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Stony Brook

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By Leah Chiappino

One of the most trying aspects of COVID-19 is the financial turmoil it has brought on both national and local business sectors. Financial adviser Michael Christodoulou of Edward Jones Investments in Stony Brook answered some commonly asked questions about how to secure investments and resources for small businesses, and the types of financial assistance offered through the recent stimulus package.

Q: What is your advice for people, especially those that are retired or nearing retirement, regarding their stocks and 401(k) plans?

A: For one thing, ask yourself this: When do you really need the money from your investment accounts, such as your IRA and your 401(k) or similar employer-sponsored plan? These are retirement accounts, so, depending on your age, you may not need to tap into them for 20, 30 or even 40 years. If so, your losses may be “paper” ones only for now and aren’t subjecting you to imminent financial jeopardy. This isn’t to minimize the effect this downturn will have on you, of course — it always takes time to recover lost ground, and there are no guarantees with investing. However, although past performance does not guarantee future results, it is useful to note that, over its long history, the U.S. stock market has typically trended in one direction — up — despite serious and sometimes lengthy declines such as we saw in the Great Depression and, to a lesser extent, the bursting of the dot.com bubble of the early 2000s and the financial crisis of 2008-09.

Nonetheless, you may have shorter-term goals — a wedding, down payment on a home, overseas trip, etc. — for which you need to save. For these goals, though, you wouldn’t want to touch your IRA or 401(k), anyway, as you’d likely face taxes and penalties. Instead, you’ll want your money invested in liquid, low-risk accounts that will be minimally affected, if at all, by declines in the financial markets. These vehicles might include Certificates of Deposit (CDs), money market accounts and even good old-fashioned U.S. savings bonds, all of which offer the protection of principal and can pay higher rates than traditional bank savings accounts.

Q: Should people stop contributing to retirement during this time?

A: Every investor has a different time horizon and risk tolerance. Depending on their time horizon and risk tolerance there may be a number of different recommendations.

For example, if a client has a longer-time horizon until retirement it may make sense to continue investing periodically in their retirement plan. But for someone who is looking to retire relatively soon, they might want to stop contributions or start saving those assets in low-risk accounts.

I highly recommend they work with their financial adviser in order to have a personalized strategy designed based on their goals for retirement.

Q: How would you advise small businesses go about applying for governmental assistance, especially through the federal stimulus bill?

A: Small businesses should work with their tax professionals/CPA and financial adviser in order to review their individual situation. I recommend they start by logging onto www.sba.gov/disaster. During this time, they should also be very cautious about scams. 

Q: The economic effects of this virus are already enormous, and will get exponentially worse. How do you think people can financially cope if this crisis continues?

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) offers help for investors and small businesses. As we go through the coronavirus crisis, we are all, first and foremost, concerned about the health of our loved ones and communities. But the economic implications of the virus have also weighed heavily on our minds. However, if you’re an investor or a business owner, you just got some help from Washington, and it could make a big difference, at least in the short term, for your financial future. Specifically, the passage of the $2 trillion CARES Act offers, among other provisions, the following:

  • Expanded unemployment benefits: The CARES Act provides $250 billion for extended unemployment insurance, expands eligibility and provides workers with an additional $600 per week for four months, in addition to what state programs pay. The package will also cover the self-employed, independent contractors and “gig economy” workers. Obviously, if your employment has been affected, these benefits can be a lifeline. Furthermore, the benefits could help you avoid liquidating some long-term investments you’ve earmarked for retirement just to meet your daily cash flow needs.
  • Direct payments: Individuals will receive a one-time payment of up to $1,200, although this amount is reduced for incomes over $75,000 and eliminated altogether at $99,000. Joint filers will receive up to $2,400, which will be reduced for incomes over $150,000 and eliminated at $198,000 for joint filers with no children. Plus, taxpayers with children will receive an extra $500 for each dependent child under the age of 17. If you don’t need this money for an immediate need, you might consider putting it into a low-risk, liquid account as part of an emergency fund.
  • No penalty on early withdrawals: Typically, you’d have to pay a 10 percent penalty on early withdrawals from IRAs, 401(k)s and similar retirement accounts. Under the CARES Act, this penalty will be waived for individuals who qualify for COVID-19 relief and/or in plans that allow COVID-19 distributions. Withdrawals will still be taxable, but the taxes can be spread out over three years. Still, you might want to avoid taking early withdrawals, as you’ll want to keep your retirement accounts intact as long as possible.
  • Suspension of required withdrawals: Once you turn 72, you’ll be required to take withdrawals from your traditional IRA and 401(k). The CARES Act waives these required minimum distributions for 2020. If you’re in this age group, but you don’t need the money, you can let your retirement accounts continue growing on a tax-deferred basis.
  • Increase of retirement plan loan limit: Retirement plan investors who qualify for COVID-19 relief can now borrow up to $100,000 from their accounts, up from $50,000, provided their plan allows loans. We recommend that you explore other options, such as the direct payments, to bridge the gap on current expenses and if you choose to take a plan loan work with your financial adviser to develop strategies to pay back these funds over time to reduce any long-term impact to your retirement goals.
  • Small business loans: The CARES Act provides $349 billion to help small businesses — those with fewer than 500 employees — retain workers and avoid closing up shop. A significant part of this small business relief is the Paycheck Protection Program. This initiative provides federally guaranteed loans to small businesses who maintain payroll during this emergency. Significantly, these loans may be forgiven if borrowers use the loans for payroll and other essential business expenses, such as mortgage interest, rent and utilities, and maintain their payroll during the crisis. Please visit sba.gov/disaster for more information.

