Tags Posts tagged with "Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association"

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association

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Santa leaves some lasting impressions at the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber's drive-thru Santa event Dec. 5. Photo by Jeff Kito

It might have been as cold as the North Pole last Saturday, but local chamber and civic volunteers still managed to put on a night full of true holiday spirit.

Over 100 cars packed tight with families and children circled around the parking lot to the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber-owned train car Dec. 5 for a magical night of a visit to Santa, where kids also had the opportunity to their present wishlists to the big man in red, all postmarked for the North Pole.

Chamber members and other community volunteers struggled in the cold rain throughout the day to put together the nighttime event, but both leaders and volunteers said on seeing the expression on childrens’ faces, the effort was well worth it.

The event also contained both a food and toy drive. Multiple bags stuffed with food were donated to St. Gerard Majella R.C. Church’s food pantry, while a large box full of toys was given to the Town of Brookhaven INTERFACE program.

The Heatherwood golf course in Terryville has sat vacant since it was closed earlier this year and the green has become overgrown. The site is still slated for around 200 new 55-and-older condiminiums. Photo by Kyle Barr

A picture of a sign reading “What Should We Build” standing next to the now-closed golf course on Nesconset Highway in Terryville gained a few chuckles, before heads turned down in thought. Just what should be there? And who, if not the property owners, will do it?

The Heatherwood Golf Course, owned by Commack-based Heatherwood Golf and Villa, has been under strenuous controversy for the last few years as it tried in vain to build an apartment complex on the site. The site was closed this year, and the property facing the road has started to become overgrown.

The Heatherwood golf course in Terryville has sat vacant since it was closed earlier this year and the green has become overgrown. The site is still slated for around 200 new 55-and-older condiminiums. Photo by Kyle Barr

The apartment complex would have halved the number of holes at the golf course from 18 to nine on property that covers both Port Jefferson Station and Centereach. Back in 2014, the owners were granted a zoning change to the Heatherwood property to allow them to build the new condominiums for people 55 and older. Both Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) dissented. In 2018 the town planning board conditionally approved plans for the property. 

In a phone interview, Cartright said owners have three years since the planning board approved its plans, specifically Aug. 20, 2021, to finish the last four of 16 conditions of the approval, otherwise they would not be able to start construction.

In 2019, the property owner had sent two separate proposals to the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency for a payment in lieu of taxes agreement. The IDA shot down the owner’s first $7 million proposal, with some on the board citing the minimal number of jobs such a project would create. Just a few months later in November, the owner came back to the IDA with a newer, less intense $2.2 million tax break proposal. In a four to three split vote, that new PILOT proposal was rejected yet again in December.

And local civics haven’t budged from their antipathy toward any of those same PILOT agreements. Civic members from both Port Jefferson Station and Three Village have previously shared concerns about lost tax revenue for school districts as well as traffic concerns. 

Sal Pitti, the president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, said he felt the property owner was being “vindictive” in letting it become overgrown because the IDA did not acquiesce to any new tax breaks. He called owners “greedy” for trying to relinquish the one true benefit to the community the project would have, that being school taxes.

“If they did the project normally, think about all the money they would have saved back then,” Pitti said. “The guy’s pushing for what he wants and how he wants it, and that’s why he’s letting the property get so overgrown.”

Representatives of Heatherwood did not return a request for comment by press time.

Since its second IDA rejection, the owners have been largely silent about plans for the property. The Heatherwood Golf Course was officially closed this year. Weeds and grass have grown long in the absence of much or any care, and Cartright said the owners have been put on notice and are on a 14-day clock, starting from last week, before town workers move in to cut the grass. 

The grounds of the Heatherwood golf course have become overgrown. Photo by Kyle Barr

The question of who erected that cheeky sign belies the question: what is the future for the property? Suggestions on Facebook ranged from a park to a vineyard to a shooting range. 

Cartright said that as far as she knows the developer is still moving forward with their plans. As much as community members would like to see another public park, the councilwoman made it clear the town cannot simply buy up private land.

“It’s not our land — you have to have a willing seller to purchase anything as open space,” she said. “Though they still have an obligation for cleaning up their property.”

But Heatherwood has long had everything it needs to start up a new apartment complex, though it has before cited the need for those tax breaks before they can start any real development. 

Pitti said that while the owners still need to keep the property facing the street somewhat nice, it wouldn’t be so bad to see the rest of it reclaimed by nature. Better yet, he asked, why not let it return to being a golf course.

“I think the community loved it when it was a golf course,” he said. “It wasn’t like it wasn’t profitable — people went and used that golf course, even during the winter months — it was a sport people enjoyed, it was a clean well-kept property.”

