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Town Code

Town of Brookhaven employees remove illegal signs from public right-of-ways. Photo courtesy Town of Brookhaven

By Sabrina Artusa

The Town of Brookhaven is making a revitalized effort to remove illegal signs and enforce commercial sign restrictions. 

Unclear diction in the existing code made enforcement difficult, but now, as the town revises the code, officials are reviewing and discarding prohibited signs throughout Brookhaven. 

Signs in the right of way along state-owned highways were simplest to extricate, as anything in that zone is considered litter according to New York State. However, restrictions unique to the town in regards to size, location and lighting were more challenging to enforce. 

Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) said, “The new sign code will be a little more detailed and enforceable in regards to size, location and lighting.” According to him, unclear language and years of making exceptions make the current code insufficient. 

The proposed new code includes a more extensive list of purposes and 30 more definitions for terms and signs named in the code.

While zoning districts have different restrictions in terms of size, placement, lighting and materials, there are certain signs prohibited in all areas, such as revolving signs, reflective signs, billboards, roof signs, signs for off-premises businesses and signs attached to a tree, fence or utility pole, among others.

“The public interest has to be taken into consideration and allowing the proliferation of signs makes the streetscape look terrible,” Kornreich added. 

Improving the aesthetic of the community and preventing dangerous distractions to drivers were listed as considerations in the code revision.

While some business owners may feel these restrictions hinder their ability to attract customers, Kornreich, a small-business owner, is confident that by improving the atmosphere, more people will want to visit the area. 

Instead of signs, businesses can buy ads in newspapers or utilize websites and social media, he said. “Ultimately, making the community beautiful and a more desirable place to live is good for everybody. Our goal is not to harm small businesses — our goal is to make our downtown community better and more inviting.” 

This sentiment is echoed in the revised code. Most signs, including personal expression signs and temporary signs, require a permit from the Building Division. 

The town has sent the proposed revised code to the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and chamber of commerce, also the Three Village Civic Association and chamber of commerce for review. After a period of feedback from these organizations, there will be a public hearing. 

A development proposal has caused uproar over the past month among residents of St. James, as reported in The Times of Smithtown. Mills Pond Group, owned by Fort Salonga developer Frank Amicizia, proposed the construction of an assisted living facility on the former Bull Run Farm on Mills Pond Road.     

The proposal included a two-story, 97-bed assisted living facility to be built on the property, which is 9.02 acres in total and is in residential zoning. At a public meeting with lawyers of the developers of the project in March, many residents were outspoken in their disapproval of the proposal. This ultimately resulted in Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) announcing that a special exception would not be made for the assisted living facility.

Additionally, Wehrheim intends to legislate that assisted living homes will not be approved to be built in areas zoned residential. Smithtown public information officer, Nicole Garguilo, said that “for the longest time there was this loophole in the town’s code” which provided an opportunity for a “special exception” for developers when attempting to gain the rights to build on a piece of land.

“One of the most common criticisms was that developers often used this loophole to get through the process without having to go through a zone change,” Garguilo said. 

This special exception essentially enables them to “go right to the Town Board rather than going through all of the zoning boards and environmental reviews — it was very frustrating to residents.”

Garguilo went on to explain that the Town Board intended to propose legislation to remove the loophole even before this issue arose with the Bull Run Farm proposal. She said she believes this would reflect the interests of the community.

“You’re going to be hard pressed to get anybody in the whole hamlet of St. James to support an assisted living [facility] on that land,” Garguilo said. “That land people want to see preserved. They want to see it maybe become an active farm again.”

Garguilo went on to explain that “a lot of it has to do with the sentimental value of the farm and the history there.” People remember when the farm was active, she said. Some might have fond memories such as sleigh riding or feeding carrots to the horses. Garguilo herself used to spend her allowance money on Blow Pops from the farm stand, and her family would frequently buy pies from the Elderkins — the family that ran the farm.

As there does not seem to be a path to building this assisted living facility at that location, an alternative option that the developers could turn to is building homes on the property.

“When they originally presented their plan, they had presented a backup plan with it, which was to build a subdivision of homes,” Garguilo said     .

She went on to say that while members of the community would likely prefer the land simply preserved, they may be more willing to accept this alternative as it would be in line with the town’s codes.

“I think it’s a pill easier for them to swallow rather than seeing assisted living go up on that land.”

The next Town Board meeting will be held Thursday, April 20, at 2 p.m. at Smithtown Town Hall, 99 W. Main St. Garguilo said it is unlikely that the board will be prepared to vote on removing the special exception loophole at this meeting, but that residents should expect a vote in the near future.

A Larkfield Road home is at the center of a lawsuit by its two former owners against Town of Huntington, Councilman Eugene Cook and his two business partners. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Two former East Northport landowners are suing Huntington Town, Councilman Eugene Cook (R) and his two business partners for $5 million over alleged loss of property rights.

A federal lawsuit filed Sept. 11 in U.S District Court for the Eastern District of New York claims that town officials have intentionally overlooked zoning code violations at a multi-family home on Larkfield Road — but only after it was purchased by TGJ 2014 LLC in 2014. The company is owned by Cook and two business partners, Huntington real estate agent Timothy Cavanagh and Commack attorney Joshua Price.

