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

08/29/13 8:00am
08/29/2013 8:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Apollo Real Estate Advisors has owned the Woolworth site since 2006 and may be in the process of getting it sold.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Woolworth site was one location Supervisor Sean Walter originally thought could work for a downtown movie theater.

Supervisor Sean Walter’s vision of a downtown Riverhead movie theater has gained little momentum as critics claim a Route 58 location would be more logical.

Mr. Walter said he still hopes to lure a movie theater downtown, but would be willing to consider alternate locations such as Route 58. He said he’s currently talking to representatives from two movie theater companies about coming to Riverhead but wasn’t optimistic.

“I don’t have a lot of confidence in getting one,” he said.

Councilmen John Dunleavy and George Gabrielsen said the idea of restricting a movie theater to only downtown Riverhead theater makes little sense.

They both said parking in downtown would be a problem. A theater would require 1,200 parking spaces, Mr. Dunleavy said, while there are only 500 currently downtown.

Mr. Gabrielsen said it’s all about location.

“We’ve really got to get that archaic idea of a downtown movie theater out of our heads,” Mr. Gabrielsen said.

Mr. Walter tried to lure Regal Cinemas to the former Woolworth building on East Main Street in 2011 before the deal fell apart in early 2012. One of the companies he’s speaking with now owns the Movieland Cinema on Route 112 in Coram, he said. The other “is a spinoff of one of the large cinema groups,” he said, although he declined to identify it.

“I’m trying to bring them here, the problem is, we’re not getting a lot of traction because that business seems to be a dying business,” Mr. Walter said.

With Regal, Mr. Walter insisted on trying to get the company downtown instead of Route 58, a preferred destination for theater companies.

Now he’s softened that stance because space in downtown may be  filling up with other uses, he said.

The Woolworth building, which Mr. Walter said was ideal for a theater, is now being developed with a gym, retail stores and apartments. The supervisor said the only property left that might be big enough for a theater is the former Sears building, but apartments are also being proposed for that building.

“I would much rather it be on Main Street, but if Main Street fills up, obviously I’m not going to lock them out if someone wants to bring one to Route 58,” Mr. Walter said.

Sheldon Gordon, a principal in Riverhead Enterprises, the company that owns the Sear’s building, said they tried to contact some movie theater companies about coming downtown, but the companies haven’t gotten back to them.

Mr. Walter acknowledged it’s beneficial for a movie theater to be in a commercial shopping center.

“[Theaters] don’t generate enough money to pay what other businesses pay, but shopping center owners like movie theaters because they are anchors and they bring hordes of people to the shopping center.”

A zoning change would be required for a movie theater to open on Route 58. In 2004 the Town Board voted to eliminate movie theaters as a permitted use on Route 58 in an effort to lure a theater downtown.

Mr. Walter said none of the theater companies he’s talked to recently have insisted on going on Route 58, but if one did, “it would be something we’d have to consider,” he said.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she would support a Route 58 theater if the developer agreed to put a smaller theater downtown, something a company she’s spoken with — but didn’t identify — has suggested.

Mr. Dunleavy suggested a movie theater near The All Star bowling alley, which is technically on Route 25.

One way or another, downtown wouldn’t work for a theater, Mr. Gabrielsen said.

“It’s got everything going against it,” he said. “I can’t see it happening. Unless you open up Route 58, you’re never going to get a movie theater.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

08/20/13 2:30pm
08/20/2013 2:30 PM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO |

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Riverhead Police Department’s newest ATV was unveiled today. On hand were: (from left) Town Councilman John Dunleavy, DA Thomas Spota, Police Chief David Hegermiller, PBA President Dixon Palmer, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, Police Officer John Morris, Councilman George Gabrielsen, PBA Vice President Christopher Parkin, Councilman Jim Wooten and Supervisor Sean Walter.

The Riverhead Police Department’s latest addition started at a fundraiser for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota two years ago.

Riverhead police officer Charles Cichanowicz was in charge of patrolling Iron Pier Beach, but was frustrated by having to drive back to police headquarters to pick up the department’s all-terrain vehicle when it was needed. He pitched an idea to Mr. Spota: use money seized from criminals in police raids to help the police department buy new ATVs and sheds to store them.

This summer, the county delivered. Riverhead police have been using the new ATV — worth about $6,000 — since June and it has already had a noticeable impact on how well the police can patrol the beaches and assist those in need, said Supervisor Sean Walter.

“We do beach patrols during the summertime so we’re really happy the DA provided us the money for the two sheds,” Mr. Walter said in an interview last week. ”It’s very helpful because it increases the protection on the beach. We used to get a lot of complaints.”

Police officer and Police Benevolent Association vice president Christopher Parkin said the shed and new ATV allows police officers to respond to emergencies on the beach faster. It used to take police about 20 minutes to return to base, pick up the ATVs using a trailer and return to the scene on the beach, town officials said. Now, police can respond in minutes.

“These are live-saving instruments,” Mr. Parkin said. “That time can be the difference between life and death.”

The two new sheds purchased using the asset forfeiture funds have been installed at Wading River and Iron Pier beaches.

