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Sal Pitti

Pictured above, the PJSTCA executive board. File photo by Raymond Janis

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association gathered at Comsewogue Public Library on Tuesday, Nov. 15, for its monthly general meeting.

Representing the Comsewogue School District, students Kylie and Max delivered a string of reports on various upcoming events within the district. Kylie referred to the high school’s recent annual Trick-or-Treat Street as “a huge success.” 

Max reported parent-teacher conferences would take place on Monday, Nov. 21, from 5 to 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Nov. 23, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Community members are welcome to attend Spanish Heritage Night on Dec. 9 from 7-9 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.

Ed Garboski, president of PJSTCA, announced that the area had received a grant for streetlights along Route 112. Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) facilitated the funding, according to the civic’s leadership. 

These funds, combined with money made available to the community through the new Nissan dealership, should cover lights for the entire strip. The body passed a resolution to draft a letter thanking the councilmember and his staff for their efforts to illuminate the corridor.

PJSTCA vice president Sal Pitti announced a recent “huge arrest” related to catalytic converter theft, a crime trend throughout the region. Pitti reported that law enforcement arrested 21 individuals in a multistate initiative, charging 13, two of whom were from Suffolk County.

“This was a Department of Justice operation that was done with multiple agencies across multiple states,” he said. “Mind you, this does not mean it stops. They got a lot of people that we assume are the main people, but they might not be.” He added, “Arrests are being made on it, but we don’t know where it will go from there.”

Garboski discussed spring plans for the community garden near the middle school. “If anyone has ideas, wants to volunteer or help get it moving for the spring, please let us know,” he said.

The members also discussed a 5-acre, 40-unit planned retirement community to be developed on the corner of Terryville and Old Town roads. Civic member Lou Antoniello, who was involved in the 2008 Comsewogue Hamlet Comprehensive Plan, described the historical background behind this local development discussion.

“Back in 2008, the people who owned that [parcel] were the people who owned the shopping center adjacent to it,” he said. “During the hamlet study, they made it known that they wanted to build a shopping center next to the one they already owned.” He added, “The people who lived in that community said they didn’t want it.”

Through a series of compromises made during the time of the hamlet study, the community and the property owners agreed upon zoning that property for a small retirement community. Since then, the Town of Brookhaven has rezoned that land to PRC Residence District.

Civic member Ira Costell suggested the community take a greater interest in that development as the process works through the Brookhaven Planning Board.

“That owner has an as-of-use right to develop that property in that fashion,” he said. “It’s going to be important that we pay attention to the site plan review process at the Planning Board level to decide if we want to influence how that development proceeds.”

Later this month, the civic’s executive team will meet with town officials and Planning Board members. Asking the members how to represent the interests of the community, Pitti offered that it would be wise if he and others pressed the town to limit all new development to residential rather than commercial.

Garboski and Pitti announced during the October meeting they had recently sold their homes, triggering a reshuffling of the civic’s top two posts. [See story, “Port Jefferson Station/Terryville civic … shake-up at the helm.”]

Inquiring about the coming transition process for the civic leadership, Costell proposed beginning those procedures now. 

“Perhaps we can start to talk about a transition group or committee that can join in on some of these conversations and shape where things go in the next several months,” he said. “I think we really need to have a coalition that we can build here so that we can move forward given the changing tenor of the times here.”

Responding, Pitti suggested that he and Garboski intend to finish this year as usual and begin working with possible successors starting in 2023. However, he stated that bringing other members to the upcoming meeting on the Terryville Road PRC development would be unwise.

Costell’s concerns centered less around any one meeting and more around the overall transition process. “I’m trying to indicate that we don’t want to throw somebody into the deep end of the pool next year,” he said. “I’m looking for a principle, an idea, for how we can incorporate some of the people who want to shape this community beyond your time here.”

Finding some common ground, Garboski said members must decide who will fill these top positions given the demands and constraints. “Amongst yourselves, first figure out who wants to take this over,” he said.

Resolving the matter, Costell offered that the organization is working toward a resolution. “You’re making the perfect point that some sort of transition is an ideal circumstance,” he said. “If you’re comfortable with how that’s happening, and the group is as well, that’s fine by me.”