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Wendol received a prolomation from State Sen. Ken LaValle, from left, Kevin Verbesey, Director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Edward Wendol, Founding Director of Comsewogue Public Library Richard Lusak, Ken LaValle’s aid Jeff Kito; Comsewogue library director Debbie Engelhardt. Photos by Debbie Engelhardt

For Ed Wendol, of Port Jefferson Station, time is not marked in years, but in decades.

Ed Wendol has spent 48 years on the Comsewogue Public Library board of trustees. Photo by Debbie Engelhardt

How long was he a teacher in the Middle Country school district? Nearly three decades. How long was he on the Comsewogue Public Library board? Two years shy of five decades. 

On his last day on the library board, the institution’s administration and a few lifelong friends held a short reception for Wendol to celebrate him serving his community, and Suffolk libraries, for year after year after year.

Now Wendol, 78, is planning to move down to Florida to be closer to his family. He, like so many other Long Islanders who are part of the exodus down to places like the Sunshine State or North Carolina is doing it with a heavy heart, knowing he’s moving from the place he has lived in and cared for over the past 50 years.

“What I’m particularly proud of, of being a trustee of the Comsewogue library, is that I’ve been elected to that position over the years,” Wendol said. “The public to me is important to recognize what we’ve been trying to accomplish with the library, and to me it’s the cultural center of the Comsewogue community.”

He is a past winner of TBR News Media’s Person of the Year, in 2003, for his work in Civics, specifically the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association when he vehemently opposed the closure of the DMV location in PJS. That DMV still stands today, partially thanks to his activism. Alongside his work in the civic, he has been an active member of the Polish-American Independent Club in PJS. 

It’s rare for people to have such an immediate reaction to hearing about a community member simply taking the well-worn trek to sunnier pastures, but Wendol’s work with libraries goes well above and beyond what’s normally expected with a library board trustee.

Richard Lusak, of Port Jefferson, was Comsewogue library’s first director and stayed in the position from 1966 to 2003. He saw Wendol as one of the most instrumental people for the library’s longtime success. 

When the library first came into being back in 1966, it was conceived to serve the residents of the school district, forming a five-member library board setting up in a rented 1,000-square-foot trailer a year later. Wendol had moved to the area from Queens in 1967, learning to live in a near-rural place like PJS where the sound of crickets kept city slickers like him up at night. He had long been a lover of libraries and books, he himself being an English teacher. Shortly after the Comsewogue library’s creation there was turnover on the library board, and that’s when Wendol stepped forward, being elected to the board in short order in 1972.

Throughout the years, Lusak said the venerable board member became a beacon for what a trustee could be, almost epitomizing everything the library trustee handbook — yes, it is a real book — stood for. While Wendol was working full time, he took night classes and gained a degree in library science, for what he described as wanting to be more knowledgeable and more helpful in the month-to-month decision-making process.

“He was instrumental in keeping everything on an even plane,” Lusak said. “He was a role model for the other board members.”

Current library director Debbie Engelhardt said that the past eight years in her position have been effective and “gratifying” thanks to Wendol’s steady presence and positive attitude.

“Ed understands well and is a true model of excellence in trusteeship,” she said. “Ed is steadfast, a voice of reason and has vast experience. He speaks his mind and is also a great listener. Ed’s positive influence helps us to keep moving forward. The healthy board dynamic Ed helped shape will remain.”

In his time on the library board, he also came to be recognized regionally for his service. He has several times been elected to the Suffolk Cooperative Library System board of trustees, helping oversee all libraries in the Town of Brookhaven. He has also previously served as that board’s president. Doing that he said his priority was to make all the libraries from Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket to Longwood Public Library come together to benefit the whole in their shared mission.

“Ed Wendol has been, for 48 years, the model of what a library trustee and public servant should be,” said Kevin Verbesey, SCLS director. “Ed always understood the critical role that a public library plays in the educational, intellectual and cultural life of a community. He was always informed, polite, active and firm in his support for and belief in libraries. Everyone in Suffolk County who cares about public libraries owes a debt of gratitude to Ed Wendol.”

Along with being active in Port Jefferson Station, for 27 years he was an English teacher in the Middle Country school district. In 2019, Wendol came across a host of copies of Newfield High School’s newspaper, The Quadrangle, sitting in his attic. The dates ran from 1970 to 1976, when he was the newspaper club’s adviser. The ex-Middle Country teacher donated his large collection of papers to the Middle Country Public Library for it all to be digitized.

It’s been a long ride for Wendol, and looking back from how the Comsewogue library progressed, first from its rented trailer location and now into a center where he loves to note that it serves everyone from preschool age all the way up to senior citizen. Libraries now are touchstones for local events, for helping people navigate an increasingly digital world, and all the while still giving people access to his beloved books. Next on the libraries’ plates, he said, is to emphasize culture, and offer people more real-world experiences on some kind of excursion, even if it takes them away from a library’s brick-and-mortar location.