We’ll be in a challenging economic environment for some time, but the CARES Act should give us a positive jolt — and brighten our outlook.

Q: Do you have any information on how residents will know the exact number on their stimulus check for those above the $75,000 income threshold?

A: I would advise individuals to contact their tax professional/CPA. They will be able to give more accurate guidance based on their clients’ taxable situation and possible qualifications for the CARES Act direct payment program.

Q: What is your advice for those that have recently lost jobs and need to prioritize their loans? How can people cut back, and are there any specific loans that should be paid over others?

A: In the unfortunate event that you or a family member loses your job there are some easy steps to follow to help you better prepare yourself for this event. The federal government has taken a big step in protecting renters by issuing a 120-day moratorium on evictions from federally subsidized housing and property with federally backed mortgage loans. Some states have barred evictions for a few weeks. Please check with your landlord and or mortgage company.

Q: With stocks dipping, is now a good time to buy?

A: Before investing we recommend that investors understand their time horizon with the asset they are thinking about investing. What will that money be used for in the future? At what point in the future will you need the money?

For investors with a long-term outlook and time horizon, we remain confident that a rebound will take shape. It may take a while longer to materialize, but we think it will be robust and fueled by a return of confidence in the post-virus outlook. Long-term investors don’t need to capitalize on the pullback all at once but should consider opportunities to benefit from this decline. Consider:

  1. Rebalancing: Trimming overweight allocations and filling gaps in underrepresented asset classes and sectors.
  2. Systematic investing: Taking advantage of the ongoing volatility by systematically investing at regular intervals, reducing the “timing” aspect as the selloff plays out.
  3. Look for good buying opportunities, because they are certainly out there. A well-managed company with a solid business plan that produces quality products and services is going to be that same company after the coronavirus and oil price panics subside and, right now, that company’s stock shares may literally be “on sale.”

We recommend you consult with a financial adviser in order to make sure you completely understand your level of risk and time horizon.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for a set amount people should have in savings in case of an emergency? What is the best way to do so?

A:  I believe everyone should have an emergency fund. Unfortunately, there isn’t a universal dollar amount that applies for everyone.

If you don’t already have an emergency fund, take these first steps to prepare:

  1. Detail your current financial situation including your income, expenses, assets and debts and any money previously set aside for unexpected expenses.
  2. Create a detailed budget in order to figure out what your monthly and annual living expenses add up to.
  3. Consider saving between three and six months of living expenses if you are still working; 12 months or more if you are retired.

This is just a starting point. Depending on your age, your list may look considerably different. Your financial adviser can help you put together your cash flow analysis related to your financial goals and help you calculate how much cash you may need for your next unexpected event.

Q: How do you think people should go about negotiating with credit card companies and banks if they need relief?

A: If someone is facing some financial hardship, they should contact their credit card company or bank directly. In most cases these companies can provide guidance and options so the individual understands their options and can make a decision based on all the information provided to them.

File photo

Stony Brook University’s Office of the Vice President for Research and the Institute for Engineering-Driven Medicine launched a $500,000 coronavirus seed grant program. The money will fund an expected 10 to 14 awards for up to $40,000 per researcher for scientists and clinicians at Stony Brook who are responding to the needs arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Current, full-time, tenured or tenure track faculty at Stony Brook are eligible for these research grants, which will cover areas such as urgent care health care challenges and psycho-social, behavioral and economic impacts.

The deadline for submissions is April 10 and the awards, for up to a year, will start between April 27 and May 8.

Stony Brook described the application process as straightforward with a quick turnaround.

