03/30/13 2:12pm
03/30/2013 2:12 PM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO |  The outside of Riverhead Honda Saturday afternoon.

A Riverhead Honda worker was sent to an area hospital Saturday afternoon after crashing a store motorcycle, Riverhead Town police said.

A man, identified as a Riverhead Honda employee, was making a right out of the Pulaski Street store at about 12:30 p.m. when he lost control of the bike, police said.

The employee was transported by Riverhead ambulance volunteers to Peconic Bay Medical Center with non-life threatening injures, police said.

03/30/13 12:33pm

JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO  |  The Dunkin’ Donuts in Shirley that three men from Riverhead allegedly robbed March 20.

Four Riverhead men have been arrested in relation to armed robberies in Mastic and Shirley in recent weeks, Suffolk County police said.

One of the men is only being charged in one of the two incidents, Suffolk County police said.

Robert Singleton, 25, Justin Braunskill, 25 and Tyrone Booker, 21, all of Riverhead, are facing first-degree armed robbery charges for a 10 p.m. holdup at a Dunkin’ Donuts on William Floyd Bypass in Shirley on Feb. 24, police said.

Those three men are also facing charges in another armed robbery that happened March 20 in Mastic, police said.

That armed robbery occurred at a Valero gas station on Montauk Highway, and all three men, along with a fourth man, identified by police as Trayrone Booker, 19, of Riverhead, are facing second-degree robbery charges for that incident, police said.

All four suspects were arrested on Montgomery Avenue in Mastic on the night of the second robbery, police said.

In the first incident, at Dunkin’ Donuts, one of suspects produced a handgun, demanded money and the group fled the area, police said.

In the second incident at the Valero, the suspects also displayed a handgun and demanded money and cigarettes, police said.

All four men were arraigned in Suffolk County District court on different dates after March 20, according to online documents.

Workers at both locations declined to comment.

It also was not clear why the three suspects were charged with first-degree robbery — a class B felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison and a five-year mandatory minimum for someone with no criminal record — in the first alleged incident, and second-degree robbery in the second case.

Second-degree robbery, a class C felony according to NYS Penal Law, carries a 15-year maximum prison sentence if convicted.

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03/30/13 12:00pm

TROY GUSTAVSON PHOTO | 8-month-old George Hazard Boardman.

This is one of those columns that’s pretty much going to write itself, I think. Sometimes I struggle to find a worthy subject (and sometimes I don’t find one), but this week there’s just one thing on my mind: the continuum of life.

That subject is unavoidable due to the confluence of two events: a long-awaited family vacation combined with the death of a family member who was our family’s last representative of the pre-Depression generation.

My wife, the former Joan Giger Walker, lost her 86-year-old stepmother on Sunday. Ann “Rusty” Walker lived a long and fruitful life. She was orphaned early in life, raised by a loving aunt and uncle and instantly became the mother of five when she married Joan’s father, a widowed doctor, at age 37.

As you might imagine, that was no easy assignment.

Rusty dropped in from outer space, so to speak, and it’s safe to say there was a period of adjustment for all concerned. But that adjustment period was a distant memory by the time of her passing, when her stepchildren opted to remove the word “step” from the obituary submitted to her former local newspaper.

Joan and I visited Rusty in her home recently, and her mind was as sharp as ever. It was her body that was failing her, and she had come to accept the reality of her condition. She knew her time was near.

And now that it’s come, we can celebrate her life with comparatively little regret. What’s more, her passing is softened by the close proximity this week, during the aforementioned family vacation, of the youngest member of our family, 8-month-old George Hazard Boardman.

Can the passing of Ann Walker really overwhelm our spirits when we look into the pure blue eyes of baby George? Speaking personally, the answer is no. George and his brother and sister and cousins, also on vacation with us this week, bring undiluted joy and hope into every day of our lives.

Yes, one generation passed from the scene this week. But it is generation next that makes us so hopeful about the future.

This week also marks the passing at age 77 of Orient resident and S.T. Preston & Son owner George Rowsom. We’ve known George since we first moved to Orient 35 years ago, and I’ll always remember him as one of the first Greenport business owners to truly accept us as the new owners of The Suffolk Times. In fact, he was a key member of an informal management group that helped advise us through those first shaky months (or was it years?) running the paper.

