03/20/14 6:25pm
03/20/2014 6:25 PM

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter outlined a hand-written vision for the future of the town during Thursday’s work session. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

With support waning from Town Board members on various projects, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter laid out a lengthy, hand-written “vision for the town” at Thursday’s work session that called for at least a majority of board members to move forward in unison toward the town’s future goals.  (more…)

01/24/14 7:00am
01/24/2014 7:00 AM

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.

tgannon@timesreview.com

11/08/13 12:00pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead Republicans celebrate their victorious sweep Tuesday nignt in downtown Riverhead. From left: committee chairman Mason Haas, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman John Dunleavy. Mr. Walter said the team tried to stay positive during the campaign. He believes that approach resonated with voters.

In June 2012, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio filed a harassment complaint against Supervisor Sean Walter.

Months later, Mr. Walter put out a political hit on Ms. Giglio, which came in the form of a primary challenge from the supervisor’s friend and longtime political adviser, Anthony Coates.

During that contentious primary, Councilman John Dunleavy — perhaps sensing momentum building behind Mr. Coates — was continually found to be out campaigning without his committee-designated team, joining Mr. Coates in door-knocking efforts.

But blood is thicker than water, the saying goes, and as the outcome of the Riverhead Town elections began to crystallize before the family of Riverhead Republicans Tuesday night, judging by the hugs, kisses and high-fives — bygones were bygones. Despite their differences, the three incumbents on the Town Board had all won re-election.

Election 2013: By the numbers

“I’ve been involved in Riverhead politics for 14 years and I have never seen the Republican committee come together the way it has this summer and this fall,” Mr. Walter told a jubilant crowd of supporters at Cody’s BBQ & Grill.

Mr. Walter later said he believed the issue of in-fighting on the board was more media driven than anything.

“I think the residents didn’t focus on the fights or they wouldn’t have re-elected us,” he said. “They focused on the results, and if everybody got along all the time, I don’t think we’d have had the results that we had. We all add something to this mixture.”

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Assessor Laverne Tennenberg posting the election results Tuesday night.

But it wasn’t just the media. The Riverhead Democrats had been smelling Republican blood in the water for some time because of the in-fighting. Democratic challenger Angela DeVito’s campaign slogan, “Respect Riverhead,” was built on the promise she would bring courtesy and respect back to Riverhead Town Hall after four years of Mr. Walter and an all-Republican Town Board.

The voters favored staying the course.

Mr. Walter defeated Ms. DeVito with 56 percent of the vote, or 3,917 to 3,090, according to Suffolk County Board of Elections figures.

Ms. Giglio, who earned a second term, and two-term Republican Councilman John Dunleavy tallied 3,634 and 3,495 votes respectively, over Democrats Bill Bianchi, with 3,141 votes, and Millie Thomas, with 3,045, in the at-large election for two seats.

As it began to look like the election results weren’t going to break her way, Ms. DeVito — who led a team that came much closer than their Democratic counterparts in the 2009 and 2011 races for Town Board seats — told her supporters “we are still winners.”

She also said there’s still work to be done for the Democratic Party to make the sure the towns government, ruled by Republicans, is heading in the right direction and working for the people of Riverhead.

“Just because we aren’t in the driver’s seat, that doesn’t mean we can’t be passengers in the bus,” Ms. DeVito said from Democratic headquarters in a storefront behind the Riverhead Diner & Grill — and a short walk from Cody’s on East Main Street.

She then took that short walk, entering Cody’s back door and making her way through the crowd to congratulate Mr. Walter. The two candidates hugged and exchanged words as music pumped through the speakers. Ms. DeVito was also joined by campaign advisor Keisha Washington Dean.

Mr. Walter and party leaders attributed the Republican victories to a largely positive campaign.

“This town is moving in the right direction, no matter what Angela DeVito and Bill Bianchi say,” Mr. Walter said.

“I believe we’ve gotten our message across,” said Republican Committee Chairman Mason Haas, “which is that the town is moving in the right direction.”

In other town races, incumbent Republican assessor Laverne Tennenberg beat Democratic challenger Greg Fischer, 4,343 to 2,396, and Democratic highway superintendent George (Gio) Woodson beat Conservative challenger Michael Panchak by vote of 4,936 to 1,269.

Mr. Woodson and Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm are the only Democrats to hold an elected office in Riverhead Town.

A moral victory, so to speak, for Democrats in the town races came with the respectable showing of the council candidates.

