11/12/13 11:01am
11/12/2013 11:01 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Segulls fight for real estate space along the Peconic River Tuesday.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Segulls fight for real estate space along the Peconic River Tuesday.

The Riverhead area and much of eastern Long Island saw the season’s first dusting of snow Tuesday morning.

According to the National Weather Service, a cold front that swept through the area in the early morning hours resulted in a mix of rain and snow — and eventually just snow — falling over the region.

The snow persisted through the morning commute, from about 6 a.m., and tapered off about 10 a.m.

(Read more below.)

And while Nov. 12 might seem like an early date for snow, with the official start of winter still 40 days away, recent years have seen even earlier first snowfalls.

Nov. 8, 2011, marked a messy commute for Long Island motorists as well, with sleet and snow flurries falling over the area.

That figure was bested by an Oct. 29, 2011 nor’easter, which resulted in a significant amount of snowfall and a rare “white Halloween” two days later.

11/08/13 7:00am

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Chef Rosa Ross will hold a special cooking class at Scrimshaw in Greenport on Saturday as part of the Taste North Fork promotion.

A 2011 study completed by the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council concluded that one of three critical issues facing the region’s natural assets is “expanding infrastructure for ecotourism and tourism.”

According to that study, one hurdle in reaching the goal of using those natural assets fully is “limited public access to some notable natural areas.” Recognizing that problem, this weekend’s Taste North Fork will serve as a pilot program to identify some pros and cons of offering free shuttle bus service to the public from hamlet to hamlet, all the way from Riverhead to Orient Point.

Taste North Fork was funded as part of a $335,000 grant funneled through the Long Island Regional Development Council, and tourism businesses from wineries to bed-and-breakfasts will offer discounts. It’s often said that studies sit on the shelves long after they’re completed, so it’s nice to see the area getting funds back from Albany to inject some late-fall life into the economy.

So get out and Taste the North Fork this weekend.

Read about Taste the North Fork events on northforker.com

10/20/13 8:00am
10/20/2013 8:00 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Seven-year-old James McGrath of Islip hauls a pumpkin last Saturday at Gabrielsen’s Country Farm in Jamesport. Pumpkin-picking is one reason people flock to the North Fork in the fall, leading to plenty of traffic.

I love my commute to work. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one around here who considers it a privilege to be able to drive Sound Avenue and other scenic routes in the area during their daily commute. Driving into – or even away from – a rising sun while farmers tend their fields or passing a tractor rolling along seems to offer a sense of “away-from-it-all” peace that, for me at least, makes the daily drive pretty enjoyable.

Then comes the weekend.

JOSEPH PINCIARO

JOSEPH PINCIARO

Particularly this time of year, as most of us know, those drives — though you’re often not doing too much actual “driving,” but rather “slowly traveling” — can easily become a little less enjoyable.

Yes, it’s pumpkin-picking season. Corn maze season. Apple-picking season.

If you haven’t already, you’ll probably read plenty on Facebook or maybe hear it in the grocery store about those dreaded tourists, the people from “up west” who annually swarm the slice of heaven we’re blessed to be able to call home year-round. They’ll pay someone to harvest their crops for them (extra points for the farmer who thought that one up!), the young-uns will post some selfies on Instagram (look guys, no pavement!) and someone might even bring grandma out into the farm in an electric wheelchair (I actually saw that one last weekend).

What they’re all doing, ultimately, is clogging up all these one-horse (or five-lane) roads and getting in our way as we just try to get our hair cut or make a trip to the hardware store.

They really should just go back to where they came from and leave us all alone, right?

I honestly doubt many people out there think all tourists should leave us alone. But what do we do exactly — close the gates at the Brookhaven Town border?

I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, a place people don’t really travel to. They live there, as do their family and friends, and they have fun together and watch the Red Sox together and make plenty of beautiful memories there. And they travel short distances when they want to be somewhere different for a weekend or so. Now, I happen to live in that place I used to travel to.

So I guess I don’t really get some of the complaints about tourists. If someone’s drive is delayed 20 minutes because people are dragging their bags of pumpkins across the street and wheeling their kids down the road in their wagons, to me that means a lot of people really wanted to come to the area I live in. Which I think is pretty neat.

I do hear horror stories about the way some tourists behave. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all tourists are angels or that dealing with agritourism traffic couldn’t be improved. But let’s not let a few bad apples spoil the bunch. And we’ve all heard that saying about people in glass houses (not greenhouses), right?