The civic will reconvene Tuesday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m

Pictured above, the PJSTCA executive board. Photo by Raymond Janis

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association met Tuesday, Oct. 25, at Comsewogue Public Library for its monthly general meeting covering various topics.

Due to a recent shortage of Suffolk County COPE officers, civic vice president Sal Pitti, whose background is in law enforcement, delivered the public safety report. He concentrated on the crime trend of catalytic converter thefts in the area.

“It’s a multiagency, multilevel thing going on, and we’re not the only ones,” he said. “They’re getting hit upstate. They’re getting hit downstate. They’re getting hit everywhere in New York and in other states.” 

The most popular models among auto thieves, according to Pitti, are the older models of the Honda Accord, Honda CR-V, and Ford F-150. Given the uptick in this phenomenon, he announced the Suffolk County Police Department is exploring an auto crimes unit.

“The last time I talked to the commissioner [Rodney Harrison], he told me he’s working on establishing an auto crimes unit … that can get more in-depth, more cross agency and get more information from other places,” he said.

A student representative from Comsewogue School District announced an upcoming Halloween event at the high school. “This upcoming Friday, Oct. 28, from 4 to 6 [p.m.] is Trick or Treat Street at the high school with diverse clubs and organizations creating a safe environment for the young trick-or-treaters,” he said.

With news from the library, Comsewogue director Debbie Engelhardt announced that Andrea Malchiodi has recently assumed the role of the assistant library director. 

“Andrea brings excellent experience to the library, most recently having worked at the Lindenhurst Memorial Library as a department head and prior to that at Mastics-Moriches-Shirley [Community Library],” Engelhardt said.

Also making an appearance was Bruce Miller, former Port Jefferson Village trustee. Miller gave a string of updates on the ongoing efforts to electrify the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Jefferson Branch line.

Though MTA is funneling billions of dollars throughout New York City and Nassau County, Miller held that the railroad is showing little concern for the needs of its North Shore riders.

“There’s $10 billion on the table for the MTA, and they don’t show a lot of preference for the Port Jefferson/North Shore line,” Miller said. “They’re stripping off ridership from this line here, who are commuting to Ronkonkoma and some [going] as far as Hicksville or Huntington to get a decent ride.”

Responding to this assessment, Charlie McAteer, the civic organization’s corresponding secretary, concurred. “I think your point is well taken that we’re losing ridership because it’s inconvenient,” he said.

Pitti chimed in, discussing how electrification would tie into an overall plan to redevelop the Lawrence Aviation property. However, according to him, the gears can only begin to turn with a commitment from the MTA-LIRR.

“Everything is set and ready to move forward, but we all know how everything moves,” the vice president said. “We’re basically waiting for the MTA.”

Ed Garboski, president of PJSTCA, updated the members on the Town of Brookhaven’s redistricting process, which concluded on Thursday, Sept. 29. [See story, “Brookhaven town board unanimously adopts new map, concludes redistricting process.”]

Garboski said the Town Board selected a map that constituted the least amount of change for Council District 1. This district encompasses Port Jefferson Station and Terryville. “They made the least amount of change for our area,” he said.

While CD1 remained primarily unchanged by the end of the redistricting process, a tiny sliver of the community east of Pine Street shifted into CD2. However, Garboski suggested this change was understandable.

“Most of the people in the area that got redistricted go to Mount Sinai schools,” he said. “Everything else stays. The [Train Car] Park stays in our area. The revitalization area. All of the things that everyone was concerned about, we have.” Following this outcome, the civic leadership sent a letter of thanks to the Town Board for keeping the PJS/T community intact.

Before adjourning, Garboski and Pitti announced they had sold their houses recently. Within about a year, both will no longer be residents of the area, precipitating a turnover of the civic’s top two posts.

The body passed a resolution to allow the two civic leaders to stay in their seats for the interim period. A special election will likely take place in the fall of 2023.

Sal Pitti (left) and Ed Garboski (right) stand outside of Jefferson Plaza in Port Jeff Station. Photo by Raymond Janis

Local leaders have weighed in on the proposed redevelopment project at Jefferson Plaza on Route 112, south of Hallock Avenue in Port Jeff Station.

