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Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Civic Association

Photo from PJST civic

Following the June 17 stabbing of 39-year-old Benjamin Flores-Mendez — who was found dead in Port Jefferson Station on the Greenway Trail — the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association called an emergency meeting this week to demand answers on a variety of issues from local representatives.

On Tuesday, July 6, nearly 150 people attended the meeting at Comsewogue High School. Suffolk County Police Department 6th Precinct officers joined elected officials from town, county and state offices to listen to topics such as the Lawrence Aviation space, homelessness, gangs and drug abuse which were brought up by concerned residents.

While the stabbing sparked the meeting, SCPD officials were unable to give details or answer questions surrounding the death, as it’s still an ongoing investigation. 

But that didn’t stop Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), and town Councilman Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) from joining the panel. State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) could not attend, but a representative joined in his place. 

“I’m going to tell you that myself and my colleagues from the Town Board are upset, disturbed by what we see is a growing problem in various communities in the Town of Brookhaven,” Romaine said. “And that is homelessness.”

According to residents, they have seen homeless people set up tents near the vacant and decrepit Lawrence Aviation buildings located adjacent to the Greenway on the Port Jefferson Station section. 

Kornreich added that those who are homeless aren’t necessarily in that plight because of a financial issue — oftentimes it revolves around mental health problems or drug abuse. 

“I think that what we need to try to do is to find a way, a compassionate way, to get these people the services that they need, that maybe they’re reluctant to take,” he said, adding it might require a greater investment in services from county agencies. 

Englebright, who spearheaded the creation of the trail years ago, said the Lawrence Aviation project has been an issue for years and requires coordination from all levels of government. 

“We’re in a moment of turmoil, not only locally but nationally,” he said. “We’re coming off of one of the worst years in the last 100 years because of the COVID infection that has ravaged our communities, and everybody is on edge — that includes disadvantaged individuals, and those who have ill intent. So, we have our work cut out for us.”

During the community forum, questions of hiking trails being linked to crime came up.

“The simple answer is no, there is no correlation, no cause and effect,” Englebright said. “Trails such as this are open space, and so they become targets to the opportunists.”

On the town level, Kornreich assured that meetings like this — between residents and local government — are what allows things to change. 

“We’re all here because we have to renew our commitment to work together at all levels of government to face challenges like the ones we have in Port Jefferson Station,” he said. 

The 6th Precinct commanding officer, Inspector Patrick Reilly, gave an update on crime statistics. In wake of the stabbing, new cameras were placed at the entrances and along the Greenway Trail. Reilly said more patrol officers have been out during the daytime and evening, as well as overnight. Plainclothes officers and the SCPD gang unit are on-site, as well. 

The stabbing that happened last month was the only one in 2021 and 2020, Reilly said. Robberies are down this year, as well as a 100% decrease in aggravated assault. 

“Overall, total violent crime is down 11.1%, total property crime is down 4.8%,” he said. “So, obviously, there are problems that still need to be addressed, and we will continue to do that.”

The next normally scheduled civic meeting will be held on Tuesday, July 20, at 7 p.m. at the Comsewogue Public Library. 

Heatherwood developers are asking the Brookhaven IDA to reconsider its revised tax benefits package. Photo by David Luces

After being rejected for a tax benefits package from the Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency in August, the developer for the Heatherwood Golf Club has now proposed to the agency a revised payment in lieu of taxes package.

Under the revised 13-year package presented to the IDA board Nov. 19, the assessed value of the development would be phased in at a faster rate during years 4-13, according to the developer. In turn, the PlLOT payments would come out to more than $9.8 million, an increase of over $1.4 million compared to the initial tax benefit package they proposed.

In a Sept. 16 letter sent to the Brookhaven IDA, Peter Curry, a Uniondale-based lawyer representing Heatherwood Golf & Villas LLC, reiterated Heatherwood can’t finance and develop the project without the assistance of the agency.

Due to the significant increase in construction costs from $46.6 million to about $55 million, Curry said the developer is willing to decrease the amount of financial assistance required and pay the additional $1.4 million-plus in PILOT payments in hopes that the IDA would reconsider accepting the application.

Community members and civic groups present at the Nov. 19 public hearing argued that even despite the revised PILOT package, the developer’s application for the project was virtually the same as it was in August, and wondered how it could be up for reconsideration again without any major changes.

“Are you kidding me?” said an exasperated Herb Mones, chair of the Three Village Civic Association land use committee. “If anything, this is a self-inflicted wound by a private corporation, but now it is trying its very best to saddle the taxpayers with some type of remedy.”

Mones said Heatherwood wants the taxpayers to foot the bill of paying the future of their taxes and mortgage fees on the project.

“It’s pig feeding at the trough. For a corporation to try to do this is an outrage to the public,” he said.

“It’s pig feeding at the trough. For a corporation to try to do this is an outrage to the public.”

