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Sophia Chang

I cover the town of Islip as well as the villages of Brightwaters and Islandia. Whether it's municipal issues, health topics, or bizarre news, I want to help readers understand what's going on in their world from local to global. Please contact me and my colleague Candice Ruud with any relevant article ideas or news tips — we’re always eager for a good story.

Islip strengthens town efforts to clean up blighted homes

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Islip Town officials have strengthened the town's efforts to fix blighted homes by creating a vacant home registry and amending local code to be able to prosecute negligent homeowners in district court.

The town board unanimously approved the measures at a board meeting Oct. 14.

"The changes would make it illegal to have blighted conditions," said assistant town attorney Kerry Bassett at the meeting. "It enables the town attorney's office to keep a closer eye on the properties."

Under the change, the town code now defines prohibited property conditions as those with excessive litter and debris, broken or unsecured windows and doors, overgrown grass or vegetation of at least 10 inches in length, and the presence of graffiti. Penalties for a first offense start at a $250 fine and/or imprisonment for no more than five days to a maximum $5,000 fine or up to a year in jail.

The vacant home registry is meant to both protect homeowners such as snowbirds who may be traveling for long periods, Bassett said, as well as provide the town with information about areas of the town with the potential for blight. For security reasons, the registry would not be available to the public, he said.

Town Supervisor Tom Croci said the new measures could identify blighted homes faster and help in "hopefully getting those homes back on the market and back to families."

Some opponents of the new measures said they feared the law would rely on subjective standards and not give struggling homeowners a chance to fix their properties.

"If it's a broken window are we just going to throw the book at the poor guy?" asked Bay Shore resident Theodore Lincoln Tiller Jr. at the meeting.

Irma Solis, of the advocacy group, Make the Road New York, asked the board to table the proposal until further review, citing her group's desire to have a "thorough legal analysis" of the bill.

Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) also criticized the proposals. "There is no definition of what blight is. I don't trust it in the hands of anyone with bad judgment," he told the board, and called for more public input.

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Islip approves holiday light show permits for Girl Scouts, but with a warning

The Girl Scouts of Suffolk County has received

The Girl Scouts of Suffolk County has received the green light to hold its popular holiday light show in Bayport in December, but it may need to move next year. (Credit: Bruce Gilbert)

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The Girl Scouts of Suffolk County has received the green light to hold its popular holiday light show in Bayport in December -- but the Islip Town Board warned the organization it might be the last year there.

"To the Girl Scouts, I would say you have become a victim of your own success," town Supervisor Tom Croci said at Tuesday's board meeting. He asked the organization to consider moving to a different venue next year.

Several residents of Lakeview Avenue complained to the town board about traffic from the thousands of visitors driving through their neighborhood to visit the Girls Scouts' annual light display at Camp Edey. The Scouts have used the camp for the show for a decade. With sponsorships and charging between $15 to $20 a car, the Scouts raised $225,000 during last year's show.

For this year's show, the Girl Scouts applied to the town for two 10-day special-events permits to run the drive-through light show on evenings from Dec. 4 through Dec. 23. While the board approved the permits, Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt said the second permit would be revoked if traffic issues occur again during the first 10 days of the light show.

"The light show has outgrown our street," resident Christopher Slater said. He said he's had problems gaining access to his driveway during the light show because of backed-up traffic, and he recounted being yelled at by waiting drivers.

Resident Emily Bosch said the neighborhood has "been severely affected by the holiday light show for 10 years. We have been patient, although scared and frustrated. We are unable to have any holiday events of our own, in our own homes."

Mary Garrote, the director of development for the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County, said her group has reduced the hours of the show, required prepaid tickets, limited the number of cars to 250 an hour, and hired extra security and coordinated with Suffolk County police.

But she said the event was "extremely important to us" and that the Girl Scouts rely on the money raised by the show. Last year the organization used the money to support about 7,800 Girl Scouts in Suffolk County who need financial assistance.

