09/30/13 8:39pm
09/30/2013 8:39 PM
JOSEPH PINCIARO PHOTO | North Wading River Road was shut down for about two hours on Monday afternoon.

JOSEPH PINCIARO PHOTO | North Wading River Road was shut down for about two hours on Monday afternoon.

Update, 1 p.m. Tuesday: Stony Brook University hospital said the man who exited his brother’s car is in critical condition.

Original story: Police say a Wading River man was driving drunk when his brother exited his car and hit the pavement along North Wading River Road, sending him to Stony Brook University Hospital in a helicopter.

Riverhead police said they received a call shortly after 5 p.m. reporting a man in the roadway, between Sylvan Drive and Hulse Avenue.

The man was reportedly unconscious when authorities arrived. Though Wading River Fire Chief Jim Evans said a helicopter was called in to airlift the man to Stony Brook, he was reportedly breathing on his own when he was transported out.

Police arrested George Lamond on a DWI charge, though the incident remains under investigation.

It was unclear how or why Mr. Lamond’s brother exited the vehicle.

North Wading River Road was shut down for about two hours while police investigated.

 

09/30/13 5:12pm
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO  |  A model, presented in 2011, of the Knightland development planned for Wading River.

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | A model, presented in 2011, of the Knightland development planned for Wading River.

A state panel of judges upheld a ruling on Friday that will keep construction on a Wading River retail complex on hold – at least, for now.

The New York State Appellate panel ruled to allow a restraining order on building and excavation permits to stay in place while another appellate judge rules on an appeal of a lawsuit against Riverhead Town made by the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, said Dominique Mendez, president and co-founder of the local civic group.

The Knightland plan calls for 32,500 square feet of retail space and a 4,900-square-foot restaurant in a complex comprising 24 small buildings.

Knightland LLC received site plan approval from the Riverhead Planning Board in late 2011. Members of RNPC filed a lawsuit challenging that approval the following day, claiming the project didn’t comply with zoning and that the town failed to consider the cumulative impacts of the project along with other development proposals in the area.

The case was later thrown out of court after a judge ruled the group did not have the legal standing to sue the town.

The group has filed an appeal to revive the suit, arguing that they have legal standing and that their suit should be judged on its merits.

“We just think the courts should really weigh in on this and it shouldn’t just be the bulldozers that make the decision,” Ms. Mendez said.

The restraining order prevents the Town from issuing land clearing, excavation, or building permits for the site, essentially preventing the project from moving forward until a judge reaches a decision on their appeal.

“The last thing we need is more land to be cleared,” Ms. Mendez said. “It’s not so easy to put back the trees.”

Peter Danowski, who represents the owner of the Knightland property, Kenn Barra, did not immediately return a request for comment.

09/30/13 2:30pm

Andrew Olsen

Times/Review Newsgroup publisher Andrew Olsen began his yearlong term as president of the New York Press Association’s board of directors last week.

As president, Mr. Olsen said, he will continue training and guidance for publishers across New York state to “help increase their level of journalistic excellence.” He also plans along with the board to create a human resources hotline that any employee of NYPA’s 761 member newspapers will be able to call for help or guidance with a work-related issue.

“I’ve been active on the NYPA board for years and have always found that you get out of an organization what you put into it,” Mr. Olsen said. “Much of the success within my company is tied in some way to training, ideas or other resources provided by NYPA.”

Mr. Olsen, 43, became co-publisher of Times/Review Newsgroup in May 2003, when Joan and Troy Gustavson, the parents of Mr. Olsen’s wife, Sarah, retired as co-publishers. Mr. Olsen was named sole publisher in 2009 and ownership of the company was transferred to the Olsens in January. He has served on NYPA’s board of directors for about 10 years.

The Gustavsons had owned Times/Review Newsgroup, formerly known as Times/Review Newspapers, since 1977. Times/Review publishes The Suffolk Times, Riverhead News-Review, The Shelter Island Reporter, Long Island Wine Press, numerous tourism and special-interest magazines and the websites associated with those publications — including northforker.com, a lifestyle, travel and leisure blog launched in May.

