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Valerie Cartright

Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and PJ Village trustee, Kathianne Snaden, at the town’s Quality of Life Task Force’s first public meeting Dec. 17. Photo by Kyle Barr

As members of the Brookhaven Town’s Quality of Life Task Force walked in to the Comsewogue Public Library Dec. 17, looking to talk about the homeless issue, they were each greeted with a poignant reminder, a shopping cart laden with items, of containers and blankets, sitting in a handicapped space closest to the library’s main doors.

At the area surrounding the railroad tracks in the Port Jefferson area, men and women sleep outside even as the months grow colder. They sleep on benches and on the stoops of dilapidated buildings. Village code enforcement and Suffolk County police have said they know many of them by name, and services for them have been around, in some cases, for decades.

Still, homelessness in the Upper Port and Port Jefferson Station area continues to be an issue that has vexed local municipalities. On both sides of the railroad tracks, along Route 25A, also known as Main Street, residents constantly complain of seeing people sleeping on the stoops of vacant buildings.

But beyond a poor sight, the issue, officials said is multipronged. Dealing with it humanely, especially getting people services, remains complicated, while an all-encompassing, effective solution would require new efforts on every level of government.

Phase two of the task force, officials said, will mean coming out with a full report that includes recommendations, to be released sometime in 2020. Likely, it will come in the form of proposed state legislation regarding access to sober homes, bills to allow assistance in homeless transport, increased sharing of information between departments and municipalities, increased law enforcement activity, and revitalization efforts by both village and town while concurrently tackling quality of life issues.

Efforts by the town

At the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting Dec. 17, members of the town’s task force, along with other local legislators, talked with residents about their findings.

The task force came into its own last year after a video of two homeless people having a sexual encounter on a bench in Port Jeff Station exploded in community social media groups like a bag of popcorn heated over a jet engine. The task force has brought together town, police, village, county and other nonprofit advocacy groups to the table, looking to hash out an effective response.

Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said much of the first phase of the task force has been collecting data, although some items still remain up in the air. Vincent Rothaar, of Suffolk County’s Department of Social Services, said there have been approximately 48 street homeless, but he was not sure if that was 48 outreaches to a single individual multiple times.

That is not to say the homeless population in the town’s District 1 and PJ Village is stagnant. Much of them are transient homeless, said PJS/T civic president, Sal Pitti, who is an ex-city police officer. Especially since Port Jeff contains the LIRR Station, those who sleep under a tent one morning may be gone the next day.

“It’s not just an issue that’s affected District 1, it’s an issue that’s affected the entire town, is affecting the entire county” Cartright said. “A lot of the legislation we’re putting forward is not just affecting District 1.”

“It’s not just an issue that’s affected District 1, it’s an issue that’s affected the entire town, is affecting the entire county”

– Valerie Cartright

Cartright has said that several months ago she stood out by the side of the road with a homeless couple that after weeks of talks and persuading finally agreed to go into a Suffolk County housing program. The county had called a cab to pick up the couple, and the councilwoman described how the people had to figure out what they were going to bring with them, going down from several bags between them to one bag a piece.

After calling the cab company, Cartright said the car had apparently got turned around, thinking they were in Port Jefferson instead of Port Jefferson Station. To get the homeless couple their ride, she had to make Suffolk County call up the company again.

Cartright has made efforts to use town-owned buses to help transport homeless individuals in emergency situations but was stymied by other members of the Town Board and officials in the county executive’s office, who said it was both unnecessary and not in the town’s purview.

Rothaar said DSS, especially its recently hired director Frances Pierre, would not dismiss any offer from any municipality of additional transportation services.

“We’re up to working with any government entity for the transport of a homeless person to one of our shelters,” he said. “We’re adamant of not just working with the Town of Brookhaven, but working with every municipality in Suffolk County.”

County offers more collaboration

The difficulty comes in trying to get services for the homeless population comes down to two things, officials said. One is the individual’s or group’s willingness to be helped, the other is the way the county manages the homeless person once they make it into the system.

The difficulty is enormous. Cartright said she has personally talked to individuals multiple times over a year before they even give a hint of wanting to be put in the system.

COPE officer for the Suffolk County police 6th Precinct, Casey Hines Berry, said the police have stepped up foot and bike patrols in the station area, the village and the Greenway Trail, along with talking to increasing communication with local businesses and shelters such as Pax Christi.

The Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

“As we were able to determine who were the individuals committing crimes, we could determine who were the individuals who need housing, who have housing, who are refusing housing,” Berry said. “We did this by collaborating all our different resources within the community.”

She said there have been more arrests, specifically 362 from May 2018 to current date, compared to 245 from the previous time period. The disparity of those numbers she attributed to warrants identifying more people in the area who may be wanted for previous citations, especially in quality of life matters such as public urination or open containers. She added there is no gang activity in Port Jefferson Station, only gang-affiliated people living in the area. In May this year, police arrested one young man of Port Jeff Station for an alleged conspiracy to murder two others in Huntington Station.