Empty storefronts have been an ongoing issue for the PJ Station community. Photo by Raymond Janis

 

The plaza is owned by Staller Associates, a commercial real estate company based in Hauppauge. Staller intends to make a significant investment to redevelop this shopping center, according to leadership from the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association. Under the current plan, the plaza will be zoned commercial and residential. TBR News Media could not reach a representative of Staller Associates for this story.

Edward Garboski, incoming president of PJSTCA, said that a plan to revitalize the plaza has been in the works for nearly a decade. Since its approval, that plan has mostly been dormant until recently.

“Over eight years ago, we did a comprehensive study to create a transit-oriented district,” Garboski said. “We presented it to the Town [of Brookhaven]. They accepted it and it kind of got left on the shelf somewhere. We’ve been working on it behind the scenes, but until we got a new councilperson, now it’s really being pushed.”

Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D) is steering the initiative through town hall. According to Kornreich, redevelopment at Jefferson Plaza will help to revitalize the area.

“Redeveloping a site like that is going to really be vital to the rebirth of the Port Jefferson Station area,” he said. “As far as the town goes, in order to encourage redevelopment of sites like that, there was a new code created to encourage redevelopment to those types of properties.” 

Kornreich said that the change of town code will allow for the construction of residential housing units at the plaza. He added that this change will also promote inclusion for people with disabilities. 

“It’s going to create a greater diversity of housing options, which is something that’s very important for people as they get older and for younger people who are just starting out,” he said. “Also, there’s going to be a significant portion of the residential units there that are dedicated to people with disabilities.” He added, “Having a supportive environment for them that’s also walkable is going to be very valuable to the community as whole.”

Kornreich believes the Jefferson Plaza project will relieve traffic congestion, a problem for Port Jeff Station.

“Residential development generates less traffic than commercial development,” Kornreich said. “When you have a residential unit, people come and go once or twice a day. That same place, if it’s commercial development, is going to have 30, 40, 60 people an hour coming in and out.”

Local leaders expressed optimism that the Port Jeff Station community may soon link up to one of the neighboring sewer districts. The map above shows the geographic areas currently covered by sewers. The Suffolk County Department of Information Technology, GIS Division, granted permission to use data. Map generated by Raymond Janis

The additional step of adding a sewer extension is critical for the realization of this project. According to Salvatore Pitti, outgoing president and incoming vice president of PJSTCA, without a sewer line, redevelopment at the plaza will not be possible.

“One of our big problems here is also sewers,” Pitti said. “If we don’t get sewers, there is no way any of these restaurants or buildings are ever going to work. We’re currently in talks with Suffolk County to try to get sewers here.”

Pitti offered several possible sewer plant locations to which Jefferson Plaza could be attached in the future. He said the most ideal scenario would be to link the area to the Tallmadge Woods sewer district.

“What we’re pushing for is hopefully the Mount Sinai sewage plant, which is Tallmadge,” Pitti said. “Suffolk County is in talks with the town supposedly about trying to expand that sewer plant [to cover more area], but that’s another two-year project before we even hear if that’s going to work or not work.”  

Another important question will be where to put the Port Jefferson Station Post Office, which is presently situated in the plaza. According to Garboski, the post office is under federal lease until 2024, at which point construction can begin. “They have a lease,” he said. “The lease still goes another few years and there are other options as to where they can put the post office.” 

Pitti added, “That’s more of a federal thing that is way out of our hands.”

According to Pitti, the businesses that currently occupy the plaza are staples with longstanding ties to the Port Jefferson Station community. He said that it will be a challenge moving forward to accommodate both the aims of the developers and the interests of the business owners who fill those storefronts and who may wish to stay.

“I mean, it’s a business that [the developer] has to work out with the [current tenants] if they want to stay there or if they don’t want to stay,” Pitti said. “Honestly, I think they’re going to pretty much level the place and start construction because, fiscally, I don’t think it makes much sense to do half and half.” He added, “We asked the [developer] to do as best as he can to keep them in our community. Whether that happens or not is unfortunately between him and the [business] owners.”

According to Garboski, the developers are “looking to put in […] about $100 million into this project. That’s going to be a shot in the arm for the local economy. They’re serious, they’re putting serious money into it.”

He said that kind of private investment into the local economy is what the area needs to counteract its gradual decline and will encourage other real estate developers to join in. 