“I have a strong management team here at Times/Review, which will help me actively participate in board and association responsibilities,” Mr. Olsen said. “We have a very engaged and talented board that is striving to do great things over the next year.”

NYPA executive director Michelle Rea said she’s looking forward to working with Mr. Olsen during his one-year term.

“We’re always looking for leadership that’s going to make the newspaper industry sustainable and take us to the next place that we’re going,” she said. “I think Andrew leading the helm sets a good example for newspaper publishers across the state. He’ll help guide NYPA so that we can provide the right kind of services to newspapers.”

A Cutchogue resident, Mr. Olsen is a graduate of Southold High School and the University of Richmond (Va.). Before joining Times/Review, he was a vice president at Lowe, Lintas & Partners, an advertising agency in New York City. He is a former chairman of the East Marion Fire Department and recently transferred to the Cutchogue Fire Department. He also coaches youth baseball and basketball on the North Fork. Earlier this month, he was elected to the board of directors of East End Arts in Riverhead.

According to its website, NYPA was founded in 1853 to help publishers of small newspapers meet the needs of their communities more effectively by providing better information for their readers. Its membership includes 727 weekly community newspapers, 58 dailies and 147 culturally specific newspapers.

ryoung@timesreview.com

09/30/13 1:47pm
RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Four teens were hospitalized on Monday after a car crash in Aquebogue.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Four teens were hospitalized on Monday after a car crash in Aquebogue.

Four teens driving in a Nissan Altima early this afternoon were sent to Peconic Bay Medical Center with minor injuries after the driver veered off Peconic Bay Boulevard and into the woods, flipping the car on its side.

The driver of the car, a 16-year-old male, told police he swerved off the road to avoid a deer as he was driving eastbound just east of Sunup Trail in Aquebogue.

The passengers in the car included three other males, two more 16-year-olds and one 19-year-old.

Police said one arrest was made at the scene, but declined to provide details.

The Altima rolled onto its side during the accident, which occurred about 12:45 p.m. An open black trash bag was spotted next to the car, with a couple of Heineken bottles; however, police would not comment on circumstances leading to the crash.

Police said the accident is under investigation.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Tree branches around a Nissan Altima had to be cleared on Monday to get it out of the woods.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Tree branches around a Nissan Altima had to be cleared on Monday to get it out of the woods.

09/30/13 11:58am
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Paul Thompson is due back in court on Friday after police say he stabbed his girlfriend multiple times over the weekend.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Paul Thompson being escorted into Justice Court Monday.

A Calverton Hills man who was arrested yesterday for allegedly stabbing his girlfriend at Tanger Outlets and fleeing to Mastic will face a pair of felony charges and is being held on $100,000 bail.

He’s due back in court on Friday after a county prosecutor said more charges may be forthcoming.

Paul Thompson, 24, of Wooded Way, got into a domestic dispute with his girlfriend at the Riverhead outlet center about 8 p.m. Saturday and stabbed her “multiple times,” according to assistant district Attorney Will Nash.

Mr. Nash added that after the stabbing, Mr. Thompson – who has previously been convicted of a felony and five misdemeanors – took the woman’s cell phone from her, stealing the chance for her to call authorities.

But she eventually escaped near Midway Drive in Riverhead, where she was able to get help at a nearby home, Riverhead Town police had said.

Mr. Thompson allegedly fled the scene and was captured by town police in Mastic on Sunday.

Mr. Nash requested $300,000 cash bail or $600,000 bond, noting Mr. Thompson’s “substantial contact with the criminal justice system” in the past, the fact that he may have an open warrant against him, and he reportedly has failed to appear in court on two separate occasions.

Mr. Thompson will face charges of second-degree assault, grand larceny in the fourth degree – both felonies – as well as petit larceny, criminal mischief and criminal obstruction of breathing, he said.

However he added that more charges may be forthcoming before Mr. Thompson is due back in court Friday.

Mr. Thompson’s defense attorney, Daniel Ginty, with the Legal Aid Society, asked for lesser bail, though did not specify a number, pointing out that Mr. Thompson had family in court to support him.

