The Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association adopted a resolution Monday asking Southampton Town to create a garbage district for its three hamlets. (more…)
The Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association adopted a resolution Monday asking Southampton Town to create a garbage district for its three hamlets. (more…)
Back in 2011, the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association needed a new leader, as its president then was planning to run for Southampton Town Board.
The only person willing to take the job at the time was Vince Taldone, a Riverhead Town resident who owned property in Flanders but didn’t live there; thus, he could not serve as the group’s president. The organization then voted to change its own bylaws so Mr. Taldone could take the helm at FRNCA.
Two years later, Mr. Taldone, who was FRNCA’s vice president in 2012, is the group’s president once again, and is heavily involved in efforts to revitalize the hamlet of Riverside, which for many years has been plagued by crime and blight, high tax rates and a lack of commercial activity.
A master developer has now been hired by Southampton Town with the goal of bringing commercial development to the area. A commercial sewer district study has been completed by Suffolk County and county and town officials hope to run sewers through the area, allowing the type of development that had not been possible previously due to the area’s high water table.
Then there’s the grant money. Just last month it was announced that town received a state grant to plan the construction of a footbridge over the Peconic River from Riverside into Riverhead. This came on the heels of a county grant being used to create a walking trail through county parkland leading to the river.
Behind all of this is Mr. Taldone, who, unlike many of the elected officials who have worked in this recent push to help Riverside, is doing his part solely as a volunteer.
For this reason and more, Mr. Taldone is the News-Review’s Civic Person of the Year for 2013.
“Vince has done a lot of the legwork” on the pedestrian bridge proposal, said South Fork county Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who has worked with Mr. Taldone on many of the ongoing plans for Riverside. “He deserves a lot of credit. He’s not getting paid for any of it, and he’s doing a lot of work.”
Mr. Taldone is retired from a career in New York City government, where he served primarily in program and land use planning positions within the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.
And his volunteer work isn’t limited to Riverside.
Since retiring, he’s volunteered on Riverhead Town’s Landmark Preservation Commission, the town’s handicapped advisory board and the board of directors of Riverhead Townscape, a nonprofit that works on local beautification projects.
Mr. Taldone also is a longtime volunteer for 5 Town Rural Transit, which seeks to improve public transportation on the East End, has volunteered at the Riverhead Town Animal Shelter and he is a former member of the Suffolk County Planning Commission.
And somehow he does all this with a vision impairment that prevents him from driving a car.
Richard Naso, chairman of Southampton Town’s Citizen Advisory Committee for Flanders, Riverside and Northampton, was the person who suggested Mr. Taldone become FRNCA’s president in 2011. Earlier this year, Mr. Naso also suggested informally to a News-Review reporter that Mr. Taldone be nominated for a Person of the Year award.
“Because of his experience as a planner in New York City, he has the ability to get things moving,” Mr. Naso said. “Most of us don’t have that experience or expertise.”
He said Mr. Taldone has experience in applying for grant money and also was able to negotiate with both Southampton and Riverhead town officials on the footbridge proposal, which needs approval from both municipalities.
“He was able to get so much going in such a short period of time,” Mr. Naso said.
The developers selected to be the “master developer” for Riverside says it won’t cost Southampton Town anything to have the company serve in that role.
“Renaissance Downtowns is a for-profit real estate developer. We spend our own money and incur our own risk,” said Sean McLean, the company’s vice president of planning development, at a presentation to the Southampton Town Board last Thursday.
“At no point do we expect the town to be paying for any of this,” he said. “We don’t receive a fee. We make money by potentially developing real estate in the future, if this process is successful and we move forward.”
Mr. McLean, a Flanders resident, and Renaissance Downtowns CEO Donald Monti addressed the Town Board after the company had been selected as master developer Nov. 26. Renaissance Downtowns was one of three companies that had answered a “request for qualifications” the Town Board issued earlier this year.
Renaissance Downtowns is currently involved in large-scale redevelopment projects in Huntington Station, Hempstead and the Nassau County “hub” area near the Nassau Coliseum. It doesn’t own any property in Riverside.
Mr. Monti and Mr. McLean said they try to encourage private property owners to partner with them in redevelopment projects, and they try to group together smaller, hard-to-develop properties into larger properties that will have more development potential. The company offers development experience and finances that smaller property owners might not have, they said.
“We don’t ask for eminent domain, we don’t take over people’s property and we don’t engage in a counter-intuitive bidding war against property owners,” Mr. McLean said.
“We show them how a $50,000 building could be worth millions, if they want us,” he said.
Private property owners can either sell their property to Renaissance Downtowns, partner with them or not be involved at all, Mr. Monti said. Private property owners are free to decline parterning with the company, Mr. McLean said. The town will still maintain control over the master developer process, he said.