But police are not allowed to simply arrest people who may be “loitering” on the street without due cause, she said. If a person is standing on private property, it’s up to the owner to call police to ask them for help getting them to move on. In cases where homeless may be living on property such as the LIPA-owned right-of-way, it’s up to that body to request help removing them.

Police know many of the stationary homeless on a first name basis. Getting them to come in to an emergency shelter or through DSS systems is the difficult part. Many, officials said, simply have difficulty trusting the system — or can’t — such as the case when a homeless, nonmarried couple cannot go into services together and would rather stay together than be separated and have help.

Rothaar said the DSS offers much more than emergency housing, including medical assistance, financial services, along with child and adult protective services.

He said department workers often go out to meet homeless individuals over and over. Each time they may bring a different individual, such as a priest or a different social worker, as if “we keep going out to them again and again, they might respond.” He said they have conducted 18 outreaches in the Port Jeff area since 2018 and have assisted 48 people.

“If we continue to reach out to them, they have come into our care, for lack of a better term, to receive case management services,” he said.

Port Jeff Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce vice president, Larry Ryan, said the best way to give homeless access to care is to be compassionate.

“People have to be willing to accept help,” he said. “You can offer it all you want but if that person’s not willing to take help, or use the services being provided for them, your hands get tied.”

That sentiment was echoed by Pax Christi director, Stephen Brazeau, who said he has seen DSS making a good effort, especially when the weather gets cold. He added that one must be cautious of thinking someone you meet on the street must be homeless.

“You always need to be there, need to always be available when that ‘yes’ comes,” Brazeau said.

Alex DeRosa, an aide to Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), said the county has already passed legislation, sponsored by Hahn, to allow police a copy of the list of emergency homes that was originally only kept by DSS.

There are more than 200 supportive housing sites in Suffolk County that DSS does not oversee, which are instead overseen by New York State. However, the state does not list where or how many sober homes in the area.

“That’s what we’re trying to change, increase that communication,” said Pitti.

Village works with local shelter

Residents have appeared at village meetings to state they have seen drug deals happening near the LIRR train tracks in Upper Port, specifically surrounding Hope House Ministries, which has provided services for homeless for just under 40 years.

Port Jefferson residents have mentioned witnessing catcalling and harassment on the train platform from people behind Pax Christi’s fence. One resident, Kathleen Riley, said she had witnessed what could have been a drug deal between people using Pax Christi’s back gate to exchange an item that was then taken by people onto a train.

Village officials said they have been in communication with the Pax Christi’s Brazeau. In the past few weeks, village trustee Kathianne Snaden said she has communicated with Pax Christi and has toured their facility along with village manager Joe Palumbo and Fred Leute, acting chief of code enforcement. While she commended the facility for the work it does, she suggested either extending or raising the exterior fence, though Palumbo said he was told they would not be able to take any action on new fencing until at least the new year.

Snaden said the village has also reached out to a fencing company that could create a new, larger fence in between the platform and Pax Christi, in order to reduce sight lines.

Brazeau said the shelter is looking to install a new fence around the side to the front of the building, and has agreed with the village about them installing a higher fence in between Pax Christi and the platform.

Regarding the back gate, he said fire code mandates it be open from the inside, but didn’t rule out including some kind of alarm system at a later date.

MTA representative Vanessa Lockel lauded the new train station to help beautify the area, along with new security cameras for added protection. However, when it came to adding new benches, civic leaders helped squash that attempt. Pitti said they feared more people using the benches for sleeping or encouraging more people to stay and loiter.

Snaden said code enforcement meets every train arriving in an effort to show a presence, which she said has led to a reduction in incidents, though code enforcement is limited in what they can do, with no power of arrest. MTA police, Lockel said, have more than 700 miles of track to cover on the Long Island Rail Road, and not enough people report incidents to their hotline, 718-361-2201, or text [email protected]

Other services available

Celina Wilson, president of the Bridge of Hope Resource Center in Port Jeff Station, has helped identify other nongovernment entities providing services for the homeless population in the area.

She said the two hospitals in Port Jeff, namely St. Charles and Mather, provide similar amounts of service as far as substance abuse, but while St. Charles hosts inpatient detox and rehabilitation services, Mather hosts outpatient alcohol and substance abuse programs.

There are numerous soup kitchens in both the village and station areas, but only two kitchens, Maryhaven and St. Gerard Majella, host food pantries. She said both groups reported to Bridge of Hope there was a decline in people utilizing their services as of a year ago.

Hope House Ministries hosts a range of services for the homeless, including the Pax Christi 25-bed emergency shelter.

“Most people are not aware of the available resources until they are in a crisis,” Wilson said. “And they are scrambling for answers.”

She said largely in the area, “everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing,” and thanked the local officials for taking action compared to other areas, like Brentwood, whose officials did not make efforts until the situation was already out of control.

“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to work with the members of the task force,” she said.

 

 

 

Indu Kaur, the director of operations of The Meadow Club, looks at blueprints of new the building in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

A North Shore family of business owners is looking to help connect and celebrate local shops, despite a devastating fire of one of their premier establishments.