“This Covid-19 Seed Grant Program will unite our diverse research communities to develop engineering-driven medical solutions that could change the trajectory of Covid-19 response,” Joel Saltz, the Cherith Foundation Chair of Biomedical Informatics and Director of the Institute for Engineering-Driven Medicine, said in a statement.

The Office of Proposal Development will provide support to research submitting applications.

The Institute for Engineering-Driven Medicine is a combined effort of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Stony Brook Medical School. The Institute was created last summer to address a range of medical challenges that might have engineering solutions.

Visitors to a Stony Brook bar and restaurant were looking for more than food and drink March 15, they were aiming to help out a good cause.

The Bench hosted a St. Baldrick’s Day fundraiser Sunday where participants got their heads shaved to raise funds for childhood cancer research. Lead organizer Christopher Pollina said with donations and a company match, participants surpassed the total event goal of $20,000.

According to the organizer the nonprofit group Three Village Dads raised more than half of that amount, and its foundation donated an additional $1,000.

Rob Meo raised the highest amount of the day with $5,000. During the event, Boy Scout troops 70 and 427, both from Setauket, stopped by to have their heads shaved by Amanda Bellavance of Dapper Cuts Barbershop and donate funds. Music was provided by Mike Rutowitcz of Sound’s Alive Entertainment.

Pollina and co-organizer Scott Montekew were pleased with the results from the second annual event at The Bench.

“We topped last year’s $12,500 raised, even during this trying time of COVID-19,” Pollina said.

SBU student Caroline Klewinowski is just one of thousands impacted by the university’s new dorming mandates. Photo by Julianne Mosher

By Julianne Mosher

Amidst the COVID-19 health crisis that is shaking the world, Stony Brook University students are now being affected – especially those who rely on dorming on campus. 

At the beginning of what was ostensibly the start of spring break, dormer students were told they would have to leave campus. Photo by Kyle Barr

The last week has been turbulent, and for students the news has been changing daily. On March 11, SBU Interim President Michael Bernstein sent out an email to students telling them that classes were going to resume remotely after spring break. 

“Spring break (March 16-20) will commence as planned at the end of this week and we will begin remote instruction at the conclusion of the break,” the email read. “Accordingly, students planning to leave campus for spring break should take with them any items essential to continuing their education from home including laptops, textbooks, notebooks, essential papers and other material. Students should also bring home valuables and indispensable items in the event that a sustained period will pass before they are able to easily retrieve them.”

The email came shortly after angry and anxious students began protesting the administration, as rumors began to swirl among the student body. 

“Administration didn’t really communicate with us,” said Jeni Dhodary, a philosophy and economics major. “We didn’t get an official response until the day before spring break. … It’s a really messy situation.”

Since students were gearing up for their break, they were advised to go home and stay home, if they could, even though the dorms and some food spots would remain open on campus for students preferring to stay there.

Caroline Klewinowski, originally of Brooklyn, opted to stay in her dorm instead of heading home for spring break. 

“New York City seems like ground zero for coronavirus,” she said. “Long Island seems a lot safer.” The journalism major’s mother suffers from lupus, which was another reason she wanted to stay away from home. 

But then things changed and on March 17 the university sent out another email to students saying that on-campus housing will close and students must go home. 

Richard Gatteau, vice president for Student Affairs and dean of Students, and Dallas Bauman, assistant vice president for Campus Residences stated in another email the plans for students over the next several days. 

“All residents who live within driving distance of campus must vacate the residence halls and campus apartments as soon as possible, but no later than 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 19. All other residents must vacate as soon as possible, but no later than 5 p.m. on Friday, March 20,” it read. “Room and meal plan costs, where applicable, will be prorated for the remainder of the semester for all students leaving campus housing and applied as a refund and/or credit to your student account based on the date of checkout.”

At the beginning of what was ostensibly the start of spring break, dormer students were told they would have to leave campus. Photo by Kyle Barr

With an international student body that makes up about 18 percent of the university, those students are required to move out as well, since “Visa and Immigration Services will not terminate or shorten the immigration records for F-1/J-1 degree-seeking students who remain enrolled and depart the U.S. It is important to note that Customs and Border Protection has not provided updated guidance regarding procedures for reentry, including the five-month absence from the U.S.”

International student, Vaidik Trivedi, who lives off campus, was concerned about the initial reports of remote learning, but found comfort in having his own place not within the dorms — even though there are bans on going outside. 

“I don’t know what to do with my weekends now,” he said. “I think we need to deal with this logically, rather than focus on the mayhem.”

