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Carl MacGowan

With my colleague Deon J. Hampton, I cover the Town of Brookhaven and its villages and hamlets. What we try to offer is an ongoing chronicle of an enormous town — that stretches from the Long Island Sound to the Atlantic Ocean — as it grapples with development pressures, environmental issues and the challenge of maintaining programs in the face of the state tax cap. You’ll see us scribbling notes at municipal meetings, so stop by and say hello.

Senior housing proposed for Mount Sinai draws support, concern

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Mount Sinai residents are debating a proposed 286-unit senior housing development that some say would create too much traffic and spoil their views.

Supporters of the proposed Pond View Estates say it would meet growing demand for retirement communities in the North Shore hamlet. Civic leaders say that Mount Sinai won't need any more senior housing complexes if the development is built.

The developer, Mount Sinai Manor Development Co., of Glen Cove, has asked the Brookhaven Town Board to lift a 43-year-old covenant mandating a 100-foot buffer along the parcel at Canal Road and Plymouth Avenue, and change the zoning on the property from residential to planned retirement community.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner, who represents Mount Sinai, said the town board may vote at its next meeting, Oct. 28.

During a public hearing before the town board Tuesday night, some residents of a neighboring senior housing development, Plymouth Estates, said a sales office would be built near their homes if Pond View Estates is approved. They also said the views from their homes would be disturbed while the project is built.

"We're going to have a bird's-eye view of the construction trucks going in and out," said Linda May, who said she spoke on behalf of 30 to 40 people. "And they're going to have a bird's-eye view of us."

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said the town Planning Department would require new landscaping to shield neighbors' views of Pond View Estates, and he said the location of the sales office also would be addressed. "You should not have people going in your development for sales," he said.

J. Timothy Shea Jr., an attorney for the developer, said Pond View Estates homes would cost about $600,000 each. Officials said 10 percent of the units would be offered at lower prices to comply with state affordable housing laws.

"The aging population on Long Island continues to grow, and we feel this will meet that need," Shea said.

Mount Sinai Civic Association vice president Brad Arrington said the group supports the plan, but would oppose future senior housing developments because retirement communities would make up 25 percent of the hamlet's homes if the project is completed.

Arrington said civic leaders should support housing aimed at young residents.

"Housing for younger people is going to be of increasing importance," Arrington said.

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Brookhaven Town proposes to increase potential snow removal costs by $1 million

A Town of Brookhaven crew removes snow from

A Town of Brookhaven crew removes snow from the shoulder along Old Town Rd. in Coram on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2014. (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

Brookhaven Town officials have proposed a 40 percent spending increase for snow removal next year, following two years in which winter storms snarled local roads.

The $1 million increase -- primarily for purchasing and renting equipment and material to combat snow and ice -- was part of a $274.7 million tentative town budget released Tuesday by Supervisor Edward P. Romaine.

The budget, if approved, would increase town spending by about 1.18 percent. Under state law, towns must adopt final budgets by Nov. 20.


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Town officials said they plan to avoid raising taxes next year by reducing staff and debt.

Romaine said Tuesday he decided to boost spending for snow removal after a spate of winter storms, such as a February 2013 blizzard that dumped more than 30 inches of snow and closed some roads for days.

Last winter saw a series of snowstorms that caused the town highway department to nearly double the amount it spent on snow removal material.

"It will give us a cushion . . . in case we get a heavy snowfall, that there will be additional funding," Romaine said of the proposed increase at a news conference.

He added that he does not expect to receive federal disaster aid for an August rainstorm that flooded town roads.

"It's almost Oct. 1, and we still haven't heard" from federal authorities, he said.

The town board will hold a Nov. 6 public hearing on the proposed budget, Romaine said.

He said most homeowners would not see a tax increase next year -- the tax rate for general fund and highway spending would remain at $6.496 per $100 of assessed value.

The town said the job cuts -- 21 full-time and 14 part-time -- will save about $1.5 million. Elected officials, including Romaine and six town council members, will not receive raises.

Romaine said a code enforcement investigator would be added to enhance the town's crackdown on illegal rooming houses, and spending would be boosted for youth and women's services. With the staff reductions, the town will have 867 full-time employees next year.

Town officials have said they reduced the town's debt by $15.7 million in the past two years by eliminating unexpended funds for completed capital projects and canceling projects that had not begun.

Romaine said funding would be continued to "support and enhance" the development of the town's registry of vacant buildings. He said he plans to cut the town's reliance on surplus funds by about $3.2 million.

