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Deborah S. Morris

Deborah is a native Long Islander. She started at Newsday in 1998 and has worked in all corners of the newsroom, from the art department to the copy desk. She has covered just about every shift, day, night and the all-important swing shift. She started her journalism career in televison and moved on to radio broadcasting, where she was an award-winning reporter, before coming to Newsday, a life-long career goal. She has happily covered the town of Huntington, a place that she says offers a rich bounty of stories ranging from political intrigue, interesting features or fascinating profiles of the people and places that make the place an All-American City.

Court dismisses part of Huntington Y drowning lawsuit

The Huntington YMCA in Huntington Village is pictured

The Huntington YMCA in Huntington Village is pictured on Nov. 23, 2012. (Credit: Ian J. Stark)

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The State Appellate Division has thrown out part of a lawsuit filed against the Huntington YMCA in the 2008 drowning death of a Greenlawn teen.

The court ruled punitive damages could be taken out of Raymond Dawson v. YMCA of Long Island Inc., et al. The wrongful death and pain and suffering claims can continue, the court said in the decision handed down last month.

YMCA spokesman Mark L. Smith said in a statement that while the agency mourns the loss of Marc Dawson, "the Appellate Division has recognized that there is no basis for punitive damages in this suit, and we believe that it will ultimately be found that the Y and its employees acted appropriately before, during and after this tragic event."


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Michael Perrotta, the Huntington-based lawyer representing Dawson's family, said the decision on punitive damages "has nothing to do with the negligence of the Y and its employees" in the drowning.

"I would be surprised if a jury one day doesn't find the Y grossly negligent in causing the death of Marc Dawson," Perrotta said Thursday.

Dawson, a 17-year-old senior at Harborfields High School in Greenlawn and a lifeguard at the YMCA, was on a break on Feb. 18, 2008, and apparently practicing for Navy SEAL training in a 4-foot-deep lap pool when a lifeguard noticed him unconscious at the bottom of the water. He died a week later.

Raymond Dawson, the teen's father, announced plans to sue in the fall of 2008. In March 2013, the State Supreme Court denied a motion by the defendants to dismiss the complaint.

Last month's decision says that the defendants -- in their request for dismissal -- submitted evidence "demonstrating that Marc's actions in taking several deep breaths and then deliberately attempting to remain underwater in the pool as long as possible were the sole proximate cause of his death . . .

"Given that Marc was a certified lifeguard, and based on 'plain common sense,' he should have known that these actions posed a significant danger," the decision says.

The decision also said, however, that triable issues were raised on whether the defendants acted with negligence, specifically in their alleged failure to coax Dawson to surface earlier and their alleged failure to physically remove him from the pool sooner. The decision said the move to dismiss the complaint was properly denied.

The defendants also include two teen lifeguards on duty, an aquatics coordinator and an adult lifeguard who were on the premises.

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  • Residents sue to block planned senior development in East Northport

    A change of zone, legal notice sign for

    A change of zone, legal notice sign for a public hearing held in June still hangs in front of the property at 544 Elwood Rd. in East Northport on the afternoon of July 27, 2014. (Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

    A group of Huntington Town residents has filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping the Seasons at Elwood, the age-restricted housing development recently approved for a dairy farm in East Northport.

    The suit was filed last week in state Supreme Court in Riverhead on behalf of Lauri Holt of Huntington, and Lee and Ann Itzler, Richard Apollonia, Vincent Modica, David Prestipino and Ronald Starrantino, all of East Northport.

    None of the plaintiffs could be reached for comment, but their Elwood-based lawyer, Wendi L. Herman, said their goal is to nullify the town's approval of the project. "Right now, our contention with the town is that what they did was insufficient and faulty in granting the zone change," she said.


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    The defendants are the town, its board and planning board; developer BK Elwood LLC and the Oak Tree Dairy Farm Inc., which owned the site of the planned 256-unit community for people 55 and up.

    Huntington Town spokesman A.J. Carter said the town is not commenting on the litigation.

    Last month, the town board voted 4 to 1 to approve a zoning change that will allow the homes in 43 multiunit structures on the 37.05-acre site.

    The suit alleges that when the town rezoned the land to allow for the Seasons, it broke from its outline for what should be done with the land. In the town's comprehensive plan published in 2008, Herman said Huntington called for the site to be developed for low-density residential use.

    The lawsuit also alleges the defendants failed to prepare a full environmental impact statement and failed to consider "significant adverse environmental impacts," including a soil management plan.

