for new homebuyers, coming across Community Housing Innovations’ website. She saw she met the requirements, and applied, receiving a $25,000 grant, which she said, must be split with 51 percent going toward renovations and upgrades, and 49 percent going toward closing and other costs.

“Being able to buy a home allows my children and I to have a sense of permanency and security,” Jurow said. “With the purchase of our own home, we can feel pride.”

According to Haughton, the grant is recorded on the home’s title as a second position lien for ten years. This encourages the owner to stay in the house and thus avoid paying penalties. Eligibility guidelines and other key information can be found on the organization’s website, www.chigrants.org, or by visiting their Patchogue offices.

“All three of us are incredibly excited,” Jurow said of her family beginning its new journey. “My daughter has been planning how she will get to decorate her own room and can’t wait to have big sleepover parties with her friends in the finished basement. My son is looking forward to having a work-out room in the basement and I am a huge baker and cannot wait to get into that kitchen and cook up a storm.”

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Joselo Lucero speaks during a Bethel AME Church program about building bridges during Black History Month. Photo from Tom Lyon

By Tom Lyon

Members of Setauket’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church hosted a community forum last Saturday to conclude Black History Month with a time of reflection about violence and its aftermath.

The event was a follow-up to last June’s memorial gathering held just three days after the tragic shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Nine people, some related to Bethel church members, died in the church’s sanctuary, yet their families spoke out for healing and forgiveness. Actions resulting from the tragedy included the removal of the Confederate battle flag from many public places across the South.

The 80 audience members reflected personally about the main themes of how we can change in response to tragic events and of building bridges throughout our communities to prevent future violence.

A featured speaker was Joselo Lucero, whose brother Marcelo, an Ecuadorean immigrant, was murdered in a Patchogue hate crime six years ago. Joselo Lucero has since become a champion against hate crimes and for tolerance, and has presented programs to thousands of Long Island students. At Bethel AME, he spoke of his family’s loss and how the village of Patchogue now holds an annual vigil in remembrance of the tragedy.

Jennifer Bradshaw, an assistant superintendent in the Smithtown school district, said, “It was so empowering to be surrounded by people dedicated to not just identify societal problems, but to work actively to solve them … to sit down and talk honestly, yet hopefully about building bridges across differences.”

Susan Feretti, of Setauket, said, “The conversation began here today is the beginning of neighbors and groups building bridges … the root of healing both locally and globally. I look forward to what lies ahead.”

Rev. Greg Leonard added that, “Based upon the very positive responses from the audience, and a questionnaire distributed, a task force is being formed to explore ways to hold more ‘building bridges’ events in the future. All community members are invited to join.”

Tom Lyon is a program director at Lift Up Long Island, a group that teaches leadership skills to youth.