“I think it was a fabulous thing we were able to accomplish,” Wendol said. “I think the aspect of people coming into the library, and wanting to come into the library … I’m happy to say with Debbie Engelhardt and my fellow trustees on the board, we are open.”

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The cell tower has been proposed for the southwestern portion of the property. Photo from Google maps

The Terryville Fire District is moving ahead on plans for a cell tower at its main firehouse, one they say could make the difference in emergency situations. 

The fire district has proposed creating a 120-foot monopole cell tower at the southwest portion of the property. Steve Petras, the district manager, said they are working with Port Jefferson Station-based LI Tower Partners. While Petras said they have not yet confirmed which provider would be on the tower, he mentioned AT&T was currently at the top of the list.

The cell tower, which district officials called a “mobile communications tower,” will include apparatus to extend the reach of the fire department’s radio equipment. 

So far, the final engineering reports have yet to come in, according to Petras. At its last meeting, March 26, the Town of Brookhaven voted unanimously to waive the site plan requirements and building fees for the cell tower, due to the district being a nonprofit. The fire district would still need to bring such a plan before the Town Planning Board in public hearings.

In May of last year, residents living near the Terryville Fire Department’s Station 2 firehouse on Canal Road vehemently protested the proposed cell tower. That tower had been proposed for the rear of the property, closer to the trees on the north side of the facility. 

Residents had complained that it would be an eyesore and decrease their property values. Leaders of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association joined in the protest, saying the fire district had not properly advertised its intentions to residents.

District officials disputed that, saying they had placed a legal notice in the March 16, 2017, edition of The Port Times Record on proposals for a cell tower on Canal Road and Jayne Boulevard as well as broadcasted those plans on all the digital signs outside each firehouse.

“When we sat down at those meetings, nobody from the community came out,” Petras said.

However, the new proposed location for the cell tower is enclosed, not by residential homes, but by retail businesses. 

Sal Pitti, the president of the civic, said he has not been contacted yet by the fire district, but the civic has not yet taken a stance on such a cell tower at the Jayne Boulevard location and would have to talk to the few people residing in the area, such as those living in the Fairfield Gardens on Terryville Road. 

However, of the three firehouses that could house a cell tower, “that’s the most desirable one,” he said.

The district manager said the fire district’s main justification in building a tower is two pronged. One is to eliminate dead zones within the district, while the other is to open up more potential revenue to the district to try and help keep taxes down.

The first point could mean the difference between a quick or slow response, or life and death.

“We’re having a hard time communicating with portable radios,” Petras said. “All our apparatus is outfitted with 4G, but we’re getting really bad reception in some areas — that’s a life safety issue for us … that’s unacceptable.”

The district manager said he did not yet know how much revenue the district would receive from the cell tower, and, depending on which service picks it up, the fire district would not have to spend time or money on building it or its maintenance.

This article was amended Oct. 15 to correct the company that is constructing the tower.

Mariano Rivera made an appearance at Brookhaven Town Hall Jan. 16 in support of his proposed Honda dealership in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by David Luces

Yankees National Baseball Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera was known throughout his professional career for his knack of nailing down tough victories. On Jan. 16, baseball’s all-time career saves leader added another victory to his business career when he won approval of a zoning change from the Brookhaven Town Board for a proposed Honda dealership in Port Jefferson Station.

“It feels great to be able to be a part of Port Jefferson Station, we’re excited to make new friends, be able to help others and do the right thing for this community.” 

– Mariano Rivera

The dealership on Route 112, dubbed Mariano Rivera Honda, could open later this year if the town Planning Board approves a site plan. The Town Board voted 7-0 to rezone parts of the 8.1-acre property to allow expansion of an existing building and construction of a new one. The Planning Board has yet to set a date to hear Rivera’s plan. 

“It feels great to be able to be a part of Port Jefferson Station,” Rivera said after the vote. “We’re excited to make new friends, be able to help others and do the right thing for this community.”

Don King, the Kings Park-based lawyer representing Rivera, said the business will be a good fit in the community 

“They love him, the excitement is there — I had one guy tell me he wants to buy a car in [Yankee] pinstripes,” he said. 

The Hall of Fame pitcher met with the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association last May to discuss the project. While the civic submitted a letter to the town with no complaints, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said there were a few suggestions that would help the site fit better into the area. 

“The [sales and service] building was originally 55,000 square feet and we reduced down to 35,000,” King said. “The neighbors asked if we could do something smaller and we would if we got permission from Honda — and we did.”

Rivera’s plan also calls for expanding an existing 6,425-square-foot auxiliary building by more than 30 percent and increasing the parking lot’s capacity to hold over 350 vehicles. The dealership would be built at an existing car dealer site at 1435 Route 112, between Jefferson and Washington avenues.