I’ll always remember him as a soft-spoken gentleman who was nevertheless firm in his convictions, and Joan and I extend our deepest sympathy to his wife, Andrea, and the entire Rowsom and Preston’s families.

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03/30/13 10:00am
Downtown Riverhead, Blues & Music Festival, Vail-Leavitt

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Robert Ross of NYC at the 2012 Blues Festival in June.

This year’s Riverhead Blues Festival will likely be held in September to avoid conflicting with other events, according to Bob Barta, the president of Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, which has held the event as a fundraiser since 2006.

The festival had traditionally been held in July until last year, when it was moved to June and lost $8,720, according to Vail-Leavitt officials.

“We had originally planned to have it at the end of June, but then there were all sorts of conflicting events being planned then, so we decided we were going to reschedule it, and right now, we’re looking at dates in September,” Mr. Barta said. “It will be after Labor Day, and the idea will be to try and do it at a time when there aren’t such a hugh number of events going on at the same time.”

A September festival also figures to have cooler weather, Mr. Barta said.

Last year marked the return of the Blues Festival after a one year hiatus in 2011. The Riverhead Chamber of Commerce and Business Improvement District were involved in dispute over who would run the festival in 2010.

“Last year, the big thing was that we unwittingly set ourselves up against the Strawberry Festival,” Mr. Barta said, alluding to the fact that the 2012 Blues Festival took place at the same time as the popular Mattituck festival. “That was really one of the biggest problems on our point.”

He said they are being careful to pick a date that doesn’t conflict with other popular events.

“There have always been issues with trying to not conflict with other big festivals like the Great South Bay Festival in Patchogue, which would limit certain acts from being available,” he said.

While town officials have said the Riverfront parking lot in downtown Riverhead might not be available for big events much longer once the Summerwind apartments open, Mr. Barta says Vail-Leavitt is hoping to have the Blues Festival there this year.

“We’ve been having discussions with representatives from the town about trying to have one last shot back in some version of the back parking lot,” Mr. Barta said. “We’re trying to see if that is workable. We started looking at other locations, but we have a preference for the back parking lot because it allows us to showcase the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, and it allows us to showcase the riverfront. We’d like to have it back there.”

Business Improvement District president Ray Pickersgill said the BID is hoping to hold its concerts in the Riverfront lot as well this summer, with the stage placed along the riverfront, so the audience faces the river. When Summerwind opens, the residents in the 52 apartment units will be permitted to use the riverfront lot as their parking lot.

The Town Board has a public hearing scheduled on a proposal to establish a three-hour parking limit in a section of the lot between Tweed’s and Cody’s BBQ.

Mr. Barta says Vail-Leavitt hasn’t determined exactly where in the back parking lot the festival would be located.

Mr. Barta said holding the event in September will help give them time to dig out of the financial hole.

“We’ve partly dug out already,” he said. “This coming month, we thought we were on a track to be completely dug out by the summer, but as it worked out, our bookings for April were a bit light.”

He said they’ve gotten a little more than halfway out of the hole, and they plan to hold some fundraising events to act as kickoff events for the season and to give them “a boost” as they head toward the Blues Festival.

In past years, the Blues Festival would already have been scheduled by this time, but no application has been submitted to the town for the event yet this year.

Mr. Barta says Vail-Leavitt still plans to make the festival a two-day weekend event and still plans to charge admission, although a price hasn’t been determined.

The BID originally ran the festival as a free event before facing a huge debt in 2005. Vail-Leavitt took over the event in 2006 as a fundraiser for its non-profit organization and began charging an admission fee.

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03/30/13 8:00am

The Peconic Bay Power Squadron will present “America’s Boating Course” on Wednesday, May 8, at 6 p.m. at the Riverhead Moose Lodge.

The course is among those available to comply with the new Suffolk County boater education law requiring that by October, all county residents who operate a boat in waters here carry evidence they have completed an approved boating safety course. Similar legislation is expected to be adopted by the New York State Legislature, according to a press release from the Power Squadron.

The course is also approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, the United States Coast Guard and New York State.

There are three sessions as the program continues on May 15 and 22 and  will cover boating law, safety equipment, safe boating practices, navigation, boating emergencies, personal watercraft, charts, use of GPS devices, trailering and other significant issues for boaters.