I was told by Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, that from Labor Day through the end of October, agritourism will generate anywhere from 10 to 50 percent of the annual revenue that comes into the farms that I’m able to enjoy long after those families are gone, the pumpkins rotted on their doorsteps. Agriculture as a whole in Suffolk County leads the state in terms of sales dollars generated, according to a 2010 study, bringing in over $240 million. And Cornell University found in the early 2000s that over 70 percent of farm owners said their agritourist customers were repeat customers, while nearly half of the customers themselves reported spending money at those destinations on more than one occasion.

I’m not exactly sure what all those numbers mean when it comes down to a direct impact on my pocket.

But if working around really bad traffic for a few weekends — or just staying home and doing work around the house or watching college football — is part of the cost of maintaining those morning drives on Sound Avenue while most of the tourists are taking the LIRR, I’ll take it.

Joseph Pinciaro is the managing editor of The News-Review. He can be reached at jpinciaro@timesreview.com or 631-298-3200, ext. 238. Follow him on Twitter @cjpinch.

10/19/13 10:00am
10/19/2013 10:00 AM

Has anyone ever told you that you “just have to learn to say no”?

Do you feel guilty when you have to choose between participating in two benefits on the same day and wish that there were two of you so you could? Do you see the same people working at almost every charity event? When asked to help, and you really want to beg off, does “yes” or “sure” inexplicably come out of your mouth instead?

Tom Hashagen

If you have answered yes to any of the above questions, I’m afraid to tell you that you have a serious disease — yes, you are a professional volunteer. While that may seem to be a contradiction in terms, volunteers who exhibit the described symptoms have gone to the next level, and there doesn’t seem to be a cure.

By definition, a professional is someone who gets paid regularly for a service rendered. One could argue that most volunteers are “semi-pros,” in the same way that most semi-pro athletes play a sport but must supplement their income with day jobs. But the only payment volunteers get is satisfaction for a job well done, and most of them log enough annual hours to count as a part-time job at the very least, so professional volunteers it is. True, many professional volunteers are retirees, but seeing as simply maintaining the house and yard and keeping the deer out is a full time job anyway, the rating stands.

When helpmate informed me that somehow I had been left off the kitchen crew list for an event raising money for a great local cause, my throat started to close up as I ran for the phone to rectify the error.

“No!” she said, “It’s all right. They said to just show up.”

I relaxed, a little. But you know what? I didn’t show up.

Here’s what happened. Early afternoon on Sunday we decided to explore a few wineries, keeping to Route 25 so as to avoid that vortex of agritainment, Sound Avenue. We wound up at McCall’s, where it had been suggested we go to try some really good reds. In conversation with our server, we discovered that we were mutually acquainted with Tom Schaudel, a famous Long Island chef, and learned that he was busy helping at a benefit in Cutchogue.

Turns out the benefit was for another chef, Gerry Hayden of the North Fork Table and Inn, who has been diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He gets around with help nowadays, but his eyes, nose and taste buds are as good as ever.

I start twitching. On we go toward the ferry, and helpmate spies yet another chef friend chatting with someone in a west-bound parked car. “Hey,” she exclaims, “isn’t that Mike Meehan?” Yes, the same Mike Meehan of H20 in Smithtown. “He’s got to be here for that benefit,” I say, as I start to sweat.

We had already decided to stop at the famous lunch truck at the North Fork Table, and as I’m waiting for my hot dog with “all three” toppings, I see co-owner Mike Mraz and get the details. “You need to go,” helpmate says, matter-of-factly. A quick phone call to Shaudel and I’m committed. Home, I change in to my chef togs and back on the ferry I go.

Arriving at Eight Hands Farm in Cutchogue only forty-five minutes before hors d’oeuvre, I felt a little like an interloper, but that feeling evaporated as I was immediately put to work by Shaudel spooning black coconut rice into small tasting spoons, soon to be topped with a seared scallop, pumpkin relish and a delicious sauce, the ingredients of which I am not at liberty to divulge. That dish finished, I’m off to help wherever I can. I am drawn to a cutting board where a slender log of puff pastry filled with braised lamb and figs is being bias-cut for a platter. Across the tent someone is shucking Race Rock oysters. There’s duck breast being seared in a rondeau out back, next to a huge pot of simmering sauerkraut. The aroma is intoxicating.