"We really have heard you," Garrote told the residents during the meeting. "We've taken your complaints, your concerns, your issues to heart. Please, I beg you to let us have our event."

Councilman John Cochrane said that, while the town generally supports the Girl Scouts, "this community is getting overwhelmed." He suggested the Girl Scouts move the light show in the future to a larger venue such as Heckscher State Park in East Islip.

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Islip animal shelter plans National Cat Day Oct. 29

The Town of Islip Animal Shelter is pictured

The Town of Islip Animal Shelter is pictured Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012 in Bay Shore. (Credit: Barry Sloan)

The Islip Town animal shelter is celebrating National Cat Day on Oct. 29 with free cat adoptions, waiving its usual $65 adoption fee.

The shelter's nonprofit volunteer division -- Live. Love. Bark -- will pay cat adoption fees for town residents who file an adoption application for a cat on Oct. 29. Processing fees will still apply.

Interested potential pet owners who live in a rental home must provide a notarized letter from their landlords confirming they are allowed to have a cat.

"It is vital that the Town celebrate National Cat Day this year to help raise awareness that there are countless cats and kittens in need of homes," Islip Town Receiver of Taxes Alexis Weik said in a news release. "This adoption promotion aims to get more potential adopters in the doors. . . . "

The shelter also said it will not adopt out any black cats from Oct. 25 until after Halloween. Town residents interested in adopting a black cat can still file an adoption application on Oct. 29 to qualify for the promotion, and the cats will be able to go home after Nov. 5.

The shelter has about 20 cats available for adoption. Photos of the animals are posted on the shelter's Facebook page at facebook.com/islipanimals. Potential pet owners are also invited to meet the cats at the shelter, at 210 S. Denver Ave. in Bay Shore.

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MacArthur Airport gets town budget boost in anticipation of increased revenue

Islip Town Councilman John Cochrane, left, and MacArthur

Islip Town Councilman John Cochrane, left, and MacArthur Airport Commissioner Robert Schaefer, right, stand outside the main terminal on the airport grounds in Ronkonkoma, Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. (Credit: Steve Pfost)

Islip Town officials have budgeted more money for Long Island MacArthur Airport next year in anticipation of increased revenue from the town-owned facility for 2015.

"I think this is going to be the last year we're in the red," said airport Commissioner Robert Schaefer, citing lower expenses and fee increases at the facility.

The preliminary $130 million town budget released last week includes $15.1 million in projected revenue from the Ronkonkoma airport, up $700,000 from this year. Town officials said they anticipate the airport will generate about $13 million this year -- about $1.5 million less than the town had hoped for this year, said Comptroller Joe Ludwig.

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Despite the projected loss, the airport's current $14.5 million budget is balanced, Ludwig said, and any deficits will be uncovered in next year's audit. The 2015 budget projection of $15.1 million relies on $550,000 in land sales and $2.3 million in fee increases. The airport is self-sufficient -- revenue pays for expenses.

PenAir and Allegiant Air stopped flying out of MacArthur this year, leaving US Airways and Southwest Airlines.

The new budget reflects a leaner airport operation, Schaefer said. "Through attrition and a few layoffs of part-timers, our payroll is down," he said. Payroll is expected to decrease by $132,283 in 2015.

The town has also found potential revenue from some government tenants who don't pay rent for facilities, according to Councilman John Cochrane.

"Next year we're probably going to get more income because we have another hangar that we have no rental from. We should be getting $200,000 rental for that . . . from the Suffolk County police. They have a helicopter hangar and they're not paying us rent," Cochrane said.

However, a spokeswoman for Suffolk police said its lease for Special Patrol Bureau buildings at the airport was valid until 2027, under terms that waive rent.

Schaefer said the airport also raised landing fees to match those of nearby airports. "If you're landing here, you're paying. That's fair," he said.

The rising cost of operations has hurt more than the loss of flights, Ludwig said.

