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Stan Loucks

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Lanscaping for new pickleball courts is already underway at the Port Jefferson Country Club. Photo by Kyle Barr

Pickleball is on the plate for the Port Jefferson Country Club, and while bids still have to come in, village officials said courts in the village proper that were previously considered are currently off the table.

In previous years, some residents called for pickleball courts at other places in the village. Local Port Jeffersonite Myrna Gordon was one who pleaded for such a sport to be accessible in the village. 

She said restricting the courts to the country club has severely limited the number of people who could use them.

“Most people don’t realize that we stand alone up there.”

— Stan Loucks

“Why would you charge village residents for this recreational program?” she said in an email. “No fees should be charged to any village resident for use of the now being built pickleball courts.”

Landscaping has already started at the country club just west of the tennis courts on the left-hand side of The Waterview building. Despite calling the landscaping and removal of bushes and trees “environmental devastation,” she asked why there wasn’t more consideration for a pickleball court next to the basketball courts near Rocketship Park or in the Texaco Avenue Park in Upper Port.

Stan Loucks, the vice mayor and liaison to the country club, said in a phone interview Jan. 24 that the village originally intended to modify the basketball court off of Barnum Avenue and paint lines for pickleball with removable nets available for certain times when not being used for basketball. However, that idea came under “considerable opposition” from people who wanted it to be maintained for children’s use.

Gordon had been one of those critics, writing in a letter to the editor it was “eliminating a space where culturally diverse people come to play pick-up games,” adding the space was already highly utilized. She instead asked why pickleball could not be built next to the basketball courts, but Loucks responded, saying space was a major consideration.

Gordon, in previous letters to the Port Times Record and in talks to the village board, had suggested placing the court structure at the Texaco Avenue Park, which was recently constructed along with the neighboring parking lot. 

Loucks said there was no room for such a court at the park, and it would also take redrawing up plans that were already approved.

The penned-in court complex going in at the country club is measured out to be 64 by 116 feet for three pickleball courts, though a normal-sized, regulation court is only measured at 20 by 44 feet. The Texaco park contains a small play set and basketball court, along with a walking path and some spare seating.

“No fees should be charged to any village resident for use of the now being built pickleball courts.”

— Myrna Gordon

Pickleball is cited as one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S., according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. It’s played on a smaller court than tennis and uses paddles instead of rackets to volley a plastic ball back and forth across asphalt courts.

Bids are supposed to come back for the pickleball courts Feb. 6, and potential contractors have already done a walk-through of the property. Loucks is waiting for those bids to come back on a project that could cost anywhere between $85,000 and $128,000, which also includes partially completed landscaping at the country club, at a cost of several thousand to the club itself.

The rest of the funds, the trustee said, would have to be bonded for. Most likely, since the country club cannot issue bonds, the village would apply for the bond and then the country club would use its funds to pay it off. A similar agreement was worked out when the country club installed a new irrigation system for the golf course, which cost around $2 million, or just over the total amount of the club’s entire yearly budget.

The pickleball courts, Loucks said, are a way of hopefully generating more revenue for the country club.

“Most people don’t realize that we stand alone up there,” he said. “We’re trying to make end’s meet — we’re hoping pickleball brings in some additional revenue.”

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Site plans for the pickleball courts Photo by Kyle Barr

Port Jefferson village has put out bid requests to add several pickleball courts to a portion of the tennis space at the Port Jefferson Country Club.

Deputy Mayor Stan Loucks said the game has picked up in popularity, and has been reported as one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. 

The Sport and Fitness Industry Association reported that participation in the sport has increased by close to 10 percent over the past three years, with a total of 3.3 million participants in the country, compared to 2.815 million in 2014.  

The game of pickleball is often compared to an enlarged game of ping pong, or a shortened game of tennis. Instead of rackets, players use large paddles to get a plastic perforated ball across a net. Unlike tennis, serves are underhand. It can be played one-on-one or two-on-two.

Many people attribute the sport’s popularity to it being relatively simple. It doesn’t require a lot of rapid body movement but requires good hand-eye coordination.