Trivedi added it was hard being on campus, with little communication coming from the administration and rumors spreading at a rapid rate. 

“The university created havoc … students didn’t know what was going on,” the 22-year-old said. “They could have communicated better with the students while the rumors caught on fire, especially with the international students. It was one week too late.”

Maria Tsapuik, a Junior Multidisciplinary Studies major is originally from Ukraine, which banned all commercial travel coming into the country March 17. The same day, Stony Brook shut down the dorms.

“I understand their decision to [close the dorms], but they should have told us earlier … before every country shut its borders and there is no way for us to get out,” she said.

She has filled out the form for an extended stay and is waiting for an answer from the university. If they do not grant her an extended stay,  she said she has someone to stay with.

While students are packing up to leave and find shelter in their homes away from the campus grounds, one thing all college students are feeling is a general sense of heartache that their year at school is being cut short. 

Frank Gargano, a senior, dormed on campus, but went home for spring break only to find out he had to drive back to school to pack up his room. 

“I’m half-mad that the housing money is essentially shot, and half-mad I can’t hang out with my friends as often as I could during my last semester,” he said. “I’m essentially robbed of my last semester.”

Even professors are feeling the changes coming to Stony Brook University, by placing their courses online with no physical student interaction. 

“It’s much less rewarding because I like to teach in a classroom and encourage students to speak up in class,” adjunct journalism professor Jon Friedman, said. “But I like to take on new challenges, and this is an enormous one.”

He added he feels badly for the students who are planning to graduate this May. 

“The last semester should be their happiest time and now they probably won’t be able to celebrate a normal commencement ceremony,” he said. “Throwing your cap in the air in triumph, in your backyard, doesn’t give a student the same kind of thrill.”

This post has been updated with additional reporting by Leah Chiappino

Legislators and residents are worried about how possible development in St. James and Stony Brook will affect traffic and water quality, while others are in favor. Photo from The Northwind Group website

Elected officials and residents are weighing in on proposed and possible developments along the Route 25A corridor in St. James and Stony Brook.

While the development of Gyrodyne — which would include subdividing its 75-acre land for a hotel, assisted living facility, offices and sewage plant — has been a hot topic of conversation on both sides of the town line, many are also keeping their eyes on the sites of the International Baptist Church in Stony Brook and BB & GG Farms and Nursery in St. James.

On The Northwind Group website, under the proposed developments tab, is listed a 55-and-over community called Stony Brook Meadows that will stand on approximately 12 acres of property.

According to the website, it “will address a need for housing for a valued regional resource and at the same time, help to alleviate various housing concerns.”

On its site, Northwind said the development will result in little or no impact on local streets and, as far as the economic impact, the property is currently not taxed due it being occupied by a religious institution, and “the redevelopment will result in increased tax dollars for the Town of Brookhaven, Suffolk County and New York State.” The website also claims it will provide much-needed jobs during the construction phase, and any new community residents will support local businesses.

In the Town of Brookhaven’s Route 25A — Three Village Area: Visioning Report, the International Baptist Church was cited as an ideal spot for an assisted living facility due to residents not driving and staff members coming and going at various hours. In order for the development to go ahead, a zoning variation would be needed from the town.

As for BB & GG, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed legislation in October that gave the county Legislature the go ahead to appraise the land for possible county purchase under the Drinking Water Protection Program. According to the resolution, an application was made by William Borella for the property to be considered for inclusion in the Suffolk County Farmland Purchase of Development Rights Program, which was approved by the Legislature in July. County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said the farm is currently in the appraisal status.

“Kara is exactly in the right direction by putting the resolution forward, and I strongly support both the concept of protecting this part of our historic North Shore and all of the national and local treasures that are found there.”

— Steve Englebright

Resolution Proposed

At its Feb. 11 general meeting, the county Legislature tabled a resolution to study a segment of road in the vicinity of the Smithtown and Brookhaven border. The resolution, introduced by Hahn, would allow the county to analyze the Route 25A corridor in St. James and Stony Brook to determine the regional impacts associated with proposed and planned development projects in this area. It would also identify vacant and preserved parcels as well as existing zoning, amongst other criteria. The resolution will be voted on at a future Legislature general meeting. The next general meeting, March 3, will be held in Riverhead.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who has addressed the Smithtown Planning Board at past public meetings about the downfalls of development along the corridor, said in a phone interview that the stretch of road in the area was recognized by the state in the early 1970s for its historic importance and a number of structures along or right off the route are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Englebright said nearby Stony Brook Harbor is the last unspoiled harbor in the vicinity. He added it has been sheltered by the Head of the Harbor village and wise land-use policies, and the proposed county legislation is important to reconcile some of the issues in the area.

