Portuguese fans watch their team play at the Portuguese-American Center...

Portuguese fans watch their team play at the Portuguese-American Center in Farmingville Tuesday. (June 15, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

A roomful of teenagers clad in green-and-red soccer jerseys stood and sang "A Portuguesa" - the national anthem of Portugal - while their parents sipped espresso and nervously awaited the beginning of the World Cup.

It was a typical scene in Farmingville's Portuguese-American Center, a quarter-century-old Portion Road social club that on most days blends into its suburban surroundings.

But a few times per year, when the club hosts outdoor parties and barbecues that sometimes attract several hundred people, the center's relationship with the community isn't so smooth, neighbors say.

Residents such as Robert Regan of nearby Country Greens Drive in Holtsville said the parties fill the air with blaring music and the smell of aromatic food.

"After about 40 minutes, you really don't want to have pork anymore," Regan said recently.

Club members, such as Antonio Melo, maintain that the center hasn't played outdoor music in years, and noise is limited to "just chatter."

Melo said the Portuguese community needs the club "for our family picnics" and "as far as odor goes, there is no such thing as odor."

Brookhaven Town officials are trying to broker peace between the community and the club, which officials say has broken a handful of zoning covenants over the years. Violations include illegal tree clearing, constructing a gazebo without permission and disregarding a 157-by-337-foot buffer behind the club, officials said.

The town has asked the club to make some changes. Councilwoman Connie Kepert, who represents the area, wants the club to plant new trees on a new buffer that is about half the size of the original one. She also said the club should install some type of sound barrier.

The club will seek approval for a new site plan that meets the town's specifications, said Eric J. Russo, an attorney for the club.

But Kathleen Della Iacono of Holtsville, whose property is adjacent to the club, said she would not be satisfied by the changes. She said she wants the full 157-foot buffer zone restored.

"I don't want to look at a [sound] wall," she said. "I chose this particular piece of property because of the trees."

Members of the club, whose building also includes a ballroom and a school, and which hosts everything from weddings to political functions, say the center is a vital piece of Suffolk County's Portuguese community.

The club has evolved over the years from a men's club to a family-oriented center for the preservation of Portuguese heritage, said member Carlos Fernandes.

Melo, a native of northern Portugal who moved to America in the 1970s, described Suffolk's Portuguese community as small but close-knit. Almost 3,000 Brookhaven Town residents claimed Portuguese ancestry on the 2000 census, with about 1,000 of those residents living in Farmingville, Medford or Selden.

The area has for decades been home to Portuguese families, many of whom moved east from Mineola or Jamaica, Melo said.

"I really don't see a problem with us celebrating Portugal with parties and stuff," said Kevin DaPonte, 17, of Selden. "I think people are just being stubborn."

Kepert said she is confident the town can foster a compromise between the club and the neighborhood. But she said she knows neighbors fear the club will not "adhere to the limitations the town board is placing on them because they hadn't adhered to those in the past."

"This is a matter of trust."

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