11/24/13 12:00pm
11/24/2013 12:00 PM
BILL PETERS PHOTO

BILL PETERS PHOTO

Five months ago, Penny was found stranded on the beach near the Sands Beach Club in Atlantic Beach, not even a week old with her mother nowhere in sight.

But on Saturday, the young seal pup returned home.

The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation released the now 6-month-old rescued seal off Iron Pier beach as a crowd gathered to see her off. The foundation had nursed the seal, which was still dependent on its mother at the time of its rescue.

As a pup, Penny still needed the nutrients and high fat content that she would normally get from her mother’s milk. Penny was tube fed a special milk replacement formula that helped her gain weight.

The seal can now eat fish on its own and has grown to be a strong enough seal pup to be released, according to the Riverhead Foundation website.

psquire@timesreview.com

10/10/13 12:00pm
10/10/2013 12:00 PM
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.

Four years after Riverhead Town took the owners of a Jamesport gas station to court over its illuminated sign, the business owners are in the process of taking a new approach to try and settle the score. Though a Thursday night meeting will determine when exactly the next step will be.

Back in 2009, the town took the owners of the Valero gas station on Main Road and South Jamesport Avenue to court over an electronic sign showing gas prices.

Town officials said at the time that internally illuminated signs are not permitted under town code in the Village Center zone, where the gas station is located, and claimed the sign was erected illegally.

Now, four years later, the sign is still there and that case is still pending in state Supreme Court.

Related Op-Ed: FOILs on Valero case kept in the dark

But now, the owners of the gas station are trying a different approach, and have applied to the town Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance to allow them to replace the illuminated sign with an LED illuminated sign at the same location. The applicant, 801F Realty Corp, is seeking the change under a section of the Town Code that allows a use that doesn’t conform to zoning to be changed to another nonconforming use by the ZBA. They also are requesting a variance to allow a shed on the property to be less than the required 10 feet from the side yard property line.

While the application is scheduled for a hearing on Thursday night’s meeting, which starts at 7 p.m., the applicant has already requested that the hearing be moved to the Nov. 14 ZBA meeting, which is two meetings away.

That adjournment, if granted, would also assure that the application to legalize the use is still pending before 801F Realty’s next scheduled court appearance in the lawsuit brought by the town. That court date is scheduled for Nov. 13 before state Supreme Court Judge Jeffrey Spinner.

Kenneth Robinson, an attorney for the applicant, said in a letter to the town that the reason they requested the adjournment to Nov. 14 is because the principal of 801F Realty Corp, Eugene Buccellato, died two weeks ago and the company is in a transition process. Mr. Buccellato was responsible for the Jamesport location and was the one who signed the ZBA application on 801F Realty Corp’s behalf, Mr. Robinson wrote.

In addition, he said the person who prepared the plans for the application, Michael Papsidero, will not be available on Oct. 10.

Bill Duffy, the assistant town attorney who handles planning issues, said Monday that he has instructed the planning department not to automatically grant the adjournment, and to allow the ZBA members to discuss it and make a decision on the request at Thursday’s meeting.

09/30/13 8:00am
09/30/2013 8:00 AM
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.

09/22/13 5:30pm
09/22/2013 5:30 PM
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter is flanked by Jeff and Christine McKay is celebrating the opening of their new venture, Vines & Hops, in downtown Riverhead Sunday.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter is flanked by Jeff and Christine McKay is celebrating the opening of their new venture, Vines & Hops, in downtown Riverhead Sunday.

A new business opened up in downtown Riverhead this weekend.

Vines & Hops is a collaboration between a married couple — a strength and conditioning coach and a physical therapist — who are changing course to sell wine, beer, coffee and Artisan foods.

Jeff McKay of Jamesport is the strength and conditioning coach and massage therapist, and his wife, Christine, is the physical therapist.

“I just didn’t want to do it anymore,” Jeff said in explaining his new venture. “I’ve been doing it for 30 years and I just said, ‘You know what? I’m done.’ So I basically just reinvented myself. People were saying ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this.’”

They are.

The McKays hosted a ribbon cutting at the newly opened Vines & Hops, which is located in a storefront on Main Street across from the former Woolworth building.