"The cost and the expenses of running the airport has gone up, more so than the fees from the passengers," he said.

Airport expert Seth Young of Ohio State University's Center for Aviation Studies said smaller airports such as MacArthur are looking for profits outside of airline service.

"Diversification of the revenue stream is the long-term strategy of these airports, in an effort to maintain viable revenue in light of volatile airline service," he said.

Young noted the other New York airports are "at capacity," which could help MacArthur. "Any service that wants to serve Long Island needs to go to Islip, because there's no room at the inn in New York City," he said.

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Bohemia Fire Department backs out of cell tower plan

Bohemia resident Steve Zaino criticizes the commissioners of

Bohemia resident Steve Zaino criticizes the commissioners of the Bohemia Fire District for going into executive session last month to discuss personnel issues instead of answering questions about the controversial 120-foot-tall cell towers they planned to erect on fire department property. (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

The Bohemia Fire Department has formally withdrawn its applications for two cell towers on fire district property.

The department submitted a letter to the Islip Town zoning board of appeals, which formally accepted the letter at its Tuesday meeting.

"The Board of Fire Commissioners has determined that it will not permit any cellular phone communications equipment to be installed on its property," the department's letter said.

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The fire commissioners voted unanimously on Sept. 11 to back out of a proposed deal with East Islip-based Highlander Consultants to build two cell towers at its Pearl Street firehouse and behind the fire station on Eighth Street. The deal would have allowed the department to upgrade its radio equipment at no cost and make $100,000 for each tower and about 40 percent of the revenue Highlander received from cell service providers using the towers — as much as $16,000 per month.

More than 100 residents confronted the commissioners at the Sept. 11 meeting to air their concerns over diminished property values and health risks from proximity to cell towers.

A call to the department was not immediately returned Thursday.

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QuickChek clears zoning hurdle in Islip

QuickChek, a New Jersey-based convenience store chain, is

QuickChek, a New Jersey-based convenience store chain, is opening its first Long Island store in Lake Grove. Another is planned in Islip. (Credit: QuickChek )

Islip is one step closer to getting its own QuickChek.

The town board unanimously approved the New Jersey company's change of zone application for a proposed new gas station and convenience store at a hearing Thursday.

The 6,900-square-foot station would sit on the corner of Motor Parkway and Washington Avenue in Brentwood.

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QuickChek is opening its first Long Island location in Lake Grove this year, and plans to build more in New York. "The family owned and operated chain has 12 locations in New York's Hudson Valley, with expansion plans in other regions of the state, including Long Island in mid-2014," its website says.

QuickChek stations also contain delis and prepare food, said company representatives. The Islip store anticipates hiring about 35 to 50 employees.

During the hearing, Councilman John Cochrane asked if the company plans to have generators on hand during storms such as superstorm Sandy, when widespread power outages made pumping gas difficult. The company plans to have generators delivered as part of storm preparation, according to representatives.

Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt asked the company to consider making the beige, boxy storefront more attractive. "I think the residents deserve better architecture," she said. "If the applicant agrees to that, I think that would be helpful."

Some local business owners said the new station would affect their profit margins and that QuickChek was asking for zoning out of context with other businesses in the area.

"Essentially the applicant is seeking a custom-tailored down-zoning," said Howard Avrutine, a lawyer for local Shell gas station owner Raj Singh. "It will result in making this property an island . . . of less restrictive zoning."

Singh, whose station is at the same intersection as the proposed QuickChek, also told the board, "I think having an extra business is overkill."

Louis DeBiccari, owner of nearby DeBo's Deli, told the board his business will be hurt. "The items that QuickChek is offering, you can get next door any day," he said.

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Authentic Blue Point oysters are making a comeback in Islip

Local baymen and oyster growers officially kick off the Long Island oyster harvest season in a press conference with Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci. (Credit: Newsday / Chuck Fadely)

A famous local bivalve is making a big comeback.