    The suit also alleges that because the dairy had ceased operation, it should have reverted to zoning for single-family homes.

    "Their [the town's] position was the Seasons of Elwood was better than a working dairy," Herman said. "The comparison is flawed, because what they should look at is the Seasons compared to what the dairy farm is actually zoned for, which is single-family homes."

    Jan Burman, president of Garden City-based Engel Burman, parent of BK Elwood LLC, said he did not have enough detail about the suit to comment.

    Hari Singh, president of Oak Tree Dairy, said the dairy is named in the suit but the allegations are not aimed at the dairy. "As I understand it, they are challenging how the town handles things administratively," he said. "I am not in a position to comment on how the town manages these decisions."

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    Proposed mall to undergo rigorous environmental review

    Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone, seen here in

    Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone, seen here in May 2013. Petrone said an $80-million shopping center proposed for Jericho Turnpike in Elwood should provide an economic boost to the community. (Credit: Daniel Brennan)

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    Town officials are planning a tough environmental review of an $80 million shopping center proposed for Jericho Turnpike in Elwood.

    Last week, the town board voted 4-1 to issue a "positive declaration" for the project, which will require Great Neck-based Villadom Corp. to undergo an intense study identifying and analyzing potential environmental impacts and to present a plan for remediation.

    Town board member Mark Cuthbertson voted no.

    The vote was based on a recommendation from the town planning board. A positive declaration means there is potential for significant adverse environmental impacts from the proposed project.

    The proposed center would cover more than 400,000 square feet on 50 acres adjacent to the Mediavilla apple orchard. The project would feature a center that is two stories in some areas, and would include 1,800 ground-level parking spaces and an outdoor public area with a fountain.

    Tenants are expected to include food, retail, service-type businesses and potentially office and medical space.

    Kris Torkan, president of Villadom Corp., said his firm requested the more vigorous review. "We wanted to accelerate the process by submitting every conceivable requirement the town may have through the course of the permit review for the change of zone," he said.

    The developer applied in March to go from one-acre residential and general business zoning to a planned shopping district. The next step for the zone change application is a public hearing, which the town board can hold before or after the environmental report is complete.

    Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said the project, if it goes forward, should provide an economic boost to the community.

    "We see that the Elwood school district is having difficulty," Petrone said, referring to the fact that earlier this year Moody's Investors Service revised the district's bond rating outlook to negative, citing declining reserves and projected operating deficits. "If nothing else, it will provide them with . . . the commercial tax base that they don't have."

    School board vice president Dan Ciccone said the developer has yet to sit with the school board, so he does not have details about the project.

    "I'm very happy to hear that town officials will go through a very rigorous due diligence process before approving any kind of development that would be a change of zoning," he said.

    Andrew Kaplan, president of the Manor Plains Civic Association and an Elwood school board trustee, said Torkan met with his group last year. They are concerned about the environmental impact and traffic the development could generate, but are "delighted" the town plans a tough environmental review.

    Mary Jane Mackey of the Elwood Taxpayers Association said Torkan has met with her group at least twice. "I like it," she said of the proposal. "It's going to bring tax dollars into our community, and he's going to bring in some higher end stores, something a little different."

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    AvalonBay Huntington Station holds grand opening

    The AvalonBay development on East Fifth Street in

    The AvalonBay development on East Fifth Street in Huntington Station is shown on Jan. 7, 2014. (Credit: Danielle Finkelstein )

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    Officials from AvalonBay Huntington Station recently hosted a grand opening for the 379-unit development.

    Brandishing a Newsday front page with a headline that declared "Rejected" and dated Sept. 22, 2010 -- the day after the Huntington Town Board voted down a proposed 490-unit development -- senior vice president of development for AvalonBay Communities Matt Whelan said Wednesday's celebration was the culmination of a tough fight.

    "We love that we're providing a new housing option for people in this area, and Huntington Station needed it," Whelan said.

    The development on East Fifth Street was finally approved for 379 units, but not before the project polarized the community.

    Whelan said demand has been high, with about 230 of the 303 rental apartments occupied and a waitlist for apartments that have not been completed. The 43 affordable units -- for which tenants were selected by lottery -- are leased.

    The often ugly battle to get the development approved was "100 percent worth it," town board member Mark Cuthbertson said.

    "When you look at projects like this, you have to take the long view, which is: Young people are going to live here and stay in the community and that's going to allow the neighborhood to be sustainable and thrive," he said.