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Some Eastport residents not happy with noise, lights at new athletic complex

Elaine Harrison, shown on Sept. 26, 2014, says

Elaine Harrison, shown on Sept. 26, 2014, says she has had to deal with bright lights, noise and baseballs flying into her yard since the Eastport South Manor Athletic Complex was built. (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

The Town of Brookhaven built it, and they came.

Some Eastport residents came to cheer, but some jeered, when town officials opened the $4.2 million Eastport South Manor Athletic Complex earlier this year at the intersection of Sunrise Highway and County Road 51.

Town and sports league officials said the facility's three baseball diamonds give local children a chance to play on state-of-the-art artificial turf fields.


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But some neighbors say the field of dreams is a nightmare.

Officials of the Eastport South Manor Sports Association, which organizes games for more than 1,000 young athletes, said the complex -- on 10 acres that had been donated to the town -- provides fields for leagues that previously had to compete to use playgrounds at local schools.

"These look like professional baseball fields compared to the varsity fields," Eastport South Manor Little League president Kevin Flaherty said. "These kids, they felt like Derek Jeter over there."

Other residents, such as Laura McMahon, said cheering fans and the crack of the bat have disturbed their normally quiet neighborhood.

"When there are certain ballgames going on, it sounds like Citi Field. It's that loud," said McMahon, whose Old Manor Road home abuts the complex. "I don't have the same quality of life in my backyard as I did a year ago."

Some problems associated with the fields have been at least partially resolved, officials and residents said.

Traffic has been redirected away from nearby homes, and protective netting was installed to prevent balls from flying into neighbors' yards, town officials said.

Lights that illuminate the fields were changed to address complaints that too much light was disturbing neighboring homes. The lights also are turned off earlier, town officials said.

But some neighbors said town officials had assured them the fields would not be illuminated.

"Nobody knew these lights were coming," Old Manor Road resident Elaine Harrison said. "I still have kind of an ugly view out my window because I have a 70-foot light pole at the end of our property."

League officials said lights were needed to complete games that aren't over by sundown. "If you don't have lights, what is the purpose of having a facility like this?" sports association president Ian Kessler said. "Having these fields has been a godsend."

Town Councilman Dan Panico said lights were added to serve more teams and leagues.

"We've created what really is one of the nicest field complexes in all of Brookhaven, and, I would argue, in all of Suffolk County," Panico said.

Panico added that the property could have been used for a hospital or nursing home that would have created traffic, noise and lights all day long.

McMahon said a nursing home "could have been a lot quieter. It doesn't have these lights that look like a UFO landing."

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Road project at intersection of routes 112 and 347 nearing completion

A $25.6 million project intended to clear up traffic bottlenecks at the intersection of state routes 112 and 347 in Port Jefferson Station is nearing completion, state Sen. Kenneth LaValle said Thursday.

LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) released a statement from the state Department of Transportation saying that "jug handle" turning lanes in the northwest and southeast portions of the intersection will be completed by the end of next month.

Additional work is to be completed by Thanksgiving, and surface work -- such as paving, curbs, sidewalks, landscaping and pavement markings -- will be completed by next spring, the DOT said.

LaValle said completion of the project should ease traffic headaches for many drivers, who have been "exasperated" by long delays caused by reconstruction of the intersection. He added many business owners near the intersection felt they lost customers due to the work.

"There were too many [drivers] that have suffered traffic fatigue," LaValle said in an interview. "It was an area to be avoided. People found creative ways to avoid going through this area."

He said he requested the DOT update because many constituents feared the project would not be completed until late next year.

The project, including raised medians, a bicycle path and new sidewalks, was intended to improve traffic flow on Route 347, which is used by about 71,000 vehicles every day.

In a statement, DOT officials said completion of the project has been delayed because workers had to relocate or replace underground utilities such as water, gas, electric, cable and telephone lines.

LaValle said the addition of jug handle lanes, in which drivers exit from the right to make a left-hand turn, should help reduce congestion at the busy intersection. He said residents who attended DOT-sponsored community meetings several years ago preferred the design, commonly used in New Jersey, over plans for an overpass or cloverleafs.

Ed Garboski, president of the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Civic Association, said traffic jams have been "horrendous" during the reconstruction, but he said the improvements should make the intersection easier to navigate.

"Usually those jug handles, they do work," said Garboski, who works in road construction but not the Route 347 project. "People will have to get used to it, but it will definitely help the flow of traffic."

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Brookhaven IDA OKs $16M tax break for Ronkonkoma Hub plan

A rendering of proposed new buildings on Main

(Credit: Town of Brookhaven, Tritec Real Estate)

The Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency has approved a $16 million tax cut package for the Ronkonkoma Hub retail and residential project.

The package -- including exemptions from sales and use taxes on purchases of construction equipment and building material -- was approved unanimously during an IDA board meeting Wednesday.