Islip Town officials hailed the resurgence of the Blue Point oyster, which has flourished in the past two years in the Great South Bay and is ready for harvest this fall.

While impostor Blue Point oysters dominate seafood menus across the region, baymen say a rarely-enforced state law dictates that true Blue Point oysters must come from the Great South Bay -- a harvest that hasn't happened in decades due to overfishing.

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"This is the first time in 30 years a true Blue Point oyster has been grown in the Great South Bay," said bayman Doug Winter at a news conference Wednesday at the Great Atlantic Shellfish Farms near the East Islip marina.

"Certainly, the oyster industry in this world is renowned for its beginnings on the Great South Bay, and in the waters that produce Blue Point oysters," said Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci.

In 2012, the town privatized its shellfish hatchery to save the $650,000 it cost annually to run the town-owned hatchery. The hatchery was sold to the Sexton Island True Blue company, run by Winter and his brother Kerry, who now operate it as Great Atlantic Shellfish Farms.

The town also leased about 100 acres of the Great South Bay's fertile soil to shellfish farmers at $750 per acre as part of five-year contracts. The town has a waiting list for future acreage to be leased out.

The farmers seed the bay to grow future crops of oysters and clams, and water quality improves with each oyster capable of filtering as many as 50 gallons of water a day.

"We are particularly proud as a town to be stewards of the environment -- not only are we raising valuable commodities in the oyster and shellfish industry but we're cleaning our water every day," Croci said.

The hatchery and its crops was nearly destroyed by superstorm Sandy, but the farm has been rebuilt and now provides oysters to about 20 restaurants around Fire Island and the South Shore, Winter said.

He expects that with more acreage available for leasing in the future, the bay could be producing up to a million farmed oysters in the next few years.

Councilman Steve Flotteron praised the briny and clean flavors of the oysters from the Great South Bay. "I'm a big seafood fan, but oysters I could take it or leave it," he said. "But these oysters, they just slide right down."

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Islip Town seeks historic designation to restore 1903 Brookwood Hall

The exterior of Brookwood Hall in East Islip

The exterior of Brookwood Hall in East Islip is pictured Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. (Credit: Barry Sloan)

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East Islip's aging Brookwood Hall is long overdue for historical recognition and restoration to its former glory, Islip Town officials said in announcing plans to seek national designation for the 41-room mansion.

The house was built on Irish Lane in 1903 for the wealthy Knapp family, and sold in 1929 to financier Francis B. Thorne, according to the East Islip Historical Society. Brookwood Hall was designed by renowned New York architectural firm Delano & Aldrich, which also rendered homes for the Vanderbilt and Whitney families.

Islip Town bought the building in 1967 and, despite sagging stairs and dilapidated porches, Brookwood Hall houses several arts organizations and the town's Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.

Councilman Steve Flotteron says the town will apply to the federal government to include Brookwood Hall on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that will help with obtaining grants for restoration.

"This is one of the town's jewels," Supervisor Tom Croci said.

The goal is "restoring this treasure that has been neglected over the years," Flotteron said. He cited the building's intact molding and graceful door arches as prime examples of European-inspired classic architecture.

Frank Szemko, 79, one of the East Islip Historical Society volunteers who helps to maintain the mansion, said he'd spent several years living there, when the Brooklyn Orphan Asylum relocated to the building.

He lived at the home from 1946 until 1951 when his father remarried, and he and his sister left the orphanage.

Szemko, who lives in the same neighborhood, called Brookwood Hall "a great place to grow up in" and recalled doing chores to maintain the mansion and enjoying the estate's expansive grounds.

"We kids used to keep the place nice," he said.

Flotteron said the plan to restore the mansion will involve not only applying for national historic designation, but also soliciting community involvement and using town resources to apply for grants, undertake fundraising, and seek donations to avoid using taxpayer money.

The town has allocated about $250,000 in the current budget to start the restoration process. Flotteron said the total restoration costs are unknown.

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