01/19/13 9:00am
01/19/2013 9:00 AM
TIM GANNON PHOTO  |  A giant pile of superstorm Sandy debris has sat in front of Sheila Ganetis' Morningside Avenue home in Jamesport for almost two months. Town officials say she'll need to pay to get the junk removed.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | A giant pile of superstorm Sandy debris has sat in front of Sheila Ganetis’ Morningside Avenue home in Jamesport for almost two months. Town officials say she’ll need to pay to get the junk removed.

Fence slats, wood pilings, tree trunks, even pieces of staircases.

Superstorm Sandy dumped a lot of debris at Sheila Ganetis’ Jamesport property — and at her mother’s house next door.

When volunteers later came to help with cleanup, much of the wreckage was piled in front of her Morningside Avenue home, waiting for road crews to remove it.

But there it has stayed.

And unfortunately for Ms. Ganetis, it now appears she’s stuck with it.

Riverhead Town’s highway department will take away only wood and brush left at curbs, not construction debris such as that outside Ms. Ganetis’ house, town highway officials said. As for the brush and cut-up tree pieces that are also in the pile, Ms. Ganetis said highway crews have told her they will only pick up brush that’s in a separate pile and not mixed in with other storm debris.

“The highway department rep who answered the phone [last Monday] told me that they were only taking vegetation now and that if there was one stick of non-vegetation, they wouldn’t take anything,” Ms. Ganetis said.

“I started crying on the phone.”

Town sanitation superintendent John Reeve said Ms. Ganetis will have to rent a dumpster and hire a private company to haul the storm debris away, adding that had his department known about the huge pile sooner, he might have been able to get removal paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“On Pye Lane in South Jamesport, they had massive piles of big stuff; they must have gotten everything in the bay washed up on their yards,” Mr. Reeve said, referring to the street adjacent to the town’s South Jamesport Beach.

Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller, who is also the town’s emergency management coordinator, took FEMA officials down to Pye Lane and FEMA agreed to pay for disposal of the debris. About six 30-yard rolloff containers of debris were taken from that area, the chief said, adding that storm debris collected at the western end of Peconic Bay Boulevard also qualified for FEMA reimbursement.

The sanitation department will accept debris that’s no longer or taller than four feet and is put by the curbside in a pile or container on the designated bulk item pickup day, Mr. Reeve said.

“But big bulky stuff has to go in a dumpster,” he said. “If these people had called earlier, or gotten the stuff out earlier, I would have made the chief aware of it and FEMA might have included that for reimbursement.”

He said the deadline for FEMA reimbursement passed on Friday.

Ms. Ganetis said volunteers from West Virginia University affiliated with North Shore Christian Church in Riverhead helped clean up her property and the immediate area and piled up the debris on the curb on Dec. 18. Three days later, a highway department truck came down her street, taking away large piles of debris from further up the road. The crews never made it as far as her property. She had assumed at the time that they were coming back.

Mr. Reeve said that Ms. Ganetis’ situation is unique.

“Right now, everything is pretty much cleaned up,” he said.

While Ms. Ganetis was talking with a reporter outside her home on Monday, a payloader, dump truck and one other highway department vehicle came down her street.

Ms. Ganetis couldn’t believe her eyes.

But then, the trucks stopped, backed up, turned around and left.

Highway Superintendent George (Gio) Woodson later said those trucks “were only going around looking for residual stuff we may have missed.”


01/11/13 10:00am
01/11/2013 10:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Property owners near Wading River Beach are saying the Town of Riverhead has not complied with a settlement regarding property rights from 2011.

The Wading River beachfront homeowners who brought a $1 million federal lawsuit against the town claiming it was not enforcing trespassing laws regarding their property in 2010 now say the town hasn’t done any of the things it said it would as part of a 2011 settlement.

The suit was filed by Long Island Soundfront homeowners Jim and Amy Csorny, Michael and Alice Brown, Daniel and Babette Sackowitz, and John Stankaitis, Kelly Eibs and Jessica Eibs-Stankaitis, the latter of whom is a town animal control officer.

They claimed their property extends to the mean high water mark on the beach and that people have trespassed on their property and the town has not taken enforcement action to stop it.

The issue became a battle over beach rights, and the town initially vowed to fight the landowners on the grounds that the land in question was public beach.

