02/11/14 11:17am

Refuse in woods along Oak Avenue in Flanders from 2012. Civic leaders say all the open space and parkland in the tri-hamlet area make it easy for people to dump. (Tim Gannon file photo)

The Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association adopted a resolution Monday asking Southampton Town to create a garbage district for its three hamlets. (more…)

02/05/14 1:45pm
02/05/2014 1:45 PM
Paul Squire file photo  |  When the Riverhead Sewer District is able to upgrade its facility off Riverside Drive, the water being currently treated at the plant would then be pumped through a new, high-tech filtration system before reaching Peconic Bay.

Paul Squire file photo | When the Riverhead Sewer District is able to upgrade its facility off Riverside Drive, the water being currently treated at the plant would then be pumped through a new, high-tech filtration system before reaching Peconic Bay.

The Riverhead Town Board is planning to authorize the bonding of almost $9 million to cover part of a federally mandated $23.5 million upgrade to the Riverhead Sewer Plant at a special meeting Thursday morning. (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…)

01/24/14 9:00am
01/24/2014 9:00 AM


BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead police speaking to a Hispanic bicyclist on West Main Street in downtown Riverhead in 2009.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead police speaking to a Hispanic bicyclist on West Main Street in downtown Riverhead in 2009.

Riverhead Town is exploring the option of hiring a Spanish-speaking police officer, an addition that would help the department — whose ranks are overwhelmingly white — address a communications gap between law enforcement and Riverhead’s growing Hispanic population.

“We recognize that there’s an issue as far as communication goes, so we want to make sure we’re able to take care of that,” said Police Chief David Hegermiller.

In addition to the Civil Service list that’s normally used when officers are hired, the Town Board has requested the Spanish-speaking Civil Service list, a subset of the full list that includes only candidates with proven fluency in Spanish, said Supervisor Sean Walter. Chief Hegermiller added that the department will have the flexibility to hire from the full civil service list as well, should that prove to be a better option.

Advocates and officials in the police department have said better relations between the Hispanic community and police would make the town safer by encouraging people who would otherwise be unable to report crimes or provide tips to come forward.

“I think it’s a great thing to do,” Mr. Walter told the News-Review. “Hopefully, we can find some qualified people on that list.”

Nearly two years ago, a News-Review report noted that Riverhead’s police force was the least diverse of all East End police departments — not including the tiny Shelter Island department — despite the fact that Riverhead is the East End’s most racially diverse town. At that time, 82 of Riverhead’s 85 officers were white. And in the two years since, no black or Spanish-speaking officers have been hired.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Police Chief David Hegermiller.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Police Chief David Hegermiller.

Part of the disparity, the town said at the time, comes from the civil service system itself. The county police exam is conducted every four years and Suffolk County Police Department officials said more than 19,000 people passed the test in June 2011. Of those, 7.7 percent were black and 16.4 percent Hispanic. State law requires that police departments hire from among the top-scoring candidates, regardless of race. Riverhead chooses from a smaller pool because it prefers to hire from among town residents who pass the county test.

Mr. Walter said rules for hiring police officers force the town to review the same candidates each year. Pulling the Spanish-speaking list comprised of only Riverhead residents will enable the town to consider a more varied group of candidates, he said.

A couple of years ago, Mr. Walter stated that he would rather not consider skin color when making hires, since “it’s time to start looking beyond what our colors and our differences are.”

Right now, the town has one opening on the force due to the retirement of Det. Sgt. Joseph Loggia later this month. Mr. Walter said he hopes to hire a new officer “immediately.”

Town councilman and former police officer James Wooten said a Spanish-speaking officer would add a different set of skills to the department’s ranks.

Mr. Wooten said a Spanish-speaking officer — especially one who is also of Hispanic heritage — would be able to tap into the largest growing Hispanic population on the East End.

“I think it’s imperative we look at that list to try to address that segment of our society,” he said. “There’s a comfort level that has to be here that’s not there. Some have integrated themselves into the mainstream, but for the most part, people keep to themselves.”

According to the 2010 U.S. census, about 84.6 percent of Riverhead’s 33,500 residents identified themselves as white. Just over 8.7 percent of Riverheaders said they were black and about 9 percent indicated some other race, such as Asian or Native American. Almost 14 percent of Riverhead’s census respondents were Hispanic, a rising demographic in the town in recent years.

“The police department has to be representative [of its community],” Mr. Wooten said. “Communication is everything.”

The town’s department has already taken steps to improve communication with Hispanic residents. The town ran a cultural immersion course for officers two years ago, for example, and last year installed a translation hotline at the front desk.

That hotline allows officers taking complaints from residents to communicate, through a translating service, with those who can’t speak English and hear their concerns and tips.

Police Captain Richard Smith said he has seen officers using the hotline since it was installed last June.

“I think it’s a positive thing,” he said, adding that a handful of officers on the 85-man squad have used Rosetta Stone software, provided in each of the sector cars’ computers, to teach themselves Spanish.