The votes were much more evenly split than in the past two local elections, with Ms. Thomas, a Wading River realtor, earning 24 percent of the vote and Mr. Bianchi, a former state Assemblyman from the Bellport area, capturing 23 percent of the vote.

Ms. Giglio led the pack with 27 percent followed by Mr. Dunleavy with 26.

By comparison, in 2009, Democratic council candidate Kathy Berezny tallied 20 percent of the final vote for two seats, with 19 percent for Shirley Coverdale.

The Democratic council candidates fared even worse in 2011, when Marlando Williams got 16 percent of the vote and Matt Van Glad received 15 percent in an at-large race against incumbent Republicans James Wooten and George Gabrielsen for two open seats.

This election season, the Democrats also tried to capitalize on residents’ displeasure with the clearing of several properties along Route 58 to make way for commercial shopping centers. They had joined residents in a rally at the Costco Wholesale site, which was clear-cut right up to neighboring properties, and held their own press conference there, faulting the Town Board for granting an excavation permit for the project.

Mr. Dunleavy, who lives in Foxwood Village, one of the affected communities, also took heat from his neighbors during the campaign — not only for the clearing itself but for deflecting blame onto neighbors he said weren’t paying attention and attending town meetings.

He later apologized at a Town Board debate, saying no one was to blame.

On Election Day, even the election district that includes Foxwood Village voted for Republicans, including Mr. Dunleavy, according to numbers posted at Republican headquarters — though not yet available through the county — Mr. Dunleavy received 215 votes, with Ms. Giglio leading with 222 in Election District 11. Ms. Thomas earned 200 in ED11 and Mr. Bianchi, who came out on the attack against Mr. Dunleavy at the Oct. 24 debate, finished last in that district, with 196 votes.

“The few people that thought I was the sole person [responsible for the clear-cutting] for the Costco project, they were wrong, and the people that believed in me, voted for me,” Mr. Dunleavy said after the results came in and he was awarded a third four-year term.

For her part, Ms. Giglio told WRIV radio show host Bruce Tria that the election outcome could offer a renewed opportunity for the Republicans, who will now have to work together for at least another two years, the length of supervisor terms in Riverhead Town.

“We have to put things behind us and move forward,” she said, adding that she would reach out to Mr. Walter to perhaps talk over lunch.

Mr. Walter later told the News-Review he would be willing to sit with Ms. Giglio over lunch.

mwhite@timesreview.com

11/08/13 12:00pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Democrat Angela DeVito concedes to Republican Supervisor Sean Walter Tuesday night at Cody’s BBQ & Grill.

A breakdown of the election district totals that were posted at Republican headquarters at Cody’s BBQ Tuesday night shows that home field advantage only went so far on Tuesday.

• Democratic Supervisor candidate Angela DeVito did win her home district. She took Election District 8 in South Jamesport by a vote of 194 to 155. And Republican Supervisor Sean Walter took his home district, ED 17 in Wading River, by a vote of 209 to 148.

• Democrats Bill Bianchi and Millie Thomas both lost their home districts, with Mr. Bianchi coming in third of the four council candidates in ED 22 in Riverhead, where he lives, and Ms. Thomas coming in third in her ED 14 in Calverton.

• Incumbent Republican Councilman John Dunleavy came in second to fellow Republican incumbent Jodi Giglio in Mr. Dunleavy’s ED 11 in Calverton. Results were not immediately available for the breakdown in Ms. Giglio’s home district, ED 19 in Baiting Hollow.

• The districts in which Ms. DeVito bested Mr. Walter were mostly along the southern part of Aquebogue, Jamesport and South Jamesport, winning ED 6, 21 and 8, which together cover the bayfront from Hubbard Avenue to Laurel.

Ms. DeVito also won in ED 2, which covers areas in the heart of Riverhead, such as Industrial Boulevard and Pulaski Street.

• The only districts where two Democratic council candidates came in first or second place were ED 2, 10 and 17, the latter two being in Wading River, near Wildwood State Park.

• In the aforementioned ED 6 in Aquebogue, Ms. Giglio was the top vote getter, and Mr. Dunleavy and Ms. Thomas were tied for second.

• While Ms. DeVito won in her home district, her running mates did not. The GOP council candidates both won the top two spots in that district.

• The four council candidates also had varying second lines, which may (or may not) have played a factor in the final results.

Ms. Giglio gathered 3,219 votes on the Republican line and 415 on the Independence line. She did not receive Conservative party backing.

Mr. Dunleavy did get the Conservative nod, and received 813 votes on the Conservative line. He also got 2,682 votes on the Republican line, just less than the 2,685 votes Ms. Thomas received on the Democratic line. Ms. Thomas also received 456 votes on the Working Families line. Neither Ms. Thomas or Mr. Dunleavy appeared on the Independence Party Line.

