08/08/14 10:00am
08/08/2014 10:00 AM
An application by the Department of Environmental Conservation for a four-car parking lot at the end of Beach Way, a private road in Baiting Hollow, has prompted nearby homeowners to sue the state agency. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

An application by the Department of Environmental Conservation for a four-car parking lot at the end of Beach Way, a private road in Baiting Hollow, has prompted nearby homeowners to sue the state agency. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

In a town awash with thousands of parking spaces, an application for another four might not seem like that big of a deal.

But tucked away on the far side of a private road in Baiting Hollow, abutting land the New York State Department of State has labeled “irreplaceable,” four parking spaces the state Department of Environmental Conservation permitted itself last year are creating quite a stir.

A group of Baiting Hollow homeowners have taken the DEC to court over the proposed spaces, claiming the state regulatory authority went out of bounds in granting itself a tidal wetlands permit for the spots “in secret — free from any public awareness and scrutiny,” according to court filings.

“If I wanted to build on that DEC piece of property, they would make me go through a full environmental review of the impacts,” said Frank Isler, the Riverhead attorney representing the Baiting Hollow Beach Association. “It’s surprising to us that they didn’t do that themselves. And our argument is that they can’t benefit from mishandling a procedure incorrectly.”

Last summer, the DEC filed for — and approved — four parking spaces in a .2-acre lot at the west end of Beach Way, a private road at the end of Edwards Avenue overlooking the Long Island Sound. The application calls for the removal of approximately 100 cubic yards of sand to be replaced with pervious material to facilitate car use. In addition, it proposes removing an existing gate on the site and installing guard rails along the perimeter of the parking area.

The .2-acre site abuts a larger, 81-acre parcel also owned by the DEC — land the agency says it wants to open to the public. In 2005, those lands, called the Baiting Hollow Wetlands and Beach, were added to a list of “significant coastal fish and wildlife habitats” by New York State’s Department of State.

“Any activity that would disturb or eliminate marsh, natural beach, and duneland plant communities would result in a loss of valuable wildlife species,” the designation states. The 81-acre property — one of about 250 such areas statewide — is considered “an important nesting site” for the endangered piping plover and the threatened least tern, according to the DOS.

But members of the Baiting Hollow Beach Association argue that the DEC’s application ignored that designation. And because the application was deemed to have a minor impact on the environment, notification otherwise required was not given, and neighbors were unaware of the permit until weeks after it was filed. One homeowner, Roger Schilling, said he heard about the permit in passing as he tried to obtain repair permits for his own property.

But by then, it was too late to challenge the DEC’s permit, as a 30-day window had already passed by the time homeowners filed suit.

“As soon as we heard about it, we brought [the legal challenge,]” Mr. Isler said.

Mr. Schilling said the project would require some “major dune bulldozing” to clear land for the parking spaces.

“Part of that dune is what saves the back row of houses [on Beach Way] from flooding,” he said. “That’s why this is one of the things that infuriates us, by calling it a minor project. It’s a major project.”

07/06/14 8:00am
07/06/2014 8:00 AM
Thelma Stanza has been busy alphabetizing the books inside the tiny Baiting Hollow Library. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Thelma Stanza has been busy alphabetizing the books inside the tiny Baiting Hollow Library. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

The walkway to Baiting Hollow Free Library connects directly with Warner Drive: no parking lot, no parking spots. The 110-year-old library still requires patrons to complete sign-out sheets for books, instead of using its single public-access computer, and opens its doors just two days a week for six hours a day.

And new librarian Thelma Stanza of Calverton plans on keeping that old-time charm.  (more…)

01/31/14 9:00am
01/31/2014 9:00 AM
KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | A hummingbird at the Baiting Hollow sanctuary in August of 2012.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | A hummingbird at the Baiting Hollow sanctuary in August of 2012.

Fans of the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary are flying to the side of the scenic Sound Avenue location, as an online petition surfaced this week asking the town to withdraw a notice of violation issued against the sanctuary, which faces a civil lawsuit from neighbors seeking $3 million and calling for its closure. (more…)

01/17/14 10:00am
01/17/2014 10:00 AM
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio.

The tax bill on Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio’s Baiting Hollow home increased by 43 percent for 2014 — amounting to a $5,200 increase due in part to a $2,300 payment owed on a previously untaxed finished basement and second-floor addition. The bill bump comes months after a contentious Republican primary for her council seat, during which news surfaced that the home improvements lacked proper town approvals.

The $2,300 represented an increased assessment for the current and prior tax years, based on those improvements, which is all the town can collect from Ms. Giglio and her husband, Mike, said Riverhead Assessor Laverne Tennenberg.

Even though the improvements, a second-story addition to the house and a finished basement, went unassessed for several years, the town by law can only go back one year in recouping unpaid taxes. Nevertheless, Ms. Giglio said, she and her husband will voluntarily pay the rest of the back taxes owed on those improvements, a figure Ms. Tennenberg estimated at about $15,000.