The fire-power at this event is staggering. Restaurants and purveyors like Mirabelle, Nick and Tony’s, H20, Alure, Jewel, the Square at Greenport, Blue Canoe, Catapano’s, McCalls, Browders Birds, Blue Duck Bakery, the Riverhead Project, Town Line Barbecue and the Art of Eating have sent their chefs or representatives to be counted as helping one of their own. I spend the night moving sheetpans of duck, local kielbasa and tomato-crusted striped bass, platters of roasted beets and red cabbage, bowls of braised kale and crispy fingerling potatoes.

The crowd of 200 or better barely has room for Claudia Fleming’s Apple-Raspberry Crostada, as Gerry eloquently thanks his guests and comrades-in-food for an unforgettable evening.

Great people, great food, great cause.

At a recent “old-timers” softball game, I saw plenty of the familiar faces at the grill and doing whatever else needed to be done to help raise money for the Shelter Island Boosters. It was especially good to see two or three of the next generation of volunteers coming up, but we could use a few more. I mentioned earlier that a lot of our local volunteers are retirees and they do a tremendous work, but they won’t be around forever.

Do you have what it takes to be a volunteer, even a semi-professional one? There’s plenty of work to go around!

Mr. Hashagen, who teaches culinary arts at Eastern Suffolk BOCES in Riverhead, writes a monthly column for the Shelter Island Reporter.

10/12/13 8:00am
10/12/2013 8:00 AM

Capitol

Working in local media, it can be hard to keep up with the news beyond our coverage area. “Did you hear about ______?” my wife will sometimes ask after I get home from work. Whether it’s a natural disaster, a big splash in the sports world or something out of Washington, D.C., my response is often just, “I saw the headline. Wait. What was that about?”

JOSEPH PINCIARO

So when I started hearing more, and then some more, about what was happening in the nation’s capital Oct. 1 — the “federal government shutdown” as it was being labeled — my interest was piqued. But still, local news called. Plus, the phrase “government shutdown” struck me as indicating that the entire conflict was being a bit overplayed. Will martial law ensue? I doubt it. Back to the grind.

While I have yet to see any ships storm the coast of the North Fork, plundering our fields and rip asunder our families, it turns out this national headline has affected us here in the Times/Review newsroom a little more than I expected. Which means it’s also affected you — the reader.

Perhaps most noticeably — at least for us at the paper — Newsday broke a story Oct. 1 about a drug sting in Riverhead led by the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Unit. Reporter Paul Squire worked hard to get some original reporting of his own done as soon as we heard about it, but his hands were largely tied.

When he arrived at the federal courthouse in Central Islip on Wednesday, just two of about a dozen desks were occupied, with no criminal complaint on the case to be found. Typically inputted in the federal court’s system by then, it was not made available until late Thursday night. Once he got it, Paul was able to put together a 1,350-word report detailing exactly how federal agents uncovered nearly 1,700 marijuana plants inside a nondescript Osborn Avenue home. The news was up two days later — which can be considered a long time in today’s news cycle.

Mug shots for the men — both currently facing 10 years to life on charges of distribution of a controlled substance — remain unavailable because the media contact for New York’s Eastern District Court is still out of work.

Pot busts weren’t the only story we were covering that reached the federal level, though.

Carrie Miller penned a front-page article recently about the immigrant workforce on the North Fork. Finding something as simple as U.S. Department of Agriculture data for a potential follow-up was no longer possible once that department shut down its website. And who knows when it will be available once — or maybe more like it, if — leaders in the nation’s capital come to an agreement.

The website simply states: “After funding has been restored, please allow some time for this website to become available again.”

It was the same message I got Oct. 1 while looking around for some background information on USDA sharpshooters.

And how about writing an actual news story about local impacts of the shutdown itself? It’s hard to get too much detail about something when the people whose job it is to relay information to the press aren’t working, our congressman’s spokesman being the lone exception, I’ve found. But even he couldn’t track down info for us relating to Plum Island — since nobody was there to receive his requests.

So on some recent evenings, it turns out, I’ve had something to say when my wife has asked me about national news.

Apparently 800,000 people losing their jobs is some kind of news story.

Joseph Pinciaro is the managing editor of The News-Review. He can be reached at jpinciaro@timesreview.com or 631-298-3200, ext. 238. Follow him on Twitter @cjpinch.

10/07/13 4:28pm
10/07/2013 4:28 PM

The East End could see a string severe thunderstorms Monday afternoon into the evening, National Weather Service officials said.

The Weather Service has issued a severe thunderstorm watch to be in effect until 10 p.m., said meteorologist Ashley Sears.

A cold front pushing through New Jersey this afternoon will make conditions “favorable” for thunderstorms to form, with gusts up to 50 mph and rainfall totals as high as 3/4 of an inch, Ms. Sears said.