“This is the first project that’s going to get revitalized and when it does, it’s going to set a precedent for the rest of the street and the rest of the developers,” Garboski said.  

Although projects such as these seem to always receive some form of local opposition, Kornreich believes the community will soon notice the positive impact of redeveloping Port Jefferson Plaza.

“People get nervous sometimes when new projects are being proposed,” the councilmember said. “I’ve never seen a project that was universally loved from day one, but generally speaking once stuff gets built and people see it and they realize the positive change it has on the community, people tend to like it most of the time.”

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic President Sal Pitti protests a potential cell tower along Canal Road in 2019. File photo by Kyle Barr

If there’s a man around town, then that man’s more than likely to be Sal Pitti.

Whether he’s rolling up in his car to check on any reported problems, meeting with developers planning to build up in the Port Jeff Station area, running civic gatherings or attending town meetings focused on residential issues, it’s not hard to find the shaved head and thick, salt and pepper beard as the marked signs of his presence. 

Pitti has been vice president and now president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association over the past several years, and in that time has become a staple of community activism for the two hamlets. The retired ex-NYPD officer can be seen throughout the community, driving around with his current VP and friend Ed Garboski, as they check in on any supposed disturbances and the sites of any ongoing development.

Garboski said he was first introduced to Pitti through Joe Rella, the beloved former superintendent of the Comsewogue School District. Pitti was involved with the school’s Drug Prevention Coalition, and Rella asked Garboski to get involved. After talking for a good while, the two decided they should merge the coalition with the civic, and Pitti became an integral part of the PJS/T organization.

Since then, he’s become a major member of multiple committees, including Brookhaven Town’s Quality of Life Task Force and Suffolk County’s drug task force, for which Garboski said Pitti was instrumental in working with Suffolk County Police Department officials to close down several known drug houses in the community.

“He’s not going to give you lip service, and if there’s a problem he’s going to go after it,” the current civic VP said. “He’s committed to this community, whether that’s drugs or working on the homelessness issue. He’s got a lot of empathy for them. It’s not, ‘Let’s just get rid of them,’ it’s, ‘Let’s find out how we can help them.

Charlie McAteer, the civic’s corresponding secretary and previous Person of the Year recipient, has known Pitti for close to a decade. McAteer first interacted with Pitti through his stewardship of the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail, when he was helping to clean up the trail and the parking lot on Route 112 that marks a trail end. Over the years, both Pitti’s and Garboski’s activism drew McAteer into the civic more and more.

Sal Pitti with other members of the PJS/Terryville Civic discuss ideas for the Terryville Road community garden. File photo by Kyle Barr

McAteer said Pitti was instrumental in multiple recent community projects, including the revitalization of the community garden on Route 112, keeping on top of the Lawrence Aviation property with the Suffolk County Landbank, and more recently working with Brookhaven Town to secure the historical Terryville Union Hall under civic stewardship after the local historical society folded in 2019. McAteer said they are now talking with the town about renovating the property to bring it back to its original 1800s-era look.

Pitti “is really utilizing his retirement time to help the community,” McAteer said. “Having been a New York City police officer, now retired, he has such a repertoire. He puts people at ease, that way they can talk to him. And he will then be able to then convey any problems they have to the powers that be.” 

Frank Gibbons, a longtime civic member and all-around expert about the area’s traffic history and issues, said Pitti is always willing to help anyone in the community.

“If anybody needs his time for anything, then he’s there,” Gibbons said. “You don’t have to ask him twice. Hell, most of the time you don’t have to ask him, he’s asking us, saying ‘Hey, will you come join us?’ Whether it’s cleaning up around the chamber of commerce train car, or cleaning up all the walking paths over to Stony Brook.”

Others who have known Pitti for a shorter time than Garboski and McAteer said his drive to see good work done is striking.

Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), who is finishing up his first year as Brookhaven Town councilmember, said he has worked closely with Pitti ever since he came into office. 

“Soon after I took office, I met with Sal and the board of the civic and we had a frank discussion about the community’s needs, wishes, challenges and opportunities,” Kornreich said over email. “I found Sal’s insight and level of connectedness to his community to be very inspiring. For no reason other than the betterment of his community, Sal has worked hard for many years, investing time, money and energy. One can’t help but be inspired to support his efforts.” 