The former homeowners, Mary Ann Dellinger, of Huntington, and her brother, Carmen Tomeo, allege the town officials’ efforts to unfairly enforce zoning codes on the five-family dwelling caused them to lose money in the sale, according to their attorney Christopher Cassar. The house was purchased for $400,000 by TGJ 2014.

“This house was their primary asset,” Cassar said.

The plaintiffs claim the Larkfield Road home’s use as a multi-family dwelling predates the creation of Huntington Town code in 1934, according to court documents. Cassar said the family has a March 11, 2007 letter from the town which grandfathered the property’s right to be legally occupied as a five-family residence.

The lawsuit alleges town code enforcement officers began to issues summonses in 2012 against the property owners demanding it be returned to a single-family home, despite earlier promises.

“Town of Huntington has permitted and tolerated a pattern and practice of unjustified, unreasonable and illegal use of the enforcement of town code against the plaintiffs,” the lawsuit reads.

Cassar said the town’s actions caused Dellinger and Tomeo to have difficulty selling the house, as two prior deals fell through. One potential buyer would have paid $900,000 for the property, according to Cassar, half a million more than Cook and his partners paid.

The former homeowners also claim the $5 million sought is for damages including loss of income from the property, loss of property value, embarrassment, harrassment, loss of liberty and infringement of their property rights, according to court records.

In 2015, town officials  hired attorney Edward Guardaro Jr., of the firm Kaufman, Borgeest & Ryan LLP, to look into the East Northport house, to determine whether it was a legal rental and if the work being performed was legal.

Cassar said the town has issued a summons on the property, since Cook and his company took ownership, over issues with an exterior staircase and debris. However, the attorney said the town did not ever issue a code violation against it for being a multi-family dwelling.

Huntington has not been served with the lawsuit as of Sept. 20, according to town spokesman A.J. Carter, and he declined to comment further on the matter. Cook also declined to comment on the lawsuit after the Sept. 19 board meeting, as did Cavanagh. Price returned calls but did not comment on the matter.

Officials commend Smithtown on Friday for adopting the new geothermal code. From left to right, Michael Kaufman of Suffolk County Planning Commission; David Calone, chair of the county’s Planning Commission; Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio; Michael Voltz, director of energy efficiency and renewable energy at PSEG Long Island; and John Franceschina of the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

A new Smithtown code has already translated into some cash.

PSEG Long Island presented Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) with a $10,000 check last Friday for adopting a new model geothermal code.

The utility provided an incentive program for any Long Island township that embraced the new geothermal codes, which utilize the constant, belowground temperature to heat and cool buildings, and help homes save both energy and money. PSEG Long Island committed to provide implementation assistance of $10,000 to each township and $5,000 to the first 10 villages with a population greater than 5,000 in Suffolk and Nassau counties that adopted the model geothermal code by May 31.

This particular new geothermal code helps municipal and private industry installers streamline the evaluation and installation process of the geothermal system in Suffolk County and ensures high quality installations to protect the county’s groundwater.

Vecchio said he was proud that Smithtown was the first town to adopt the code.

“I believe it’ll be a wave of the future;  we want to be the first ones to allow this new energy to come in,” he said.

When PSEG Long Island and the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization unveiled the new energy code back in November, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) stood with the organizations, urging towns to consider the adoption.

Smithtown’s Town Board voted in March to make Smithtown the first town in Suffolk County to adopt the new alternative energy geothermal code for residential and commercial properties.

This is not the first time Smithtown has been one of the firsts to adopt alternative energy codes, signing onto a model code crafted at the Suffolk County Planning Commission for solar energy. The model code helps municipalities evaluate proposed solar energy systems for both commercial and residential properties.

Back in March when Smithtown adopted the code, Michael Kaufman, of the county Planning Commission helped draft the model code and said he believed that Smithtown residents needed to act locally by going green as much as possible because of the energy crisis on Long Island, with Long Island having some of the highest electrical rates in the nation.

“There is an energy crisis on Long Island,” Kaufman said at a previous town meeting. “We have some of the highest electric rates in the entire nation. Fossil fuel energy has high costs and we have severe environmental costs when fossil fuels are used. Town of Smithtown residents need to think globally and act locally by going green as much as possible.”

From left, Supervisor Ed Romaine, Councilwoman Connie Kepert, Councilmen Dan Panico and Neil Foley and town waste management officials Tim Timms, Frank Tassone and Frank Balsamo celebrate removing more than 1,500 illegal signs from town property. Photo from Brookhaven Town

Brookhaven Town announced on Monday that workers had removed more than 1,500 illegally posted signs from rights-of-way and utility poles in the year since the town adopted stricter laws on posting signs.

The town board banned all signs on public property last April in a unanimous move, after Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) introduced the tighter restriction.

Romaine had announced the idea during his 2014 State of the Town address, saying the ban would help clean up the town and bring local laws into step with federal regulations.

The outright ban on signs on town property replaced a rule previously on the books in Chapter 57A of the town code that faced a court challenge from a Mount Sinai business owner, who alleged it favored commercial speech over noncommercial speech. Brookhaven Town adopted its new regulations while that case was working its way through the courts, although the New York State Appellate Court ruled in favor of the town in December. The new code eliminated a requirement to notify violators before an illegal sign is removed.

Romaine and a few other town board members visited the Brookhaven landfill recently to mark the one-year anniversary of the new sign code and celebrate the town’s waste management department removing more than 1,500 illegal signs since the law’s enactment.

Violators of the town sign code face a $250 fine.