“Kara is exactly in the right direction by putting the resolution forward, and I strongly support both the concept of protecting this part of our historic North Shore and all of the national and local treasures that are found there,” Englebright said.

Hahn said there needs to be real discussions in Smithtown, because while she understands development is needed, she said there needs to be smart planning.

“There’s just a lot of availability in an area that is bucolic and historic, and it would be wonderful if there could be a check on development,” she said.

The county legislator added, regarding the sewage treatment plant that is planned for the Gyrodyne property, that other spots may be more beneficial to many areas of the town. The property is located on the northern part of Smithtown. Currently, plans are to hook up Lake Avenue businesses to the sewage plant. She said there is a lot of state money for downtown development if it is done properly, and if a sewage plant would be positioned centrally, it can not only benefit St. James, but also Nesconset, Smithtown and Jericho Turnpike to get businesses off antiquated cesspools and hooked up to sewers.

“It’s shortsighted to propose a project that would only address one downtown, when properly placed it could help several, and spur economic development, help water quality, and help out development where it should be in our downtowns and by our transportation zones,” Hahn said.

“We take our responsibility as stewards extremely seriously. This plan has been a long time in the making. We have worked closely with the Town of Smithtown to accomplish their goals.”

— Richard Smith

Gyrodyne the Catalyst for Controversy

At the Legislature meeting, residents spoke for and against the resolution. Richard Smith, a member of the Gyrodyne board of trustees and mayor of Nissequogue, asked legislators to vote “no” when it came to the resolution.

Smith said he and the Gyrodyne board have worked with the Smithtown Planning Department to fulfill the requirements of the town, which he said has done comprehensive studies of what the community needs for their downtown areas.

He said the company has worked more than three years on a “smart plan” and added that Gyrodyne would have the right to subdivide more extensively than they have, but chose now to. There will be a 200-foot setback from Route 25A, and he said he feels the sewage treatment plan will protect the groundwater and Stony Brook Harbor. He also cited the benefits of the tax revenues to the town and county as well as the St. James Fire Department.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who is more concerned with this area than myself and my colleagues on the board,” Smith said. “We take our responsibility as stewards extremely seriously. This plan has been a long time in the making. We have worked closely with the Town of Smithtown to accomplish their goals.”

Recently, the civic group We Are Nesconset changed its name to We Are Smithtown to address all development issues in the town instead of just in their hamlet. The civic group originally worked to oppose a boutique hotel near the Watermill Inn on Route 347 and the proposed Nesconset development The Preserve at Smithtown.

“Our focus currently is Gyrodyne and its effect on the environment, especially given what’s going on with Grumman Aerospace,” Phyllis Hart, vice president of the group, said, referring to the so-called Grumman plume in Bethpage.

In a recent email to members to explain the name change, the group called the Nesconset projects and Gyrodyne a “terrible trio” of projects. The group said the three, as well as other developments, were “all but dead until 2018, when the town council “decided to prioritize development at all costs.”

Hart said the civic group asked the town to place a moratorium on any new building until Smithtown’s master plan is complete.

However, Smithtown’s public information officer, Nicole Garguilo, said in an email that a moratorium on development before the master plan is completed would be a reckless decision.

“The financial ramifications that a moratorium on development would have, not just on the town’s fiscal stability but on the taxpaying residents and small business owners, would be catastrophic,” she said. “Demanding a moratorium on development makes for a great press soundbite … but there’s not a planner or engineering professional on the Island that would make a recommendation like this and for good reason.”

Garguilo said a moratorium would not only hurt developers but homeowners and small business owners. She said a moratorium could also cause a rush to the town’s building and planning departments to submit site plans before it takes effect.

“The answer here is balance and moderation, as well as removing outdated ordinances and loopholes in the town’s existing master plan, to avoid unwanted types of development,” she said. “All of which we are currently doing.”

Gerry Duff, a 30-year resident of Stony Brook who lives on Stony Brook Road, said he recently joined the Three Village Civic Association due to his concerns about the proposed development at Gyrodyne and talk of others in the area. He said the congestion at the end of Stony Brook Road around rush hour, which he said starts around 3:30 p.m., backs up to the Stony Brook University entrance. He added he and others feel that Smithtown will receive the tax benefits of developments such as Gyrodyne, while Stony Brook will inherit the headaches.