The family members declined to comment to a reporter outside the courtroom.

Riverhead Town Justice Richard Ehlers set bail at $100,000 cash or credit card, declining bond for Mr. Thompson.

The victim of Saturday’s incident, Mr. Nash said, suffered “significant blood loss” and eventually required surgery at Stony Brook University Hospital after she was initially transported to Peconic Bay Medical Center.

jpinciaro@timesreview.com

09/30/13 11:22am
MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO |  Supervisor Sean Walter during Monday's presentation.

MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | Supervisor Sean Walter during Monday’s presentation.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter pitched a 2014 budget proposal Monday that would increase the town tax levy — the total amount of money collected from taxpayers — by 2.5 percent and see spending rise by 3 percent.

The town’s tax increase would come in under the state’s mandated 2 percent cap on year-to-year tax levy increases, Mr. Walter said, since some expenses are exempt from the law.

The budget proposal borrows $3.5 million from the town’s fund balance, leaving a balance of a little over $3 million. The town has also created a separate revenue stream from the $2 million it received from leasing town space in Calverton to a car auction company following superstorm Sandy. That money is being parceled out at $550,000 a year for four years, starting in Mr. Walter’s tentative town budget for 2014.

Mr. Walter emphasized that the town, while still needing to use surplus money, is “headed in the right direction.

“It took a long time to steer this ship around through some treacherous waters here but things are looking up,” he said during Monday’s public slide show presentation in Town Hall.

The combination of cutting government expenses, refinancing debt and refraining from taking on much more debt has kept the town from completely raiding its reserves, he said, pointing to a chart showing that before he took office in January 2010, the town was trending in a direction that would have completely depleted the fund balance.

“Had we not done the things we did this town would be facing a 20 percent tax increase for this year,” he said.

The town has been using the fund balance, or surplus funds, to offset tax increases for at least a decade, with much of those surpluses coming from land sales or contracts for land sales at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

Since 2010, the town has appropriated fund balance amounts of $4.7 million in 2010, $2.6 million in 2011, $2.6 million in 2012 and $3.08 million in 2013 toward reducing the tax rate.

The reason for the additional use of surplus funds for 2014 stems from a state comptroller’s audit in March that faulted the way the town used administrative charge-backs from other departments to fund its general fund. Because of accounting changes in response to the audit, the general fund is just under $1 million short in revenue, according to Mr. Walter.

And, he noted, debt to pay off the town’s landfill reclamation and capping project comes in at about $4 million for next year.

“I don’t want to keep beating the landfill debt drum but the residents have to understand why we’re tapping the general fund balance the way we are,” he said, noting the landfill debt doesn’t drop significantly until 2023, when it falls to about $1 million annually.

In the meantime, Mr. Walter said, to bring in more revenue the town should be able to start selling land at EPCAL, which would help restock the reserves in time for the 2015 budget and in the years ahead until the landfill debt drops.

The town is currently seeking to subdivide and sell some 600 acres at EPCAL, the site of a former naval weapons plant facility.

But what if the land isn’t ready for sale next year?

“Do I have a contingency plan? Absolutely,” Mr. Walter later told a reporter, explaining that the town, if needed, could borrow money at low rates using EPCAL property as collateral.

“Would I wallop the town with a 20 percent increase? Not if I can help it,” he said. “There is a Plan B. Once the EPCAL land is subdivided, we’re sitting on $60 million to $100 million worth of equity. I think we’ll be able to mortgage property at very, very favorable rates. So we would have to borrow on the land.”

He also said at the presentation that there has been great interest in the town land at the enterprise park.

“The residents are going to be pleasantly surprised at the types of businesses that want to come into EPCAL,” he said.

The tentative 2014 budget also includes money for anticipated contractual agreements with the town’s two largest employee unions, the Civil Service Employees Association and the Police Benevolent Association, both of which are in negotiations for their 2014 contracts, Mr. Walter said.

He said revenues from fees and mortgage taxes have been trending upward as well – though they still fall short of revenues realized before the recent recession.