Residents shouldn’t be fooled by the pleasant weather on the North Fork early Monday, she added.

“The more sun you see the better chance you have of seeing a thunderstorm out there,” she said.

The area may experience some “nuisance flooding,” but added the risk of flash floods or serious damage was low.

The Weather Service had earlier issued a tornado warning for parts of New Jersey and the New York metro area after the storm began to rotate, but the warning has since been cancelled with no reported tornadoes touching down.

“That threat has definitely subsided,” Ms. Sears said.

psquire@timesreview.com

10/05/13 10:20pm
10/05/2013 10:20 PM

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | On a beautiful warm afternoon Saturday, a big crowd turned out for the Pour the Core hard cider festival.

Apple season has never tasted so good on the North Fork. The second annual Pour the Core hard cider festival drew more than 2,000 people to Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue Saturday.

To see more photos from the festival, check out Northforker.com.

09/29/13 2:30pm
09/29/2013 2:30 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | This Aquebogue home recently renovated by owner/builder Daniel Cartagena is on the market for $279,000.

Home-buying can be stressful for anyone. But for buyers shopping at the more affordable end of the North Fork price spectrum – say, under $300,000 – a slim inventory and a high-demand area can make the process even harder.

So what can one expect to find?

For one, competition.

“It’s a very popular slot price-wise,” said Pat Wilson with Colony Realty in Jamesport.

Second, be prepared to get your hands dirty.

“I would imagine there would be some work that would need to be done,” said Sheri Winter Clarry of Corcoran in Southold.

And third, understand that the house itself will likely be somewhat modest — but it will be yours.

“You’ll find a fairly decent starting house,” said Patrick Fedun with Fedun Real Estate in Aquebogue.

In addition to a North Fork market that’s inherently competitive due to its location, real estate overall appears to be on the rebound, making homes in the $300,000 area tough to come by.

Mr. Fedun added that, so far this year, “we’re pretty much back to normal with what’s going on with sales. If you look at what was going on five years ago, it’s pretty much the same.”

This year’s numbers to date tend to confirm this.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The kitchen and living room of Mr. Cartagena’s house. In order to create an open floor plan, he added a steel beam between the two areas.

According to Suffolk Research Service, a real estate data tracking firm, median home values in Riverhead Town bottomed out last year, when the median price of a single-family home fell to $320,000. So far this year, it’s jumped to $349,000. In 2009, the median home price was $355,000.

The number of sales in the $150,000 to $300,000 range has picked up as well, particularly since the beginning of 2012.

Last year, 111 homes in that range were sold in Riverhead, well above the 74 sold in 2011. Through mid-August 2013, 68 homes priced at or under $300,000 had been sold. The median selling price in the range is up 3.8 percent this year over last.

“We’ve been incredibly busy this year,” Ms. Wilson said. “We started running in January and have been selling and showing since. I think we’ve had a hell of a year.”

Ms. Wilson is currently showing one home listed for $279,000. While most homes on that end of the overall real estate market can be expected to have some wear and tear, this three-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom ranch in Aquebogue was renovated by the owner and sports granite countertops, new appliances and more. It’s more the exception than the rule, however.

“Unfortunately, a majority are in horrendous shape,” Ms. Wilson said.

Many of those homes end up staying on the market for extended periods, she said, creating a cycle that makes it harder and harder for a first-time homebuyer — or any buyer in the price range — to invest their money, as neglected homes get no better over time. Some vacated short sales currently on the market have sat for over a year.

For first-time buyers, Suffolk County recently jump-started a program that offers up to $14,000 in down payment assistance for qualified individuals buying homes costing up to $333,000. Applicants have until the end of October to apply; as of Sept. 19 — less than three weeks after the county started taking applications — 64 people had applied. In total, the county is offering $500,000 in down payment assistance.

In the meantime, interest rates have risen more than a full percentage point from an all-time low of 3.38 percent about a year ago.

Aidan Wood, senior vice president with Bridgehampton National Bank, said he’s noticed more movement in purchases on the East End this year, as refinancing has slowed with rising interest rates.

Mr. Fedun echoed Mr. Wood’s sentiments.

“We’ve seen a good jump in [purchasing] interest because interest rates have gone up,” he said. “It’s encouraged people to buy a little bit. We’ll see where it goes.”

jpinciaro@timesreview.com

To see some examples of affordable homes on the market, northforker.com features regular North Fork real estate segments, Three Under 300K and Three Under 350K.