Indu Kaur, the director of operations of The Meadow Club in Port Jefferson Station, said she and her family, which also owns the Curry Club in East Setauket, will be renting the space of Harbor Grill in Port Jefferson village on weekdays during the holiday season. That is where she said they expect to host their annual Small Business Holiday Party Dec. 14, which in previous years has taken place at The Meadow Club.

When originally assessing the damages of the fire at The Meadow Club banquet hall, where the roof had burned in a predawn fire July 2018, the owners thought they could reopen just a few months after the damages. The fire had spread to just over half the roof, but what the family soon came to realize was the damage was much more expansive than that. 

Inside the reconstructed Meadows Club. The owners hope to have the site operational again by spring of next year. Photo by Kyle Barr

Fire hose and sprinkler water had completely destroyed much of the furniture inside. The water had also ruined the wallpaper and paintings hung around the place, which The Meadow Club’s director of operations said was a particularly rough blow.

Kaur said Brookhaven Town has been “very kind in guiding us through” and in expediting the process, but still the length of the process has been taxing on the owners and family. Kaur said they have already sunk $2 million into bringing the location back to where it was, and reconstruction has been slowed by needing to bring the building up to code. She still works at the building while work is ongoing, even during the progressively colder late autumn months. They hope to have the site operational again by spring of next year, but she was understandably hesitant to be sure on those dates, with so much work still needed for completion.

“We thought everything would be a cleanup — new Sheetrock, new carpet, we’re done,” she said. “It’s still going above our budget, so we are way past where we had predicted.” 

Jennifer Dzvonar, the president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, called the owners of The Meadow Club one of the most supportive members of the community and chamber around, often willing to host meetings or other events, and they have aided with donations in the past. After the fire and the building was closed, Dzvonar said Kaur and the hall’s owners wouldn’t hesitate to offer alternative places.

“They’re putting in tremendous effort to bring back this beautiful establishment for the community,” Dzvonar said. “It will increase the prestige of the area.”

“They’re putting in tremendous effort to bring back this beautiful establishment for the community, It will increase the prestige of the area.”

– Jennifer Dzvonar 

Kaur said her most loyal customers have been buzzing about when it will open next. One family, she said, has even put their wedding on hold for the sake of having their ceremony at the banquet hall.

“The reason the town helped — the community helped us — is because we had loyal customers,” she said. “They kept coming back because they wanted to hold their celebrations here. That is why I’m so touched and emotional because I hate to see anybody waiting for their celebrations.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) called The Meadow Club “an institution” in Port Jeff Station, commending the owners for working with the chamber, even with the place still under repairs.

“The Meadow Club has been diligent in its efforts to reopen and has clearly shown a commitment to continued investment in this Port Jefferson Station community,” the councilwoman said. “It has been my pleasure to assist them in navigating the town’s planning process as they work toward reopening.”

The chamber president said the holiday party is a great resource for small businesses that don’t have the time or money to throw their own celebrations.

“It’s just an example of them giving back,” she said.

The Meadow Club is currently accepting reservations for the Small Business Holiday Party Dec. 14 and New Year’s Eve Bash Dec. 31, both at Harbor Grill, 111 W. Broadway in Port Jeff. The event is asking for $65 per person plus tax, where each company will have its own reserved table. Each ticket includes food and valet parking, and the event will have a DJ. People can visit The Meadow Club’s Facebook page for more information.

“All the small businesses can get together and network, that’s what’s good about it,” Kaur said.

 

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Volunteers remove a telephone pole from Stony Brook Creek. Photo by Thomas Crawford

Residents and legislators gathering in front of the Hercules Pavilion across from Stony Brook Village Center had more on their minds than shopping the morning of Aug. 6.

Workers cut away at the phragmites along Stony Brook Creek. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, announced at a press conference that Suffolk County awarded the organization a $10,750 grant. The funds will be used for a pilot program to remove 12,000 square feet of phragmites from the shoreline of Stony Brook Creek.

Phragmites, an invasive species plant, has been known to choke many waterways on Long Island. In Stony Brook Creek, the debris caused by the phragmites has created silt buildup, which in turn has caused flooding along the creek.

According to Rocchio, county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) secured the grant, and WMHO and Avalon Park & Preserve matched it. The total cost of the project is $21,500.

Rocchio said the problems caused by the phragmites have been going on for years. The town line between Smithtown and Brookhaven goes straight down the creek, and the estuary is owned partially by the two towns, Suffolk County, private residents and not-for-profits, all of which made it challenging to determine who was responsible for it in the past.

WMHO’s president said water goes into and out of the creek twice a day

“There are over 300 acres of land that have runoff on it that empty into this 5-acre creek,” she said.

When the banks of the creek overflow, she said, the water goes into the Stony Brook Grist Mill, which was built in 1751 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Rocchio said the water that continually flows through the mill every day has destroyed lower parts of the structure as well as its mechanisms.