Since Mr. Walter and the current Town Board took office in 2010, the total town spending, including special taxing districts like the Business Improvement District, ambulance district and two sewer districts, has decreased by $463,765, and is currently at $89.03 million, according to town records. The 2014 proposal would total spending to $91.9 million.

Also since 2010, the so-called town-wide budget — which includes general fund, highway and street lighting, the three districts every property owner in town pays into — has increased by 4.6 percent and is currently at $53.06 million, according to town records. Due in part to declines in revenue, the town-wide tax rate has increased by 9.9 percent during that period, Mr. Walter said. The town-wide budget comes in at $54.5 million in the supervisor’s tentative 2014 budget, a 3.02 percent increase.

Under Mr. Walter’s proposal, the owner of a house worth about $350,000 would see about a $60 tax increase due to spending increases in the general fund, which includes police services; highway; and lighting districts, according to officials.

Proposed spending in the town’s general fund alone comes in at $46.3 million in the tentative budget.

The supervisor’s full budget proposal was made available online and at Town Hall Monday afternoon. The Town Board will now consider the proposed budget and could suggest changes before a public hearing is held— though no Town Board members expressed great concern with the budget outline as it was presented.

Mr. Walter, a Republican, is running for a third two-year term this November. His Democratic rival, Angela DeVito, was at the Town Hall presentation and expressed disappointment the full budget, with department heads outlining how the budget would affect their particular town services wasn’t available for review.

She called the presentation a campaign event.

“All we got was his campaign slogan,” she said. “I’m very disappointed, to tell you the truth. Did you see a budget? I didn’t.”

mwhite@timesreview.com

09/30/13 8:00am
FILE PHOTO | Town officials have said the digital sign at the Valero station in Jamesport violates historic district codes.

FILE PHOTO | Town officials have said the digital sign at the Valero station in Jamesport violates historic district codes.

When the new bowling alley in Riverhead proposed erecting an animated billboard, it caused many people to wonder about the lit-up Valero price sign in downtown Jamesport, which similarly violates town code.

“What happened?” they asked. “I thought the town was going to make them take that down!”

Setting out to learn about town actions with regard to the Valero sign, I encountered a familiar roadblock: a FOIL request denial. I realized the town’s routine and cavalier obstruction of taxpayer requests for information is a far more important story than failure to enforce sign codes.

The opening statement of New York’s FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) statute says: “a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public, and when the public is aware of governmental actions.” It couldn’t be more plain.

Why, then, does our town government so often fail to deliver requested information?

I haven’t kept track, but probably have had more FOIL requests rejected than filled. I’ve seen massive files withheld because they’re deemed “intra-agency material,” though exempt external correspondence was included. Another typical reason/rejection response: “It’s all being discussed with counsel, and is therefore privileged.”

Baloney.

My Valero request was sent to town code enforcement and the town attorney. Code enforcement rejected it, saying deputy town attorney Bill Duffy directed them to do so because the information, “if disclosed, would interfere with law enforcement investigations or judicial proceedings.”

That’s a particularly lame excuse in this case. I contacted Mr. Duffy, but he didn’t return my calls. Because this rejection was so blatantly wrong, I thought about appealing it. I then remembered Mr. Duffy is also the town’s designated FOIL appeals officer; that battle was already lost.

Though an issue of minor consequence, this matter was so simple and straightforward that it made a great example; I contacted the Committee on Open Government (COOG), the state agency that oversees FOIL implementation. In response, the COOG assistant director made many useful observations.

Specifically on the denial of Valero information, she said: “If the agency has issued a notice of violation or a summons for violation of a zoning code, such notice would be required to be made public upon request for various reasons — one, it is likely that it is part of the public record at the courthouse; two, it would represent a final agency determination, which is required to be made public pursuant to section 87(2)(g); three, it would be difficult, if not impossible, in my opinion, for an agency to show that a record such as this if disclosed, would interfere with an investigation or judicial proceeding.”

(About the common “discussed with counsel” excuse, COOG said: “Merely because records are discussed with an attorney does not make them attorney-client privileged.”)