The IDA board also approved plans allowing developer...

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Local officials want court order suspending dune restoration on Fire Island lifted

Local officials Wednesday blasted a federal judge's decision to suspend a Fire Island dune restoration project to protect endangered birds.

U.S. District Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein last week ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to delay the project's first two phases to protect piping plover breeding grounds at Suffolk County's Smith Point County Park and Fire Island Lighthouse Beach. The park and the lighthouse beach lie within the federal Fire Island National Seashore.

The temporary restraining order, requested by the New York chapter of the Audubon Society, does not affect the third phase, aimed at rebuilding dunes to protect Fire Island communities. The next hearing in the case is set for Oct. 8.


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The federal plan calls for rebuilding dunes that would be 13 to 15 feet high and stretch for about 19 miles along Fire Island beaches. Dredging of 7 million cubic yards of sand was expected to start soon.

Several officials ridiculed the judge's order during a news conference at Smith Point park in Shirley. They said restoring the dunes would protect Long Island homes from storm surges like the one that flooded houses during superstorm Sandy.

"I love the piping plover," Islip Supervisor Tom Croci, a Republican, said. "But the species I care about the most are the human beings."

State Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said New York's recovery from Sandy has been slow compared with New Jersey's. "You go to the Jersey Shore, it looks the same way it was in the first place," he said.

Federal officials said Wednesday the first contract related to the dune project was to have been awarded last week but was postponed by Feuerstein's order.

In a statement, Meredith Kelly, a spokeswoman for Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), said federal and state officials had approved the dune project. "The only thing standing in the way of dune construction is the Audubon lawsuit."

In a phone interview, Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said the delay caused by the order was "deeply, deeply unfortunate."

"All of us are frustrated that these projects take as long as they do," Bishop said.

Zeldin, who is seeking to unseat Bishop, declined to criticize the congressman on dune restoration. "There's nothing partisan about sand," he said.

Mastic Beach resident Frank Fugarino, whose home was damaged during Sandy, said dune restoration is critical for homeowners. "What's at stake . . . is loss of life," he said.

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Yaphank repavement project to shut two roads Tuesday night

Parts of two roads in Yaphank will be closed Tuesday night for a paving project, the Brookhaven Town Highway Department announced.

Highway crews plan to repave Mill Road and Patchogue-Yaphank Road from 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through 7 a.m. Wednesday, a department spokesman said.

During those hours, Mill Road will be closed from a bridge just east of the Mill House Inn to Patchogue-Yaphank Road.

Patchogue-Yaphank Road will be closed from Mill Road to Long Island Avenue, the spokesman said.

Drivers should plan alternate routes, he said.

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Suffolk and town officials give grants to improve infrastructure at the Ronkonkoma Hub

A rendering of proposed new buildings on Main

A rendering of proposed new buildings on Main Street in the Ronkonkoma Hub project, near the Ronkonkoma LIRR station. (Credit: Town of Brookhaven, TRITEC Real Estate)

Suffolk County and Brookhaven officials on Monday announced a $2.3 million county grant for infrastructure improvements at the site of a Ronkonkoma development they said may help keep young people from leaving Long Island.

During a news conference at the Long Island Rail Road station that is expected to be the centerpiece of the $475 million Ronkonkoma Hub, County Executive Steve Bellone and other officials said the residential, retail and commercial project would help stanch "brain drain" -- the departure of young residents weary of scarce jobs and a lack of housing they can afford.

"You can shop, you can go to work, you can walk to a job," Bellone said of the Hub project, which would be built on about 50 acres between the Long Island Expressway and Long Island MacArthur Airport. "This is all about the future of Long Island, building the connections and creating the places where people want to stay.


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"If we are a region that cannot attract and retain young people, we are a region in decline."

Construction is expected to start next year, after Brookhaven Town approves site plans and building permits, said Rob Loscalzo, chief operating officer of East Setauket-based Tritec Real Estate, which is building the project.

When completed in about a decade, the Hub is expected to feature up to 1,450 apartments and 545,000 square feet of retail and office space. Many of the apartments will be priced to appeal to young people and seniors, officials have said.

The county grant is expected to help Tritec plan infrastructure upgrades such as wider roads, improved curbs and new sewer lines, officials said. The grant is part of a $5 million package -- including subsidies for economic development projects in Wyandanch, Huntington Station and Smithtown -- that is expected to be voted on by the county legislature on Oct. 7.

County Legis. William Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) said Long Islanders pay millions in tax dollars to support local schools -- only to see many students leave when they grow up.

"They move to other communities where they have better opportunities," he said. "We need to build communities where they want to live, where they want to work. This is one of those communities."