– Herb Mones

He added that Heatherwood has reaped millions when the Town of Brookhaven zoning board approved a crucial zone change in 2014 that allowed for apartments on the golf course property despite overwhelming community opposition.

“But that’s not enough, now they’ve come back for more,” Mones said. “Do I blame them? No, I don’t blame then, but I will blame you if you give them relief this way.”

Other concerns brought up previously have been the negative impacts the tax breaks could have on local school districts as well as increase traffic congestion at the intersection of Route 347 and Arrowhead Lane in South Setauket.

Sal Pitti, president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, said nothing has changed since the August rejection.

“The only thing that changed is that it is going to cost more to build the project,” he said. “There’s no reason that the IDA with six jobs being offered [for the project] should even allow [the developer] to come back within two months of their turndown. It’s a joke.”

IDA board members back in August said six jobs wasn’t enough to grant the benefits packages.

Pitti said unless the application showed that the project would bring a substantial number of jobs into the community added on to the people that already work there, the developer shouldn’t be allowed to go forward.

“I do a lot of things at Town Hall and two words I hear a lot are ‘precedent and perception,’” he said to the IDA board. “The precedent you guys are setting here is sad because if a company can come back two months later and present the same exact thing and hope it can get it by the board — that’s where the perception comes in. What has changed in two months that the vote should change from negative to positive?”

IDA officials stated they would not comment to the public nor reporters after the public hearing.

At the conclusion of the hearing, IDA officials said the application could be brought up at its board meeting Dec. 2. It would be up to the board members to decide if they want to vote on the application at that time or they could push the vote into 2020.

 

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The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Family Fun Day Sept. 28. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Family Fun Day Sept. 28 as the park beside the chamber-owned train car swarmed with young and old. People enjoyed the day by painting pumpkins, doing leaf etchings, playing games and listening to students from the School of Rock belt out strong performances throughout the evening. Participants were also greeted with a showcase of skill from locals in an apple pie baking contest and a scarecrow making contest.

A rendering of the planned Heatherwood Golf & Villas in South Setauket. Rendering from Town of Brookhaven Planning Board

The proposed apartment complex project on the property of the Heatherwood Golf Course in South Setauket will not receive a tax benefits package after the Brookhaven Industrial Agency rejected a proposal that would cut property taxes on the land by $3.76 million over 13 years at a hearing Aug. 21.

Also included would be $2,854,000 in sales tax exemptions and $420,000 in mortgage recording tax exemptions. In total the developers would see savings of more than $7 million.

The decision proved to be a small victory for some area residents who have been against the project since its inception. They were concerned that the proposed tax breaks could negatively affect local school districts and development would increase traffic congestion at the intersection of Route 347 and Arrowhead Lane.

Representatives for Heatherwood said at the meeting that they could not move forward with development without the tax breaks.

Salvatore Pitti, president of the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Civic Association, said the notion of developers abandoning the project was wishful thinking.

“We never wanted it from the beginning,” he said. “The entire community has been against it.”

The proposed project dates back to 2014 when it was brought up to the Town of Brookhaven zoning board and was approved of a crucial zone change that allowed for apartments on the property. As a part of the approval, the town board required the property owner to donate 40 acres of land to the Manorville Farm Protection Area, remove a billboard at the golf course and construct a sidewalk on the east side of Arrowhead Lane.

“The zone changes already occurred,” Pitti said. “We’ve already accepted the fact that it will be developed [eventually].

“Why do you need tax breaks if you don’t have the money to build it? It came off as them being more greedy.”

–Salvatore Pitti

In 2018, the Planning Board approved the proposed plans for the company to build on nearly 26 acres of its more than 70-acre property. The project, dubbed the Heatherwood Golf & Villas, will be a 200-unit senior apartment complex catering to individuals 55 and over.

The planned project would reduce the 18-hole golf course to nine holes to allow developers to build the apartments and would supposedly bring more revenue to the golf course.

IDA members questioned the reason Heatherwood needed tax breaks to move forward with the project. Heatherwood said that the project would create six permanent full-time jobs, though IDA members said it wasn’t enough jobs to grant it the benefits package.

Herb Mones, chair of the Three Village Civic Association land use committee, was shocked when he first heard that Heatherwood was looking for tax breaks.

“I was like ‘You gotta be kidding me,’” Mones said. “It wasn’t enough that they got the zoning approval, but now they need tax breaks — at some point enough is enough. It is corporate greed.”

Mones argued that the project would forever affect the surrounding communities.

“It adds to the over development, we lose open space and a golf course,” he said. “…We are happy the IDA turned them down.”

Mones along with Pitti wasn’t buying that the project would be abandoned if Heatherwood didn’t receive the tax benefits package.

“There is no possibility that they will not develop that land after they got the zone change, they are going ahead with the project,” Mones said. “It will yield a gold mine for the corporation. We believe this will bring no benefits to the community.”