“We can’t lose this beautiful heritage we have here,” Rocchio said.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, center, is given a demonstration of phragmites removal before the Aug. 6 press conference. Photo from Ward Melville Heritage Organization

She added that residents’ yards have also been flooded and one homeowner had to pull up the level of her bulkhead because the water comes in regularly.

The day before the press conference, workers from North Shore Tree & Landscaping and Usher Plant Care began eliminating the phragmites using a hand cutting process, which involves no chemicals or mechanical equipment. Dr. Richard Rugen, WMHO chairman, explained the procedure.

“The process includes hand cutting of the stalk in a certain way and coming back in two weeks to do a second cutting,” he said. “It’s usually completed within 21 days, weather permitting.”

In addition to the legislators and residents on hand at the press conference, owners and employees of local businesses including Lessing’s Hospitality Group, People’s United Bank, Stony Brook Marine Services, Stony Brook Harbor Kayak & Paddleboard Rentals and Stony Brookside Bed & Bike Inn were in attendance to help remove pilings that floated into the creek and logs from fallen trees to stop further silt buildup.

Michael Lessing, president and chief operating officer of Lessing’s, which owns Stony Brook’s Three Village Inn, said the company’s employees are part of a program called Do Good and have participated in fall beach cleanups at Gilgo Beach, along with other areas on the South Shore. He said when Rocchio heard of their program, she asked for their help to clean up the creek.

“Dan Laffitte and his crew from the Three Village Inn is really what brings us together today,” he said.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) also spoke at the press conference and said the two-part cleanup project was just the beginning.

The Stony Brook Creek Stormwater Mitigation Project, she said, is set to be voted on by the Suffolk County Legislature this month, adding the county’s Water Quality and Land Stewardship Initiative Committee had recommended the project. Suffolk will contribute $251,526 in funding, while the Town of Brookhaven will match the other $251,526.

Cartright said the project would involve four discharge pipes that carry stormwater from the Stony Brook community directly to the creek, which will be disconnected. A new drainage structure will be installed where pipes will lead to bioretention and water quality units. The goal is to minimize the direct discharge of pollutant-laden stormwater in the creek, she said.

“We have taken a number of steps collectively to make sure we save our Stony Brook Creek and our Stony Brook Harbor,” Cartright said. “As we know they are very special and important to our community.”

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The MTA is currently updating the Stony Brook train station, which will lead to modern amenities and more security. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is giving the Stony Brook Long Island Rail Road train station a makeover.

The MTA began renovations on the station’s train house July 23 and will continue working on the station into the fall. In addition to being renovated, the station house will receive modern enhancements and upgrades, according to Aaron Donovan, MTA deputy communications director.

The station house was built around 1888,
according to the book “Images of America: Stony Brook,” and rebuilt in 1917, according to the MTA. The one-story structure will be completely renovated inside and out, and there will be the addition of a Wi-Fi network and charging ports, according to Donovan. Commuters will soon see improved signage and digital information displays, including electronic information columns, and bicyclists will have new bike racks.

The station platforms will be updated with new lighting and closed-circuit television security cameras, according to Donovan. Plans also include sidewalk improvements and a new sculpture in the plaza area.

The MTA has upgraded the station throughout the decades, Donovan said, including the station’s high-level platforms being installed in 1985 and targeted renovation work done to platform railings, lighting and platform shelters in 2011.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said in a statement she was pleased that work began this summer.

“The Stony Brook train station is one of the most recognizable community landmarks in the Three Village area,” Cartright said. “There have been requests for upgrades over the years. I am pleased that the MTA saw the importance of meeting with community members including civic leaders, town Historic District Advisory Committee members and government officials to collaborate and develop a renovation plan. It is important that renovations to the station are in keeping with the historical character of the area while meeting the needs of modern travelers.”

Robert Reuter, a member of Brookhaven’s Historic District Advisory Committee, said he provided input but not officially on behalf of HDAC. 

“We encouraged them to preserve the existing and familiar green and beige color scheme, locate planned new ticketing machines away from the bay window, improve handicap accessibility both at the station and crossing the tracks, and minimize signage,” Reuter said.

In 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) introduced a proposal to invest $120 million to provide state-of-the-art enhancements to 16 LIRR stations, including Stony Brook — and also at Port Jefferson. The MTA covered $35 million of the investment to the railroad stations, according to its website. It is estimated by the LIRR that 2,330 customers use the Stony Brook train station daily.

Brookhaven Councilman Daniel Panico and Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Alex Petroski

Elected officials in Brookhaven Town are taking steps that could both lengthen and shorten their time in office.

The board voted to hold a public hearing Aug. 2 on the idea of instituting a three-term limit on elected positions while also extending the length of a term from two to four years at a June 26 meeting. This would limit officials to 12 years in office.

Brookhaven is currently the only town on Long Island with two-year terms for elected officials, according to Supervisor Ed Romaine (R).

“I’m supporting it because when you have the entire government turn over every two years it can provide for a lack of stability,” Romaine said on changing from two-year to four-year terms. “You don’t have the constant churning in politics that can sometimes undermine the system. It allows for long-range planning and programs. It takes the politics out of local government.”