The Town Board, in December 2011, voted to settle the lawsuit  in a split vote that was preceded by a lengthy public debate over beach access.

Council members George Gabrielsen and Jodi Giglio voted against the settlement, but Supervisor Sean Walter and councilmen Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy supported it.

Mr. Walter said the town would likely lose if the case proceeded.

The settlement required the town to take some steps to protect the property owners and the judge in charge retained jurisdiction of the case for a year after the settlement to ensure that the terms of the settlement were met. That year expires on Jan. 23.

In a Jan. 7 letter from David Lazer, the attorney for the homeowners, to U.S. District Court judge Joanna Seybert, Mr. Lazer writes, “Pursuant to the settlement agreement, the Town of Riverhead undertook to perform certain obligations to effectuate the terms of that agreement. Among them were the erection of a permanent barrier along the eastern boundary of the town boating access ramp in Wading River, the erection of permanent signage at appropriate locations warning the public that no access by pedestrians or motor vehicles was permitted south of the mean high water lines, and appropriate ticketing and prosecution of persons who trespassed on the plaintiffs’ properties. To date, the town has not done any of these things.”

Mr. Lazer is asking the judge to extend her jurisdiction another six months.

Mr. Walter said the town intends to comply.

“We had our permits and then the hurricane came,” he said Thursday. “We’ll get it done.”

The Town Board discussed the case in executive session Thursday.

“We discussed moving forward with our end of the bargain,” Mr. Wooten said.  “We do have a stipulation of settlement.”


07/06/11 8:50pm
07/06/2011 8:50 PM

The Riverhead Town Board on Wednesday officially voted to hire a consultant to study Wading River’s zoning along Route 25A, where several large commercial proposals are pending.

But the vote was not without opposition.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio cast the lone “no” vote on the resolution that authorized Supervisor Sean Walter to sign a contract to pay BFJ Planning of Manhattan a maximum of $44,000 to update the town’s master plan for Route 25A and write zoning to reflect those changes.

Ms. Giglio said the town did a Wading River hamlet study in 1989, and that study recommended the creation of a new main street running parallel to Route 25A south of what is now Walgreens, but that recommendation was never followed.

“We have ample information from previous studies,” Ms. Giglio said. “Spending another $42,000 on a study makes no sense.”

The other three board members who were present supported the new study. Councilman John Dunleavy, who is recovering from a mild heart attack, was absent.

Architect Martin Sendlewski argued that if the town is going to make changes to the zoning in Wading River, it needs to study the other hamlets in the town as well, because if less development is ultimately allowed in Wading River, that development will move to another hamlet.

“We’ve spoken to attorneys and planners and people who do this exclusively for a living and they disagree with you,” Supervisor Sean Walter told Mr. Sendlewski.

Wading River Civic Association president Sid Bail thanked the board for approving the study, which his association and others have pushed for.

He said BFJ, which studied Route 25A in Brookhaven Town, “is a very good firm.”


06/29/11 8:41pm
06/29/2011 8:41 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Vince Tria outside Riverhead Town Hall during happier times. Mr. Tria served the town as a volunteer downtown ombudsman under former supervisor Phil Cardinale.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Vince Tria outside Riverhead Town Hall during happier times. Mr. Tria served the town as a volunteer downtown ombudsman under former supervisor Phil Cardinale.

Former Business Improvement District management association president Vince Tria has filed a lawsuit against Riverhead Town Board members seeking $10 million in damages resulting from his removal last year as BID president.

Mr. Tria, who owns the WRIV radio station in Riverhead and was an assistant to former Democratic Supervisor Phil Cardinale, was removed as the unpaid BID president in early 2010 by the newly elected Republican majority, and he claims the town is retaliating against him for “whistleblowing activities.”

Mr. Tria had filed a notice of claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, in March 2010 making similar claims and seeking the same $10 million in damages, but he hadn’t filed suit until now. The two-page summons was served to town officials Tuesday, although it says it was filed March 1.

Mr. Tria names as defendants Supervisor Sean Walter and Council members Jim Wooten, Jodi Giglio and George Gabrielsen, both individually and as members of the Town Board.

Councilman John Dunleavy, who was absent from the 2010 vote in which the board replaced Mr. Tria as a BID board member, was not named in the lawsuit.