Loucks, the liaison to the country club, said original plans were to include the pickleball courts to the west of the current tennis courts, but that would have required extra revetments and erosion mitigation along that end of the bluff. The new designs show the three new pickleball courts to the north of the existing tennis courts, about 32 feet from the existing parking lot. Original estimates for the project range from $85,000 to $128,000, a total that combines both the landscaping and the building of the asphalt courts. Excavation started for the courts Jan. 7.

The village has struggled in recent years to get permits from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to build new revetments and structures to halt erosion on the bluff near the country club. Loucks said they are losing a few feet of bluff every year, making it precariously close to taking out the tennis courts. Mayor Margot Garant said the DEC is finalizing everything, and they are hoping to get those permits back “soon.”

“I think it’s a great move — we’re not losing any parking area,” Loucks said. 

The pro shop for tennis will also cater to pickleball players. The village set the membership rates for pickleball at $400 for a resident, $500 for nonresidents, and each will pay a $50 annual assessment plus a $135 minimums fee. Country club members interested in playing pickleball will be charged an additional rate of $300.

Loucks said he hopes the sport will be popular.  The only other two local pickleball courts are a private space in the Village of Belle Terre and a public court in Centereach.

“I’m hoping to 50 to 100 members the first season,” he said.

Final deadline for new bids is Feb. 6. After that the village will choose a contractor and then more work can begin. Loucks said that while asphalt companies don’t open their doors until April, he expects the project to be done by the beginning of May.

The owner of The Bench Bar & Grill in Stony Brook is bringing his experience and menu items to the Port Jefferson Country Club beginning in April. Photo by Alex Petroski

Members of the Port Jefferson Country Club and village residents alike may soon have a new favorite local spot to grab breakfast and lunch.

Port Jeff Village’s country club has reached an agreement with the owner of Stony Brook bar and restaurant The Bench Bar & Grill, located on Route 25A. He will take control of the operation of the club’s grill room beginning in the spring. The village has been searching for a proprietor for the vacant restaurant for several months, and after a thorough vetting process, according to village trustee and liaison to the country club Stan Loucks, The Bench’s owner Jeff Capri was the ultimate choice. The grill room will be called The Turn at PJCC after its grand opening, which Loucks said is expected to be April 15.

“He’s got a very successful background,” Loucks said of Capri in a phone interview. “I’m very confident … we’re pretty excited to have this guy on board.”

Loucks said the grill room has been renovated to get the partnership off on the right foot, as new flooring at a cost of about $7,900; tables and other furnishings for about $6,300 and new kitchen equipment have been installed. The village board also approved the purchase of a new bar top for about $4,000 and about $2,600 in electrical upgrades, during a meeting Jan. 24. General carpentry at a cost not to exceed $17,600 and plumbing improvements not to exceed $5,300 were approved Dec. 19.

“It’s the first time we’ve had this kind of a facility upgrade to make it more attractive and comfortable for the membership,” Loucks said. He said the agreement between the village and Capri is a three-year contract, which includes a minimal rental charge to be collected by the village that can go up based on success of the establishment in year one, but allows Capri to collect all of the proceeds from food sales. Loucks said the arrangement is meant to establish a service for members and village residents, not as a means to gain revenue for the club or village.

“We’re not looking to make money on this, we’re just looking to provide a good experience for membership — it’s not a revenue stream for us,” he said.

The menu has not yet been finalized, but Loucks said the plan is to serve burgers, sandwiches, French fries, wraps and more on what he referred to as an “extensive lunch menu,” available from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. most days. Traditional breakfast items will be served from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. He said he and a committee had lunch at The Bench to sample some of their best items during the vetting process, and he’s looking forward to having the food regularly available at
the club.

Loucks called Capri and his wife Barbara “true professionals,” and said they have been involved in the renovations and setup of The Turn at PJCC every step of the way.

“He and his wife Barbara have been dynamite,” Loucks said.

Loucks added Capri is in the process of getting a liquor license approved for the location, and happy hour deals a couple of days per week are being discussed. The grill room will not be open for dinner, because the club already has a contract established with Lombardi’s on the Sound for evenings.

Capri did not respond to a request for comment.

The village has scaled back a plan to stripe its basketball courts for pickleball after one resident said it would be a big dill to hoops players. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Village officials are making a compromise to avoid a pickle.

