Articles by

Jennett Meriden Russell

01/25/11 10:35am

JENNETT MERIDEN RUSSELL | A socket for a car charger.

Bob Dunigan is all charged up about electric cars.

The co-owner of Schwing Electrical Supply, which has locations across Long Island, including Riverhead, feels so strongly that the electric car industry is going to provide a jolt of revenue for local electricians that he held a seminar Tuesday at the Riverhead Polish Hall just to pitch the new technology.

As electric cars become more popular in the coming years, Mr. Dunigan believes local professional electricians are going to be in high demand to install the electric charging stations for the cars at both residential and commercial sites.

“I think this is the leading edge, and it’s my responsibility as a distributor to educate my customers, so they can support their customers,” Mr. Dunigan said. “The electrical vehicles are coming, there’s a high demand for them and every time you turn around there’s something about them on TV or newspapers and magazines. And I feel we have to be out in front of it because the consumer is not going to buy the car unless he has a comfort level knowing he has a place to plug it in.”

Roughly 100 electricians turned out for Tuesday’s seminar, some having traveled from as far away as New Jersey to attend. The presentation featured electric car chargers from Leviton, a Melville-based manufacturer of electrical wiring devices.

Leviton recently signed a deal with Ford Motor Co. to make a faster electric charger.

The system, Leviton boasts, at 240 volts, can power up the soon-to-be-released 2012 Ford Focus EV, which has a 23-kilowatt pack, in just 3.5 hours.

It takes the Nissan Leaf EV roughly seven hours to replenish its 24-kilowatt-hour battery pack at the same voltage, according to Nissan.

But for those who are eager go get an electric-powered Ford Focus, Chris Pagliaro, a sales consultant with Riverhead Ford Lincoln Mercury, said the Route 58 dealership does not expect to have the models until 2013. The company is also waiting for Ford’s Transit Connect, a small electric van.

“We’re very excited about these products,” Mr. Pagliaro said. “These vehicles are keeping up with technology and people like the idea that the car companies are trying to conserve energy and save the environment. And it’s exciting for us because it’s generating more customer interest in Ford overall.”

Pointing out that every major car manufacturer in the world is currently scrambling to put out an electric car or hybrid, Leviton’s vice president and general manager, Michael Mattei, reiterated that local electricians have a chance to plug into the electric car industry via their products.

He explained that Leviton currently offers two levels of charging devices. Levels one and two feature alternating currents, and are typically used for electrically powering a home or business.

A level three charging station is still in the works, but Mr. Mattei said the device will eventually be able to offer 480 volts, but at a direct current, which is the type of current used to power vehicles and lawnmowers.

Level one, a 2-kilowatt output delivers 120 volts at 16 amps, and level two, a 7.2-kilowatt output delivers up to 240 volts at 30 amps.

“There are a greater number of charging units that will be placed in the home initially, because that’s the first place you’re going to want to charge your car,” said Mr. Mattei, who owns a Chevy Volt, an electric car that recently hit the market. “But, the opportunity on the dollar side – if you can envision going to do a commercial install – the product is more expensive and it requires more labor, so the dollars are higher. It’s a great mix, electricians can promote this to both commercial and residential customers.”

While Leviton was able to create a faster charging station, Melissa Martin, director of business development with the company, said the company lacks software development capabilities that are necessary for electric-car drivers to find charging stations easily.

Leviton enlisted ChargePoint Network Support Services, a product of Coulomb Technologies of California, which allows drivers not only to find a charging station, but also permits them to reserve charging time at a station via computer or smartphone, such as an iPhone or Blackberry.

Electric car owners can use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) cards to access the power station, which is locked until the charging provider allows access. RFID is technology that uses electromagnetic tags, which are stuck to or embedded into a product, such as a credit card, in order to uniquely identify that object.

For those who don’t want a card, drivers can dial an 800 number that is printed on the charging station to order a charging session. ChargePoint also provides the owners of charging stations the ability to keep track – by computer or cellphone – of how often their stations are being used, as well as payment collections.

“This technology is very impressive,” said Wading River electrician Frank Vaughan of Vaughan Electric, who attended the event at Polish Hall. “I can see it being a big industry in the future.”

The cellular system also gives both personal and commercial charging station owners the ability to keep track of who is using what stations, which could benefit a company that provides electric cars to its employees, or a parent with teenagers using their electric car.

