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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.

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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S&P lowers Islip's bond rating to AA+

A bond rating agency has lowered the ratings

(Credit: Erin Geismar)

A bond rating agency has lowered the ratings of Islip’s general obligation bonds, citing the town’s “adequate” budgetary performance and management conditions.

Standard & Poor’s has lowered the rating to AA+ from AAA, with a stable outlook.

“Our previous negative outlook on the debt reflected our view of the town’s ongoing structural misalignment, which we are now accounting for...

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Bohemia fire commissioners vow never to install cell towers on district property

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 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)

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The Bohemia Fire Department has backed out of a plan to build cell towers on district property and agreed to not allow them to be installed in the future after angry residents confronted commissioners at a tense meeting last week.

To raucous applause from about 125 residents at a business meeting Thursday, commissioners announced the fire district would withdraw its application to have East Islip-based Highlander Consultants build two cell towers at its Pearl Street firehouse and behind the fire station on Eighth Street.

"Effective tonight, we will be canceling the contract with the cell company," said Commissioner Frank Wilhelm.

Commissioner Thomas Riedel also proposed that in order to quell the community's "suspicious feelings," the board vote to "never put cell tower equipment on any district property."

The board unanimously approved the resolutions ending the Highlander project and prohibiting any cell installations in the future.

Highlander approached the department a year ago about building cell towers on its property. The cellphone tower installation company offered the department $100,000 for each tower, plus new radio antenna equipment for the department. The company also proposed giving the department as much as 40 percent of the revenue Highlander received from cell service providers using the towers -- as much as $16,000 per month, commissioners said.

Calls to Highlander Consultants were not answered.

Residents complained about what they saw as a lack of information from the department about the project, health concerns about cell tower transmissions, and fears that property values would be diminished.

Residents said they were pleased fire commissioners heeded their concerns.

Paul North said the pledge to never build cell towers on district property was comforting. "If that's really the case, that would be great," he said.

"They finally realized how much this affects the community," Deborah Sclafani said. "I think it's a win for everyone."

Wilhelm said department officials will research other ways to improve its radio communications. Some commissioners said they were baffled by the public response to what they saw as a way to upgrade their radio equipment at no cost to the community.

"The money was going back to you people, the taxpayers," Raymond Audett said. New radio equipment will likely result in a tax increase, he added.

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