A few months after the June 2017 trustees election, the Village of Poquott board is experiencing changes once again.
Village clerk Joseph Newfield read a resignation letter from trustee Michael Schaefer at the Sept. 14 village board meeting. Schaefer cited needing to attend to family issues in the letter. Mayor Dee Parrish has not yet appointed a trustee to replace Schaefer.
The resignation comes two months after John Mastauskas resigned, also due to personal reasons. Parrish appointed Christopher Schleider to replace Mastauskas, and he will complete the former trustee’s term, which ends in 2018. Mastauskas won his seat in 2016 after running as a write-in candidate.
On June 20, Poquott residents voted out Harold Berry, who received 170 votes, while newcomer John Richardson received 195. Incumbent Jeff Koppelson was voted back in with 180 votes, and despite candidate Debbie Stevens challenging the results and filing a lawsuit, he retained his seat after she revoked her complaint.
Before she dropped the dispute, the Suffolk County Board of Elections recanvassed ballots June 29. Stevens, who earned 178 votes, said if the opportunity arose to become trustee, she would be willing to accept the position.
“I think I would be a fair, honest, concerned, helpful trustee,” Stevens said. “I would cater to what the residents want and not what I want.”
In interviews in June, both Richardson and Stevens said they felt the village has been polarized in recent years, and the mayor and board of trustees were not hearing residents’ concerns.
Koppelson said resignations are not unusual when it comes to a volunteer position such as trustee.
“As people decide to run or be appointed, we’re trying to make them understand this is a job, and it’s a volunteer job, so you have to be able to put in the time and energy,” Koppelson said.
While this year’s Poquott Village election for two trustees may not be as contentious as years past, plenty of important community issues remain at the forefront for residents. Plans to build a community dock and communication between the board and villagers are at the top of the list.
During the June 20 election, residents will choose from five candidates to fill two available seats, including two incumbents — Harold Berry and Jeff Koppelson — and three newcomers — Angela Parlatore, Debbie Stevens and John Richardson.
Richardson, a New York City firefighter, and Stevens, owner of Smoothe Laser Center and Medi Spa in East Setauket, both said there is a lack of communication between the current village trustees and residents. The two are running under the Peace Party ticket and have signs around the village that read “Your Village, Your Decisions.”
“I think there has been a lack of transparency, and there has been a lack of public input,” Richardson said in a phone interview.
Stevens said when she attends village hall meetings, residents are given the opportunity to state their question or comment, but discussions rarely follow.
“In all the 26 years I’ve lived here, I have never felt such an air of such divisiveness,” Stevens said in a phone interview. “And I just want the opportunity to be the voice of the residents, and to bring back peace, and be on a board of trustees who will really listen to the residents’ concerns.”
Richardson, who has lived in Poquott for 16 years, said the village has felt polarized in recent years. He said residents haven’t been included in votes for plans that significantly affect their lives and homes. He said while meetings may be published in the paper, the trustees do not use their email system to notify residents as often as they should.
To get approval to build a community dock, according to Richardson, residents were asked to fill out and return mailed surveys, rather than participate in a vote.
He said those that did not have a resident’s name on it were thrown out.
When it comes to the construction of a community dock, both feel there needs to be more input from residents.
“It doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what the Poquott residents think,” Stevens said.
Richardson said his background would be an asset to the village, and he wants to work with the mayor as “a conduit for the village and the residents.”
Stevens said her experiences as a business owner and her work with charities, which includes fundraising for Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, are assets because she has the listening and communication skills to bring everyone together.
“I would really love to restore the communication between the Poquott residents and the board of trustees and the mayor,” she said.
Parlatore, a full-time patient care specialist and a resident of Poquott for 18 years, said she is the most neutral of all the candidates, as she is not aligned with anyone. However, like Richardson and Stevens she said communication is suffering in the village. She said when it comes to the dock no one is sure what the majority of the residents want. She said the survey prevented many from expressing their true opinions because it wasn’t anonymous, like a vote would have been.
Parlatore said she feels fortunate to live in Poquott and would like for it to continue to be a wonderful village to live in.
“I feel that I’m good at communicating with people and trying to find common ground between a group of people who are trying to aim in one direction,” she said.
Berry, a 33-year resident of Poquott, and Koppelson, a 45-year resident, are running under the Continuity ticket, and said they should be reelected because they get things done in the village.