Councilmembers Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) each expressed similar sentiments when asked if they intend to support the idea. They said having to prepare to run for office every two years hinders their ability to complete and implement projects, especially pertaining to land use, which they said can take time.

“I believe there’s merit in establishing term limits and four-year terms,” Cartright said, but said she intends to keep an open mind and let residents weigh in. “It lends itself to better government.”

Specifically on limiting officials to three terms, LaValle said it should encourage fresh ideas and new faces stepping up to run, which he viewed as a positive, calling it a good combination both for government and residents.

If these changes are approved by the board, the proposal would go to a referendum vote in November giving taxpayers the opportunity to ultimately decide the idea’s fate. It could impact the town supervisor position, each of the six council seats, superintendent of highways, town clerk and receiver of taxes starting as of 2020.

“I think it will be a very interesting referendum on the ballot to see what people want,” LaValle said.

Bonner said she has changed her mind on term limits, saying she was among those who view Election Day as the inherent way to limit the term of a politician failing to serve their constituents.

“What it will essentially do is create not just good government, but better government,” Bonner said.

In January, the Town of Huntington passed similar legislation limiting all elected positions, to three terms of four years each.

“The town is going to be much better off,” Councilman Gene Cook said upon passing the legislation. He proposed the idea to Huntington’s board in June 2017. “Elected officials have an upper hand and can be there forever. Now, we’ve sort of evened the field today. It took a long time, far too long, but I’m glad it’s done.”

Comsewogue High School students clean headstones at Calverton National Cemetery May 30 as part of Joe's Day of Service. Photo from CSD

Stories of Comsewogue School District students and staff engaging in acts of kindness are hardly rare, but an event conceived by a teacher and several students carried out May 30 somehow raised the bar.

High school teacher Andrew Harris said he thought of the idea of a full day of community service projects last school year, and in talking with some of his colleagues, a larger idea was born. By this school year, the event had a name — Joe’s Day of Service, after Superintendent Joe Rella — and students were making pitches in Harris’ class for how the student body should spend the day.

“There are major problems everywhere — addiction, depression — and the thing is, they say one of the best things to do is to help other people,” Harris said in an interview at Brookhaven Town Hall, where the students were recognized for their efforts by the town board June 14. “I wanted the students to understand that, because they don’t always have the opportunity. I wanted them to get a taste of that just in one day and understand that when you give to others you feel rich.”

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella with students who participated in Joe’s Day of Service. Photo from CSD

Ninth-grade students Julia Ratkiewicz and Rachel Plunkett proposed the idea of visiting Calverton National Cemetery, where members of the United States armed forces are laid to rest, to spend the day cleaning gravestones. By May 30, nearly 200 Comsewogue High School students headed to the Calverton cemetery — on seven buses donated for use that day by Suffolk Transportation Service.

“I was in such a good mood, my mom asked, ‘Are you sure you were out cleaning gravestones?’” Julia said.

Rachel, who said she and Julia thought of the idea because they both have veterans in their family and wanted to show their appreciation, said she never imagined their small idea presented in class as a way to give back would turn into a districtwide day of service.

“It’s just the least we could do for them since they did so much for us,” she said.

Eleventh-grader John Quartararo, who also helped organize the trip, called his experience at the cemetery a beautiful day, and marveled at the mood and response from his classmates who participated on the trip.

While the high school students were at Calverton, other Comsewogue kids were at Save-A-Pet animal shelter in Port Jefferson Station, cleaning cages and spending time with the rescued animals. John F. Kennedy Middle School students visited Stony Brook University Hospital to sing in the lobby, then went over to the Long Island State Veterans Home on SBU’s campus to sing patriotic songs and spend time with the veterans living at the facility. Others collected toiletries to donate to the homeless. Some painted rocks as part of The Kindness Rocks Project, an initiative which calls on people to paint inspiring messages on rocks and leave them in places where they will be found by someone in need of a boost.

Comsewogue students are recognized during the June 14 Brookhaven Town board meeting. Photo by Alex Petroski

Local businesses even got wind of Joe’s Day of Service and contributed to the cause. Chick-fil-A, Wahlburgers, Bagelicious Café, Walmart, McDonald’s and Applebee’s Grill and Bar in Miller Place all offered support in one way or another.

Harris and the students involved each credited Rella for setting the tone at Comsewogue and in the community.

“All I did was go to the events and just get blown away at every single one,” Rella said. “It was an unbelievable show on the part of our students. I’m better for having been here. I’m a better person for just having been at Comsewogue. And that’s the way it is.”

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) commended Harris and the students involved for their efforts.

“I think it’s important that we highlight all of these [acts] because on one day, they provided all of this service to our community, to those in need,” she said. “I just want to say thank you so much for all that you do, Comsewogue, and keep up the great work.”

Suffolk County Department of Social Services Commissioner John O’Neill and PJS/TCA Vice President Sal Pitti field resident questions at Comsewogue Public Library May 22. Photo by Alex Petroski

A viral video of a lewd act in public and rumors about a large-scale new development project are probably why most attended the meeting, but emotions set the tone.