“[Smithtown has] blinders on, and they look at one project at a time,” he said. “They’re looking at Gyrodyne for example. They’re not looking at the fact that 100 feet to the left and 100 feet to the right are two more developments going on. All of this should be taken into consideration, because all of this is going to add to the traffic and the congestion and the pollution.”

Stony Brook and Smithtown residents are concerned about future traffic problems if developments like Gyrodyne's proposed plans and others are completed. File photo by Jonathan Kornreich

One county committee’s hope to analyze the impact of development along a local road has been dashed for the time being.

At its Feb. 11 general meeting, the Suffolk County Legislature tabled a resolution to study a segment of road in the vicinity of the Smithtown and Brookhaven border.

The resolution, introduced by county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), would allow the county to analyze the Route 25A corridor in St. James and Stony Brook to determine the regional impacts associated with proposed and planned development projects in this area. It would also identify vacant and preserved parcels as well as existing zoning, amongst other criteria.

The county’s Economic Development, Planning & Housing Committee recently passed the resolution, 5-1, with only county Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) voting against it.

“I don’t disagree with the bill, but I’m a realist.”

— Rob Trotta

In the vicinity, the proposed development of Gyrodyne, also known as Flowerfield, which would include a hotel, assisted living, offices and sewage treatment plant, has drawn criticism from residents and elected officials in both Smithtown and Brookhaven. While the property sits in Smithtown, many have expressed concerns that additional traffic will impact Stony Brook, and the sewage treatment plant would have a repercussions on local waterways. Other properties with proposed and rumored development have also been cited as concerns.

Trotta, before the Feb. 11 general meeting, said he voted “no” in the committee because while he would like to see preservation of open spaces in the area, he said there is not much the county can do. In the case of Gyrodyne, the property is already zoned for light industrial use.

“I don’t disagree with the bill, but I’m a realist,” he said.

Trotta, as well as opposers of the resolution who commented at the Feb. 11 meeting, said Gyrodyne will only be developing 25 acres of their 75 acres and there will be a 200-foot buffer of trees and shrubs. The property is already partially developed with rental space.

Hauppauge-based lawyer Timothy Shea criticized the resolution and said larger projects in Yaphank and Ronkonkoma have not undergone the same scrutiny from the county as the Gyrodyne project. The lawyer said when representing the developers of Stony Brook Square, which is being completed across from the train station on Route 25A, he faced similar opposition.

“The resolution here is designed to wrest control of the Gyrodyne process from the Town of Smithtown,” he said. “The catalyst is the Stony Brook community. They are a very well educated, well-organized community.”

Natalie Weinstein, president of Celebrate St. James, said the sewage plant on the property would help with the revitalization of Lake Avenue. She said there have been a number of government and private studies that have been conducted regarding the roadway, adding the proposed Route 25A analysis would be a waste of money which could be better spent on a traffic circle at Stony Brook Road or to hire experts in street light timing. 

Speaking of Gyrodyne’s plans to include a buffer, Weinstein said, “The plan is actually a beautiful use of space from a design point of view.” 

Cindy Smith, who heads up United Communities Against Gyrodyne Development, spoke in favor of the corridor study that she hopes will take a cohesive look at both sides of the road.

“If they had actually done their homework back then they would know that 25A is already over capacity and the major north-south road, which is Stony Brook Road, is over capacity by 60 percent.”

— Cindy Smith

She said in 2017 the county’s Planning Commission’s superficial review for the Gyrodyne proposal allowed the project to move forward without a traffic study.

“If they had actually done their homework back then they would know that 25A is already over capacity and the major north-south road, which is Stony Brook Road, is over capacity by 60 percent,” Smith said.

George Hoffman, 2nd vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, also spoke in favor of the bill and said there needs to be a balance between smart development and preservation.

“I think it would be helpful to planners,” he said. “It’s not to stop Gyrodyne. It’s just to get a good picture of what’s going on there, and that information will help planners in Smithtown and in Brookhaven make the right choices for the community.”

In a phone interview Feb. 12, Hahn said she was disappointed that the resolution was tabled.

She said when it comes to Gyrodyne she disagrees that the 200-foot buffer would be beneficial. She said it will not block the view of what they want to build. Hahn added that the study is not only about Gyrodyne but also proposed and rumored projects.

She added when heading east on the 25A corridor, the familiar locations around Gyrodyne and BB & GG Farm in St. James make you feel like “you’re home.”

“It’s so bucolic,” she said. “It’s beautiful. It holds a special place in my heart. Just the sense of place it establishes with those open vistas. I would just hate to lose that because it’s on both sides of 25A.”

She said she is concerned that there hasn’t been an adequate traffic study or consideration of a regional sewage plant, adding the amount of nitrogen that travels into the Long Island Sound has to be looked at carefully.