Andrew Harris, a special-needs teacher at Comsewogue High School and the school liaison with the civic, said Pitti and the other civic leaders are honestly concerned that their community remains a nice place to live, for all its residents.

“He’s a big dude, he’s an ex-cop, he looks like a pretty tough guy, you know?” said Harris, who is also a previous Person of the Year recipient. “But really, he’s the kindest, nicest guy you’d ever want to meet, personalitywise. The bottom line is he just volunteers his time for others.”

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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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.

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Local residents at the February PJS/T Civic meeting contest with developers over a planned addition to the Nesconset Shopping Center. Photo by Kyle Barr

A potential pad building in the middle of the Nesconset Shopping Center parking lot has some PJS community members agitated, but property owners say such an addition will help keep the shops viable long-term.

Design plans for the new proposed pad building at the Nesconset Shopping Center. Photo by Kyle Barr

The shopping center, located along Route 347 slightly west of Terryville Road, is owned by Brixmor Property Group, a national retail property corporation. The proposed pad would include a 7,000-square-foot, single-story island that would house two separate storefronts. 

Brixmor representatives said the two fronts would house a dentist office and a bank, respectively. Plans say the Bethpage Federal Credit Union, currently located at the far western end of the shopping center, would move to the building that would include a drive-through. Reps added they are in talks with Aspen Dental, which has offices in upstate New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, for the other space. Town of Brookhaven zoning for the property would remain the same, retail J-2.

Nicholas Andreadis, the regional vice president of leasing for Brixmor’s north region, said Bethpage Federal Credit Union would likely vacate the shopping center if it isn’t able to secure a drive-through.

At a Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic meeting Feb. 25, representatives of Brixmor and its hired architects came to speak on the proposed addition. 

Some residents had concerns with the location of the pad, especially in how it effectively bisects the parking lot. The lot has three entrances from Nesonset Highway, and the middlemost one would be directly in front of the proposed storefront. A central lane running through the parking lot currently allows drivers to go back and forth parallel to the highway, but plans show the lane would be cut off just before the middle entrance. Cars would have to stop and either go around the pad or stop at several stop signs. Company representatives said this was at the request of the town to slow down traffic through that area.

The changes would reduce the total number of stalls by 25 from 599 to 574.

The shopping center is currently full of stores including a Dollar Tree, Five Guys burgers and fries and Carnival Restaurant & Pizzeria. There is only one vacant location. On Saturday, a new art studio One River  School of Art & Design opened its doors at the shopping center.

Some residents complained they have used the central lane to bypass having to go onto Route 347 and skip the confusing and often dangerous intersection between the highway and Norwood Avenue. Sal Pitti, the civic president, said taking such shortcuts is, in itself, unsafe. 

Site plans for the pad building show a 7,000-square-foot addition in the center of the parking lot, mandating a reconfiguration of traffic patterns. Photos by Kyle Barr

“That’s where a lot of the problems start when people try to come in and out of the parking lot,” Pitti said. 

Will Zieman, 6th Precinct COPE officer, also spoke to the problems of using that parking lot as a cut through.

“Is it reasonable to predict what people are going to do off 347?” he said. “It’s very hard for you, as a driver, to predict what another vehicle will do coming out of that shopping center.”

Though, as Port Jeff Station resident Jennifer Simoes put it, even being forced to drive in front of the storefronts because of the new pad is itself dangerous for pedestrians.

“I don’t want to go in front of the storefronts either, because I don’t want to hit anyone who’s coming out with their pizza,” she said. “I’m not going to want to go in there, and there’s another Dollar Tree and Marshalls in the
other direction.”

Pitti agreed the larger issue comes from increased pedestrian traffic in an often busy parking lot.

Charlie McAteer, the civic’s recording secretary, also suggested the company look at how pedestrians were to get from the pad building to the main shopping center.

“What I’m seeing where you’re walking right now, you’re going to end at a walkway and you’re into striped parking, and you will have to walk between parked cars,” he said. “There will be people who want to go to the bank and then go eat.”

Reuben Twersky, a project director for Brixmor, said people will often ignore walkways and crosswalks and routes even if they were created.