Since they have been selected as the master developer for the Riverside redevelopment project, four area property owners have already contacted them, he said. The company will also try to lure grant money to the area to cover costs of infrastructure improvements, he said.
Renaissance Downtown plans to seek community feedback, through public meetings and social networking, on the type of development residents would like to see in their community.
Renaissance Downtowns plans to set up an office in Riverside, officials said.
Councilwoman Bridget Fleming expressed concern that certain property owners would be displaced through the redevelopment process.
Mr. Monti said his group tries to ensure that local people get jobs and that the town maintains control over the process, “so the community builds itself up from within. If a retail use has been there for 30 years, we will make sure that if they want to remain, they will. It could be in a different storefront, but our approach is non-confrontational.”
Seven new businesses were created at a Renaissance Downtowns project in Bristol, Conn., Mr. McLean said.
The next step in the process will be for the town to come up with a formal master developer contract with the company, Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said.
“It’s a community that wants this to happen,” she said. “And the state is looking for these types of projects to happen, too, so the timing is advantageous.”
It’s that time of year, again: Time to deck the Duck!
The annual Big Duck Holiday Lighting Ceremony will take place tonight, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m. at the landmark Big Duck on Road in Flanders.
Check back for photos from the event.
The flipping of the switch, illuminating the Big Duck in Christmas lights, will also be accompanied by a visit from Santa Claus, courtesy of the Flanders Fire Department, as well as sing-along led by the Riverhead Middle School Show Choir and a visit from Quackerjack, the Mascot from the Independent League champion Long Island Ducks.
That’s according to Richard Wolfe, the assistant director of historic services for the county parks department, which is sponsoring the event along with Southampton Town’s parks and recreation department.
The lighting event is usually held on a Wednesday night, but was moved to Thursday this year due to a conflict in the Middle School choir’s schedule, Mr. Wolfe said.
“We really wanted them to be there, so we had to switch it,” he said.
Attendees will also get to see the Duck from the inside, as the Big Duck Store will be open during the ceremony.
Parking will be available on the Flanders Mens Club property, which is adjacent to the Big Duck.
How can a group of people organize to achieve a common goal?
That’s a question facing the Flanders, Riverside, Northampton Community Association — one that was addressed at the group’s monthly meeting Tuesday night.
Though it appears that the area will soon be represented on the Town Board for the first time in recent memory – Northampton resident Brad Bender held a 143-vote lead after Election Day, with nearly 900 absentee ballots to be counted – declining membership in its civic group remains a long-term issue, especially with projects of community concern looming on the horizon.
“The numbers continue to decline, but it still is a good-sized membership of paying community members,” said FRNCA president Vince Taldone. “To me, that alone wouldn’t upset me. My main concern is that people are not participating in the discussion about the community they live in.”
Mr. Taldone said Wednesday that over the past three years, membership in FRNCA — which asks a $20 annual fee of its members — has dropped from 130, to 115, to 90.
Tuesday night’s discussion centered on turning those numbers around.
Shirley Coverdale, who sits on the board of Long Island Organizing Network and was recently named a co-chair of the Suffolk County Democratic Committee’s newly formed Black and Hispanic Democratic Committee, also shared her experience in community organizing.
Ms. Coverdale has most recently been at Riverhead Town Hall to support a special zone that would permit construction of the Family Community Life Center – a multi-purpose facility proposed for land owned by First Baptist Church, where her husband, the Rev. Charles Coverdale, has been pastor for over 30 years. She told FRNCA members that over the past 20-plus years, as she and others have attempted to bring that project to fruition, it’s drawn over $1 million in donations.
“A funny thing happens when you organize people,” she said. “Money follows.”
Ms. Coverdale also shared an anecdote about 15 homeowners affected by torrential flooding that ruined homes in the Horton Avenue area in the spring of 2010.
Through a series of one-on-one face-to-face meetings, she said, personal connections formed to strengthen a core group of people, widen their reach and eventually attract $3.5 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to compensate people whose homes were destroyed — quite a feat for such a small group, she noted.
In recent years, FRNCA leaders have helped draw resources to the area south of the Peconic River, including a Brownfields Opportunities Area grant of nearly $240,000 intended to spur revitalization in the Riverside area, which has 15 dormant, contaminated properties. Meanwhile sewer and traffic studies have also been in the works there, though Mr. Taldone said Tuesday that study after study could be part of the reason it’s hard to draw people to FRNCA meetings.
“Too many promises, too many studies for years and years,” Mr. Taldone said. “They lose faith. When I go to them, and say ‘This is amazing, and it’s happening now,’ they don’t even believe me.”
Northampton resident Chris Sheldon said that a decade ago, when Southampton Town was conducting a Riverside Revitalization Study, “we could have filled Phillips Avenue school.”
Moving forward, Mr. Sheldon suggested “finding new blood” and engaging those members of the community face-to-face.