“We’ve got a few guy who have learned it on their own,” Capt. Smith said. “We’re pretty proud of them.”

Sister Margaret Smyth, executive director of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate in Riverhead, said hiring a Spanish-speaking officer would be a positive step.

“I can’t tell you how many people come in here and have been stopped by police who have been treated nicely — that’s not the problem — but have no idea what happened or what they need to be doing,” she said.

Sister Margaret and others at the Apostolate work with local Hispanic residents to help them file taxes, get food and clothing and fill out paperwork for government documents or traffic tickets. She said the Apostolate also directs immigrants and residents toward classes that teach English.

“On our side, we push for people to be learning English, but it also helps the town to have the availability of people who can communicate in Spanish,” she said.

Now, Sister Margaret said, the town and police department have to continue to follow through on their efforts.


01/24/14 7:00am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead’s town code enforcement recently issued a notice of violation to Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons in Jamesport.

You don’t have to be a 5,000-square-foot farm market for Riverhead Town to cite you for violating town code. In fact, your main draw could be as small as a hummingbird or box turtle.

While Riverhead Town Board members recently split on their decision to take the owners of a Jamesport farm stand to court, Riverhead Town’s code enforcement unit recently issued notices of violation to The Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary and Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons in Jamesport because neither operation is a permitted use under the zoning of the property where it’s located, according to Riverhead town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz, who is in charge of the code enforcement unit.

Supervisor Sean Walter said he couldn’t speak about specifics of the enforcement actions, but echoed Mr. Kozakiewicz’ sentiments.

“It’s not our intention to chase away the hummingbirds or the turtles. We just need people to come into compliance,” Mr. Walter said.

Mr. Kozakiewicz said the turtle rescue organization has been issued a summons in town Justice Court because it is not a permitted use in the Agriculture Protection Zone in which it’s located.

As for the hummingbird sanctuary, Mr. Kozakiewicz said a notice of violation was issued in order to cover the town in the event neighbors of the sanctuary filed a lawsuit, which they have since done.

The notice of violation states that operation of a hummingbird sanctuary that is open to the public is a prohibited use, and that continuing that use would require a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals as well as site plan approval from the Planning Board. It further states that if no remedy to the violation is made before Jan. 18, the town may follow through with legal action, though Mr. Kozakiewicz said he does not intend to and the town has not issued a summons to the hummingbird sanctuary.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she was surprised to hear that the town had taken any action at all against the organizations.

“Are you kidding me?” she said when told of the enforcement actions. “We have overcrowded houses all throughout this town and code enforcement is writing tickets to the hummingbird guy?”

Ms. Giglio said she was unaware of the notices issued to the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary, run by Paul Adams on his property on Sound Avenue, and Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons, run by Karen Testa Lombardo from a home on Manor Lane in Jamesport.

Mr. Adams has run the sanctuary for more than a dozen years at his Sound Avenue property , which overlooks Long Island Sound and where he has planted flowers that attract hummingbirds. The sanctuary is open to the public only during the month of August and, according to the orgnization’s website, does not accept donations or an admission fee. Mr. Adams requires visitors to sign a waiver.

Nonetheless, a group of neighbors living along the road leading to the property have recently filed a lawsuit against Mr. Adams and the hummingbird sanctuary.

The lawsuit was filed by Frederick and Debra Terry, Kamal and Sabita Bherwani, and Shawn Hamilton against Paul and Rafael Adams.

Mr. Adams said they are seeking to have the sanctuary closed and they are seeking $3 million in damages. The lawsuit, filed Dec. 23, was not on file at the county center as of Tuesday morning, except for the summary page identifying the litigants. Anthony Tohill, the plaintiffs’ attorney, did not return a call seeking comment and Mr. Terry could not be reached for comment by presstime.

Mr. Adams said the lawsuit raises two key questions: “Does the town code permit me to maintain my property in a natural state as a bird sanctuary? And does the code permit me to receive invited visitors at my residence there, via the established, deeded and surveyed right of way from Sound Avenue?”

He believes the answer to both questions is yes.

As for the turtle rescue, Charles Cuddy, the attorney for Ms. Lombardo, said she brings turtles to the site that have been injured and need to be rehabilitated. She is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and her work is recognized and endorsed by the state, Mr. Cuddy said, adding that she does all the work as a volunteer and receives no money for it.

There are usually about a dozen turtles on the property at any one time, he said, and she has other volunteers who help.

When a report of an injured turtle comes in, Ms. Lombardo goes out and brings it back to the Manor Lane house.

“The rehabilitation consists of medicating the turtles. It doesn’t consist of her conducting any surgery,” Mr. Cuddy said at a June 27 town Zoning Board of Appeals hearing on the turtle rescue operation. Turtles that need surgery are taken to a veterinarian, he said.

“She keeps turtles that are essentially without any odor, without any noise. They don’t do anything to the neighborhood,” Mr. Cuddy said. “They are without any impact that I can see, and I’ve been there many times.”

Mr. Cuddy said there are many wildlife rehabilitators in the state and many of them operate out of homes.