Station owners also have the ability to shut off charging services with the push of a button. An employer, for instance, can simply remove the RFID card number from their list of RFID cardholders.

“You can see the status of your station from anywhere in the world,” Ms. Martin said. “You could be sitting in Aruba, by the pool with a margarita in your hand, and as long as you have your laptop and a high speed connection, you can get on the online software and see whose charging at your station, how long they’re charging at your station, how many kilowatts are being consumed, you can see all of it, right there on your laptop.”

01/19/11 10:15am

PHOTO COURTESY OF NEW YORK BOAT SHOW | The Javits Center in New York, where several local boat dealers are taking part this week in the New York Boat Show, one of the boating business’s major annual events. Here boats are lined up during last year’s show.

Local boat dealers are feeling cautiously optimistic that hard financial times may finally be in their wake. Many are also looking forward to this week’s New York Boat Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan as a way to secure new sales.

Bill Lieblein, co-owner of Port of Egypt Marine in Southold, and Jeff Strong, president of Strong’s Marine, with locations in Mattituck and Flanders, both said that their businesses generate 25 to 30 percent of annual sales from their presence at the boat show.

“The amount of inquiries we’ve had for the show, the amount of appointments we have set up already and quotations that are already in the works is definitely encouraging and up from what it was last year,” Mr. Strong said. “We’re forecasting a 20 percent increase in sales over last year.”

Mr. Lieblein and Mr. Strong said they saw their worst declines in sales during 2008 and 2009. However, both have seen the tide begin to turn, with steady increases from the early part of 2010 to this month.

Mr. Lieblein is hosting two separate booths at the boat show and believes that the key to staying afloat is to diversify a company’s offerings. Port of Egypt will be out in force at the Grady-White Boats booth, as well as hosting their own booth.

He is also promoting the first boat club on the North Fork. Called simply the Port of Egypt Marine Boat Club, the new venture allows boat enthusiasts to lease a boat for a season, avoiding the typical worries of boat ownership, such as maintenance and docking fees. The cost is just shy of $4,000 for the season, which runs from May 1 to Oct. 1. Lessees can use the boat as much as they like and are financially responsible for gas and any damage that might occur. Boats ranging from 18 to 25 feet are available.

“Port of Egypt owns the boat, but people still have a sense of ownership in that the same people will be using these boats,” said Elisa Ruroede, the company’s sales manager. “It’s not like a rental, where someone comes in and you never see them again.”

Boat servicing has kept Port of Egypt from sinking, according to Mr Lieblein. Over at Albertson Marine in Southold, owner Bill Witzke agreed that his service department kept his business on a steady course. When people cannot afford new boats, he said, they tend to pay attention to the vessels they already own.

Mr. Witzke and his crew will be at the boat show at the Mercury Marine booth, although he says he does not depend on the boat show for sales as much as other local boat dealers do.

“I do meet a lot of my customers at the boat show, which is nice,” he said. “It’s good public relations for me. A lot of my customers are from the city area and it’s nice to see them at a different environment. We have a strong customer base and they’re very loyal to us, so it works out well.”

Having cut back on new stock for the past few years, Albertson’s is focused on selling boats already in their inventory.
But one problem that gives boat dealers a sinking feeling, Mr. Witzke noted, is the fact that potential owners are having trouble securing loans to float their boating dreams.

Much as the banking industry has tightened up on real estate, potential lenders are also getting stricter on requirements for boat financing.

“When we typically look at a boat loan, we like to see at least 20 to 25 percent down,” said Kevin Santacroce, chief lending officer for Bridgehampton National Bank. “As for annual percentage rate on a boat loan, it depends on the individual’s credit score and their own personal financial condition, but I’d say we’re looking at 7.5 to 8 percent.”

The boat show opened Wednesday and runs through Sunday, Jan. 23.

01/16/11 11:37pm

JENNETT MERIDEN RUSSELL PHOTO | Riverhead resident William McPherson, center, receives a plaque in honor of his late wife, Elaine's, devoted service to the East End Voter Coalition. The plaque was presented by coalition co-chairmen Larry Williams, left, and Robert Brown during a celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at the Riverhead Free Library on Sunday.