It was revealed during last year’s primary that the Giglios had failed to pay taxes on additions to the property dating back several years. However, because the town is only legally allowed to collect back taxes a year after they were due, the rest will come in the form of a donated gift to the town.

“Under the law, she has no obligation to pay that,” Ms. Tennenberg said. “We can only legally go back one year, on anybody.”

But Ms. Giglio says the couple will begin making gifts this year, spreading the payments over several years once the amount owed is pinned down. She said, however, that she believes the total will be lower than $15,000.

“I believe elected officials should be held to a higher standard,” Ms. Giglio said in an interview Tuesday.

The additions to the home, and the fact that Ms. Giglio hadn’t received certificates of occupancy for them or paid property tax on them, came to light last summer during the town election campaign, in which Ms. Giglio ran in both a Republican primary and in the general election to retain her council seat. GOP primary candidate Anthony Coates — who ultimately finished third in a field of three candidates — had called for her resignation at the time.

“That was stuff we hadn’t picked up,” Ms. Tennenberg said of the oversights.

The additions were never figured into the Giglios’ assessment but that fact didn’t come to light until after March 1, which is the cutoff date for determining what property improvements will be assessed. The assessors then had to petition the town’s Board of Assessment Review in September to add those items to the Giglios’ assessment, Mr. Tennenberg said.

Normally, it’s the property owners, not town assessors, who appear before the Board of Assessment Review, which is independent of the assessors. But the assessors have the option to appear, Ms. Tennenberg said. Ms. Giglio could have challenged the additional assessment at that hearing, but chose not to.

Board of Assessment Review hearings usually deal with homeowners trying to lower tax bills.

The Giglios’ exact property bill for 2014 is $17,222, up from $12,051 in 2013. They are being made to pay back $2,317, which represents taxes from the previous year. New assessments are typically triggered by building permits. The finished basement, completed around 2009, was permitted in 2013 and the second-story addition first received a building permit in 2009, records show.

An in-ground swimming pool that first received a building permit in 1999 but didn’t get a certificate of occupancy until 2013 was already being assessed, Ms. Tennenberg said.

The assessment on the Giglios’ home increased from $77,200 to $91,500, an increase of 18.5 percent. The town assesses property at about 15 percent of market value, and the property’s market value increased from $505,556 to $572,591 as a result of the improvements, records show.

The assessor said it’s common for people to avoid being assessed on improvements made to their homes, and it’s very rare that anyone voluntarily agrees to pay back taxes once they don’t have to.

Ms. Giglio said she was unsure if the Town Board would have to pass a resolution to accept the gifts.

“Nobody else in my 26-year history has ever paid back voluntarily any taxes they didn’t have to,” Ms. Tennenberg said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

01/06/14 11:05am
01/06/2014 11:05 AM
RFD COURTESY PHOTO

RFD COURTESY PHOTO

Riverhead firefighters doused a truck fire Monday morning in Baiting Hollow that charred a Dodge pickup.

Volunteers responded around 10 a.m. to Fox Hill Village, near Giorgio’s restaurant, to a fully involved pickup. About 40 firefighters came to the scene of the fire, which luckily was not inside a garage but rather in a driveway.

“It was easy to contain, but difficult to put out because of the fuel,” said first assistant fire chief Kevin Brooks.

Riverhead fire marshals are investigating how the fire started.

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | A Dodge pickup was engulfed in flames Monday morning.

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | A Dodge pickup was engulfed in flames Monday morning.

11/25/13 6:52pm
11/25/2013 6:52 PM
RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Sheriffs and Riverhead Police on scene on Sound Avenue Monday afternoon.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Sheriffs and Riverhead Police on scene Monday afternoon.

Coming on the heels of a string of burglary reports in the Baiting Hollow area, two men have been taken into police custody in connection to stealing copper from a home under construction in the area on Monday.

Chief Michael Sharkey of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department said a deputy sheriff was flagged down Monday afternoon by a passerby reporting a burglary in progress at a vacant home under construction.

Town police also responded to the scene near Edwards and Sound avenues about 1 p.m.

The two suspects were later brought into custody, however the identities of the men have not been released.

Mr. Sharkey said deputy sheriffs were working with Riverhead Town police officers to determine what specific charges would be brought against the men, as the departments were working to see if the two have been involved in recent, possibly related burglary cases.

Several burglaries had been reported in the past week or so in the area.

During that time, six Baiting Hollow residents reported incidents of stolen copper piping, according to reports, while one more reported the theft of three flat-screen TVs and other items.

And sometime between last Sunday and Monday over 100 feet of copper wire was removed from underneath a Beach Hill Drive cottage, police said. The resident reported the wire stolen about 9:50 a.m. last Monday, according to a report. It was valued at $400.

Police also received reports of stolen copper piping from another Beach Hill Drive home and a Woodcliff Trail home last Wednesday, from residents of both Neptune Place and Surf Way on Sunday, and from another Beach Hill Drive resident on Monday, according to reports.

Police are conducting extra patrols in the area, authorities said.

According to Riverhead Lt. David Lessard, no arrests had been made in the other burglaries.

jpinciaro@timesreview.com