Despite, the IDA rejecting the package, Pitti said he wouldn’t be surprised if Heatherwood broke ground on the project in the next few months.

A representative from Heatherwood did not return messages requesting a phone interview by press time.

 

A rendering of the planned Heatherwood Golf & Villas in South Setauket. Rendering from Town of Brookhaven Planning Board

The Brookhaven Industrial Development agency voted to postpone a decision to grant Heatherwood Luxury Rentals tax breaks for construction of rental housing units on its current golf course in South Setauket at a July 17 meeting.

File photo by Andrea Paldy

Lisa Mulligan, Town of Brookhaven director of economic development and CEO of the IDA and Local Development Corporation, said there were more than a dozen residents who attended the meeting and approximately six of them spoke during the public hearing. She said the comments varied from traffic concerns — which she added are outside of the office’s scope — and the tax breaks the company is applying for.

If approved at the IDA’s next meeting Aug. 21, Heatherwood could see its property taxes at the location, which falls in the Three Village and Comsewogue school districts, reduced by $3.76 million over the next 13 years. The package would also include $2,854,000 in sales tax exemptions and $420,000 in mortgage recording tax exemptions for a total savings of more than $7 million.

Last year, the Brookhaven Planning Board approved the proposed plans of Commack-based Heatherwood Luxury Rentals to build on nearly 26 acres of its more than 70-acre golf course on the southeast corner of Arrowhead Lane and Route 347. The new development will be called Heatherwood Golf & Villas and will be a 55-and-over community. The company plans to construct 200 rental housing units — 10 percent of which will be set aside for workforce housing units — and an 8,500-square-foot clubhouse with a pool. Heatherwood also plans to redesign the golf course, reducing it from 18 holes to nine.

Development of the golf course has faced opposition from nearby residents, elected officials and local civic associations since it was first presented in 2014. That year, town Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) sponsored the resolution for a zone change for the property from A Residence 5, which allows one housing unit for every 5 acres, to Planned Retirement Community, which would allow a 55-and-over community. On Dec. 16, 2014, the town board approved it by a 4-3 vote. Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), former Councilwoman Connie Kepert (D-Middle Island) and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) dissented.

The town board placed conditions on its zone change approval, including requiring Heatherwood owner Douglas Patrick to donate 40 acres of land to the Manorville Farm Protection Area, removing a billboard at the golf course and constructing a sidewalk on the east side of Arrowhead Lane. The town accepted the 40 acres of property in 2015 in lieu of the Pine Barrens Credit redemption required under the Planned Retirement Community code.

Cartright said in an email that within her district the project has been a highly controversial one.

“The community was against it from the get-go, and it was still able to squeak by somehow.”

— Salvatore Pitti

“Numerous residents and organizations have raised concern about this project, notably density and traffic concerns, especially in light of the existing traffic issues at this location,” the councilwoman said. “I stood with members of the community and opposed this application. However, over my objection and vote in opposition, the application was still granted, and open space benefits were provided to other areas outside of our community. The applicant has always touted this project as tax positive to the local school district. This application to the Brookhaven IDA seems to be in clear contravention to the promises made to our community.”

John Gobler, a nearly 50-year homeowner in Heatherwood Village South in South Setauket, is one of the residents who is concerned about traffic. At the July 9, 2018,  planning board meeting, he said the intersection of Arrowhead Lane and Route 347 has been a problem for several years due to the number of cars exiting onto Arrowhead and the timing of lights at the corner, where he has witnessed only four or five cars being able to go through a green light at one time.

Salvatore Pitti, president of the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Civic Association, said in a phone interview the group has been opposed to the development since the beginning. He was on hand for the July 17 IDA meeting where he addressed the residents’ concerns about Heatherwood applying for tax breaks.

“If you’re a contractor, and you don’t have money to build a project, then don’t build it,” Pitti said. “The community was against it from the get-go, and it was still able to squeak by somehow. So why should we be burdening ourselves with less taxes coming our way from a new development when [Heatherwood] is the one who is going to be raking in all the profit.”

Herb Mones, chairperson of the Three Village Civic Association’s land use committee, said the community has not supported the development since it was first proposed in 2014. He said he feels Heatherwood asking for tax breaks is an example of corporate greed.

“We are going to feel the effects of this high-density buildout in the Heatherwood area without any kind of benefit, and for the corporation to now apply for even more advantage, after getting what was millions of a windfall in a zone change, is almost incomprehensible,” he said.

George Hoffman, first vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, said the IDA should reject the request.

“Our civic association was concerned that the zoning was changed without any community input, and we remain concerned that this ill-conceived project now seeks taxpayer-funded incentives like property tax abatements and sales tax exemptions,” he said.

Douglas Patrick could not be reached for comments before press time.