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Texaco Avenue

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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.”

The second phase of construction is underway at the Texaco Avenue apartments. Photo by Elana Glowatz

If you build it, they will come.

Port Jefferson developer Rail Realty LLC proved that old adage when Rob Gitto, from its parent company The Gitto Group, confirmed its uptown apartment project is already at full rental capacity — a month before it is even slated to open.

Gitto said the 38 units in the first completed apartment building has been completely pre-leased and there is a waiting list for the second building, which will add another approximately 36 units when completed next year.

Most of those future tenants are affiliated with Stony Brook University in some way, Gitto said, whether they are graduate students, medical residents, professors, nurses, doctors or other staff. There are also a few people from John T. Mather Memorial Hospital’s new residency program.

The first phase of the Texaco Avenue apartments is complete. Photo by Elana Glowatz
The first phase of the Texaco Avenue apartments is complete. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Officials broke ground on the much-anticipated project, dubbed The Hills at Port Jefferson, in May 2015, expressing hope that the first new development in upper Port would spur revitalization efforts in the troubled area.

Village leaders have been trying to enhance the uptown’s Main Street corridor, between North Country/Sheep Pasture Road and the Long Island Rail Road tracks, with the goal of improving quality of life, making it more pedestrian-friendly and attracting developers and visitors.

At the groundbreaking last year, Mayor Margot Garant said the 74 Texaco Avenue apartments would be “so important” to the revitalization.

Gitto thinks it’s already propelled other improvements. He said Monday that he has seen one nearby business making improvements to an existing establishment and two others sign leases to bring in new ones.

“We wanted to see the area revitalized and we’re seeing it,” he said, adding about the rest of the uptown area, “We definitely hope they follow suit.”

There are other community benefits attached: Under the conditions of the project’s approval, Rail Realty has to make improvements to a pocket park on the west side of Texaco that currently has a jungle gym, swings and a basketball hoop, and improve traffic flow in the area by redesigning the intersection of Main Street and Sheep Pasture Road.

Construction has gone in phases. Last year, Rail Realty knocked down vacant homes and buildings along the east side of Texaco Avenue between Sheep Pasture Road and Linden Place to make way for the two three-story buildings — which will have a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments — and began working on the northern building. That was completed recently, with the new apartments visible from some angles on Main Street, a block over. The developer got started right on the foundation of the second building, to the south.

The first phase of the Texaco Avenue apartments is complete. Photo by Elana Glowatz
The first phase of the Texaco Avenue apartments is complete. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Garant announced the milestone at a village board of trustees meeting on June 6, saying people would start moving into the first apartment building in mid-July.

Resident parking is underground, a noteworthy element for a small village in which having more cars than parking spaces has long been an issue. And toward the end of the second ongoing apartment construction phase, the developers will bring down a building on the south side of the Texaco Avenue and Linden Place intersection, the Stony Brook Electric Inc. building, to make room for additional above-ground parking.

That’s also when the park improvements will take place, Gitto said. Plans are still developing, but they might include landscaping, such as flowers and necessary irrigation, and taking down an unused shed there.

For The Gitto Group — which has built up other parts of Port Jefferson, including an office building, the CVS and the Barnum House apartments on Main Street — things are falling into place faster than anticipated. Rob Gitto said the project was done in phases because the developers weren’t sure how well the first set of apartments would be received and how quickly they would be leased.

“We knew it would be successful but we didn’t know it would sell that quickly.”

Officials broke ground Monday morning on a housing complex many hope will spur redevelopment in uptown Port Jefferson.

After four years of plans and approvals, developer Rail Realty LLC can get started on demolishing homes and buildings along Texaco Avenue to make way for 74 rental apartments, a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom. The Hills at Port Jefferson apartments will be constructed as two three-story buildings on several parcels along that street: One building will take the place of two vacant houses and the former Port Jeff Auto Spa car wash on the north half of Texaco, close to Sheep Pasture Road; while the other will be built in what is now a grassy field at the intersection with Linden Place. Resident parking will be underground, with a final parcel on the south side of Texaco and Linden, currently holding Stony Brook Electric Inc., to be used for additional parking.

Ryan Gitto arrives at a groundbreaking ceremony in upper Port Jefferson prepared to work. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Ryan Gitto arrives at a groundbreaking ceremony in upper Port Jefferson prepared to work. Photo by Elana Glowatz

“This is the beginning of a renaissance and a jumpstart to upper Port Jefferson,” Rail Realty principal Tony Gitto said at the groundbreaking ceremony, after digging into the earth at the grassy field.

The shovel work was followed up on the car wash property next door, where Mayor Margot Garant climbed into an excavator and took the first crack at taking apart the building there. Concrete crunched as she closed the vehicle’s claws over a corner of roof and ripped it away from the rest of the building.

“I can get used to this,” she shouted from the operator seat.

Garant said that the apartment project will be “so important” to upper Port revitalization efforts.

The village has been working to enhance that troubled area around Main Street between North Country Road/Sheep Pasture Road and the Long Island Rail Road tracks. An entire section of the village’s draft comprehensive plan is devoted to upper Port, with recommendations geared toward improving quality of life, making it more pedestrian-friendly and attracting developers and visitors.

Rail Realty got final village approval on its project last year. Under the conditions of that approval, the developer will make improvements to a pocket park near the apartments and improve traffic flow in the area by redesigning the intersection of Main Street and Sheep Pasture Road.

Tony Gitto breaks ground at the site of his upcoming apartment complex. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Tony Gitto breaks ground at the site of his upcoming apartment complex. Photo by Elana Glowatz

The housing complex will be constructed in phases, with the first phase being the northern apartment building, the second being the other building, and the third being the parking area across Linden Place.

The Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency gave financial assistance to Rail Realty on the project, including sales tax exemptions on construction items, a mortgage tax exemption and a 10-year property tax abatement through which the owner will pay taxes on roughly the current value of the site, as opposed to the increased value of the property once work is complete.

The IDA aims to boost the economy within Brookhaven Town by assisting businesses in locating or expanding in the area.

IDA Chairman Fred Braun said Monday, “Cleaning up a semi-blighted area is the first step,” and Long Island needs rentals both in the area of Stony Brook University and elsewhere.