    Next up to be built on the site are 76 for-sale townhome units. Jericho-based Beechwood Organization will be the developer. Michael Dubb, principal of Beechwood, said the company expects to break ground in early 2015.

    "I think the Town of Huntington and the area around that is a terrific area," Dubb said. "It's one of the hubs of Long Island, and I think we're going to do great there."

    Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said the development is an asset to the community. "When we slated this, we knew this would help the station and raise its economic climate for investors and businesses to come," Petrone said.

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    Huntington Town appoints new deputy director of general services; one board member cries foul

    A sign outside Huntington Town Hall is seen

    A sign outside Huntington Town Hall is seen in an undated photo. (Credit: Alexi Knock)

    Huntington town officials have appointed a new deputy director of general services as part of a reorganization of the department that was started earlier this year.

    Huntington Station business owner Keith Barrett's appointment to the recently created position was approved by the town board 4 to 1 at this week's town board meeting.

    Barrett was hired by the town as an $85,000-a-year general services department executive assistant in March. His new appointment comes with a $10,000 raise. His responsibilities will include overseeing the division of vehicle operations and maintenance, off-street parking maintenance and parks and grounds maintenance.


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    "Keith is a successful businessman who comes with expertise," Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone said of Barrett, who owns Barrett Automotive in Huntington Station and is the president of the Huntington Station Business Improvement District.

    However, the appointment has town board member Gene Cook, an Independence Party member, crying foul. He characterized the appointment as a political payback for Barrett stepping aside in last year's Democratic Party primary for town board.

    "As far as his accusations are they are unfounded; it's not how anything went down," Barrett said. "I had some ideas for streamlining vehicle maintenance, this is what I do for a living..."

    Barrett, along with three others, had been poised for a Democratic primary against now-freshman town board member Tracey Edwards, but backed out. At the time, Suffolk County Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer said Barrett's and the other Democratic candidates' withdrawal from the primary was an effort "to go into this election unified."

    Edwards said it was actually seven Democratic Party candidates who stepped aside to give her the nomination, and that "all received the same thing in return: A heartfelt 'thank you' and a commitment that I would do my best to represent Huntington."

    Edwards said she had been asked by Petrone after her election in November to streamline departments across the town. After a three-month review, a reorganization of the general services department was approved by the board in May by a 5 to 0 vote.

    Petrone said Barrett's original job had been funded but was in contingency. He said cost-saving efficiencies introduced by Barrett into the department, such as in-house car inspections and participation in a car-leasing program, will pay for Barrett's pay increase.

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    Huntington bans smoking on town beaches; sets housing hearing

    Helene Lach of Centerport reads by the shoreline

    Helene Lach of Centerport reads by the shoreline at Centerport Beach on July 3, 2014. (Credit: Danielle Finkelstein)

    The Huntington Town board has unanimously voted 5-0 to ban smoking at its eight town beaches.

    Previously, smoking was banned only at town playgrounds. The ban does not include the parking lots at the beaches.

    Town officials had cited public health, medical research and published studies as part of the their desire to protect the health and welfare of those who use the town's beaches.


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    "I am pleased that we have passed a common-sense measure to limit exposure to secondhand smoke at our wonderful beaches," said town board member Mark Cuthbertson, sponsor of the resolution.

    Town spokesman A.J. Carter said officials expect the public to help enforce the law.

    "Like any no-smoking regulation, it's prohibited so you expect people will obey signs and if not, and someone sees this, they can report it to a town employee for action which in a first instance most likely would be ejection from the beach."

    He said there is the possibility of a summons and a fine.

    Also at its Tuesday meeting, the board set a public hearing for next month to consider tightening local laws for nonowner-occupied rental properties.

    The board voted 5-0 to set a public hearing for Oct. 21 to consider tightening local laws for nonowner-occupied rental properties.

    Town board member Tracey Edwards, sponsor of the resolution, said she wants the town to consider increasing the standards of the rental registration law to require landlords of nonowner-occupied properties to obtain annual permits before a unit can be shown to prospective tenants and certify annually that the units meet all town codes.

    "I think it is a good start to an existing issue," Edwards said after the vote. "We still have work to do so we can fund the budget to get adequate personnel in order to fulfill the legislation."

    She said she has discussed the funding of the policy with town Supervisor Frank Petrone.

    "It's perfect alignment because it's budget season. Once we find out how much personnel we'll need, I'm going to be asking the supervisor for an authorization," she said. "The revenue that we generate from this will pay for the personnel."