On a hot August day in 1963, 6-year-old Elaine McPherson’s parents took her to Washington, D.C. to hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the civic rights leader from Montgomery, Ala. who was waging a nonviolent battle against segregation and the legalized racism of those times. The little African-American girl was among 200,000 people who crowded the National Mall for his speech.

It would be remembered as his great “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Elaine was there on the mall as he lyrically called for racial equality and an end to discrimination. His powerful call for freedom and justice would resonate for Ms. McPherson all her life — a life cut short on August 22, 2010, when the civic-minded Riverhead community member suffered a massive heart attack and died in her husband William’s arms. She was 53.

Mr. McPherson was there on Sunday in the front row of a meeting room at the Riverhead Free Public Library, when a commemorative service for Dr. King was held by the East End Voter Coalition, a group to which his wife belonged that is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

At the end of the service, coalition co-chairmen Larry Williams and Robert “Bubbie” Brown gave Mr. McPherson a wooden plaque called the “Shining Star” award, honoring his wife for her years of service to the East End Voter Coalition.

“My wife did quite a bit for the community,” Mr. McPherson said after the ceremony as friends and supporters mingled at the library. He said he was still moved by his wife’s spirit and the words of Dr. King that she took to so much to heart. “I had tears in my eyes,” he commented. “Dr. King left a legacy that I feel is hard to duplicate. While Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton are doing what they can, there was only one Martin Luther King.”

The service was a precursor to Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, a national holiday recognizing the civil rights leader’s birthday, January 15. He would have been 82. He was assassinated while standing on a motel balcony in Memphis in 1968 at the age of 39.

Mr. Williams said that the organization has been celebrating Dr. King’s birthday since the group’s inception 10 years ago. He noted that about a dozen Riverhead residents had gotten together to organize the coalition in 2001 to encourage minority residents to get out and vote in local elections.

The organization has since dwindled to eight members, but Mr. Williams emphasized that the handful of civic-minded people is as committed to serving the community as ever.

“If there’s something you need, if there’s something in the town that you don’t understand, just contact one of us,” Mr. Williams said to the audience of about 100 at the library on Sunday. “We pay attention to what goes on locally and often you can find me in Town Hall. I work a full-time job, but I still take the time out to go and find out what’s going on.”

Sunday’s ceremony included several participants, including the keynote speaker Natacha Volcy, a guidance counselor at Riverhead High School. The 27-year-old Westbury resident stressed the importance of education.

A child of Haitian immigrants, Ms. Volcy said her hardworking parents pushed her to do well in school. Although her mother, Denice, worked full-time as a nurse, she made a continued effort to be involved in her children’s education, Ms. Volcy recalled.
She called for parents, teachers, school administrators and community members to be more involved in the schooling of local children.

“Our goal is to work together to make sure every child is successful,” Ms. Volcy said. “And to do this, we have to have strong teamwork. The school can’t do it alone, parents can’t do it alone, we need to find new resources and services from the community to strengthen school programs, family practices and student learning and development.”

Mr. McPherson commented that he appreciated the young counselor’s focus on education and noted it was in keeping with the spirit of Dr. King’s message. He pointed out that his son, William, 18, was at Sunday’s celebration to hear his guidance counselor speak.

“She said it and Dr. King said it: ‘You get that education, because once you have an education, no one can take it from you,’” Mr. McPherson said.

Sunday’s event featured young Sag Harbor singing sensation, Dylan Collins, 13, offering her rendition of gospel icon Kirk Franklin’s “Are You Listening?” The song was followed by a dance performance by the First Baptist Church of Riverhead’s Liturgical Dance Group.

Robert “Bubbie” Brown took the stage to share one of his poems, “Continuing the Legacy,” in which he pondered what Dr. King would have thought about the conditions that newcomers face in the U.S. In the poem, he sees America as a place where they “huddle in groups, in fear.”

Mr. Brown recited from his poem:

“If God sent Martin back to earth to see how far we got, would he report back to heaven, ‘They ain’t done diddly squat?’
Would Martin judge us harshly? He would, ‘cause it would seem that we’ve failed miserably and fallen short of his ‘I have a dream.’”

01/12/11 8:00am

JENNETT MERIDEN RUSSELL PHOTO | Town Assessors

While the official deadline for homeowners to file a grievance against their property tax assessment isn’t until May 1, local assessors say it’s a good idea to begin preparing now for the complicated process, especially if this is a first-time effort.