King said they don’t have a date yet of when the dealership could open but said it comes down to a number of things like designs tweaks and how soon the Planning Board can review the site plans. Once these are approved and necessary permits are obtained, construction will start. 

After the hearing, Rivera interacted with Yankees fans and residents who came out to Town Hall in Farmingville. He posed for pictures and signed autographs for a number of Brookhaven officials. 

“This man has the golden touch,” Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) said after the hearing concluded. 

 

Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and PJ Village trustee, Kathianne Snaden, at the town’s Quality of Life Task Force’s first public meeting Dec. 17. Photo by Kyle Barr

As members of the Brookhaven Town’s Quality of Life Task Force walked in to the Comsewogue Public Library Dec. 17, looking to talk about the homeless issue, they were each greeted with a poignant reminder, a shopping cart laden with items, of containers and blankets, sitting in a handicapped space closest to the library’s main doors.

At the area surrounding the railroad tracks in the Port Jefferson area, men and women sleep outside even as the months grow colder. They sleep on benches and on the stoops of dilapidated buildings. Village code enforcement and Suffolk County police have said they know many of them by name, and services for them have been around, in some cases, for decades.

Still, homelessness in the Upper Port and Port Jefferson Station area continues to be an issue that has vexed local municipalities. On both sides of the railroad tracks, along Route 25A, also known as Main Street, residents constantly complain of seeing people sleeping on the stoops of vacant buildings.

But beyond a poor sight, the issue, officials said is multipronged. Dealing with it humanely, especially getting people services, remains complicated, while an all-encompassing, effective solution would require new efforts on every level of government.

Phase two of the task force, officials said, will mean coming out with a full report that includes recommendations, to be released sometime in 2020. Likely, it will come in the form of proposed state legislation regarding access to sober homes, bills to allow assistance in homeless transport, increased sharing of information between departments and municipalities, increased law enforcement activity, and revitalization efforts by both village and town while concurrently tackling quality of life issues.

Efforts by the town

At the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting Dec. 17, members of the town’s task force, along with other local legislators, talked with residents about their findings.

The task force came into its own last year after a video of two homeless people having a sexual encounter on a bench in Port Jeff Station exploded in community social media groups like a bag of popcorn heated over a jet engine. The task force has brought together town, police, village, county and other nonprofit advocacy groups to the table, looking to hash out an effective response.

Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said much of the first phase of the task force has been collecting data, although some items still remain up in the air. Vincent Rothaar, of Suffolk County’s Department of Social Services, said there have been approximately 48 street homeless, but he was not sure if that was 48 outreaches to a single individual multiple times.

That is not to say the homeless population in the town’s District 1 and PJ Village is stagnant. Much of them are transient homeless, said PJS/T civic president, Sal Pitti, who is an ex-city police officer. Especially since Port Jeff contains the LIRR Station, those who sleep under a tent one morning may be gone the next day.

“It’s not just an issue that’s affected District 1, it’s an issue that’s affected the entire town, is affecting the entire county” Cartright said. “A lot of the legislation we’re putting forward is not just affecting District 1.”

“It’s not just an issue that’s affected District 1, it’s an issue that’s affected the entire town, is affecting the entire county”

– Valerie Cartright

Cartright has said that several months ago she stood out by the side of the road with a homeless couple that after weeks of talks and persuading finally agreed to go into a Suffolk County housing program. The county had called a cab to pick up the couple, and the councilwoman described how the people had to figure out what they were going to bring with them, going down from several bags between them to one bag a piece.

After calling the cab company, Cartright said the car had apparently got turned around, thinking they were in Port Jefferson instead of Port Jefferson Station. To get the homeless couple their ride, she had to make Suffolk County call up the company again.

Cartright has made efforts to use town-owned buses to help transport homeless individuals in emergency situations but was stymied by other members of the Town Board and officials in the county executive’s office, who said it was both unnecessary and not in the town’s purview.

Rothaar said DSS, especially its recently hired director Frances Pierre, would not dismiss any offer from any municipality of additional transportation services.

“We’re up to working with any government entity for the transport of a homeless person to one of our shelters,” he said. “We’re adamant of not just working with the Town of Brookhaven, but working with every municipality in Suffolk County.”

County offers more collaboration

The difficulty comes in trying to get services for the homeless population comes down to two things, officials said. One is the individual’s or group’s willingness to be helped, the other is the way the county manages the homeless person once they make it into the system.

The difficulty is enormous. Cartright said she has personally talked to individuals multiple times over a year before they even give a hint of wanting to be put in the system.

COPE officer for the Suffolk County police 6th Precinct, Casey Hines Berry, said the police have stepped up foot and bike patrols in the station area, the village and the Greenway Trail, along with talking to increasing communication with local businesses and shelters such as Pax Christi.

The Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

“As we were able to determine who were the individuals committing crimes, we could determine who were the individuals who need housing, who have housing, who are refusing housing,” Berry said. “We did this by collaborating all our different resources within the community.”

She said there have been more arrests, specifically 362 from May 2018 to current date, compared to 245 from the previous time period. The disparity of those numbers she attributed to warrants identifying more people in the area who may be wanted for previous citations, especially in quality of life matters such as public urination or open containers. She added there is no gang activity in Port Jefferson Station, only gang-affiliated people living in the area. In May this year, police arrested one young man of Port Jeff Station for an alleged conspiracy to murder two others in Huntington Station.

But police are not allowed to simply arrest people who may be “loitering” on the street without due cause, she said. If a person is standing on private property, it’s up to the owner to call police to ask them for help getting them to move on. In cases where homeless may be living on property such as the LIPA-owned right-of-way, it’s up to that body to request help removing them.

Police know many of the stationary homeless on a first name basis. Getting them to come in to an emergency shelter or through DSS systems is the difficult part. Many, officials said, simply have difficulty trusting the system — or can’t — such as the case when a homeless, nonmarried couple cannot go into services together and would rather stay together than be separated and have help.

Rothaar said the DSS offers much more than emergency housing, including medical assistance, financial services, along with child and adult protective services.

He said department workers often go out to meet homeless individuals over and over. Each time they may bring a different individual, such as a priest or a different social worker, as if “we keep going out to them again and again, they might respond.” He said they have conducted 18 outreaches in the Port Jeff area since 2018 and have assisted 48 people.

“If we continue to reach out to them, they have come into our care, for lack of a better term, to receive case management services,” he said.

Port Jeff Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce vice president, Larry Ryan, said the best way to give homeless access to care is to be compassionate.

“People have to be willing to accept help,” he said. “You can offer it all you want but if that person’s not willing to take help, or use the services being provided for them, your hands get tied.”

That sentiment was echoed by Pax Christi director, Stephen Brazeau, who said he has seen DSS making a good effort, especially when the weather gets cold. He added that one must be cautious of thinking someone you meet on the street must be homeless.

“You always need to be there, need to always be available when that ‘yes’ comes,” Brazeau said.

Alex DeRosa, an aide to Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), said the county has already passed legislation, sponsored by Hahn, to allow police a copy of the list of emergency homes that was originally only kept by DSS.

There are more than 200 supportive housing sites in Suffolk County that DSS does not oversee, which are instead overseen by New York State. However, the state does not list where or how many sober homes in the area.

“That’s what we’re trying to change, increase that communication,” said Pitti.

Village works with local shelter

Residents have appeared at village meetings to state they have seen drug deals happening near the LIRR train tracks in Upper Port, specifically surrounding Hope House Ministries, which has provided services for homeless for just under 40 years.

Port Jefferson residents have mentioned witnessing catcalling and harassment on the train platform from people behind Pax Christi’s fence. One resident, Kathleen Riley, said she had witnessed what could have been a drug deal between people using Pax Christi’s back gate to exchange an item that was then taken by people onto a train.

Village officials said they have been in communication with the Pax Christi’s Brazeau. In the past few weeks, village trustee Kathianne Snaden said she has communicated with Pax Christi and has toured their facility along with village manager Joe Palumbo and Fred Leute, acting chief of code enforcement. While she commended the facility for the work it does, she suggested either extending or raising the exterior fence, though Palumbo said he was told they would not be able to take any action on new fencing until at least the new year.

Snaden said the village has also reached out to a fencing company that could create a new, larger fence in between the platform and Pax Christi, in order to reduce sight lines.

Brazeau said the shelter is looking to install a new fence around the side to the front of the building, and has agreed with the village about them installing a higher fence in between Pax Christi and the platform.

Regarding the back gate, he said fire code mandates it be open from the inside, but didn’t rule out including some kind of alarm system at a later date.

MTA representative Vanessa Lockel lauded the new train station to help beautify the area, along with new security cameras for added protection. However, when it came to adding new benches, civic leaders helped squash that attempt. Pitti said they feared more people using the benches for sleeping or encouraging more people to stay and loiter.

Snaden said code enforcement meets every train arriving in an effort to show a presence, which she said has led to a reduction in incidents, though code enforcement is limited in what they can do, with no power of arrest. MTA police, Lockel said, have more than 700 miles of track to cover on the Long Island Rail Road, and not enough people report incidents to their hotline, 718-361-2201, or text [email protected]

Other services available

Celina Wilson, president of the Bridge of Hope Resource Center in Port Jeff Station, has helped identify other nongovernment entities providing services for the homeless population in the area.

She said the two hospitals in Port Jeff, namely St. Charles and Mather, provide similar amounts of service as far as substance abuse, but while St. Charles hosts inpatient detox and rehabilitation services, Mather hosts outpatient alcohol and substance abuse programs.

