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01/04/13 8:00am
01/04/2013 8:00 AM
Jamesport-South Jamesport, Save Main Road, Georgette Keller, People of the Year

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Georgette Keller, president of the Jamesport Civic Association and a leader of ‘Save Main Road.’

While many people move to the North Fork for its rural character, most just sit back and enjoy the pastoral elements — come what may.

Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association president Georgette Keller is one of the few people to take up arms, so to speak, and fight to maintain her communities the way they are.

For spearheading preservation efforts and creating grassroots campaigns to deter overdevelopment, Ms. Keller is the Riverhead News-Review Civic Person of the Year.

Angela DeVito, recording secretary and a former president of the civic association, said Ms. Keller first joined the organization in 2003 out of concern about proposed waterfront development. A few years later, Ms. Keller and Richard Wines succeeded in creating a foundation to preserve the historic Jamesport Meeting House on Main Road, a North Fork landmark.

“We were impressed by her knowledge of zoning laws,” Ms. DeVito recalled of that first meeting with Ms. Keller. “She started talking about the need for historic preservation and the importance of our way of life.”

Ms. Keller is a reading specialist in the Riverhead School District and has studied history and architecture. The former paralegal moved from Amityville to Jamesport about 14 years ago with her husband, Robert, a retired Long Island Rail Road worker and North Fork native. The couple has two daughters, Nina, 15, and Grace, 16.

Earlier this year, Ms. Keller helped launch the “Save Main Road” campaign, a grassroots effort organizers claim is needed to maintain Jamesport’s rural character.

One major development project Save Main Road has dug in against is Jamesport Development LLC’s plan to build a 42,000-square-foot shopping center, called the Village at Jamesport, next to the Elbow Room restaurant. The Town Board last year approved two special use permits for the project, one allowing professional offices totaling 17,000 square feet and the other allowing two bistros as big as 8,000 square feet each.

Members of the Save Main Road group kicked off a campaign to raise money for legal action challenging the town’s approval of the permits and have since filed suit. The group is awaiting the judge’s ruling on motions from the town and developers to dismiss its suit.

The group also successfully pressured the YMCA to look for another location after Y officials had proposed to build a facility on Main Road in Aquebogue.

Ms. DeVito said the Save Main Road campaign has been an uphill battle in the midst of recent “civic bashing” that’s come from various officials, but that makes Ms. Keller’s dedication to the cause that much more admirable.

“She’s an amazing friend and person,” Ms. DeVito said.

Ms. Keller and other civic members have most recently been working with the state to designate Main Road, from County Route 105 to the Southold Town line in Laurel, as a historic corridor.

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01/02/13 6:00pm
01/02/2013 6:00 PM

Be sure to pick up this week’s Riverhead News-Review to learn the names of our “People of the Year” winners in Riverhead for 2012.

In addition to the overall person of the year, we’ll also honor our public servant of the year, civic person of the year, business person of the year and educator of the year.

The People of the Years honors are traditionally included in the first edition of the new year.

Our sister publication, The Suffolk Times, will also announce its selections for Southold Town this week.

01/05/12 1:00pm
01/05/2012 1:00 PM

Dennis McDermott (right) and Tahir and Kayleigh Baig.

Two downtown area eateries, two very different concepts.

One is a chic, upscale restaurant that was named the best new restaurant on Long Island by Newsday and has been praised by nearly every reviewer, including a New York Times restaurant critic.

The other is a New York City-style deli and market where local police officers and sheriff’s deputies, town workers and court employees often stop for a morning cup of Joe and a muffin.

Both are fresh, unique additions to Riverhead’s food scene.

That’s why the News-Review has named both The Riverhead Project’s proprietor Dennis McDermott and Off Main Market and Kitchen owners Kayleigh Van Vliet Baig and her husband, Tahir Baig, as its Business People of the Year.

The Baigs opened their market — where they sell everything from fresh baked banana bread to breakfast platters with kielbasa sausage to cheeseburgers on ciabatta rolls — at the site of the former Peconic Baking Company on Osborn Avenue in August.

This is the first business venture for the young couple, who have been married for less than two years.

Ms. Baig, a Riverhead High School graduate, takes classes at the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts school on East Main Street. Her husband previously ran a local gas station with family members.

Mr. Baig sold his share in the gas station and was able to invest that money in Off Main, said his father-in-law, Len Van Vliet.

And so far they’re pleased with what they have created.

“The food is different,” Mr. Van Vliet said of the menu, which the couple created themselves. “It’s something that is not really here.”

He said the whole Van Vliet clan pitches in to help, with Kayleigh and Tahir putting in countless hours every week.

One mile east sits a recently opened restaurant where, if East Main Street weren’t clearly visible outside its windows, patrons would swear they were in the Hamptons.

The Riverhead Project, where young and energetic waitstaff magically appear with new silverware the second your fork accidentally hits the ground, opened to much fanfare last spring.

But it was the cuisine that earned the eatery accolades from every public official in town and even a favorable write-up from the Gray Lady herself.

Mr. McDermott, formerly of the Frisky Oyster in Greenport, was also chosen by the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce as its Business Person of the Year for 2011.

“Somebody has to be first to do something bold and different,” said chamber president and Tanger Outlets general manager Janine Nebons. “I think it helps ignite the flames for more reasons to come to Riverhead.”

She attributed Mr. McDermott’s success to his affable personality, self-marketing skills and ability to manage his staff. That and, of course, the food.

“[People] will travel out of their way to go to a restaurant where they can buy terrific food and that’s true whether it’s in Riverhead or New York City,” Ms. Nebons said. “Where Dennis has made the difference is in aiming for a much higher end of the market.

“And believing in his own reputation.”

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