Anger, passion, fear and compassion flowed like a river during a nearly three-hour meeting of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association at the Comsewogue Public Library May 22. It was the civic’s scheduled meeting for May, but the regular members acknowledged this was an out-of-the-ordinary community gathering.

Earlier this month, a cellphone video of two people, believed to be homeless, having sex at a Suffolk County bus stop in Port Jefferson Station spread not only across the community, but the country. As a result of that incident, and in an effort to ascertain the facts about an announcement made by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office May 10 that he was allocating about $8 million in funding for a large-scale affordable housing apartment complex for the homeless in Port Jeff Station, the civic association invited leaders from across local government to attend and field resident questions and concerns.

“This is how it starts,” civic association President Edward Garboski said at one point during the meeting, as tensions rose among the approximately 200 people who crammed into The Richard Lusak Community Room at the library. “None of these people are going to give you a solution to this problem tonight. Most of the people in this room have never been to a civic meeting. This is how it starts. We invited all these people here. They’re going to hear us speak. We continue to fight — together.”

“None of these people are going to give you a solution to this problem tonight. Most of the people in this room have never been to a civic meeting. This is how it starts.

— Edward Garboski

The discussion began with Suffolk County Department of Social Services Commissioner John O’Neill answering questions for about an hour. O’Neill was pressed with questions about the concentration of shelters for the homeless in the Port Jefferson Station area, oversight of the locations and curfew rules, and how the locations are selected. He said it was against the law to publicize the location of homeless shelters, though he said if he were legally allowed he would compile a list by zip code. He said the shelters in most cases are privately owned, and if they are compliant with state and federal regulations, they are approved with no consideration taken regarding volume of like facilities in the area. O’Neill also said checks are done regularly at all county shelters to ensure they are in compliance with regulations.

“The argument with the homeless is they need help, we know this,” PJS/TCA Vice President Sal Pitti said. “Everybody here in one way, shape or form has collected food, done something for a homeless individual. I think our biggest issue is the lack of supervision at these locations.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Suffolk County Police Department 6th Precinct Inspector Patrick Reilly also attended the meeting and fielded questions from the attendees.

“I live in Port Jefferson Station as well, so I’m not coming from another community saying ‘Oh, it’s not that bad,’” Cartright said. “I love where I live, but there are issues and we need to deal with them. It’s a complex
issue and it doesn’t happen overnight. We are committed — I can say that for each of us that are sitting here today — to trying to make a difference and coming up with solutions.”

One suggestion that emerged from the meeting is the necessity for a 24-hour hotline to contact the county DSS when issues occur in the community. Currently the hotline only operates during business hours. Reilly said he believes a viable answer to reduce crime in the area, especially in the vicinity of Jefferson Shopping Plaza, would be the installation of more police surveillance cameras. Residents were also repeatedly urged to call the police when observing illegal activities, and to stay engaged with civic association efforts to foster a strength-in-numbers approach.

Many of the elected officials said they plan to be back at the association’s next meeting July 24 to unveil plans for revitalization in the area near the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station.

Developer to get financial assistance from Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency

The location of the future senior residential community The Vistas of Port Jefferson off North Bicycle Path in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Alex Petroski

What is currently an open field on North Bicycle Path in Port Jefferson Station will soon be home for some.

A new 244-unit residential rental complex for senior citizens proposed

27 acres of vacant land on the west side of North Bicycle Path, north of Comsewogue High School, has been greenlit. The Brookhaven Town Industrial Development Agency announced in an April 26 press release it had approved an application for economic incentives with Benjamin Development Co., operating as The Vistas of Port Jefferson LLC, which will also be the name of the new community. The IDA is tasked with selecting projects that “promote the economic welfare and prosperity of the Town of Brookhaven by assisting in the acquisition, construction, reconstruction, and equipping of commercial and industrial facilities.”

As part of the financial assistance agreement between the agency and developer, The Vistas of Port Jefferson will make payments in lieu of property taxes for 13 years, starting with a $52,000 installment in year one, jumping to about $90,000 in year four, and concluding with a $1,516,043 payment in the final year of the agreement. In total, the company will pay about $8 million in lieu of higher town property taxes during the 13-year agreement. The total cost of the project is expected to be about $65 million.

The area boxed in red represents the location of the future senior residential community The Vistas of Port Jefferson off North Bicycle Path in Port Jefferson Station. Image from Google Maps

Lisa Mulligan, chief executive officer of the IDA, declined to comment on the agreement in a phone interview beyond what the agency offered in a press release, though she said the ball is in the court of attorneys on both sides to officially close the deal, which she said she fully expects to take place.

A request for comment to Benjamin Development Co. was not returned.

“As a result of IDA assistance for the development of this project, hundreds of new construction jobs will be added to the region,” the company’s application to the IDA stated. “The project development will also benefit local/regional firms through purchases from suppliers, subcontractors, etc. Finally, the project will create new full-time jobs and 245-plus new residents that will assist in the stimulation of the local economy through daily household spending.”