“We would like to do it in as safe a manner as possible,” he said.

The area along Route 347 has been a particular hotbed of issues with both vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Last year, 17-year-old Jenna Perez, an employee at Five Guys, was killed in a hit-and-run while crossing Nesconset Highway outside a crosswalk.

In addition to the changes in parking lot design, Brixmor plans to reduce the height of lights to 20 feet and add 19,000 square feet of landscaping to the front of the property bordering Nesconset Highway. 

The company is also looking to redo and move the sign displaying the names stores within. Designs show the proposed sign going 26 1/2 feet up from the ground on new brick pylons. 

Philip Butler, an attorney from Hauppauge-based Farrell Fritz, said the company’s next steps are to submit final comments to the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals by March 11. After the zoning board of appeals gives approval for variances, then the company will be back in front of the Planning Board to look at traffic and parking. The company is also awaiting on New York State Department of Transportation on a traffic study before it can move fully ahead.

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.

 

 

 

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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Volunteers help revitalize the Terryville Road community garden Oct. 5. Photo by Kyle Barr

One would have never known there was a garden on the side of Terryville Road in Port Jefferson Station. Vines had strangled the fence that bordered the road, and to anyone without some local knowledge practically anything could be behind those rusting chain links.

Comsewogue students Sarah Thomas and Briana Rodriguez tear apart vines at the community garden. Photo by Kyle Barr

Now, those driving past see something completely different — a full garden with planting boxes, a greenhouse and a large sign reading “Community Garden.”

Over the course of Oct. 5, close to 20 community leaders, volunteers and young people looking for high school service hours hacked at weeds, shrubs and vines, quickly bringing the place back to a presentable standard.

The garden property is owned by the Comsewogue School District, and for years had been operated by the Comsewogue Youth Center, according to district officials, but the crew suddenly ceased operations nearly a decade ago. Since then vines overtook the fence, and the site faded from many locals’ memories. While the grass was maintained by the district, the rest of the site was left to its own devices.

“The lady who took care of it eventually moved, and after that it fell to squalor,” said Sal Pitti, the president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association.

As the volunteers moved in, many were surprised by just how well the property had survived after years of neglect. Only a few wooden pieces had to be replaced, such as needing new 2-by-4 lumber for the wooden benches and for a few new planters, along with new Plexiglas for the greenhouse door. Otherwise the civic leaders were pleasantly surprised.

Members of the PJS/Terryville Civic discuss ideas for the garden. Photo by Kyle Barr

“The bones of this is in relatively good shape,” said Charlie McAteer, civic corresponding secretary. “Maybe it needs some paint, maybe it needs a touch up.”

In just a few hours, a mountainous pile of plant debris had already formed by the gate onto the property.

Local landscaper Kevin Halpin, of Halpin Landscaping, said he was contacted via Facebook by civic vice president, Ed Garboski. The day before the cleanup, Halpin came in with appropriate equipment, and did much of the heavy lifting along with cutting the grass. He said he will come back on request to help with whatever needs doing.

The area, he said, needs that extra effort and TLC.

A number of high schoolers from the area also showed up to lend a hand. 

Comsewogue students Sarah Thomas and Briana Rodriguez laughed and joked around as they plied a bundle of rough vines apart. 

“It was a huge mess, there were vines everywhere,” Thomas said. “It’s definitely a lot cleaner without all the vines and stuff. I think a lot more kids might come here.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) arrived midday Saturday and immediately started picking up litter from the side of the road in front of the garden gate. She said cleanups like this are good ways for community members to make a difference in an immediate and tangible way.

A sign for the Community Garden was surprisingly intact. Photo by Kyle Barr

“They’re usually very effective ways of getting people involved,” she said.

Pitti said he is looking to work with the school district to see if other students looking to get service hours in the future could work in the community garden.

“As much as the kids get into it, they’re welcome to come,” the civic president said.

The civic leaders are looking forward to next spring, where they will start planting vegetables and flowers, hoping that they maintain a staunch group of locals to tend the garden. Once the garden starts growing, they plan to donate the food to neighboring St. Gerard Majella R.C. Church for its food pantry, and if they grow even more, they will share with other churches in the area.