Hahn indicated she is not opposed to revitalization in St. James, but she said there needs to be a longer discussion of a sewage treatment plant and to look at a central location that would be more beneficial to other areas in Smithtown.

“I think there’s a bigger plan that should happen for that so that we’re not talking piecemeal with just one downtown getting what they want,” she said. “There could be something on a larger scale that would benefit multiple communities, multiple business districts and protect our water.”

The resolution will be on the agenda for the county Legislature’s March 3 general meeting which will be held in Riverhead.

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Work proposed for the end of this year will eliminate the access ramp from 25A onto Nicolls Road from eastbound Route 25A. Photo from Google Maps

Due to consistent resident complaints, Suffolk County is planning to start work on easing traffic concerns on the northern part of Nicolls Road sometime by the end of the year. The planning has been several years in the making.

A recurrent issue for travelers on Nicolls Road has been drivers weaving quickly to the left lane when coming from eastbound Route 25A to make a left onto Lower Sheep Pasture Road.

William Hillman, Suffolk County Department of Public Works chief engineer, attended the Feb. 3 Three Village Civic Association meeting to discuss changes planned for the county road.

“It’s a relatively simple project,” he said. “Vehicles traveling eastbound to go south on Nicolls Road — many of them weave across to make the left on Lower Sheep Pasture Road. Simultaneously, someone who has made a left from 25A, quite often there’s conflicts there. We’re looking to eliminate that.”

He said the slip ramp on Route 25A approaching Nicolls will be removed, bringing a right-turn lane up to the signal. The only time the right-turn lane will stop is when the left-turn lane on the westbound side has the green arrow.

“About 80 percent of the cycle is green for this movement, so it’s only 20 percent that it would be stopped,” Hillman said. “From a capacity standpoint, it will have very little effect.”

The chief engineer said while Route 25A is a state highway, the county received a permit to remove the access ramp due to it causing problems on the county road.

Daniel Dresch, assistant chief engineer, said the lane will be about 450 feet long. When asked if a study was done regarding traffic on Route 25A, he said it wasn’t undertaken due to it being a state road, and instead the county focused on remedying the problems on Nicolls.

“It’s well outside of the scope of what we can do,” Dresch said.

However, the county has conducted a study of the area at Nicolls Road, Hillman said. During the morning peak hour, between 8 and 9 a.m., about 600 cars make the right from 25A. In the same hour, approximately 130 vehicles then make a left onto Lower Sheep Pasture Road.

Civic members asked what may happen to pedestrian crossings.

Hillman said the changes will improve pedestrian safety due to the county eliminating the slip ramp. Suffolk will also construct sidewalks from the north entrance of Stony Brook University up to 25A on the west side of Nicolls and a sidewalk on the east side as well.

Members also questioned Hillman and Dresch about bicyclists. Hillman believes the removal of the slip will help cyclists heading eastbound on 25A due to not having the conflict with drivers making a right before the light.

Those in attendance also used the opportunity to ask about possible plantings in the median, and if the civic association could help. Hillman said while community members can’t legally work on medians and islands, which are considered part of the road, members can sponsor landscaping work on the spaces.

Girl Scout Hailey Van Cott works on the prey pen at Sweetbriar Nature Center. Photo from Hailey Van Cott

When choosing a project for her Gold Award, one Stony Brook Girl Scout drew on her love for animals.

Hailey Van Cott, a junior at Ward Melville High School and a Girl Scout since kindergarten, recently began repairing the prey pen within the flight aviary at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown as part of her Gold Award project. A visitor to the center for years, she knew the location was the right choice.

“I really love what Sweetbriar stands for and I knew I wanted to help them out for my Gold Award,” she said.

To help with her project, PSEG Long Island awarded the Girl Scout $200. She said she plans to use the money to put down Astroturf around the sides of the prey enclosure, which helps the birds grip as it’s a softer texture than a piece of wood and in turn prevents foot problems.

PSEG representatives said the project is in line with their goal to relocate osprey and other raptor nests from electrical facilities to safe nesting locations.

“I really love what Sweetbriar stands for and I knew I wanted to help them out for my Gold Award.”

– Hailey Van Cott

“We want to help ensure these wonderful birds continue to return to the area year after year while, at the same time, protecting the reliability of the energy grid,” said John O’Connell, PSEG Long Island’s vice president of transmission and distribution. “Hailey’s project aligns with our commitment to protecting the local raptor population.”

Her mother, Deb, said she wasn’t surprised when her daughter chose to help out at Sweetbriar.