Attendees will receive a 244 page America’s Boating Course manual, a companion CD and after passing an exam, a certificate of completion. Many insurance companies offer discounts to boaters who earn these certificates.

There’s a $60 fee that covers the cost of the manual and CD. To register, call Fred Smith at 631-298-1930 or visit www.PBPS.us.

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03/29/13 5:08pm
03/29/2013 5:08 PM
News-Review Wells

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Farmer Lyle Wells at a Town Board meeting in 2011.

When the Planning Board granted site plan approval in November to the 122,000-square-foot Saber Riverhead shopping center on Route 58, Planning Board member Lyle Wells stayed out of the room for the vote.

He also didn’t participate in any prior discussions of the application.

At the time, Mr. Wells, an Aquebogue farmer, said he was advised to abstain because there was a possibility he would be selling development rights from his farm to the Saber Riverhead developer. Mr. Wells did in fact sell his development rights to Saber Riverhead in December, sending five agricultural preservation credits from the farm to the developers for $325,000. The sale means Mr. Wells’ property can no longer be used for anything other than agriculture. Purchasing those rights allows the Saber Riverhead developer to build more square footage than would normally permitted.

But at the Planning Board’s March 7 meeting, the Saber Riverhead project came up again, when the board was presented with a resolution to amend and clarify the original site plan approval.

The amendment pertained to the transfer of development rights, saying that because the TDR program was used, the developer is entitled under town code to a reduction in the number of parking spaces required — in this case from 634 to 591.

The November resolution didn’t mention this, though it did mention other changes that were allowed because of TDR.

Mr. Wells was one of only three Planning Board members in attendance on March 7, meaning that had he abstained, there would not have been enough votes to approve the measure at that meeting.

“It came up out of the blue, too, so I really didn’t have a chance to think about it,” Mr. Wells said in an interview Friday.

He said Planning Board attorney Bill Duffy and town planning director Rick Hanley were at the meeting and neither suggested he should abstain.

“In my mind, it was such a minor thing in regards to the total site plan,” Mr. Wells said. “The parking spaces had already been approved in the site plan in November; all this did was clarify why the number of parking spaces doesn’t match what the code requires.

“It was a clarification as to what had already transpired,” he said.

Had it been a vote to authorize a reduction in the number of parking spaces, rather than simply point out why it was reduced, Mr. Wells said, he would have recused himself.

Mr. Wells said that when Saber Riverhead first came before the Planning Board, he had no intention of selling his farmland development credits to them.

He said he was seeking to sell farmland development credits to make up for 2011 and 2012, which were both hurricane years in which his crops were hurt, but had originally planned to sell them to another developer, Stoneleigh Woods, w a senior citizen condo project on Middle Road.

“Saber Riverhead came along at the last minute, and they wanted to buy the five credits I had, which was exactly what they needed,” he said.

Mr. Wells and others have criticized the TDR program for lacking a central structure, meaning that farm owners often are on their own in trying to find developers who need the credits, and vice versa.

Some have said that Mr. Wells has a conflict by being on the Planning Board, where he would have knowledge about which developers are looking for farmland credits.

But Mr. Wells said that under that theory, anyone who owned land would potentially have a conflict by being on the Planning Board.

“You’d have recuse everybody in the community except people who are retired,” he said. “The Planning Board deals with land use issues, and I own land, so any land use issues may or may not affect me.”

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03/29/13 4:30pm
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Medical workers load a dirt bike crash victim into a Medevac helicopter Thursday afternoon.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Medical workers load a dirt bike crash victim into a Medevac helicopter Thursday afternoon off Elton Road in Riverhead.

A man was airlifted to an area hospital Thursday afternoon after crashing a dirt bike in woods off East Main Street in Riverhead, officials said.

The man, identified by police as James Bennett of Riverhead, crashed into a tree about 5:10 p.m. in a wooded area just west of the Millbrook Gables neighborhood, south of Route 58, said Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance chief Joseph Oliver.

A Suffolk County Police Department helicopter landed in the parking lot of True Tech Inc., adjacent to the woods, and Mr. Bennett was then transported to Stony Brook University Medical Center.