There are numerous soup kitchens in both the village and station areas, but only two kitchens, Maryhaven and St. Gerard Majella, host food pantries. She said both groups reported to Bridge of Hope there was a decline in people utilizing their services as of a year ago.

Hope House Ministries hosts a range of services for the homeless, including the Pax Christi 25-bed emergency shelter.

“Most people are not aware of the available resources until they are in a crisis,” Wilson said. “And they are scrambling for answers.”

She said largely in the area, “everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing,” and thanked the local officials for taking action compared to other areas, like Brentwood, whose officials did not make efforts until the situation was already out of control.

“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to work with the members of the task force,” she said.

 

 

 

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Protesters in Port Jefferson Station object to a potential cell tower along Canal Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

The residents who live surrounding the Terryville Fire Department Station 3 on Canal Road can already picture it in their heads — a metal tower rising to the sky, an eyesore for all to see. It’s a project that Port Jefferson Station resident and protest organizer Teresa Mantione said was going to tank their property values.

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic President Sal Pitti protests a potential cell tower along Canal Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

“They have the reason it’s their property, but we live all around here,” Mantione said. “It’s all about money. They are going to get a lot of money for this project.”

Multiple residents whose homes surround the Canal Road fire station said they thought a cell tower would be an eyesore, and they feared their property values would be dramatically reduced if the tower is constructed.

James Rant, a commissioner for Terryville Fire District, said the cell tower has so far been tabled, and the district is not even sure if they will make any more headway on the project. Otherwise, he said the district was looking to help all residents in the district, as a lease agreement for a cell tower could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars for the district over several years.

“This wouldn’t be paid for by the district, but the cell providers,” Rant added. “This was explored as a means of bringing revenue into the district.”

Andy Ram, who lives directly across the street from the firehouse, said he would be looking at it every day as he walks onto his lawn.

“There was no consultation,” Ram said. “We pay taxes here, and this is the first time I learned about this.”

Protesters also claimed the fire district has not been upfront in informing the community about their decision. 

Bill Freda points to where the cell tower would be located, saying he would see it from his backyard. Photo by Kyle Barr

The fire district had included a legal notice in the March 16, 2017, edition of the Port Times Record on proposals for a cell tower on Canal Road and Jayne Boulevard, though recent news has been quiet on any new cell towers. However, even with the legal notice, residents said they had little news by the fire department online or in other print forms.

Sal Pitti, president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, joined in the protest saying he felt the fire department did not do enough to reach out to the community. He added the department had neither presented nor talked to civic leaders about the project.

“They could have easily gone through so many other routes to let members know this was going on,” Pitti said. 

Bill Freda, a 16-year volunteer and former captain in the fire department, has a backyard that looks at the surrounding trees to the rear of the fire station property. Later in the year, when the leaves fall from the trees, he fears he will have a front-row view of the new cell tower.

He said volunteers in the department had little to no knowledge of the new cell tower, and he fears the tower will directly impact his and neighboring property values.

“I’m taking a huge hit on this — this wipes out my investment,” he said. “I wish they could put this somewhere else or rent space on another tower.”

Protesters in Port Jefferson Station object to a potential cell tower along Canal Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

Rant said he was skeptical that a new cell tower would hurt local property values. Though he lives next to the Lawrence Aviation superfund site, he said he has seen very little impact on the price of his home.

Protesters point to studies such as a 2014 survey by Washington, D.C.-based National Institute for Science, Law & Public Policy which said 94 percent of those respondents said cell towers would impact interest in a nearby property.

In addition to the protest, more than 150 people have signed an online Change.org petition saying they don’t want a cell tower at the fire station.

“They did not follow proper procedure and laws,” Port Jefferson Station resident Jim Hall wrote on the site. “Do not want this in my neighborhood. It’s a money grab.”

This post has been amended to change Bill Freda status to ex-captain in the fire department.

Brookhaven Town presented its vision for Port Jefferson Station between the train tracks and Route 347 at civic association meeting July 24. Photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson Station’s future is still blurry, but the vision is beginning to come into focus.

Members of the Town of Brookhaven Planning Department were on hand at a Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting July 24 to share a preliminary look and float recommendations for the revitalization of the area of Port Jeff Station between the train tracks and Route 347. Representatives of the department announced, as a result of examining both the 2008 Comsewogue Hamlet Comprehensive Plan and the 2014 Port Jefferson Station Commercial Hub Study, which were largely the product of community input in the form of mailed surveys, demand exists to create a walkable, downtown hub with buildings zoned for retail and/or restaurant use on the first floor and residential use on potentially up to a fourth floor.