Mr. Spota, who was at Iron Pier beach Tuesday with the Town Board and police officials, said he would expedite a request to get Riverhead police a second, new ATV. The police plan to then donate one of their older vehicles to the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

psquire@timesreview.com

08/14/13 11:30am
08/14/2013 11:30 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO  |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO  |  Weeping Willow Park will open Friday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The long planned Weeping Willow Park will officially open Friday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 1 p.m., Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter announced.

The park sits on the site of the former Weeping Willow Motel on West Main Street, which had been there for 58 years until the town purchased the property in 2009 for $1.25 million to transform the half-acre site into a park. The demolition of the building was delayed until 2011 because asbestos had to be removed, and earlier this year, the opening was delayed further by vandals driving on the grass.

In addition to creating a park with a canoe and kayak launching area, the removal of the motel also had benefits, Mr. Walter said.

“The project has removed a blighting influence in the downtown Riverhead business district and eliminated the significant discharge of wastewater and runoff from the site into the Peconic River,” he said.

Cornell Cooperative Extension provided picnic tables, trash receptacles and signage to the park through its “Creating Healthy Places in Suffolk County” grant awarded by the New York State Department of Health, according to Susan Wilk, Cornell’s  Creating Healthy Places in Suffolk County Coordinator.

The town purchased the property using money from the Community Preservation Fund, which comes from a voter-approved two-percent real estate transfer tax.

The town also received a $500,000 state Environmental Protection Fund grant for the project in 2007.

tgannon@timesreview.com

08/13/13 5:24pm
08/13/2013 5:24 PM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTOS | Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio is currently engaged in a bitter primary battle with Anthony Coates.

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTOS | Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio has currently raised more money than primary challenger Anthony Coates.

Republican Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio is far ahead of running mate John Dunleavy and primary challenger Anthony Coates in terms of money raised and money spent in this year’s campaign, according to the latest Board of Elections disclosure reports.

The reports also show that Riverhead Town Democratic Committee has now raised more money than its Republican counterpart as of the latest filing period for this year.

Also, Democratic supervisor candidate Angela DeVito has raised nearly as much money as incumbent Republican Supervisor Sean Walter, despite the fact that Mr. Walter ran a separate campaign for Suffolk County legislator earlier in the year.

The Board of Elections requires all fundraising committees to file campaign disclosure reports in January and July, but also requires candidates involved in a primary or a general election to file additional reports, including a 32-day pre-primary report that was due Friday.

In Riverhead Town, there is a Democratic primary for supervisor between party nominee Angela DeVito and challenger Ann Cotten DeGrasse, as well as a Republican primary for two council seats that pits party nominees Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy against challenger Anthony Coates, who has specifically targeted Ms. Giglio in his campaign.

There’s also a council primary for the Independence party nominations in Riverhead, pitting Ms. Giglio and Mr. Dunleavy against Bill Bianchi, a Democratic nominee.

The other Democratic council candidate, Millie Thomas, is not running in the Independence Party primary.

In the Democratic race for supervisor, Ms. DeVito, to date, has raised $21,509 and spent $13,764, with $7,735 left on hand. Her biggest contribution was $1,000 from the Ironworkers Political Action League.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse has raised $6,588 and spent $3,920, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. For the year, she’s raised $8,353 and spent $6,422, and ended the most recent filing period with $3,929 on hand.

Mr. Walter didn’t have to submit a pre-primary report since he’s not involved in a primary, but he has raised a total of $26,452 and spent $19,964 so far this year, with much of that being raised when he was running a special election for county Legislature earlier this year.

The Riverhead Town Democratic Committee had not yet posted a pre-primary report on the state BOE website but, to date, per the July filing, the Democrats had raised a total of $25,686 and spent $15,344 this year. The committee shows a balance of $15,550.

By comparison, the Riverhead Republican Committee had raised $5,950 and spent $7,172 through the July filing and the end balance showed them in debt to the tune of $4,102. The Republicans filed a “no action” notice in the pre-primary report, indicating that they had neither raised nor spent any money since the July filing date.

“I think it’s obvious that people want to change this Town Board this year and are supporting us,” said Riverhead Democratic chair Marge Acevedo.

Neither Mr. Bianchi nor Ms. Thomas have set up campaign fundraising committees yet.

The primary vote date is Sept. 10.

In the Republican race for two town council seat nominations, Ms. Giglio’s latest reports show her raising $14,760 more and spending $12,780 more since the prior reports in July.

Adding up the totals from the January and July filings, she has raised a total of $54,824 and spent $49,317. She started in January with $6,066, giving her a closing balance of $11,571, according to the report.

Ms. Giglio reported $4,542 in unspecified contributions in her latest report. Contributions of less than $100, such as those from people who attend fundraisers with a ticket price under $100, do not have to be listed by name.

Her biggest contributors named in the latest report are Phyllis Chulpsa of Smithtown and Composite Technologies of Calverton, each of which contributed $1,000.

Ms. Giglio’s campaign expenses show payments for fundraising events of $900 and $5,740 to Strategic Maneuvers and $1,500 to Third Rock, both of which have the same address as the Outer Banks Restaurant, which Ms. Giglio’s husband runs at the county’s Indian Island Country Club.