The project is expected to create more than 400 new construction jobs as well as 24 new permanent positions, according to the IDA press release. The Vistas of Port Jefferson will offer 64 two-bedroom townhouses, 36 one-bedroom units, 144 two-bedroom apartments with a clubhouse and a sewage-pumping facility. Construction is expected to take about two years. The facility is billed as a community for tenants age 55 and up. Fifteen percent of the units will be designated as affordable housing, available to prospective tenants earning less than 80 percent of the area’s median income, which was about $90,000 per household from 2012 to 2016, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said in an emailed statement through Legislative Secretary Carolyn Fellrath the town IDA is a separate entity from the board and does not seek input from councilmembers in making decisions.

“This proposed project has generated concern in the community,” Cartright said. “The re-zoning of this parcel in 2010 pre-dates my tenure. However, based on the community concerns raised to my office, I am not sure the decision to re-zone this parcel to Planned Retirement Community would be granted if this application were before this town board today.”

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Councilwoman Jane Bonner. File photo

Supervisor

Romaine an asset to town

An undeniable by-product of the heated and often circus-like 2016 presidential election is a booming pool of highly qualified and energized people throwing their names in the ring to run for political office. This phenomenon is perfectly embodied by the Town of Brookhaven supervisor race.

Incumbent Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) often begins speaking engagements with the line, “It’s a great day for Brookhaven.” It is our belief that the day he took office in 2012 was a truly great day for Brookhaven. His experience as a public servant and ability to create partnerships seamlessly with Democrats and Republicans alike make him an asset for our town. He’s willing to fight for what he feels is right for the people of the town. Period.

On the other hand, his challenger Jack Harrington, a Democrat and resident of Stony Brook, is a qualified, young candidate with obvious confidence and leadership skills. He too would be an asset to any community lucky enough to have him as a public servant. We hope this first attempt at political candidacy is just the beginning for him, and the Democratic party within the town and Suffolk County would be wise to keep tabs on him and keep him in mind in the future should he fall to Romaine Nov. 7. If candidates like Harrington continue to come forward and run for office, our local politics can only benefit.

Despite Harrington’s qualifications, he’s not quite Romaine. We proudly endorse Romaine to remain Brookhaven’s town supervisor for another term, and if he maintains his track record and values when it comes to protecting the environment and exemplary financial management, this probably won’t be the last time this publication stands behind him.

1st District

Cartright to keep things in check

Checks and balances in government are everything, on all levels. In the Town of Brookhaven, 1st District Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) since 2013 has been the watchful eye over a board that entering this cycle features four Republicans and a Conservative, as well as a Republican supervisor. This is not to say we have any reason to distrust the members of the Brookhaven board, regardless of party, but we’d like to think that can be attributed to the existence of not only an exemplary crop of dedicated and honest public servants but also due to the presence of a dissenting political voice.

This is also not to assume the town incumbents will all be successful in their respective re-election bids in 2017. However, should the status quo remain on the Republican side, we are confident that Cartright can continue on as the embodiment of a two-party system.

Beyond her mere existence as a Democrat, Cartright has been a champion for causes aimed at improving the environment and water quality in the district and townwide. Since her first term, she has been dedicated to advancing a Port Jefferson Station/Terryville revitalization project that we’d like to see come to fruition and has played a major role in the visioning project for the Route 25A corridor.

Her opponent, Republican James Canale of Port Jefferson Station, is an enthusiastic, young politician with his head and heart both firmly in the right place. We hope his first run for political office is not his last.

We have a minor criticism of Cartright going forward, which we discussed with her personally. In seeking comment from the councilwoman on stories, which are oftentimes directly related to work she is doing, she and her staff are not always able to connect, sometimes too late for deadlines, and sometimes not at all. To be a successful leader, communication with constituents is key, and constituents read newspapers.

We strongly support Cartright in her bid to remain in charge of Brookhaven’s 1st District.

2nd District

Bonner brings experience

While incumbent Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner’s (C-Rocky Point) opponent Democrat Mike Goodman has some understandable concerns with the future of life in Brookhaven, we feel Bonner is best for the job.

Her years of experience have helped propel her to her present position. Working as a legislative aid to then-Suffolk County Legislator Dan Losquadro (R) and as a councilwoman for the second council district for the last decade has given her a breadth of knowledge, experience and connections.

Bonner said she believes there will be a resurgence of downtown Rocky Point, and we hope she strives to make changes that attract quality businesses to enhance the area, modeling from Main Street in Patchogue or Port Jefferson. We also applaud her care for shoreline structures and her involvement in the Culross Beach Rocky Point-North Shore Beach Property Owners Association debacle, as well as for monitoring the dispute against a DDI Development house in Miller Place and speaking in favor of it publicly. The councilwoman cares about her constituents, about the environment and about making things better. She has also shown she has the leadership ability to get the job done.

We have no doubt her challenger also cares. We admire Goodman for throwing his hat into the ring, raising concern over key issues like the lack of jobs and affordable housing, and we encourage the town and Bonner to bring more ideas to the table, and even explore his ticketing system suggestion.