Mr. Bianchi was the only council candidate with three lines.

He received 2,435 votes on the Democratic line, 348 on the Independence line and 262 on the Working Families line.

11/02/13 10:00am
11/02/2013 10:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Sean Walter and Angela DeVito on the Suffolk Theater stage.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Sean Walter and Angela DeVito on the Suffolk Theater stage.

RIVERHEAD SUPERVISOR
Two-year term, full time
2014 salary: $115,15

Sean Walter
Incumbent
Hamlet: Wading River
Occupation: Lawyer
Party lines: Republican, Conservative, Independence

About him: Mr. Walter, 50, grew up in Suffolk County and has lived in Wading River since 1992. He is seeking a third two-year term as Riverhead Town supervisor. Mr. Walter had previously served as a deputy town attorney for Riverhead Town. He is an attorney in private practice, which he runs out of Wading River. He is also a former chairman of the town Conservative Party.

His pitch: Mr. Walter says that while in office, he’s made great strides in three critical areas of concern: downtown, the Enterprise Park at Calverton and town finances. He points to the new restaurants, shops and apartments downtown, as well family-friendly events and an increased police presence on Main Street. At EPCAL, he’s proud that Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed fast-track development legislation into law. And on town finances, he says that as supervisor, he’s reduced the size of government, maintained a high credit rating and stayed under the tax cap.

In his words: “Each day I try to make Riverhead a better place to live, work and raise a family. Though we have come far, there is much more to be done and I ask for the chance to continue to move forward.”

 

Angela DeVito
Challenger
Hamlet: South Jamesport
Occupation: Retired
Party lines: Democrat, Working Families

About her: Ms. DeVito, 65, is a longtime workplace safety advocate with related degrees from Columbia University and the University of Utah. She retired in 2000 from a NYS health department occupational medicine program at SUNY/Stony Brook and then served as director of workforce development for the Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk counties. She is an active civic leader who has served on the town Industrial Development Agency and the Riverhead school board.

Her pitch: Ms. DeVito says her work experience, community activism and education make her a uniquely qualified for the supervisor position. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the public sector, with experience and skills that include public policy development and implementation; staff supervision and training; finance and budget; public testimony and lobbying; community-based coalition building; zoning and planning; finance audits; and application of public sector laws, rules and regulations.

In her words: “Everybody knows that Riverhead just isn’t working. If there is any doubt, watch Channel 22 for 15 minutes. We have a common goal: end dysfunctional government. When you are not happy with those elected to serve you, replace them.”

Read our endorsement for supervisor here

10/16/13 5:00pm
10/16/2013 5:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Supervisor candidate Angela DeVito was joined downtown Tuesday afternoon by town council candidate Bill Bianchi (left) and supporters. Ms. DeVito said the private sector is responsible for downtown’s resurgence, not politicians. Supervisor Sean Walter, in office since 2010, said he welcomes the criticism.

Democrats running for Riverhead Town Board seats say the incumbent Republicans don’t deserve credit for revitalizing downtown Riverhead, something Supervisor Sean Walter has frequently touted in his previous – and current – bid for re-election.

“The Sean Walter administration has made scant progress in efforts to improve downtown Riverhead,” Democratic supervisor candidate Angela DeVito said at a press conference Tuesday outside the former site of the Red Collection, which went out of business a couple of weeks ago. “What little progress has been made should be credited to town business leaders and not town government.”

Ms. DeVito was joined at the press conference by running mate Bill Bianchi, who is seeking a seat on the Town Board, and several supporters.

In a statement handed out at the event, Ms. DeVito said that “the opening of The Riverhead Project, reopening of the Suffolk Theater and the promotional activities of the Business Improvement District are the work of entrepreneurial business leaders and not Sean Walter or the lackluster Town Board.”

Mr. Walter saw it differently.

“If that’s what they want to campaign on, I welcome it,” he said in an interview. “Business owners are very happy with the help they got from my office to move things forward.”

He suggested talking to business owners such as Bob Castaldi of the Suffolk Theater, John Mantzopoulos of Athens Grill and Dennis McDermott of The Riverhead Project. All three have opened – or, in Mr. Mantzopolous’ case are reopening – since 2010, when Mr. Walter stepped into Town Hall.

“That’s nonsense,” Mr. Castaldi said of the Democrat’s claims. “When Cardinale was here, we went nowhere. When Walter came in, it was like somebody lifted a wet blanket off the town. There’s no question about it in my mind. When Cardinale was here we spun our wheels for three years.”