The basketball courts at Rocketship Park in downtown Port Jefferson were due for a redo, and while a Long Island company was repairing the court surface, village Trustee Stan Loucks had arranged for workers to also add stripes for people to play pickleball when the four hoops were not being used. But that plan has changed.

Pickleball is a sport that involves paddles and a net and has similarities to tennis and badminton. Officials added pickleball striping at the basketball courts at the park, between Barnum Avenue and the municipal parking lot behind Village Hall, to other work — which included repairing cracks, and dips in the surface that attract puddles — to embrace the growing sport trend.

But one resident was half-soured on the idea of basketball players potentially turning green with envy as they lost out on court time while others were playing pickleball.

Myrna Gordon called the courts a spot that “attracts many people from surrounding communities” in a letter to the editor last month, an opinion she also expressed to Loucks in person during board of trustees meetings in recent months.

“Culturally diverse people come to play pick-up games,” she wrote. “Converting this area for dual purposes would be an especially negative act when there are alternative sites for pickleball in the village.”

Gordon has suggested using the park on Texaco Avenue in uptown Port Jefferson, across from the upcoming apartment complex, for pickleball to avoid taking away court time downtown and to potentially attract people to the blighted uptown area.

Loucks announced at the board meeting on Monday that the pickleball proposal would be bumped back to keep ballers cool as cucumbers.

Instead of putting down lines for the sport on the basketball courts at Rocketship, the village is going to start by running a one-hour pickleball program on the court with removable nets and stripes, as a method of gauging resident demand for a venue for the activity.

The program will take place in the middle of the day, while young players are in school, the trustee said.

Election turnout reaches highest in years

Port Jefferson Treasurer Don Pearce and Village Clerk Bob Juliano as they tallied the 2015 election results. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The “unity” slate cleaned up in the Port Jefferson Village election Tuesday night, with Mayor Margot Garant and Trustee Larry LaPointe securing additional terms on the board of trustees and newcomer Stan Loucks winning his first.

Garant, who will start her fourth term this summer, beat out challenger Dave Forgione, a 15-year resident and the owner of a billing and accounting business in upper Port, with 1,162 votes to his 753.

“I’m just really elated that the people are entrusting and allowing me to continue to do the work that we do for the village,” Garant said about her win in a phone interview Wednesday. “Super psyched.”

When reached by phone Wednesday, Forgione said he was “humbled” by the support he received from the community.

“I’d like to congratulate Margot on her victory and wish her all the success in her upcoming term,” he said.

Forgione would not say whether he would run for village board again in the future, after experiencing a busy campaign season this time around.

“At this point I’m just trying to get my life back in order,” he said with a laugh.

There were two trustee seats up for election — LaPointe’s and that of Trustee Adrienne Kessel, who did not run for another term. The three candidates ran at-large for those spots.

Loucks, a longtime volunteer at the Port Jefferson Country Club and a retired athletics teacher and administrator in Plainview-Old Bethpage schools, garnered the most support of any candidate vying any seat, with 1,205 votes. LaPointe came in second out of the trustee candidates, with 1,160 votes, and secured a third term on the board. In third place was challenger Matthew Franco, a 10-year village resident and a pediatric occupational therapist for Nassau BOCES, who fell short with 822 votes.

LaPointe emphasized in a phone interview Wednesday morning “just how gratified and grateful I am to my friends and neighbors for coming out to support the unity team.”

Loucks is looking forward to getting to work.

“I’m just flabbergasted at the outpouring of support,” Loucks said Wednesday, speaking in a phone interview of his gratitude to his supporters. “I was blown away by the results last night.”

When reached by phone Wednesday, Franco congratulated LaPointe and Loucks and said he hopes they take it to heart that 40 percent of voters cast ballots for him.

“Don’t dismiss the minority,” he said. “There’s 40 percent of this population of the village that wants change.”

Franco said he would run again for the village board in the future.

“I am preparing for next year,” he said.

Village Justice Peter Graham ran unopposed for re-election and was also returned to his role, receiving 1,031 votes.

Resident turnout for the election was high, especially compared to recent years.

As the Village Center buzzed with activity 10 minutes before the polls closed, Village Clerk Bob Juliano said the building had been busy all day. He noted that in previous years, the crowd usually died down in the last hour of voting, but that did not happen this year.