“This is an action for declaratory relief and recovery of monetary damages by reason of defendants’ wrongful termination of plaintiff as president of the BID in violation of required procedure and in retaliation for whistleblowing activities and exercise of his constitutional rights,” the summons states. “Defendants have failed to comply with proper procedure and due process and their intent was to chill plaintiff’s exercise of his federal and state constitutional rights. Plaintiff seeks recovery of damages for defamation and infliction of emotional distress.”

Mr. Tria, who seeks $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages, Mr. did not returned phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Mr. Walter was not amused by news of the lawsuit.

“This is nothing more than a political stunt,” he said. “He filed the lawsuit on March 1 and he had 120 days to serve it. Yesterday was the last day. He tried to drag this as far into the election season as he could to help Phil Cardinale and now, if he doesn’t serve the notice, his lawsuit will become null and void.”

Mr. Walter said Mr. Tria waited until the last minute to file the lawsuit, as he had a year to do so after filing the notice of claim, and he waited until the last minute to serve.

“It will cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars to defend this frivolous lawsuit,” Mr. Walter said.


06/24/11 6:29pm
06/24/2011 6:29 PM

The Riverhead Town Board has decided informally to enter into a professional services agreement with a consultant to study zoning and land use along Route 25A in Wading River, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.

The town has been under pressure from civic organizations to restudy the zoning in that area in the wake of four large commercial development projects recently proposed in Wading River, with three of them on Route 25A.

The Town Board met with Frank Fish of BFJ Planning in open session at last Thursday’s work session to discuss the study in general, and then later in closed, executive session to discuss the cost of the study.

Mr. Walter said on Friday that the study will cost about $42,000 and will be limited to commercial uses in the Wading River Route 25A corridor.

BFJ Planning also did a Route 25A Corridor Study in Brookhaven Town, stretching from Wading River to Mount Sinai.

“We will pay them about $42,000 to do the visioning, the environmental work, and to help us write zoning,” Mr. Walter said Friday. “The visioning will consist of meeting with property owners and residents and try to really solidify what it is that works in Wading River.”

The board is expected to formally hire BFJ Planning at its next meeting on Wednesday, July 6, which is a 2 p.m. meeting.

Representatives of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, the Wading River Civic Association, the North Fork Environmental Council and the Group for the East End have not only called for a study, but also for a moratorium on processing existing development applications in this corridor while the study is taking place.

“There’s no board support for that,” Councilman George Gabrielsen of the moratorium.

But Mr. Walter said it’s too early to make a decision on whether to have a moratorium.

The study is expected to take about six to eight months to complete, Mr. Gabrielsen said.


06/22/11 2:05pm
06/22/2011 2:05 PM

The Suffolk County Legislature approved a bill Tuesday that will start the planning process toward acquiring and preserving land a property currently slated for commercial development in Wading River.

Developer William Zoumas has proposed stores and a restaurant for the vacant 18-acre parcel adjacent to CVS on Route 25A.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said the property is located within the compatible growth area of the Pine Barrens and he asked the Legislature to take the necessary steps to preserve the land.

“We have a lot of development pressure in Wading River,” Mr. Walter said. “If we aren’t able to purchase the property, the downside is the zoning allows for commercial development.”

Riverhead Town officials said the proposed project, called Central Square, is currently under review for site plan approval.

George Bartunek of the North Fork Environmental Council said if the county acquires the property it would serve as a buffer to adjacent commercial areas and would be used as a recreational park by the community.

“It would give residents, students and visitors a better understanding of the significance of not only the Pine Barrens eco-system, but of a parkland versus a paved parking lot,” he said.

The Legislature approved a measure to begin the planning process of acquiring the land by a 17-1 vote, with Legislator Thomas Barraga opposing.

The bill, which was sponsored by Legislator Ed Romaine, allows the county to look into acquiring the land under the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program.


02/15/11 4:15pm
02/15/2011 4:15 PM

Riverhead and Southold towns could come off the Long Island Power Authority grid and save residents money while making more electricity available to the rest of the island, where most consumers rely on LIPA.

Those are the thoughts of Greenport Mayor David Nyce, a longtime proponent of green energy. He sees wind turbines, which could be built in Greenport, giving the whole North Fork energy independence.

The concept drew applause from state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) at last Thursday’s annual environmental roundtable in Selden, an event he holds every year with elected and appointed officials, environmentalists, community members, sportsmen and others.