While we vote for Bonner, we also encourage the councilwoman to work with her challenger on his ideas and use him as a resource to create a better Brookhaven.

3rd District

Leave it to Kevin LaValle

As TBR News Media’s 2016 Person of the Year piece said, Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) is a councilman you can count on.

Unlike his challenger, the councilman knows more about the issues in the 3rd Council District on a local level and has worked closely with related groups to solve problems. His work helping the nonprofit Hobbes Community Farm receive funding is commendable, and his efforts securing large sums of money through grants is a smart way to get the job done without putting the burden of the bill on the town.

Democratic nominee Alfred Ianacci has no specific solutions and lacks knowledge of what the town is currently working on, pointing out in his list of concerns some things that are already being addressed by Brookhaven.

LaValle is a perfect fit for the position he’s in. Growing up in the community he serves, LaValle offers a unique perspective, knowing his constituents well and knowing the long-standing issues he needs to tackle. We have been pleased to see his growth in the position and expect that to continue should he secure another term. Confidently go with LaValle on Election Day.

Highway superintendent

All roads lead to Losquadro

The Town of Brookhaven highway superintendent has one of the largest responsibilities of any local elected official. It is the head of the department’s job to oversee literally thousands of miles of road, and incumbent Dan Losquadro (R) has done an excellent job of making that task more manageable during his first two terms.

He set out with the goal of streamlining and updating the highway department’s systems and mechanics to create greater efficiency in the way it deals with its upward of $100 million annual budget, and he has done a masterful job at achieving that goal so far. We think the town would benefit from two more years of Losquadro to allow him more time to play out his five- and 10-year plans, which he said he established shortly after taking office.

We commend his challenger, Democrat Anthony Portesy, for taking the leap into political candidacy, and his enthusiasm, drive and education make him an attractive candidate for other offices going forward.

This time around, go with Losquadro.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright and challenger James Canale discussed issues pertaining to Brookhaven’s 1st Council District at Times Beacon Record News Media Setauket office. Photos by Kevin Redding

The race to represent Town of Brookhaven’s 1st District features a two-term incumbent Democrat against a “progressive Republican” in his first campaign seeking political office.

Entering the 2017 election, Brookhaven’s lone Democratic voice on the board is attorney and 1st District Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station). The town’s wing of the Republican Party endorsed her challenger, 25-year-old town employee and Port Jefferson Station resident James Canale, though he insists he is not beholden to party politics, with this being his first run for office.

“I think it’s only a letter next to the name — I will not and do not toe the party line,” Canale said during a discussion at the Times Beacon Record News Media office with Cartright and the editorial staff in October. “I think that it is time that we have an outside candidate come into the party to try to shake things up a little bit. I consider myself a grassroots, bipartisan, progressive Republican.”

“I think it’s only a letter next to the name — I will not and do not toe the party line.”

— James Canale

Cartright, who was first elected in 2013, said her primary objective as an elected official has always been to bridge the gap between government and community.

“Accountability, transparency and integrity have always been my platform,” she said. “I have been the one bucking the system — the only Democrat on the town board — making sure that when the community’s voices come to the table during town board meetings and say ‘things are not transparent enough, things are not the way that they should be, why didn’t I know about this?’ I’m the one making sure that my colleagues are listening, not only hearing, but listening and acting in response to what the community is saying.”

Both candidates acknowledged drug addiction, especially to heroin and other opiates, as one of the major issues facing the district and town as a whole. Cartright reiterated the motif of her campaign platform in discussing the issue. She said resources exist within the town and county to help those afflicted by addiction, but there is often a breakdown in communication between the government and the community, so not all addicts are aware of their options.

“I’ve been working with the Long Island Prevention Resource Center looking to become what’s called a drug free community,” she said. Her plan is to continue a process, which she began in January, of bringing together representatives from the police department, schools, clergy members and various other community groups to share resources and ideas. “We’re trying to create a collaboration, a task force of people to come together to talk about what type of resources are there for drug prevention.”

“Accountability, transparency and integrity have always been my platform.”

— Valerie Cartright

Canale pointed to the town’s “complicated” zoning codes as a major deterrent in allowing people, especially millennials, the opportunity to establish roots and begin a life in the town, and cited it as an issue he plans to focus on if elected.

“There’s just not enough affordable housing here,” he said. “One of the reasons I got involved in politics in the first place is because I see millennials and young adults graduating from college saddled with student debt either forced to move back home with their parents and work minimum wage jobs to barely make ends meet, or, we see this all the time, folks are moving off Long Island in droves.”

Cartright pointed to her revitalization and visioning plan for the Port Jeff Station and Terryville areas, an initiative that has been ongoing since her first term, as a driver toward alleviating that same issue. She also agreed with Canale that the town needs more affordable housing.

The candidates stood on common ground on the topic of preserving the environment and water quality in Brookhaven. Cartright and the town joined a lawsuit by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in August against the U.S Environmental Protection Agency to oppose ongoing dumping of dredged spoils in the Long Island Sound, and Canale said he was in full support of the decision.