The turtle rescue had gone before the town Zoning Board of Appeals last year seeking an interpretation as to whether a such an operation can be considered an accessory use.

There was one hearing, during which no one raised any opposition to the operation, and the ZBA application was withdrawn a few weeks later. ZBA members had indicated they wanted to inspect the facility.

Mr. Cuddy said it was withdrawn because one ZBA member, whom he didn’t identify, had indicated that he or she would not support the application.

Mr. Kozakiewicz said he is not aware of any complaints from neighbors about the turtle rescue operation. Mr. Cuddy said one person has complained about it.

The Justice Court case against the turtle rescue is still pending, Mr. Kozakiewicz said.


01/20/14 7:00am
01/20/2014 7:00 AM

Riverhead Town officials are hoping to get more money out of the leases the town has with cellphone companies with antennas on top of water towers.

A company called Bench Strength Partners says it can examine lease agreements the town has to determine if the town should be making more from them.

According to Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, every time a cell company upgrades its equipment on a town facility, it is supposed to notify the town, and the town, according to its contracts, should be paid more.

 “We are not getting our fair share of the fees for these devices,” Ms. Giglio said at a work session earlier this month, where the issue was discussed.

The town’s 2014 budget anticipates $655,000 in revenue from leases on town water towers.

Bench Strength Partners, which contributed to Ms. Giglio’s re-election campaign last year, only gets paid only if it generates more money for the town, according to deputy town attorney Ann Marie Prudenti.

If Bench Strength negotiates up to 20 percent more than $655,000, the town doesn’t have to pay anything. If the town makes between 20 and 30 percent more, BSP gets 15 percent of the increase. If the town makes between 30 and 40 percent more, BSP gets 20 percent of the increase. If the town makes 40 to 50 percent more, BSP gets 25 percent of that, and if the town makes 50 percent more or higher, BSP gets 30 percent, according to Ms. Prudenti.

Any money the town makes as a result of contracting with Bench Strength would go to the water district, which issues the leases to cellphone companies, according to Supervisor Sean Walter. However, since the water district is in debt to the general fund, the town general fund will benefit, according to the supervisor.



01/15/14 3:00pm
01/15/2014 3:00 PM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | This property on Hamilton Avenue was raided by town code enforcement officials Friday morning.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | This property on Hamilton Avenue was raided by town code enforcement officials Friday morning. 18 people were living in side, town officials said.

Riverhead town has “received assurances” in court that the owner of an allegedly overcrowded house on Hamilton Avenue will begin fixing fire and town code violations within 30 days, town officials said Wednesday.

Deputy town attorney Bill Duffy appeared in state Supreme Court Tuesday morning and said the attorney for Rickey Taylor — the landlord of the property — agreed to take steps to fix the “numerous” town code violations inside the house at 331 Hamilton Avenue.

Town officials say at least 18 men were living in the two-story single-family house, which was targeted in a code enforcement raid last week.

In the raid, authorities allegedly found some of the occupants had been living in an unfinished cellar that had been divided into makeshift living spaces. The men living in the basement had been sleeping on beds close to exposed wiring, insulation and heating and boiler equipment, authorities said.

There was also evidence that an unheated garage was being used for housing, town officials said.

Town officials said the search also revealed blocked egress, exposed wiring, “excessive” littering, a shortage of smoke detectors and evidence that living areas had been created without building permits or certificates of occupancy, according to the town.

The property was one of four targeted by the Town Board for legal action last March. Mr. Taylor had told town officials last year that he was going to bring the home into compliance, town attorney Robert Kozakiewicz said Wednesday.

But that never seems to have happened, he said.

“We had a sense he was going to do the right thing and come into compliance,” he said. “But then we got an indication from neighbors at 331 Hamilton that things weren’t going the way they should.”

Mr. Taylor couldn’t be reached for comment this week. However his lawyer, David Gilmartin, Jr., said on Thursday afternoon that “Mr. Taylor is cooperating fully with the town, and promises to ensure the properties will be consistent with the requirements of town code.”

In court Tuesday, Mr. Gilmartin assured the town that those living in unsafe areas had been moved out, Mr. Duffy said. Residents will continue to live in the home while the violations are addressed, he said.

“We didn’t want people being thrown out onto the streets,” Mr. Duffy said. “That’s the tightrope we’re having to walk.”

Mr. Duffy said Mr. Taylor must bring in a licensed electrician by Friday to being to fix the electrical violations in the property and immediately remove objects blocking the exit paths from the house. Mr. Taylor also must apply for building permits to fix the other code violations within 30 days.

Mr. Duffy said town will inspect the house periodically to make sure work is getting done. The court will also be watching to make sure Mr. Taylor keeps his promises, Mr. Duffy said.

“The judge is going to be on top of this,” he said, adding that the town will seek sanctions against Mr. Taylor should he fail to comply.

The town plans to pursue fines against Mr. Taylor for the alleged violations, Mr. Duffy said.

“These are the emergency steps,” he said. “Any stipulation to settle [the violations] will include fines.”