The announcement also served to lay out a timeline for the next steps in the process, which will require the formation of a citizens advisory committee, the conducting of a blight study and drafting of an actual land use plan to be brought before the town as a final stage, among many others. Completion of the preliminary steps is expected to occur in 2020, at which point the town would need to approve zoning changes necessary to precede shovels entering the ground.

Town of Brookhaven, as part of its presentation July 24, laid out some of the important dates upcoming for its revitalization plans, most of which will take place in 2019. Graphic by TBR News Media.

“Patience is not a virtue, it’s a necessity for these kinds of matters,” town planning commissioner Tullio Bertoli said. “We did visioning. This is the implementation of that visioning into a full-blown land-use plan.”

The announced timeline and plans come as several violent crimes have garnered media attention, including a July incident in which a 27-year-old man from Selden was shot to death inside a billiards hall in upper Port, as well as what locals would likely characterize as an increase in delinquent activities perpetrated by the homeless population in the area.

“We want to clean the area up, this is the most efficient way right now to try to clean that area up,” civic association President Sal Pitti said during the meeting.

He and other officials in attendance stressed simply building and developing cannot be expected to alleviate all of the area’s ills.

“There are some issues that cannot be solved by building structures,” Bertoli said.

Still, Thomas Chawner, a senior planner with the town who conducted the presentation, said the community’s desire to improve public safety and decrease blight were taken into account in making the plans.

“There’s a need for better enforcement for derelict properties in the hub area,” he said. “Affordable housing — we heard loud and clear in both studies people are feeling that their children cannot afford housing. They don’t want their children to leave Long Island. They need affordable housing.”

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) was also at the meeting and threw his support behind the proposal.

“I’m with the civic on this, because this community is a great community and really deserves all of our effort to make sure that it’s always going in the right direction, not the wrong direction,” he said.

A map identifying the areas set for revitalization and included in subsequent studies, taken from the July 24 presentation by the planning department.

Community members present at the meeting expressed both support and concerns relating to the presented possibilities for redevelopment. Some are worried about coordination between the interested parties — namely the community, the town’s planning department and the private developers — from the planning stage to the actual implementation stage. Others conveyed opposition to increased population density in the area and the possibility of more traffic. Those in support stressed that the combination of residential, retail and restaurant spaces would provide for the desired outcome — a vibrant, walkable downtown with feet on the streets, fostering an environment intolerant of the drug use and violence garnering the headlines in the area at present.

The plan, in addition to the physical building options, also laid out suggestions for aesthetic “streetscape” fixes that could also help to foster that desired environment, like crosswalks decorated with commissioned art and plantings hanging from light poles. Strategically placed pocket parks or passive green spaces, as well as a community center, were also listed as possible addendums to the larger plans.

Charlie Lefkowitz, who owns much of the real estate in the hub study area, said in a phone interview he has worked with the town in visioning improvement in the area and intends to continue to do so.

A blight study is expected to begin and be concluded by early 2019, which will trigger the next steps of the revitalization plan.

A rendering of the proposed Heatherwood rental units in South Setauket. Rendering from Heatherwood

The Town of Brookhaven is in the final stages of deciding whether to allow a controversial retirement community to be constructed. 

Commack-based Heatherwood Luxury Rentals has proposed plans to build on nearly 26 acres of its more than 70-acre golf course on the southeast corner of Arrowhead Lane and Route 347. It was put on the planning board’s decision calendar at its July 9 meeting, and now they have 62 days from July 9 to render a decision.

The property at the intersection of Arrowhead Lane and Route 347 is currently a golf course. Photo by Andrea Paldy

If approved, the company would construct Heatherwood Golf at Setauket, a 55 and over community with 200 rental housing units, 403 parking stalls and additional garages. Heatherwood also plans to redesign the golf course, reducing it from 18 holes to nine. The property falls in both the Comsewogue and Three Village school districts.

John Gobler, a 48-year homeowner in Heatherwood Village South in South Setauket, attended the July 9 meeting objecting to plans for the new development having only one entryway to exit and enter, which would dump traffic onto Arrowhead Lane. 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.

He questioned a traffic engineering study by Stonefield Engineering & Design, LLC conducted June 13 of the traffic volume count of cars exiting Arrowhead to Route 347. He said the company found a total of 183 cars during 7 to 9 a.m. and 141 vehicles 4 to 7 p.m. Gobler said he sat at the intersection and monitored traffic for a 20-minute period, 8:55 to 9:15 a.m. three separate days when school wasn’t in session and counted exiting cars from Arrowhead. His average was 89 for the 20-minute intervals, which would be 266 cars during the morning rush hour. He said Stonefield’s count of 183 cars over a two-hour period would mean only 31 cars every 20 minutes.