Counting absentee ballots, almost 2,000 Port Jefferson residents voted in the election — about double the number who turned out to the polls last year. And the voter turnout was dismal in the two years prior to that: In 2013 there were 84 voters total, and in 2012 there were close to 150 who cast ballots.

Port Jefferson Village code enforcement officer Lt. John Borrero said, as the 69 absentee votes were being tallied at the end of the night, “I’ve never seen an election so crowded.”

Village Center file photo by Heidi Sutton

It was mostly incumbents versus challengers during a debate between candidates for the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees on Wednesday night, with the two groups standing apart on issues such as the village’s comprehensive plan, taxes and the local power plant.

The event, run by the chamber of commerce, featured all of the board candidates: Mayor Margot Garant is running for her fourth term against businessman Dave Forgione; and Trustee Larry LaPointe is running for his third term against resident challengers Matthew Franco and Stan Loucks.

Two trustee seats are up for election — LaPointe’s and that of Trustee Adrienne Kessel, who is not seeking re-election — so the two candidates with the most votes will win slots on the board.

Longtime village Judge Peter Graham, who is unopposed for re-election, was also present.

At the Village Center debate, the five candidates sparred on the topic of the aging Port Jefferson power plant, which could need to be upgraded — or repowered — soon if locals want to keep it as a key source of property tax revenue for the village. Locals have feared the plant will not be repowered for several years, and village officials have been lobbying to save it.

Franco said the village is in a “wait-and-see pattern” on those efforts, but needs to be more proactive by finding places to cut the budget and thus lower taxes. Forgione also pointed to reducing taxes as a solution, saying that year-to-year village tax increases are too high.

On the other side of the argument were incumbents Garant and LaPointe. The trustee said he “resents the implication” that the village board has been just sitting and waiting, as members have been visiting Albany to lobby for repowering and bring parties to the table to negotiate as much as possible. Garant added that to help prepare residents for a potential loss of tax revenue from the plant, the board has been putting money aside each year and working to resolve tax grievances in order to stabilize the tax roll.

Loucks, who fell on different sides of different issues throughout the night, said the village must continue pressuring state officials to push for repowering.

On the topic of the draft comprehensive plan, which includes recommendations for development throughout the village, candidates were asked if they support the document as it reaches its final stages of review.

Garant, LaPointe and Loucks spoke in favor of the plan, with the incumbents saying it will work to improve the commercial areas uptown and downtown in particular.

“We have the problems of a small city,” LaPointe said that night, imploring the audience not to fear change. “I want the blight gone.”

Forgione and Franco argued the village should modify the plan based upon recommendations that the Suffolk County Planning Commission listed in its letter approving the plan.

In the fight for mayor, the candidates closed with Forgione saying he would strive to get more community input.

“I will do more than run this village,” he said. “I will serve this village.”

Garant called on the audience to return her as the village leader.

“This is a very critical time,” she said. “I am your mayor.”

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Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Port Jefferson government will have at least one new face this summer.

Three seats on the village board of trustees are up for election in mid-June, including those of the mayor and two trustees. Mayor Margot Garant is running for a fourth term and faces a challenge from resident Dave Forgione. Trustee Larry LaPointe is on the hunt for his third term on the board, running against resident Matthew Franco and Stan Loucks, chairman of the County Club Management Advisory Council.

Trustee Adrienne Kessel, whose third term is ending this year, is not running for re-election. In a phone interview, she called being on the board “a tremendous commitment.”

“I just felt that after 6 years, I’m hoping that some good candidates step up,” she said. It’s “time to kind of reclaim a little more time for myself.”

She said she would continue to serve on the village’s architectural review committee and as the head of the committee involved in upgrading Rocketship Park in downtown Port Jefferson. Kessel has been a driving force in fundraising and design for the park project.

Kessel advised whoever succeeds her to take the job seriously and make decisions based on what is best for the village as a whole.

“Many, many things come into view when you become a trustee,” she said. “You begin to see an entirely new picture of the village where you live.”

Voting is on Tuesday, June 16, at the Village Center, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Mayor
Garant said she is not ready “to turn over the keys.”