    According to 2010 census data, rental housing accounts for 16.1 percent of Huntington's overall housing stock.

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    Huntington bans smoking on town beaches; sets housing hearing

    The Huntington Town board has unanimously voted 5-0 to ban smoking at its eight town beaches.

    Previously, smoking was only banned at town playgrounds. The ban does not include the parking lots at the beaches.

    Town officials had cited public health, medical research and published studies as part of the their desire to protect the health and welfare of those who use the town's beaches.


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    "I am pleased that we have passed a common sense measure to limit exposure to second hand smoke at our wonderful beaches," said town board member Mark Cuthbertson, sponsor of the resolution.

    Town spokesman A.J. Carter said officials expect the public to help enforce the law.

    "Like any no-smoking regulation, it's prohibited so you expect people will obey signs and if not, and someone sees this, they can report it to a town employee for action which in a first instance most likely would be ejection from the beach."

    He said there is the possibility of a summons and a fine.

    Also at its Tuesday meeting, the board set a public hearing for next month to consider tightening local laws for nonowner-occupied rental properties.

    The board voted 5 to 0 to set a public hearing for Oct. 21 to consider tightening local laws for nonowner-occupied rental properties.

    Town board member Tracey Edwards, sponsor of the resolution, said she wants the town to consider increasing the standards of the rental registration law to require landlords of nonowner-occupied properties to obtain annual permits before a unit can be shown to prospective tenants and certify annually that the units meet all town codes.

    "I think it is a good start to an existing issue," Edwards said after the vote. "We still have work to do so we can fund the budget to get adequate personnel in order to fulfill the legislation."

    She said she has discussed the funding of the policy with town Supervisor Frank Petrone.

    "It's perfect alignment because it's budget season. Once we find out how much personnel we'll need, I'm going to be asking the supervisor for an authorization," she said. "The revenue that we generate from this will pay for the personnel."

    According to 2010 census data, rental housing accounts for 16.1 percent of Huntington's overall housing stock.

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    Developer updates residents on Huntington Station plans

    A boutique hotel and office space at southwest

    A boutique hotel and office space at southwest corner of Railroad Street and New York Avenue in Huntington Station is proposed during a hearing on April 26, 2013. (Credit: Renaissance Downtowns)

    An official for the master developer for Huntington Station has updated residents on the latest in approvals, applications and images for projects on the drawing board for the community and discussed the Community Benefits Agreement being finalized with the town.

    Ryan Porter, vice president of planning and development for the Plainview-based Renaissance Downtowns, addressed about 20 curious residents at Monday night's meeting of the Huntington Town Economic Development Corp.

    "It's always a great opportunity to get out there and speak with the community about the plans," Porter said after fielding questions during the two-hour meeting. "I think people get frustrated because they think things aren't happening, but when you lay out the details -- but not too much details because there is a lot of technical stuff -- about what's going on, it gives them a sense of ease that things are moving and that they understand what's going on."


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    Three sites are under state environmental review, including a complex on the southwest corner of New York Avenue and Railroad Street that will feature a 140-room hotel with a 100,000-square-foot office building, both four stories, and a parking structure, Porter said. There are also 21 live-work units with a one-level parking deck on the commuter lot between Railroad and Church streets along New York Avenue, with 28 artist lofts on the north end of the lot; 34 studios and 34 one-bedroom market-rate apartments to be built above 16,000 square feet of retail space at 1000 New York Ave. and neighboring properties.

    Porter said all development will come with a parking management plan to offset loss of parking caused by new construction.

    Scott Fried, who three months ago moved from Plainview to Huntington Station, said the meeting was informative.

    "When I moved in, I had heard about it and did some research about the revitalization and was curious as to where they are in the process," he said. "Anything that's going to bring business, bring life to the area is critical for success."

    William Walter, president of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association in Huntington Station, said he came to find out more about what is going on with the redevelopment and to see how the association could be a partner in the revitalization effort.

    "I was wondering how students in the station area who are not particularly interested in sports but who instead are interested in art, if there is some role we can play," he said.

    After hearing from Porter, Walter said, "There should be some way for all of us to get together in helping all kids," he said.

    Porter says he's working with town officials to wrap up a CBA, an agreement that will dictate how fees derived from revitalization projects will be used to benefit the community. The town board could vote on the agreement next month.