Sarah Hallock, an associate with Tax Reduction Services in Greenport, which specializes in home assessment grievances, said that all property owners in New York State are eligible for a formal review of their properties’ assessments once a year.

You can’t dispute your tax bill, but you can challenge the town’s assessment of how much your property is worth. Local governments use that value to determine your taxes.

The first step in challenging the assessment could be to talk to a town assessor, and it is not required to file a formal grievance at this point. If this step is skipped, or if the assessor’s office refuses to make a change, the next step is to file a formal grievance with the town’s Board of Assessment Review, which hears grievances on “Grievance Day” but accepts them until May 1.

Grievance Day in most towns is on a Tuesday in May. In both Southold and Riverhead towns, this year it’s May 17.

If a grievance is denied, a property owner can go to the State Supreme Court and file a claim against the town, challenging the decision.

The grievance processes can be overwhelming, but homeowners need not face the challenges alone, said Ms. Hallock. “A homeowner has the right to do this on their own, but they can also hire a representative to plead their grievance for them,” she said. Her company charges half of the tax savings if they win a homeowner’s grievance; otherwise there is no charge.

“Generally, the first step in the process is a grievance against the town,” Ms. Hallock said. “If that grievance is denied by the grievance board, you have a right to file an appeal against that decision.”

A full-blown lawsuit is not necessarily required. So-called “small claims assessment reviews” (SCAR) can be filed by owner-occupants of one-, two- or three-family dwellings used exclusively for residential purposes or by the owners of vacant land that is not of sufficient size to contain a dwelling. Information regarding the SCAR process is available online from the New York State Unified Court System atcourts.state.ny.us.

Bob Scott, chairman of the Southold Town Board of Assessors, said there are two basic types of assessment ratings used to determine market value.

An equalization rate is an overall interpretation of market values with an emphasis on commercial properties, he said. The town also employs a residential assessment ratio (RAR), created by the state real property tax services office, which basically applies to one-, two- or three-family dwellings.

Mr. Scott admitted that property assessment ratings and filings are confusing at best. He said his office is always open to the community and that town assessors are there to help, not hinder, homeowners in filing a grievance free of charge.

“Last week, I helped a woman get a major reduction and she said, ‘That’s great! What’s the split?’” Mr. Scott recalled with a chuckle. The woman thought she had to pay a part of her tax savings to the assessor.

“There’s no split, I told her. We work for you,” Mr. Scott said.

According to Mason Haas, a member of Riverhead’s Board of Assessors, a number of factors can affect a residential property’s market value, including external characteristics such as “curb appeal,” home condition, lot size, popularity of an architectural style, availability of water or sewage systems and sidewalks.

Also taken into consideration are internal characteristics, such as the number of rooms and their sizes, as well as construction quality, condition of appliances, type of heating and energy efficiency.
Other factors that do not reflect the property’s assessed value can affect sales price, said Mr. Haas.

A buyer or seller could face unexpected pressure to accept a price they might not otherwise have agreed to. In some cases, homes are bought and sold quickly because of factors such as career relocation, a death in the family, divorce or foreclosure.

“Say you’re in a neighborhood where there are all $500,000 homes,” Ms. Haas said. “But the guy a couple of houses down from you sells his house for $300,000, and now you come in here saying my house isn’t worth $500,000, it’s worth $300,000 because that’s what I paid for it. But what you don’t realize is that the guy two houses down was going into foreclosure and sold the house before he got foreclosed on, so it’s not a fair comparison.”

Before pursuing formal review of a home assessment, homeowners must establish evidence that they have been assessed unfairly, noted Riverhead Town Tax Assessor Laverne Tennenberg. That involves finding out the assessor’s market value estimate. Market value is generally defined as the price a willing buyer would pay a willing seller for a property in its present condition.

“People’s tax bills every year show what their new market value is,” Ms. Tennenberg said. With market values dropping in recent years, “that’s reflected on everybody’s tax bill,” she added.

The Town of Riverhead has not undertaken a townwide reassessment since 1980. As a result it applies fluctuations in the market to all properties.