Mr. Oliver said the victim and other young men were driving vehicles in the woods at the time of the crash. No other injuries were reported.

“As of [Thursday] night he was stable,” Riverhead police Detective David Freeborn said of the victim Friday.

He added that the other people involved, believed to be at least five, fled the area after the crash, leaving Mr. Bennett there, injured.

The bike was gone as well when police arrived.

It’s not known who removed it.

“From what we can tell, they got on the bike and took off,” Det. Freeborn said. “A good Samaritan called 911; the person saw him fly off the bike.”

The decision was made to transport the man via helicopter because of the nature of his head injuries, officials said.

Reached Friday, Ms. Bennett’s mother asked only that people keep her son in their prayers.

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03/29/13 3:50pm

Aside from school aid bumps, other items in the New York State budget adopted Thursday include a “middle class” tax rebate for families with kids, a creation of a bar-type exam for prospective teachers and financial incentives for top-performing teaching.

The spending plan will also increase the state minimum wage, and provide more highway improvement funds for local towns.

The budget deal extends from last year a higher tax on top earners, which reportedly raises about $1.9 million annually.

The 2013-14 budget is the third consecutive state budget that’s been adopted before the April 1 deadline by which it’s supposed to be adopted. That hasn’t always been the case, as the state routinely missed the budget deadline for many years prior to that.

This is the first time since 1984 the state made the deadline three years in a row.

Overall, the $135 billion budget increases total state spending by under one percent, according to state documents.

“This budget agreement puts New York on track to have the third consecutive on-time, balanced, budget that holds increases in spending under 2 percent,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press release.

The adopted budget “includes direct tax relief for middle class families in the form of a $350 Family Tax Relief credit,” according to officials.

Over the next three years, each New York family with at least one dependent child and a household income between $40,000 and $300,000, will receive a “Family Tax Relief” credit in the amount of $350.  The statewide amount of these payments will be $1.23 billion over three years, beginning in 2014.

The budget extends the “middle class” personal income tax rate reductions enacted in 2011, which were due to expire in 2014. Those reductions will provide 4.4 million taxpayers with $707 million in tax relief per year, according to state officials

The new budget also calls for creation of “Bar Exam for Teachers,” officials said.

“To ensure the best and brightest are teaching our children, the State Education Department will increase the standards for teacher certification to require passage of a “bar exam,” in addition to longer, more intensive and high-quality student-teaching experience in a school setting,” Mr. Cuomo said.

The state also plans to reward “high performing teachers” under the new budget.

“To improve results and incentive high-performance, the budget implements a program that will offer $15,000 in annual stipends for four years to the most effective teachers beginning with math and science teachers,” the governor said.

A total of $11 million in incentives will be given statewide. Specifics were not available on how teacher performance will be judged.

Local municipalities on the North Fork will see an increase in Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding under the new budget, which increased that fund by $75 million statewide.

“This nearly $7 million in funding for towns and villages in the First Senatorial District will allow us to put New York back to work by repairing roads and bridges,” said state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

This is the first time since 2008 that CHIPS funding has increased.

Locally, Riverhead Town will receive $372,218 in CHIPS funding for 2013-14, an increase of 26 percent over the previous state budget allocation.

Likewise, Southold Town will get $421,071, a 28 percent increase, Southampton Town will get $842,159, a 28 percent increase, and Shelter Island Town will get $123,321, also a 28 percent increase.

Greenport Village is getting $52,902, a 24 percent increase, and the tiny Village of Dering Harbor on Shelter Island, is getting $59,891, a 27 percent increase.

The new budget also raises the minimum wage in New York State from $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour, but over three years.

“Recognizing that New York’s minimum wage is unlivable and that 19 other states have higher minimum wages than New York, the budget raises the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9.00 per hour over three years, beginning with $8.00 by the end of 2013, $8.75 by the end of 2014, and $9.00 by the end of 2015,” the governor said.

The budget also provides hiring tax credits to businesses that hire returning veterans and young people.

The credit will equal 10 percent of wages paid for hiring veterans, and 15 percent of wages if the veteran is disabled, officials said.

The budget includes a refundable tax credit for businesses that hire people under the age of 20, which officials say will save those businesses a total of $112 million over three years, statewide.

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