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    Huntington may require permits for rental homes

    A sign outside Huntington Town Hall is seen

    A sign outside Huntington Town Hall is seen in an undated photo. (Credit: Alexi Knock)

    Town of Huntington officials could tighten local laws for nonowner-occupied rental properties.

    Town board member Tracey Edwards is planning to sponsor a resolution at Tuesday's town board meeting for a public hearing next month to consider increasing the standards of the current rental registration law. If approved, the measure would require landlords of nonowner-occupied properties to obtain annual permits before a unit can be shown to prospective tenants and certify annually that the units meet all town codes. The process will go from being a registration to a permitting process.

    Edwards said the changes would address safety concerns brought to her attention by first responders, who pointed out that many times they don't know the actual layout of some of the dwellings they enter, such as those that have been illegally subdivided.


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    "Also, when I was reviewing the code it looks like there is a disparity in how we treat landlords," Edwards said. "If you are renting a home and you live in the house there are restrictions and obligations that you must fulfill, which include that you're meeting the building and fire code upfront, but in nonowner-occupied rentals, those obligations were not present."

    Besides the permit, which would also be required for hotel and motel rooms, the law would establish procedures and fees and require that an application include a certification from a licensed professional engineer, architect or town code enforcement officer that the property complies with all local, state and federal codes, laws and regulations.

    Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said he supports the legislation as a common-sense measure to protect first responders and tenants and promote fairness to all landlords in the town.

    "This gives an opportunity to know who they are and where they are and how to get to them," he said. "And we charge people when they rent out part of their home most likely to make ends meet, so why don't we charge people who are doing this for a profit?"

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    Huntington fights unauthorized installation of cellphone antennas, equipment

    A telecom company installed unauthorized equipment in as

    A telecom company installed unauthorized equipment in as many as 30 locations around Huntington, with some of them in use for as long as three years, and town officials say they will sue if necessary to get the equipment removed. Pictured is one on top of a utility pole at Sweet Hollow Road and Gwynne Road in Melville. (Credit: Steve Pfost)

    A telecom company installed unauthorized equipment in as many as 30 locations around Huntington, with some of them in use for as long as three years, and town officials say they will sue if necessary to get the equipment removed.

    The Huntington Town Board voted 5-0 to authorize a civil action against Queens-based Crown Castle NG East LLC to recover financial damages and take "all appropriate legal and equitable action to remove the installations and recover damages and or seek other relief as deemed necessary."

    Crown Castle officials said permits issued by the town highway department allowed the installations on utility polls. Further, they said, the equipment was in place before December, when the board passed legislation to regulate use of roadside rights-of-way, and was thus exempt from the law.


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    Town officials rejected the company's position, saying Crown Castle needed town board approval to install the equipment, including antennas.

    "We've come up with a . . . system to regulate what they are doing, and they won't cooperate and avail themselves to it," town board member Mark Cuthbertson said. "The problem is they've put up their apparatus illegally."

    Fiona McKone, a spokeswoman for Crown Castle, said in a statement that the company has provided wireless infrastructure to Huntington and town residents for five years, "and we are working closely with the town to resolve this matter expeditiously."

    Cuthbertson said residents told the town last fall about the equipment, which he said "put the wheels in motion" to pass the December legislation that requires town board approval for equipment installed on utility poles along the town's rights-of-ways.

    "There was nothing on the books that regulated these types of installations" before the December law, Cuthbertson said of the antennas attached to the utility poles. "The town code only regulated cell towers, and antennas on cell towers only."

    Former Huntington Highway Superintendent William Naughton had issued permits for Crown Castle for the installations. But town officials maintain the company still needed approval from the town to do work because it own the land where the utility polls are located.

    "The town board is still the owner of the land, and it needs its approval first" before any work could be done, Cuthbertson said.

    Crown Castle said the permits issued by the highway department were sufficient. Naughton did not respond to requests for comment.

    "We tried to work it out and told them that all they had to do was apply for permission to legalize the equipment and have a public hearing, but they have declined to do so," Cuthbertson said.

    If approved, Supervisor Frank Petrone could then sign a license agreement allowing the company to use town land.

    Crown Castle faced a similar issue in Northport Village last year. A pole at Main Street and Laurel Avenue was put in place by the company before getting final approval from the village.

    The company had been granted a building permit by the village in November 2012 to do the work. But the village's attorney, Jim Matthews, said the permit should not have been issued because Crown Castle was supposed to go back to the zoning board of appeals for final approval on locations for the equipment.

    An agreement last year kept that equipment in place.

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