Mr. Dunleavy’s 32-day pre-primary report lists only $2,683 in additional contributions and $6,572 in additional expenses. For the year, including numbers from the prior reports, Mr. Dunleavy has raised $38,613 and spent $25,187. His campaign still has a balance $9,647 on hand.

His biggest contribution in the recent report was $1,000 from Randy Altschuler of St. James, who twice ran unsuccessfully for Congress on the Republican line against incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop.

Mr. Dunleavy also received $808 from Rudy Saviano Inc., of Ronkonkoma, which does fundraising auctions.

And Mr. Coates’ latest disclosure report shows only $1,000 more in contributions and $492 more in spending. The entire $1,000 came from Ron DeVito, who is seeking to build an assisted living facility on Mill Road.

Adding up all the reports, Mr. Coates has raised $6,275 and spent $5,336, although he started the year with $2,512, having raised $2,708 at fundraisers in late 2012. He still had $3,449 on hand at the end of the most recent filing period.

Mr. Coates’ expenses showed charges of $61 for “gas for petition travel” and $29 and $11 for “meal for petitioner.” In past reports, he has listed his cell phone costs as a campaign expense.

tgannon@timesreview.com

07/17/13 4:00pm
07/17/2013 4:00 PM
Sean Walter of Riverhead

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Supervisor Sean Walter (right) says elected officials should not serve on political parties’ executive committees.

Riverhead Town has a law in place prohibiting appointed members of boards such as the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals from serving on political parties’ executive committees.

But Supervisor Sean Walter says he plans to introduce legislation expanding that prohibition to include elected officials as well.

The supervisor unveiled his proposal at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, when board members presented a plaque to Marge Acevedo for her 25 years on the Board of Assessment Review.

Ms. Acevedo stepped down from that board earlier this year after she was named chair of the Riverhead Democratic committee. Mr. Walter said Brookhaven Town already has a law prohibiting elected officials from holding positions on the executive boards of political party committees, such as committee chair or vice chair.

The only current elected official in Riverhead who would be affected by the proposal is assessor Mason Haas, who is vice chair of the town Republican committee and is expected to take over as chairman later this year.

Mr. Walter, also a Republican, said he plans to discuss his proposal with the Town Board at Thursday’s work session.

tgannon@timesreview.com

06/13/13 8:00am
06/13/2013 8:00 AM
GOOGLE MAPS | The land Suffolk County is looking to preserve is on the west side of Park Road and fronts Sound Avenue.

GOOGLE MAPS | The land Suffolk County is looking to preserve is on the west side of Park Road and fronts Sound Avenue, just south of the Reeves Park neighborhood.

Riverhead Town should not dare to scuttle Suffolk County’s plans to purchase 15 acres of farmland along Sound Avenue for preservation.

The property stretches north into the Reeves Park neighborhood, and Reeves Park residents — as well as others across the North Fork and all Suffolk County — have made it clear that developing the state-designated rural corridor is not in the best interest of the neighbors, or the region as a whole.

Yet town council members Jodi Giglio and George Gabrielsen have said they don’t want the town to contribute the $75,000 that would allow the joint purchase to move forward. They argue the town shouldn’t be taking developable land off tax rolls and that Riverhead’s preservation funds are dwindling. But last we checked, housing developments weren’t exactly money-makers. And $75,000 for 15 acres is an excellent deal that won’t break the bank.

The two council members have the power to block the move. Supervisor Sean Walter has recused himself from a vote because he used to represent property owner Ed Broidy as a lawyer. If Ms. Giglio and Mr. Gabrielsen do kill the measure, they would not be acting as fiscal conservatives, as they might believe. They would instead be acting penny wise and pound foolish, as Councilman James Wooten has said.

Too much money and effort have been invested over decades into preserving Sound Avenue as a treasure for all Long Islanders, starting in earnest with the two-lane highway’s designation by the state as a historic rural corridor. There have been years of litigation between the town and Mr. Broidy since the town’s master plan rezoned the land (and other parcels on Sound Avenue). In the meantime, former county legislator Ed Romaine lobbied hard to get support for Suffolk County’s purchase of the Broidy property, with area civic leaders and other residents showing up in Hauppauge to support preservation efforts. This newspaper took the unusual step of running an opinion-based photo spread of rural Sound Avenue on its cover, urging the county to act to protect the corridor. Residents later displayed those photos to county lawmakers in Hauppauge to help win support for the cause.

Throw into the mix developer Kenn Barra, who has recently sold a 4.1-acre property on the east side of Park Road, also fronting Sound Avenue, to the county for parkland. That done, one might have thought preservation of the Broidy land was also nearing the finish line.

But now it seems the deal might be dead — and over a measly $75,000?

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski should step in and pressure Ms. Giglio and Mr. Gabrielsen to vote with their constituents. There may be no better example in this town of open space that should be preserved. It’s been 10 years since Mr. Broidy proposed a 22,000-square-foot shopping center for the site, causing great dismay among preservationists and everyday citizens. It’s now time to put this all behind us.