Former Democratic Supervisor Phil Cardinale had attempted to take back the Suffolk Theater through a reverter clause in the sales contract between the town and Mr. Castaldi. Mr. Castaldi then sued, the issue was tied up in court for several years and the restoration stalled.

Mr. Mantzopoulos, whose restaurant was badly damaged in a fire in July, said that a Town Board resolution to waive building fees for Athens Grill and the Rendezvous, which had a fire the same week, was approved by the Town Board — but not unanimously, as Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilman Jim Wooten did not support the measure.

“There was a little opposition from two people, so I don’t know if you can put them all in the same box,” Mr. Mantzopoulos said in an interview Tuesday. “But overall, my personal experience is that the town government has been good to me. If there are state grants that I’m eligible for, they’ll notify me. I can’t really complain about Town Hall in the last four years.”

Mr. Mantzopoulos said he’s known Ms. DeVito for nine years and Mr. Walter for four.

“At the end of the day, they’re both good people and I wish them both luck,” he said.

Ms. DeVito said at the press conference that the Town Board should concentrate on things such as public safety and the condition of downtown sidewalks and businesses will come. She said the town still has police officers stationed outside the Suffolk Theater after shows and said town zoning allows areas such as Route 58 to kill downtown businesses.

“We need someone who is going to clean up Second and Third streets, and work with Southampton Town to clean up Riverside,” she said.

Mr. Bianchi said the revitalization of downtown “has a long way to go.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

09/18/13 6:00pm
09/18/2013 6:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A view of the Peconic Bay waterfront in Jamesport.

A proposal to limit home rentals in Riverhead Town for less than 30 days ran into some opposition at a public hearing Tuesday.

Some speakers said the limit will hurt the local economy, but town officials said that by renting homes in residential neighborhoods, homeowners are in effect operating a commercial venture while avoiding the state and county taxes that hotels and motels must pay. The legislation is also designed to prevent homes from becoming party houses on weekends.

“My biggest concern with the restrictions is the economic impact it will have on the North Fork,” said Simon Kahn, who said he has a house in Northville but doesn’t rent it.

Mr. Kahn said Long Island wineries attract more than a million people annually and many of the visitors to the North Fork  cannot procure short-term rentals, Mr. Kahn said.

“Many simply will not come, and that will have a far reaching economic impact,” he said.

Andrew Barrett of Aquebogue said short-term rentals create a homelike atmosphere for families.

“By staying in a house versus a hotel, these guests are able to be in a communal environment where they are not segregated into separate hotel rooms and can only gather in public places,” he said.

There are more than 8,000 such homes in New York and more than 300 on the North Fork, he said. President Barack Obama even stayed at a privately owned vacation home for a week on Martha’s Vineyard, and former President Clinton rented a home on the South Fork for two weeks, he said.

“They chose not to stay in hotels for the reasons I mentioned,” Mr. Barrett said.

Supervisor Sean Walter said President Clinton was in violation of Southampton’s regulations, since the proposal Riverhead is putting forward was taken from Southampton Town’s code.

“The issue for me is I wouldn’t want it next to me,” Mr. Walter told Mr. Barrett, who rents a home. “I’m choosing not to live next door to a commercial establishment. You’re a commercial establishment.”

The proposal defines transient as a rental period of 29 days or less and makes transient rentals of homes illegal.

Legally operating hotels, motels or bed and breakfasts are exempt from the proposed regulation.

The town proposed the regulations after hearing complaints from Aquebogue resident Ron Hariri, who said a home near him is constantly rented to multiple groups of people for one-night stays. He said there are issues with noise and security resulting from the house.

Amy Csorny of Wading River was the only speaker to support the proposal at Tuesday’s hearing. She said there are three rental houses on her block and they often leave their garbage out on Sunday night before heading back home. By Monday, animals throw the garbage all over the street before it can be picked up, she said.

Joe Stella of Aquebogue, who rents his house there, said the restriction should be on the number of people that can rent a home and not the number of days.

Mr. Walter said homeowners who do short-term rentals are essentially running a commercial business in a residential zone and questioned if they could even stay in business if they had to be pay the state and county hotel tax, as commercial establishments do.

Bruce Gephard, who rents a home in Aquebogue, said they’re addressing the wrong issue.

“This is not Hampton Bays,” he said. “Nobody is renting these houses to come here to party. Where would they party? There’s nowhere to party.”

tgannon@timesreview.com