“We started this whole process back in the spring,” Jeff said. “I think it was in March, we had looked around at a couple of places in Jamesport, and they fell through, which we’re kind of happy about now. Then one day, I told my wife I was going to call around and see what’s available on Main Street. I had gotten in touch with Ike Israel of Richmond Realty and when he told me what they wanted for this, I almost fell off the couch. Back in the 90s, this storefront would have been triple what we’re paying now.”

The McKays quickly went about working on the lease and getting a liquor license. Given the choice of taking their time and opening in the middle of winter or rushing to open at the end of summer, the McKays chose now.

“We’re looking to have entertainment after the Holidays,” Mr. McKay said. “Just an acoustic guitar on weekends. And next year, since the drive-through next door is part of this property, we are looking to do an outdoor beer garden, which will also have wine. And the whole brick facade is going to be a continuous waterfall.”

Vines & Hops has two large-screen televisions on the wall, wi-fi available for computer users and a number of couches for patrons to sit on.

The menu has buttermilk dough slider rolls from Goodale Farms in Aquebogue, filled with flank steak or Buffalo chicken;  empanadas with spinach- and goat cheese-filled pocket crusts and other Artisan small plate and dessert bar menu items.

And they have locally made craft beers and wines from the likes of Long Ireland, which is based in Riverhead, Southampton Public House, Pindar, based in Peconic and others. They also sell various specialty coffees and teas, such as latte, cappuccino, and espresso.

Mr. McKay said he’s happy to be a part of downtown Riverhead’s renovation.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, who attended the ceremonial ribbon-cutting at the site Sunday, concurred.

“I am so happy you’re taking a chance on us, because we will do everything at our disposal to make you a success,” Mr. Walter said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

09/20/13 4:25pm
09/20/2013 4:25 PM
RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | The site of a car crash Friday afternoon in Jamesport.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | The site of a car crash Friday afternoon in Jamesport.

Four people were sent to the hospital after a four-door sedan crashed into a telephone pole shortly after 3 p.m. in Jamesport.

According to Riverhead police, the car was heading eastbound, just east of Jamesport Vineyards, when it veered off the road and into the pole.

Police are still investigating the cause of the crash, which shut down Main Road for close to an hour while traffic was diverted around the scene.

Police said the driver and passengers of the car were sent to Peconic Bay Medical Center by Mattituck Ambulance for non-life threatening injuries.

LIPA was on scene repairing the pole, and as of 4:15 p.m., Main Road had been cleared back up.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | A car is towed away after its driver hit a telephone pole on Main Road today.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | A car is towed away after its driver hit a telephone pole on Main Road today.

07/30/13 4:37pm
07/30/2013 4:37 PM

awakening

Members from several North Fork congregations will gather in Mattituck’s Strawberry Fields August 3 for a day of music, prayer and sermons at the Great North Fork Awakening.

The free event, which starts at noon and ends at 8 p.m., is being hosted by volunteers and will consist of short sermons from various Long Island churches. Greg Gaffga, pastor of the Mattituck Presbyterian Church, will give the opening sermon.

In a press release, Monica Harbes, who owns Harbes Family Farm in Mattituck with her husband, Ed, said the event is geared toward “anyone who is interested in renewing their faith, seeking spiritual direction, or those who may have questions about beginning a relationship with God.” Ms. Harbes was not immediately available for further comment.

Local Christian rock band Crossing Jordan will perform two short sets during the day and a longer set in the evening.

Food vendors will be on site, but guests are invited to bring their own picnic baskets.

ryoung@timesreview.com

07/25/13 10:00am
07/25/2013 10:00 AM

An underage Jamesport woman was arrested for driving while intoxicated Thursday morning in Mattituck, according to a Southold Town police press release.

Yvonne McKay, 20, was pulled over on Route 25 in Mattituck a little after midnight for failing to maintain her lane, police said. Upon further investigation, Ms. McKay was found to be intoxicated, according to a report.

She was arrested for misdemeanor DWI and held at police headquarters overnight awaiting arraignment.

07/11/13 10:54am
07/11/2013 10:54 AM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Karate kids perform during the Jamesport Fire Department parade Wednesday.

The Jamesport Fire Department’s annual parade kicked off Wednesday with fire departments from across the East End marching along with bands, politicians, and farm equipment.

The fire department’s annual carnival, which started Tuesday night, runs through Saturday night.

A fireworks show will conclude the carnival Saturday night.