As officials spoke, a small group of protesters held signs expressing opposition to possibly seizing land for the Hub by eminent domain. Town officials have said they don't plan to condemn property for the project.

Theodore Imbasciani, president of the Ronkonkoma Civic Association, who attended the news conference, said the organization supports the Hub despite concerns about the impact of traffic on local roads. He said the improvements should allay his worries.

"I don't want this to be a blighted area," he said.

Granting wishes

Proposed Suffolk County grants for economic development projects

$2.3 million: Ronkonkoma Hub

$2.25 million: Wyandanch Rising

$200,000: Smithtown central business district

$250,000: Huntington Station

$5 million: total grants

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Brookhaven waives fees for rain-swamped homes

Brookhaven Town Hall

Brookhaven Town Hall (Credit: Newsday / Bill Davis)

Brookhaven Town residents whose homes were damaged by torrential floods last month will find one less piece of red tape to deal with as they rebuild.

The town board voted unanimously last week to waive building fees for homeowners making repairs due to the Aug. 13 storm, which dumped a state-record 13.57 inches of rain at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma.

That could save homeowners hundreds of dollars when they repair flooded basements and oil burners, Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said.


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Romaine said about 2,000 homes in central Brookhaven hamlets such as Centereach, Holtsville, Holbrook and Selden were affected by the floods.

"These people suffered a terrible loss," he said. "The least that we can do is to say that if you suffered this damage, we're not going to make you pay any fees to get any permits to fix this damage."

Islip Town also has agreed to waive filing fees and emergency repair permit fees for homes and businesses damaged by the storm. The Babylon Town Board plans to waive building fees for flood victims, town spokesman Kevin Bonner said.

Many Long Island homeowners affected by the storm, especially those who live far from the South and North shores, are struggling to rebuild because they did not have flood insurance, officials have said.

Romaine and Islip and Babylon supervisors Tom Croci and Richard Schaffer have asked Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to request federal financial aid for towns and residents affected by the storm. Cuomo has said he is awaiting reports from the Federal Emergency Management Agency before requesting federal aid.

Romaine and Councilman Kevin LaValle said Brookhaven would refund homeowners who have already paid building fees to repair storm damage.

LaValle said he viewed damage to houses that was "the worst possible that you could imagine," such as flooding that turned yards into "lakes."

"This storm affected the most vulnerable people of Long Island. It affected people without flood insurance," he said.

Waiving building fees is "a way government can lead by example," LaValle said.

Romaine said the town also will not cite homeowners for building code violations found by town inspectors after the storm. "If that was discovered as a result of this rain event, we will not cite people," Romaine said.

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Town, county leaders worry FEMA may not provide aid for August flooding

Mike Grassullo wades through the water in front

Mike Grassullo wades through the water in front of his house in North Babylon to check on his vehicles Wednesday morning, Aug. 13, 2014. (Credit: Jim Staubitser)

Suffolk County and town officials say they are worried that the Federal Emergency Management Agency may reject financial aid for homeowners affected by the torrential August storm that flooded basements and yards.

County Executive Steve Bellone and the supervisors of Islip, Brookhaven and Babylon towns said this week that homeowners may not qualify for federal aid because damage caused by the Aug. 13 storm did not meet FEMA's criteria for disaster assistance.

FEMA spokesman Don Caetano said the agency is in the final stages of damage assessment and it was "premature" to speculate whether it would deny aid to residents.


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"None of our people have communicated that" to the towns, he said.

Local officials have estimated the storm -- which dumped a state-record 13.57 inches of rain at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma -- caused tens of millions of dollars' worth of damage.

In a letter sent this week to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, supervisors Tom Croci of Islip, Edward P. Romaine of Brookhaven and Richard Schaffer of Babylon said the state should step in to help homeowners who don't qualify for FEMA's Individual Assistance Program, which provides aid to homeowners affected by natural disasters.

"We implore you to show us exactly what government should be all about -- helping people in need," the supervisors wrote.

Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said the governor is awaiting a report from FEMA before deciding whether to request federal assistance. She said the state and FEMA "are continuing to work together to assess damage."

Caetano said a FEMA inspection team is "crunching the numbers" to decide whether residents qualify. A determination is expected "sooner rather than later," he said.

FEMA considers monetary damages, the number of homes affected and the percentage of homes lacking flood insurance to determine aid eligibility, he said.

Croci said many residents affected by the floods "have no way to repair their homes and get back into their lives."

"I know that it's possible for FEMA to be able to help us, with the White House's support and the governor's support," he said in an interview. "I'm just hoping they can help."

Bellone said in a statement the storm "places an unmanageable financial burden on our residents. They deserve government support . . ."

With Sophia Chang

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