“In an up market, the assessments will be higher. In a down market, the assessments will be lower,” Ms. Tennenberg said.
She noted that some people are confused by the difference between an assessment and a tax bill. They might complain that a neighbor with a similar property pays a lower bill. “That’s because there are exemptions, which skew the taxes,” she said. “So there’s no comparison between a senior with limited income getting 50 percent off plus enhanced School Tax Relief program plus her husband’s veteran exemptions, and someone with basic STAR and no exemptions living in the same neighborhood.”
Ms. Tennenberg noted that, when assessments go down from one year to the next, tax rates have to go up to raise an equal sum for the town, school, county and any other taxing district’s annual budget.

“For example, the Riverhead School District needed to raise $82 million this year, which is up from $80 million last year,” she explained. “So if your assessed value goes down, the tax rate has to go up to raise the same amount of money or more money.”
Theoretically, if assessment falls and the tax rate rises proportionately, and the taxing district keeps its budget unchanged from one year to the next, the bottom line on any tax bill will not change.

01/04/11 3:12pm

JENNETT MERIDEN RUSSELL PHOTO| Riverhead Polish Hall bartender Ed Jeneski, 85, and Polish Hall President Ziggy Wilinski, 64, remember the history of the local catering hall.

For more than a century, the Riverhead Polish Hall has been the community cornerstone of Riverhead’s Polish Town. The hall was built soon after Polish immigrants settled in Riverhead at the turn of the 20th century, according to Polish Hall president Ziggy Wilinski.

Having come from farming communities in Poland, the immigrants found they shared a love of the land as well as a past of religious persecution, which developed after Poland was divided among Russia, Prussia and Austria, he said.

Small clapboard houses began springing up, forming Polish Town, which now comprises an area of approximately 15 blocks of residential, commercial and industrial properties.

Mr. Wilinski explained that twenty men, mostly farmers, joined together and pledged themselves into a Polish fraternity, “Towarzystwo Polskie Rzymsko – Katolickie Bratnies Pomocy pod Opieka Sw. Izydora, Patrona Rolnikow,” the Polish Roman Catholic Society of Fraternal Assistance under the Patronage of St. Isidore, The Patron of Farmers.

“They built a church of wood with twin spires with their own hard-earned pennies, most only making $10 a month,” Mr. Wilinski noted. St. Isidore’s was the first Polish Roman Catholic church built on Long Island.

The parish became the spiritual heart of the little community, but parishioners still desired a place to celebrate weddings, anniversaries or just meet friends. They scraped together more of their pennies and built the Riverhead Polish Hall the same year, according to Mr. Wilinski.

“It was originally called the Riverhead Polish Independent Club and the hall was available only to members only,” he said. “Then in 1977 we opened our doors to the general public.”

First organized on April 13, 1903, and incorporated on October 21, 1907, the original small wooden hall thrived until 1928, when a fire claimed the building, according to Riverhead resident Ed Jeneski, who works as a bartender at the hall. Mr. Jeneski said that he does not know how the fire started, but pointed out that St. Isidore parishioners wasted no time in constructing a new hall across the street from where the demolished hall once sat.

“The new hall was up by the next year,” Mr. Jeneski said.

Serving family-style Polish-American food, the catering facility is staffed almost entirely by Polish-Americans. The hall is considered the social capital of Polish Town, according to Mr. Wilinski.

“I even got married here in 1972,” said the father of two. “We had, if I’m not mistaken, 350 people. It was wall-to-wall chairs and when the band started we had to take some tables out so people could dance. It was a memorable wedding for me, anyway.”

Located directly across from St. Isidore’s Church on Pulaski Street, the hall has seen its share of wedding receptions, christenings, baby showers, wedding anniversaries, political debates and even a few funerals.

The hall’s Golden Ballroom holds up to 330 people, and the Garden Room holds up to 75. Host to many pancake breakfasts for local churches and charitable organizations, the hall was also chosen for Suffolk County’s centennial celebration in 1986. The hall is also a safe house for children in the event of an emergency at the Pulaski Street School.

The four-lane bowling alley downstairs is the first organized in Suffolk County. It is open to the public seven days a week from 11 a.m. to midnight with men’s and women’s leagues competing Monday through Friday. While most events at the hall are catered, on the last Thursday of every month except December, the Polish Hall offers a monthly steak night to the general public.

“It used to be $4.50 for the meal and all the drinks you could have,” Mr. Jeneski remembered. “But they used to hide the bottles under the table, because when the bottle was empty we’d give them another one, so we finally put the squash on the free booze.”