Seeking his second term, Koppelson said he hopes the two can continue their progress with the other trustees as well as Mayor Dee Parrish. Berry, the village’s deputy mayor who is currently completing his second term as trustee, said the two plan to work on the community dock, continue improving village roads and cleaning up Poquott beaches among other projects.
Koppelson said the trustees have been making a number of improvements around the village while staying within the budget. According to the former psychiatric treatment program director, Poquott has had a budget surplus for the third year in a row.
When it comes to village roads, there have been many improvements as well as plans to resurface more roads in the near future, something Berry said was neglected before Parrish was mayor.
“For 12 years before Dee got in, roads and repairs were basically non-existent, they just weren’t done,” Berry said. “So the roads deteriorated greatly.”
Both candidates said they would be in favor of a community dock, which is still in the planning stages. The project would cost $150,000. Koppelson said while he understands some residents may not want their taxes to increase, he said the trustees can find other ways to pay for it. He said due to the surplus, village taxes will not increase significantly.
“The bottom line is we’ll be able to pay back the principle over the five years just out of the surplus we’re running and saving money by doing a lot of the work ourselves,” Koppelson said.
He also said community members organized an event and donated $16,000 towards paying for the dock, which will pay for the interest cost of the bond for the first two years.
Berry said the dock willallow boaters and fisherman to easily pull up to it to load and unload their boats, unlike now when they must use a dinghy or kayak to get to their boat.
“The boaters and the fisherman are getting older,” Berry said. “It’s just a matter of ease of getting to your boat and safety.”
Koppelson said there are additional benefits to constructing a dock.
“It will be well used but also it will definitely increase real estate prices,” Koppelson said. “I really do think people will benefit from it in the long run.”
The two pushed back on the challengers’ claims village hall doesn’t properly communicate issues and upcoming votes to residents. In addition to sending out emails, Koppelson said the meetings are open and any hearings on a proposed law are published in The Village Times Herald for two consecutive weeks. Videos of the meetings are also posted on the village’s website the following day and minutes are voted on at the next meeting.
The Village of Poquott elections will be held at Poquott’s Village Hall, 45 Birchwood Avenue, June 20 from noon to 9 p.m.
The next phase of the Brookhaven Town Planning Department’s land use study for the Route 25A corridor from the Smithtown border heading east to the Village of Poquott is set to begin.
An invitation-only focus group for business owners and tenants of buildings along the corridor will be held Jan. 31, according to Councilwoman Valerie M. Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station). Letters were mailed previously to these stakeholders.
Community Visioning Meeting Schedule
•Stony Brook Community Vision Meeting:
Saturday Feb. 4, from 2 to 5 pm
•Setauket /East Setauket Community Vision Meeting:
Saturday Feb. 25, from 10 am to 1 pm
•All Hamlets Wrap Up Meeting:
Saturday March 4, from 2 to 4:30 pm
All meetings will be held at the Stony Brook School, 1 Chapman Parkway off Route 25A, opposite the Stony Brook railroad station. Groups will meet in the Kanas Commons.
Councilwoman Cartright requests community members wishing to attend any of the sessions RSVP by the Wednesday before the scheduled meeting.
Beginning Feb. 2 there will be community visioning meetings aimed specifically at interested parties in the Stony Brook and Setauket/East Setauket portions of the corridor. (See meeting schedule below.) A final meeting will provide a wrap up, including all hamlets along the corridor.
The community visioning meetings will be led by a consulting firm, BFJ Planning, hired by the town to facilitate the land use study.
A proposed shopping center in the vicinity of the Stony Brook railroad station will not be discussed in the land use study, Cartright said. It is scheduled to be reviewed by the Planning Department Feb. 6. The developer, Parviz Farahzad, had previously presented a request for specific zoning variances to the Zoning Board of Appeals Dec. 14, 2016. The board has 62 days to render its decision.
According to Cartright, the business zone change for this property was made more than 10 years ago. More recently, public comment was heard at the zoning board meeting and, she said, changes based on community comments may have been made by the developer in response.
“One caveat,” Cartright said, “this is a long term plan. They’re building a shopping center there now, but the community would like [to revisit the site in the future] if there’s ever an opportunity [to do so].”
The study was authorized by a town resolution Jan. 14, 2016, which included the establishment of a 20-member Citizen’s Advisory Committee including representatives of all identifiable stakeholder groups.
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