09/18/14 5:00am
09/18/2014 5:00 AM

To the editor:

Last week, Sean Walter’s signature solutions for our town — a multi-million dollar “bridge” loan and specifics of a reuse plan prepared by his hand-picked, no-bid $600,000 consultant for EPCAL — were overwhelmingly rejected by his fellow Town Board members as well as the public. (more…)

09/02/14 2:49pm

east-end-helicopter-noise-long-island11

Before last week’s packed public aircraft noise meeting in Wainscott, a smaller group of public officials met with representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration in Riverhead.

As with previous encounters with the FAA, nothing much was accomplished, according to those who attended the meeting.  (more…)

07/18/14 8:00am
07/18/2014 8:00 AM
Eugene Lafurno pictured at his Baiting Hollow home, which he has dubbed 'The Epiphany.' Riverhead Town was given approval from a court last month to demolish the addition at the top of the house. (Credit: Joseph Pinciaro)

Eugene Lafurno pictured at his Baiting Hollow home, which he has dubbed ‘The Epiphany.’ Riverhead Town was given approval from a court last month to demolish the addition at the top of the house. (Credit: Joseph Pinciaro)

After taking a Baiting Hollow couple to court over an addition to their home — a project the town has called a health and safety risk — Riverhead Town was granted permission last month to knock the structure down.

The town, however, still needs to take certain steps to make that happen.  (more…)

07/17/14 8:00am
After several attacks in the downtown Riverhead area this year — most of which have targeted Hispanic males — the town will revive its dormant Anti-Bias Task Force, a group 'meant to be a proactive agency in promoting tolerance and understanding.' (Credit: Carrie Miller)

After several attacks in the downtown Riverhead area this year — most of which have targeted Hispanic males — the town will revive its dormant Anti-Bias Task Force, a group ‘meant to be a proactive agency in promoting tolerance and understanding.’ (Credit: Paul Squire)

A string of violent assaults and robberies in the downtown area this year — most of which have targeted Hispanic men — has town leaders responding by reviving a group aimed at bringing the community together.

Dormant almost since its inception in 2007, according to town officials, Riverhead’s Anti-Bias Task Force will soon begin meeting again. (more…)

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.

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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.

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