Mr. Bender pointed to his Southampton Town Board campaign, noting that knocking on 2,000 doors and hearing people out in-person made the difference in what looks like an election victory
Speaking to an audience of no more than a dozen people, FRNCA leaders said Tuesday they’ll spend some of the organization’s limited funds on colored palm cards to have on hand when they speak to their neighbors in the future. And as the brownfields grant and other projects continue, they hope to see more locals come out and participate in the future of their community — at public meetings about the actual projects and at monthly FRNCA meetings.
“When the bulldozer is taking down buildings, maybe then people will believe what’s happening,” Mr. Taldone said. “But, by then, everything will be decided.”
The Riverhead School District tax rate will jump by 7.7 percent next year for property owners in the Southampton Town portion of the district, which includes Flanders, Riverside, Northampton and Red Creek, despite the fact that the districtwide school tax levy increased by 3.8 percent, according to Southampton Town Tax Receiver Theresa Kiernan, who discussed the issue at last Thursday’s Southampton Town Board work session.
The school tax rate has seen some large swings between the Riverhead and Southampton towns in recent years, Between 2008 and 2010, the Southampton side saw increases of 22, 14 and 14 percent. During the same period, the rate on the Riverhead side went down one year and increased by 1 percent and 2 percent in the other two years.
Riverhead Town comprises about 81 percent of the school district, Southampton Town 17 percent and Brookhaven Town 2 percent.
The areas hit by these increases also are considered low-income areas by the U.S. census.
The school district sets the overall tax levy, but has no say in how that money is divvied up among the three towns. The school tax increase in any one of the towns also is not governed by the state’s 2 percent tax cap, officials said.
In the 2013 tax bills, which went out last December, and the 2013 tax rates, the increases on both sides of the district were similar.
For 2014, the overall school district tax levy — the total amount of taxes collected from district property owners in Riverhead, Southampton and Brookhaven — will increase by 3.8 percent. The Southampton Town segment will see an increase of 5.4 percent, while the increase for the Riverhead Town portion will rise by 3.6 percent. Residents living in Brookhaven piece of the Riverhead School District will get a tax levy increase of 3.1 percent.
Ms. Kiernan said Southampton has computed a final tax rate for property owners in the Riverhead school district of $14.13 per $1,000 of assessed value, up from the current rate of $13.11 per $1.000. For someone with property assessed at $200,000 in the Southampton Town part of the district, that equates to $204 more in school taxes next year.
“Somehow, the burden shifts onto us,” she said.
Riverhead Town has not formally set the school tax rates in its part of the district, but it is expected to be up by about 3.3 percent, according to town finance administrator Bill Rothaar.
The tax shift toward the Southampton side of the district comes despite the fact that Southampton Town is applying $1.9 million in Community Preservation Fund payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOT payments, to the school district, which qualified for that aid because a large percent of the district in Southampton is off the tax rolls as preserved open space and parkland.
Southampton applied $1.7 million in CPF PILOT money in 2013, Ms. Kiernan said.
“If it wasn’t for the CPF, the increase would be off the charts,” Ms. Kiernan said in an interview.
The land values in this part of the town have gone down this year, which is why the tax rate increase is more than the tax levy increase, Ms. Kiernan said.
Some residents in the Southampton Town portion of the district may not end up paying more in taxes if their assessed value decreased to the point where the higher tax rate was offset, officials said.
The school district tax levy is divvied up between the three towns based on the assessed value of each portion of the district, as determined by the state equalization rate, which attempts to measure at what percentage of market value a town assesses property.
Southampton Town, which reassesses its properties annually, has an equalization rate of 100 percent, which means the state feels the town’s assessments are at market value.
Riverhead Town, on the other hand, has not done a reassessment since 1980, so its equalization rate is at 15.98 percent. Brookhaven Town’s equalization rate is 0.95 percent.
During last week’s work session, one Southampton Town Board member questioned last week whether annual reassessment was worth the effort.
“Riverhead still doesn’t do the 100 percent assessments,” Southampton Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said. “We keep being told that because we’re doing 100 percent, we are going to be treated fairly, but we see, year after year, that the folks who are not doing the 100 percent are not carrying the same burden as we are.”
“I’m not sure you can make that blanket statement,” Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst responded.
She said overall property values in Southampton are higher than in Riverhead, which affects the equalization rate, and thus the tax rates shift.
Leaves. Should they be bagged or left loose on the curb for the town to pick up?
That’s a debate the two candidates for Southampton Town highway superintendent got into at a recent meeting of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association.
Last year, Southampton Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor announced that residents would be required to put their leaves in biodegradable paper bags and leave them on the curb for the town to pick up. In years past, Southampton Town residents were allowed to dump loose leaves curbside for town pickup.