At one time the large catering room was used for basketball games and hosted a few boxing matches, according to Mr. Wilinski.

“At one time I understand that Joe Louis boxed here,” he said. “Even Hillary Clinton passed through here, so this hall has a lot of history.”

01/04/11 1:58pm

JENNETT MERIDAN RUSSELL PHOTO | Modular homes are now built in such a way the naked eye couldn't tell the difference.

It was nine years ago that businessman Roy Dower decided to fix up an ailing house on his family’s waterfront property in Flanders.

He wanted to restore it for his aging mother, Edna.

But wrangling with Southampton Town over building permits proved to be more than the East Williston resident could handle. He instead decided to build a new home. Six years into the effort of designing the house — and more dealings with Southampton Town — his mother passed away at 84.

Although saddened, Mr. Dower decided to continue his efforts to make his mother’s dream home a reality. The stately two-story house, which sits at the end of Pine Avenue in Flanders, features breathtaking views of the Peconic Bay and surrounding inlets from every room in the house. The fact that it’s a modular house, assembled after being prefabricated in Pennsylvania, makes it a unique piece of East End real estate.

Sitting atop thick wooden pylons to avoid problems with potential flooding, it boasts a laundry room, walk-in closets and a master suite complete with balcony and master bathroom. Mr. Dower said he would like to live in the 2,100-square-foot home, which also features three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and is heavily insulated, but the memory of his late mother is causing him to have many mixed emotions.

He has decided to put the house, which appeared in these same Real Estate pages when it was under construction, up for sale at $1.1 million.

“I’d love to use it myself,” Mr. Dower said solemnly, but decided under the circumstances to sell the house, making an opportunity for someone else “to have an amazing place.”

After deciding to go modular, Mr. Dower, who summers in Baiting Hollow, engaged Riverhead engineer Jeffrey Butler, then sent the design plans to Simplex Homes, a modular home builder in Scranton, Pa. This past August, four prefabricated components were trucked in from Simplex.

Setting these major elements in place by a crane took only one day.

The exterior siding, granite countertops and other fixtures were then installed on-site. Mr. Dower said that off-site building offered a host of benefits — including sturdier construction, faster installation, easier climate control and what might be the most attractive factor of all, lower prices.

The house is produced in components, Mr. Dower said, “and then they put the components together on the property and then you add what you want. It’s cheaper to build and it’s much faster.”

Coldwell Banker/Trading Places Realtor Lorraine Miller is currently managing the sale of the property. She pointed out that the house features a great room with a dining area and a gourmet kitchen, plus numerous large windows that offer spectacular views.

“There is a water view from every single window in this house, which I find utterly amazing,” Ms. Miller said. “You get so drawn in here and are so captivated by everything around you.”

As for the taxes, Ms. Miller quipped that anyone who has to ask likely can’t afford the home to begin with. However, Riverhead property taxes estimated for the house are just over $8,000 a year.

However, Ms. Miller pointed out that the property sits on a half-acre peninsula, and “it’s so tranquil and beautiful and you have the wildlife all around you. It’s the kind of place where you just want to sit in a chair and not move for the rest of the day.”

12/28/10 8:01am

JENNETT MERIDEN RUSSELL PHOTO | Mary Langhorn of Riverhead at a ceremony on Monday dedicating the Riverhead Post Office in honor of her son, Private First Class Garfield M. Langhorn, a Medal of Honor recipient. The portrait of him is by artist Gerald Slater of New York City will hang in the Riverhead Post Office.

When an enemy hand grenade landed in the middle of his platoon, U.S. Army Private First Class Garfield M. Langhorn did not hesitate: The young man threw himself on the explosive device and sacrificed his own life to protect the lives of his fellow infantryman.

That heroic incident occurred more than four decades ago, and yet the quiet young man from Riverhead who gave up his life during the Vietnam War remains a legend among locals.

Some 500 people, including dignitaries, relatives, veterans and inspired residents, attended a September ceremony dedicating the Riverhead post office in honor of Pfc. Langhorn, a Medal of Honor recipient. The 20-year-old Riverhead native was killed in Vietnam in 1969.