These are strong words, and it appears that Mr. Duffy is unequivocally wrong. If he returned my phone calls, I’d tell him so.

The point is not that secrets are being kept about the Valero sign (though they are); the point is that every day, residents are routinely and illegally blocked in their efforts to get information about the workings of this town.

It’s not always by denial. A taxpayer sought landfill records and was prepared to pay the 25¢ per page copying fee. The FOIL officer said the taxpayer must first pay $125 to have the 600-page file redacted … after which he could look at the pages, decide which he needed, and then pay copying costs. Outrageous. (Did the town charge this “redacting fee” multiple times for the same file?)

To be clear, plenty of folks working at Town Hall understand their job is to serve the public, and seem to enjoy doing so. Prompt and courteous assistance on some FOIL requests is not uncommon. The town clerk’s office, for example, is unfailingly helpful and incredibly efficient.

Yet, in some areas information is given grudgingly, and every request is treated as a nuisance. The town attorney’s office seems consistently prone to naysaying, foot-dragging, and abusive decisions. This must change.

Last year, Supervisor Walter and three council members joined town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz at a COOG forum on FOIL implementation. Was that just for show?

Back to Valero. The sign went up in 2008. In January 2009, Riverhead filed suit in state Supreme Court against the owner. Since that filing, there have been four motions, two conferences, 91 adjournments, and 0 decisions, with no activity since August 2010. (This info is from the court system website.)

Taxpayers deserve to know: 1) what actions code enforcement officers took before the lawsuit was filed; 2) whether the town sought injunctive relief to — at the very least — turn the sign off; 3) whether fines are being imposed and collected for this small-but-flagrant violation; 4) why there’s been literally no progress on this case in over three years.

The town’s position is that we’re not entitled to know any of these things, even though the state FOIL committee says that’s wrong.

Town attorneys are hired by, and take direction from, the Town Board. Voters who find this behavior troubling should remember that the incumbent supervisor and council members are extremely unlikely to fix this pervasive problem. We need representatives who will treat residents with greater respect, and who will obey the law.

Larry Simms owns a home in South Jamesport and is a principal in a firm that licenses commercial flooring technology. He is active in savemainroad.org, an advocacy group dedicated to preserving the character of the Main Road corridor and surrounding areas.

09/29/13 11:10pm
09/29/2013 11:10 PM
PAUL THOMPSON JR.

PAUL THOMPSON JR.

(UPDATE 11:10 P.M.) Riverhead Police confirmed Sunday night that Paul Thompson Jr., the man wanted for stabbing his girlfriend numerous times at Tanger Outlet Center, is in police custody. No further details were immediately available.

(UPDATE 6:30 P.M.) Riverhead police have released a wanted poster as the search continues for a man they say stabbed his girlfriend multiple times at Tanger Outlet Center Saturday night.

(ORIGINAL STORY) Riverhead police are on the hunt for a Calverton man they say stabbed his girlfriend multiple times at Tanger Outlet Center in Riverhead Saturday night.

Paul Thompson Jr., 24, of Wooded Way in the Calverton Hills community then forced the victim, whom police did not identify because she is the victim of a domestic assault, to drive him away from the scene following the assault, which occurred shortly after 8 p.m., police said. She eventually escaped from the car near Midway Drive in Riverhead, where she was able to get help at a nearby residence, and he fled on foot.

The 23-year-old victim, who lives in Shirley, was escorted by Riverhead Ambulance to Peconic Bay Medical Center, where she is being treated for her injuries, police said.

Police said Mr. Thompson, a 2007 Riverhead High School graduate with ties to the Mastic Beach area, remained at large as of 9 a.m. Anyone with information is asked to call the Riverhead Police Department at 727-4500 ext. 289.

Mr. Thompson is no stranger to the law, according to online records, having two prior motor vehicle-related arrests. He was arrested in Dec. 2012 for aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and again in Feb. 2013 for driving while intoxicated. He pleaded guilty in May and was sentenced to five months in prison and five years probation.

An order of protection was also issued against him for five years, according to the online records.

cmiller@timesreview.com