Mr. Gregor’s plan never came to fruition because of Hurricane Sandy, which, in addition to leaves, left a lot of other debris on town roadways.
Mr. Gregor, who is the Democratic Party candidate for re-election, said he will again require residents to use biodegradable paper bags for their leaves, and not allow them to put loose leaves curbside — barring any major storms.
His Republican opponent in this year’s elections, David Betts, feels differently.
“My suggestion would be to go back to the way it was and get the leaves picked up,” Mr. Betts said at the civic meeting at the Flanders Community Center. He also suggested the town consider contracting with a private company to pick the leaves up, “so we can get them done quickly.”
Mr. Gregor said he had tried to contract out the leaf pickup, but ran into opposition from the Southampton Town Board.
He said he had sought bids from private companies to do the work two years ago, but the Town Board refused to award a contract even though the lowest bid was much lower than what it costs the town to do the work. He also said the Town Board wouldn’t let him hire part-time employees, because the employee contract limits the number of part-timers the highway department can hire to three, and the board would not amend the contract.
“In the past, the leaves stay on the road, they get plowed all over the place,” Mr. Gregor said, adding that the leaves don’t fall until Thanksgiving and need to be picked up before the end of the year because that’s usually when the first snow falls.
“So without extra help, I needed to come up with something to do it in five weeks.”
The program he came up with involves the use of paper bags, as well as discontinuing loose-leaf pickup. Mr. Gregor said his department is giving away free biodegradable paper bags this year.
The program will also allow landscapers to dispose of leaves at the town transfer stations if they present a voucher from the property owner whose leaves they are dumping, Mr. Gregor said. In addition, if someone is 73 years old or older, or if they have a disability that prevents them from bagging the leaves, the town will allow them to place the loose leaves at the curb.
Mr. Gregor says the biggest cost in leaf disposal comes from the town, which makes its own highway department pay to dispose of leaves at the town’s landfill.
Mr. Betts currently heads the Southampton Town Code Enforcement department and is a retired Southampton Village police lieutenant, and former union president.
In making his overall pitch to civic members in Flanders, Mr. Betts touted his skills as an administrator who has been on both the management and labor side of union contract negotiations. He also said he has experience in obtaining grants.
“The job is an administrator, that’s what you need,” he said. “I’ve been doing that for 30 years.”
Mr. Gregor argued that Mr. Betts’ experience is not relevant to the highway superintendent job.
Questions over who would be responsible for cleaning and maintaining a footbridge proposed to span the Peconic River, as well as the size and design of a the project, are being put on hold — for now.
Southampton Town officials are instead focusing on getting a state grant application filed before the deadline in two weeks.
During a Southampton Town Board work session Thursday morning, board members said they supported the bridge, which would connect county-owned parkland in Riverside to downtown Riverhead, adding that the bridge might help jump-start revitalization efforts for Riverside.
“Action on the part of the municipality is a signal to private industry that this is a place that’s going to get more and more attention,” said Councilwoman Bridget Flemming, “But someone has to take that first step over the bridge, so to speak.”
The support came a day after the Suffolk County Legislature voted unanimously in support of the grant application.
Vince Taldone, president of the Flanders Riverside Northampton Community Association, told Town Board members that there would be several months to iron out the details of the bridge and pitch the idea to residents before any grant money would be accepted.
The bridge is expected to cost $1.145 million, but the state grant being pursued would allow Suffolk County’s purchase of land in Riverside in 2011 to be used as the municipality’s matching portion of the grant, meaning the construction of the bridge would be fully covered by the grant.
“[We would pay] zip for the bridge itself,” Mr. Taldone said.
But if the town missed the deadline, the county’s contribution wouldn’t count towards the grant next year.
“The key here,and the rush, is that three year window in which that money counts,” Mr. Taldone said.
Riverhead and Southampton towns would be responsible for paying to upkeep the bridge, as well as properly patrolling the area, though the agreement over which town would do what would be discussed after the application was filed.
Councilman Christopher Nuzzi said he had concerns over approving the project before the design was finalized, but Mr. Taldone said a portion of the $1.145 million cost of the bridge is set aside for engineering and design.
The town would only need to apply using the concept of a footbridge, he said; the specifics of the type of bridge could be settled and discussed by the community before the grant is accepted.
Mr. Taldone said the bridge would need to be at least 24 feet above the median high tide line — the same height as the County Road 105 bridge — to allow boats to enter the Riverhead town docks.
The bridge would connect to a 5-foot-wide trail Southampton Town plans to create. The trail would start on Route 24 and lead to the river.
Mr. Taldone said that while the bridge would create a “walkable community” connecting Riverhead to downtown Riverside, the town would need to ensure that criminal elements stay out of the area.
FRNCA representatives will go to the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce next week to pitch the footbridge, and then speak before the Riverhead Town Board to get that board’s approval for the grant application.