Who owns this sign? If you ask a local community group or an oil terminal, they’ll both say they do. (Credit: Paul Squire)
The dispute between Northville’s community association and the local oil terminal over its proposed expansion plans has spilled over into a strange new battleground: a tiny plot of land on the side of Sound Shore Road containing a wooden sign.
Both sides claim ownership of the sign, saying the other appropriated it to post their own “spin” on the expansion project.
The roughly three-foot-by-six-foot sign — located next to United Riverhead Terminal’s headquarters — had been used for more than 20 years by the Northville Beach Community Association, even featuring its name painted on the sign.
But on Monday the sign was gone. By Tuesday, the sign was back, but the community association’s name was gone.
In its place was a new message from the terminal, touting the company’s tax contributions and job creation.
“It’s small potatoes but this aggravates me,” said Dave Gruner, a member of the community association who had been in charge of changing the messages on the sign for years. “The way I look at it, they have stolen our sign.”
But URT general manager Scott Kamm said the sign was always owned by the terminal, which he said allowed the community association to post its messages.
According to the Riverhead Town building department, a permit was issued in 1972 for a sign on the north side of Sound Shore Road, which was submitted by “Northville Industries Corp. Riverhead Terminal.” However, no sign permit exists for the property to the south where the disputed sign is now, a town employee said.
It was unclear whether the original sign permit to the north was for this sign or another unrelated one.
Mr. Kamm said he had the sign changed because he objected to messages written on it directing residents to the community association’s website, which calls the expansion “unnecessary.”
URT needs a special permit to construct the expansion, which it says would add six new jobs and support local families and businesses. But neighbors, led by the civic association, have come out in force against the project.
In two public hearings each lasting hours, residents railed against the project. The Riverhead Town Board hasn’t made an official determination on the special permit yet, but several board members said last month they were convinced by public opinion to deny the project.
On Wednesday, Mr. Kamm claimed the civic association — which was formed 50 years ago specifically to oppose the construction of the original terminal — put messages on the board urging residents to oppose the proposed expansion.
That’s why the sign was taken down and replaced with a more corporate-friendly version, he said.
“We’re trying to put a positive message out to the community,” Mr. Kamm said. “A positive spin.”
But civic association president Neil Krupnick denied the claim that the community association posted negative messages, and also said the terminal doesn’t own the sign in the first place.
Mr. Krupnick said the sign was handed over to the civic association as a “good neighbor” gesture in 1993 by then-owners Tosco. It was maintained by the terminals owners since and was even repainted by United years ago.
The sign as it appeared before this week. An inset shows the minutes from the meeting in which community members say the sign was handed over to them. (credit: courtesy photos)
“They had two options: ask us to change our message or tell us to pick up the sign,” Mr. Krupnick said. “They did the third option and took it … It’s rude. It’s petty. It’s childish.”
Mr. Krupnick said the sign now gives the appearance that the civic association has changed its position on the project.
“Anybody who doesn’t know they took over the sign might think, ‘Did NBCA sell out to United?’ ” he said.
Minutes from a civic association meeting state that the sign — formerly used by the terminal — was given as a gift.
Mr. Kamm says those meeting minutes are inaccurate; the sign was always owned by the terminal, he said.
“It’s on United property,” he said. “Always have been. We’ve always maintained it. We’ve always painted it.”
Both Mr. Kamm and Mr. Krupnick say their organizations are willing to talk to the other’s. So far, neither has gotten through.
“We’ve always had a great relationship,” Mr. Kamm said. “Unfortunately the new president has turned things around over this new gasoline project.”
“They’ve not reached out to us at all,” Mr. Krupnick said.