“I’ve always thought outside of the box and I appreciate people who are creative and think out of the box,” the senator said in praise of Mr. Nyce’s suggestion, which he pitched at the event.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, who did not attend, was skeptical. “I don’t think the technology is anywhere near doing anything like that,” he commented Tuesday.

Mr. Nyce has had discussions with Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, who says he has been eager to explore alternative and renewable energy sources.

“The village is in a good position because it owns its own distribution system,” Mr. Russell commented this week. “We’re certainly working together” to explore all options, he said.

What’s stopping Mr. Nyce from getting very far with his idea is a restriction imposed by the New York Power Authority, which regulates the village-owned utility, Greenport Electric. To protect the profitability of upstate hydroelectric suppliers, NYPA prohibits all municipal utilities from producing electricity for their own consumers.

Mr. Nyce said he has identified two sites in Greenport that he believes are well situated to produce enough energy to make the plan viable. One is the former scavenger waste plant on Moore’s Lane. Southold Town has removed the plant and restored the site. The second is at Clark’s Beach, near the Audubon Society’s Red House on Route 48. The village still owns part of the beach and could erect a tower there, the mayor said.

On another topic, Mr. Nyce suggested at the roundtable that East End villages and towns cooperate in creating a single design that could be employed at street endings throughout the area to handle stormwater runoff.


01/22/11 10:00am
01/22/2011 10:00 AM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Riverhead Town in now in contract to acquire the Second Street firehouse, which the Riverhead Fire District no longer uses since it built a new headquarters on Roanoke Avenue.

Riverhead Town is now in contract to acquire the unused Second Street firehouse in a land swap with the Riverhead Fire District, according to town Supervisor Sean Walter, who is pushing a plan is to demolish the building and use the space as parking for downtown businesses.
In particular, he’s hoping the added parking will benefit a multiplex movie theater he’s been trying to lure downtown.

Other Town Board members had a variety of opinions on the subject. Councilman John Dunleavy is opposed to knocking down the building and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said it should be done only as a last resort, if parking is not available elsewhere.
Riverhead firefighters stopped using the Second Street building after the district built a new headquarters on Roanoke Avenue.

Town officials have tried to keep details of the movie theater plan under wraps until some paperwork is signed, but Mr. Walter said he’s hoping to be able to announce something soon and feels the availability of additional parking at the firehouse property could help move a potential development deal forward.

“It’s about an acre of property and could provide 125 to 150 parking stalls for downtown,” Mr. Walter said. “The theater would need about 300 to 400 stalls, depending on the size of the theater, and there are about 225 parking spaces behind the theater and across the street.”

The town will acquire the firehouse in exchange for water district property on Route 58, near Stotzky Park. Firefighters have used that land for years as a training grounds and as the site of the department’s annual motorized drill competition.

“We’re hoping to have this wrapped up soon,” Mr. Walter said of the land swap.

Initially, the town hoped to convince the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance to move into the former firehouse, but ambulance officials opposed that plan, saying Second Street is not a good, location for an ambulance barn given its distance from the Route 58 artery. Ambulance officials have been hoping the town will allow them to expand their existing headquarters on Osborn Avenue.

The fire department has vacated the Second Street building completely, according to fire district commissioner Mark Conklin, although the town police department has been using it for storage of a rescue boat.

“We need to see if we’re getting a movie theater first before we knock that building down,” Ms. Giglio said. “And even if we do, it’s going to take time to approve it, so we can use the firehouse for something else in the interim. I Think we should take that building down as a last resort if we can’t find parking anywhere else. But if it’s something that helps get a theater here, take it down.”

“We never, never spoke about taking it down,” Mr. Dunleavy also said, adding that he wouldn’t support razing the building for parking.

“I think it’s a historic building,” he said. “I could never vote for knocking it down.”

Mr. Dunleavy noted that although he think it’s historic, te firehouse, a red brick structure that was pieced together in sections over decades, is not officially designated as an historic building.

Councilman Jim Wooten said he’d have no problem knocking the building down for parking, because the building “has problems and is not an historic building.” But he said that while downtown needs parking, he doesn’t think downtown Main Street is the right spot for a multiplex because a 14-screen theater will require more parking spaces that downtown can provide.

Councilman George Gabrielsen said he doesn’t think the additional parking is needed now, but that if it were needed to attract a movie theater, he’d support demolition of the firehouse.