Frank Filiciotto, a traffic consultant with Stonefield, said there are always spikes in traffic, which could account for Gobler’s observation. He also said the 183 and 141 numbers represent one-hour volumes within the periods of time specified and not the entire time specified. He said the company has been monitoring traffic in the area for four years. One observation of cars entering and exiting nearby Fairfield Knolls North by the company showed a daily total of 218 cars observed during 7 to 9 a.m., 2 to 4 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. Stonefield broke the figures down to 60 in the morning period, 80 from 2 to 4 p.m., and 78 during the evening period. The monitored development is 0.65 miles northeast of the proposed apartments and is also age restricted. The company prorated the numbers since Fairfield Knolls has 91 more units than what is proposed for Heatherwood. He said the amount of traffic was similar to what they originally projected and should not negatively impact the area.

“The overpacking of the site with housing, adjacent to a residential neighborhood, and built on an already highly trafficked Route 347 demonstrates poor planning.”

— Herb Mones

“This isn’t assumption,” Filiciotto said. “This isn’t opinions. This is fact. We went out, and we calculated the amount of traffic Fairfield North was generating during peak hours.”

In 2014, 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 by a 4-3 vote. Councilwomen Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Connie Kepert (D-Middle Island) as well as Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) dissented. 

The town board placed conditions on its zone change approval, including requiring Heatherwood owner Doug Partrick 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. Panico’s office confirmed 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.

Development of the golf course has faced opposition from elected officials and local civic associations since it was first presented in 2014. Cartright remains opposed to the project as it stands, according to her legislative aide Jennifer Martin. 

Herb Mones, chair of the Three Village Civic Association’s land use committee, said the civic group opposed the initial zone change for the golf course, and he said many felt it was controversial due to the town board approving it over the objections of Cartright.

“The overpacking of the site with housing, adjacent to a residential neighborhood, and built on an already highly trafficked Route 347 demonstrates poor planning,” he said.

Sal Pitti, president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, said the group still stands opposed to the development.

“The community spoke in force back when the project was proposed, and they said we don’t want it,” Pitti said. “The aspect that bothered us the most for the acceptance of the project was that a donation of land went to another council district instead of ours.”

Brightview Senior Living is looking to construct a 170-unit facility on about nine acres of land off Route 112 in Port Jeff Station, illustrated above within the red box. Image from Google Maps

Another large-scale development project is in the works for the Port Jefferson Station area.

Brookhaven Town approved a zone change at its July 12 meeting paving the way for the construction of a 170-unit assisted living facility on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station on a parcel near The Meadow Club banquet hall. With plans already progressing in recent months to construct a 244-unit residential complex for senior citizens on North Bicycle Path just off of Route 112 and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s allocating of $8 million in funds for a roughly 100-unit project for affordable and homeless housing on Route 112 near East Grove Street, this will be the third property set for massive development in a roughly mile and a half stretch of the state highway.

Baltimore-based developer Brightview Senior Living will be building and operating the assisted living facility, as it does with each of its 35 properties, according to Vice President of Development David Holland, who spoke during a town public hearing on the zone change July 12.

“We intend to be long-term citizens of Brookhaven and strive to be good neighbors to all who are around us,” Holland said.

The VP said the company expects the majority of its tenants to be in their 80s and 90s and in need of regular, daily care. Brightview’s current site plan for the approximately nine-acre plot of land includes a three-story building with dining venues, a theater, a pub, a library, indoor and outdoor lounges, as well as its own sewage treatment facility for the site.

The property was previously owned by area resident Jeff Kito and his family dating back to the 1950s, he said during the hearing. Kito is the former president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and lives on the nearby Canal Road currently. He said he and his brother decided to sell the property about three years ago and sought to find a developer interested in building something along the lines of what Brightview proposed. He said he has met with neighbors in the vicinity to discuss the plans.

“I think we’ll have a great facility for the community,” he said.

Kito’s former colleagues in the civic association submitted a letter to Brightview dated Jan. 25, 2017, stating the members had no objections to the project.

“We look forward to working with your firm as this assisted living facility proposal is further developed in our Port Jefferson Station Terryville Hamlet,” said the letter, signed by then-President Ed Garboski, who is now the vice president.

Current President Sal Pitti said in an email the civic association still has no objections related to the project. Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Anthony Guardino, an attorney representing the applicant at the July 12 hearing, each said they had received a single letter from a community member in opposition of the development in addition to several in favor, including one signed by all homeowners on Patty Ann Court, which is also nearby the boundaries of the parcel. The property is expected to have a significant buffer from other residential properties that will include sizable evergreen trees.

Holland indicated a demand for such a facility exists in the area, as Brightview determined about 1,500 assisted living beds are currently available in the town.

About 16 percent of Suffolk County’s population is 65 or older, according to the website www.censusreporter.org, which is slightly higher than the New York state and United States rates. Port Jefferson Station’s 80-plus population is substantially larger — about 20 percent — than that of the state and surrounding region, according to the site.