She said she is still working toward getting the aging local power plant upgraded — or repowered — so it continues operating and thus remains a source of property tax revenue for the village. The incumbent is also focused on completing Port Jefferson’s comprehensive plan, which outlines recommendations for development throughout the village, and on pushing for revitalization in the uptown area, which has issues with vacant buildings and crime.

“The first several years of my administration I felt that I was doing a lot of corrective work,” Garant said, between fixing infrastructure that had been long neglected and stabilizing the budget. “We’re finally moving, I feel, in a very, very positive direction.”

She is also advocating to get a Town of Brookhaven jetty in Mount Sinai repaired, as the jetty, which is between Port Jefferson’s East Beach and Mount Sinai Harbor, in its damaged state allows currents to carry sand away from the village beach, causing erosion.

“We have a really good rhythm and I’d really hate to see that interrupted or, worse, for us to take a step backward,” the mayor said. With another two years, “I will work as hard as I have for the last six.”

Her challenger, Forgione, who has lived in the village for 15 years and operates a billing and accounting business in upper Port, said he threw his hat in the ring because “our village deserves a choice.”

He wants to more tightly control village taxes and help financially prepare the village in the event that the community loses property tax revenue from the Port Jefferson power plant. Forgione would also like to call on the state and the Long Island Rail Road to upgrade the crossing in upper Port to relieve traffic congestion, and work with the Suffolk County Police Department and village code enforcement officers to reduce crime in that area.

Another issue for the challenger is transparency — he said he would like to upgrade the village website to collect more public opinions on government proposals.

Forgione, a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves and the National Guard, said his current and past experience in business and finance, on the local board of assessment review, on the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee, on the school district’s budget advisory committee, and as a fiscal manager for a cancer screening program with the county health department would help him lead the village.

“I want to maintain that small-town feel with the residents and the business owners while encouraging growth in the 21st century.”

Trustees
LaPointe said he is running for re-election because there is “unfinished business” in the form of projects he wants to see through.

The incumbent, a retired attorney, has been working on renovations in the village’s downtown parking lots and on improving security by strengthening a network of cameras in commercial areas, among other projects.

“So we have a lot on our plates,” he said.

The trustee said he is proud of his work to increase police presence in lower Port — improving safety particularly on weekend nights during the village’s peak summer season — and of his role in renovating the country club golf course and maintenance building.

He also said the village now has a club “that’s second to none.”

“After a lot of hard work, the village is finally starting to get into a good place — a place where we’re economically secure, a place where we can look forward to a bright future,” LaPointe said when asked why residents should vote for him.

One of his challengers, Loucks, has lived in the village since 1981 and is a retired athletics teacher and administrator in Plainview-Old Bethpage. He is running for the village board because after volunteering on the CCMAC for a number of years, “I feel I have so much more to offer to the village than just working with the membership up at the country club.”

Loucks said he wants to work toward repowering the Port Jefferson power plant, revitalizing upper Port and broadening the village’s tax base.

“I also want to get involved … in making a better relationship between the schools and the administration downtown.”

He said the village and the school district should work more closely, partnering more on things like recreation programs.

Loucks said one of his strong points is budgeting, after working as a school administrator. At Plainview-Old Bethpage, “I was handling budgets larger than the village budget. … And I was always able to make ends meet.”

He said people should vote for him because he is good at listening and organizing.

“Along with the budgeting I think my strong point is my ability to get along with everyone.”

The third candidate for a trustee seat, Franco, has lived in the village for 10 years and is a pediatric occupational therapist for Nassau BOCES. He is running for a trustee position because he thinks taxes are too high and there is “very little transparency” in the village government.

“The biggest thing that we need to do … is inform the community of what’s going on,” he said in a phone interview. “There is no openness to this government. … They should be entitled to all the information that’s going on in the village.”

Franco also has concerns about the village’s efforts to revitalize upper Port — he said the level of development that the village’s proposed comprehensive plan would allow there would congest Main Street.

“They’re not really addressing the traffic issue and that is an ambulance route,” he said.

According to Franco, the village could use incentives like tax credits to get local business owners uptown to redo their facades, or other similar methods of enhancing upper Port.

“Our small businesses are an invaluable component to our village and I don’t think they’re being dealt with in an effective manner.”