Vietnam veteran Bob Elrose, who was at the event, called Pfc. Langhorn “the greatest hero to ever come out of Riverhead.” Gerald Slater of New York City painted a portrait of the young hero that now hangs in the post office. And Congressman Tim Bishop presented Pfc. Langhorn’s mother, Mary Langhorn, 86, of Riverhead, with a copy of the legislation bearing the signature of President Obama, as well as the pen Mr. Obama used to sign the legislation.

Pfc. Langhorn, who loved working on his car, playing guitar and being a part of his church, was remembered by many as a good Christian who regularly read the Bible and had a heart of gold.

According to a witness account, Pfc. Langhorn was standing between his platoon leader and wounded soldiers during an attack. Suddenly a ripping sound came out of the woods and a hand grenade landed next to him and the wounded.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Pfc. Langhorn threw his body onto the live explosive.

He was killed instantly.

Outside the post office, Ms. Langhorn said her son had not wanted to go to Vietnam but dutifully went into battle.
“If he were here, he would say, ‘I did what I had to do,’ ” she said.

12/21/10 12:44pm

An artist's rendering of the Hyatt Place which is under construction next to Atlantis Marine World on East Main Street in Riverhead.

Work on the $21 million Atlantis Marine World’s Hyatt Place hotel on Riverhead’s East Main Street is moving along as planned.

Atlantis Marine World general manager Bryan DeLuca said the 100-room hotel should be ready to open by the beginning of July.

Mr. DeLuca said Monday that work on the fourth floor of the five-story building began this week. “The fourth floor decking will be put up and then the blocks for the fifth floor will go up,” he said. “So, we’re making great progress.”

In addition to the hotel, the project will include a new exhibit area and a 350-seat banquet hall that will allow catered events to be held while the aquarium is open.

Steel framing for these two areas was installed Monday, according to Mr. DeLuca, who noted that between 75 and 100 construction workers are on the job at the site on any given day. He credited Petrocelli Construction Inc. of Ronkonkoma for keeping the project on time and on budget.

“Petrocelli Construction is a serious building organization,” Mr. DeLuca said. “We’re on a very tight schedule and everybody is working really well and everything is very efficient, timingwise.”

The new exhibit space will feature natural-history-related displays, which will change every one to two years. Among those being considered are “BODIES,” currently at South Street Seaport, an exhibit on butterflies and one on dinosaurs.

Currently, the aquarium considers its market to be only Suffolk and Nassau counties because people from New York City aren’t likely to come out for a one-day trip — and most area hotels get booked at peak tourist times, said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.

The supervisor said the new hotel will be a vibrant attraction for Riverhead. For example, several new restaurants have been created or are in the works for downtown, he noted.

“This [project] is fantastic!” Mr. Walter added, noting that plans to build a 14-screen movie theater downtown and to remodel and convert the old Suffolk Theatre on Main Street into a live performance venue are also in the works. “What we’re going to have is an entertainment district downtown, where you’re going to go to dinner and a movie or dinner and a show, maybe stay at the hotel and go to Atlantis, so I think this hotel is just another very, very positive thing that supplements [what] we’re trying to create downtown.”

Mr. Walter noted that downtown Main Street has not lost any businesses in the last year and has gained roughly four new ones, including two restaurants.

“It’s a terrible thing to measure your success in 2010 by what hasn’t closed,” Mr. Walter said. “But, we’ve been very fortunate — to my knowledge — other than the one bar we wanted closed, which was Casa Rica, we haven’t lost any businesses on Main Street and that’s a good thing.”

Atlantis first received a 100 percent property tax abatement 10 years ago as an inducement to build in downtown Riverhead. That exemption expired in 2009, but in December of that year, the Industrial Development Agency extended the abatement another decade for the aquarium and granted an additional 10-year 100 percent property tax abatement for the new hotel.

The abatements apply only to town, school, county and fire district taxes and only to improvements that have been made to the property.

Atlantis still pays taxes to the sewer, parking, lighting, ambulance and business improvement taxing districts. Its 2009 tax bill came to $125,895, according to town records. Without the IDA exemption, the full tax bill for the aquarium would have been $502,594, said tax receiver Maryann Heilbrunn.

Atlantis also makes a payment in lieu of taxes to the town based on the value of the property before the hotel project was started. That payment, around $30,000 per year, gets distributed to the town, county and Riverhead Central School District, town officials said.