“She’s always liked to help animals,” the mother said. “She’s definitely a big animal person. She’s also always liked to do community service.”

Her mother said with Girl Scout Troop 2867, her daughter has helped Smithtown Animal Shelter by making dog toys and conducting supply drives for them. Outside of Girl Scouts, Van Cott has made memory wire bracelets and sold them at her father’s office and donated the money to Save-A-Pet Animal Shelter in Port Jeff Station.

Isabel Fernandes, a wildlife care coordinator at Sweetbriar, said Van Cott has done an amazing job repairing the prey bin, and Sweetbriar is always appreciative for the help they get from Scouts.

“We are a small staff so it’s important that we have people who can help us and get projects and other things done here,” Fernandes said.

The coordinator explained that the pen is enclosed in the 80-foot flight conditioning enclosure aviary, which is used for wildlife rehabilitation to help injured birds fly again and exercise their muscles before they can be released. The center prey pen ensures the birds maintain their hunting skills.

Fernandes said there is currently a great horned owl in the aviary that was removed when Van Cott was working on the enclosure, as it’s important to keep human contact as limited as possible — something she has now learned through experience.

“The more interaction with humans they have, the more adjusted they will become,” the Girl Scout said. “They need to learn how to capture the prey themselves and how to survive on their own.”

As part of her Gold Award project, in addition to working with her family on the enclosure, she will talk to younger Girl Scouts about the project, Van Cott said, as well as educate them about the importance of animal rehabilitation and how birds of prey control the rodent population.

“Every animal has its part in the ecosystem,” she said. “I’ve always loved big birds. I’ve always loved seeing them out in the wild just looking up and seeing a hawk every now and then.”

The hill going down on West Broadway in Port Jefferson is well known for its potholes and ripped up pavement. Photo by Kyle Barr

A section of North Shore roadway will benefit from new state funding for the renewal of streets impacted by extreme weather events.

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Jan. 23 that $151 million in new funding to complement $743 million in direct state aid provided through the PAVE NY Initiative for local road and bridge projects. Of the new allocation, $6.6 million will be used to renew Route 25A from Nicolls Road in Stony Brook to Main Street/East Broadway in Port Jefferson, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

A portion of Route 25A in Setauket will benefit from state aid. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“New York continues to make nation-leading investments in the renewal and modernization of the state’s roads, bridges, transit systems and airports,” Cuomo said in the release. “These investments are laying the foundation to ensure sustained growth throughout the 21st century in tourism, business and workforce development, and economic opportunities.”

According to the release, the improvement will enhance highway safety and reduce the roughness of roads, which in turn will make them more fuel efficient. Work is estimated to begin this spring and be completed in the winter of 2020.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) brought the severity of local road conditions to the attention of the state Department of Transportation last year, according to a press release from his office. The designated areas have been subjected to serious degradation due to water seepage into road seams and large clusters of filled potholes creating rutted, uneven and unsafe surfaces. One of the worse sections is the roadway near the East Setauket Post Office to CVS, but other sections have deteriorated rapidly, including the hill from Poquott into Port Jefferson.

“Last summer, we noticed an acceleration in the deterioration of different sections of Route 25A,” Englebright said in the statement. “So, I met with DOT staff to communicate the urgent need for repair. After evaluation of the road confirmed the urgency, [NYSDOT] regional director, Joseph Brown, indicated that he would do his best to find funds to do repairs. We want to thank the regional director and his staff for working to include the main highway of our community in this funding program.”

Town of Brookhaven Highway Supervisor Dan Losquadro (R) said while he’s always grateful when he hears of state funding coming the town’s way, when he heard the recent news, he was disappointed as to how little aid was coming to Suffolk County. He pointed to the fact that the section of Route 25A is the only one designated in the area. He added there is a desperate need for state funding to be reinstated for work on Route 347, specifically for the Nicolls Road overpass and intersection.

Losquadro said he will continue conversations with state legislators about state roads, also the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program, otherwise known as CHIPS, allocation for local streets.

“I really hope that this is a starting point and not an endpoint when it comes to the proposal for funding for infrastructure for Long Island, because paving one road in Suffolk County really isn’t to me an adequate investment on the part of the state Legislature,” Losquadro said.

FAMILY SWIM

Chrissy Swain of East Setauket snapped this incredible photo on Dec. 24 at Sand Street Beach in Stony Brook. She writes, “I was on a beach walk and happened to have my good camera on me when I stumbled upon this family of deer grazing. I watched them quietly for a few minutes and then they one by one got in the water to cross together. It was really beautiful.”