Mark Cuthbertson debates earlier this month. Photo by Rohma Abbas
October 30, 2013 | 06:57 PMIt's a four-way race for two seats on the Huntington Town Board this year, as Republican Councilman Mark Mayoka and Democratic Councilman Mark Cuthbertson face challenges from Republican Josh Price and Democrat Tracey Edwards.
The four candidates attended a debate at the Times of Huntington office recently, where the group discussed vital issues in this year's election: the Long Island Power Authority's pending litigation against the town, challenging the assessment of the Northport power plant; the proposed development of 444 senior condos at the Oak Tree Farm Dairy property in East Northport on Elwood Road and parking in Huntington village.
Republicans and Democrats agreed more work needs to be done following a settlement offer from LIPA. The utility offered to drop its litigation challenging the town's assessment of the Northport power plant in exchange for reducing the taxes paid on the plant over 10 years beginning in 2015. The Town Board recently asked for a deadline extension on the offer, which expired on Oct. 20. That extension was not granted.
Cuthbertson, of Greenlawn, said he was not concerned about the deadline, noting that it was a "unilaterally" imposed deadline by LIPA, and the town still needed some documents from the utility to craft a counteroffer.
Edwards, a Verizon executive from Dix Hills, said, "This isn't the time to settle."
"I would say this is a process and right now we are going to have to fight," she said.
Mark Mayoka debates earlier this month. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Price, an attorney from Commack, said a judgment against the town on the LIPA issue would be "ruinous."
"I hope that the town is trying to negotiate a better deal," he said.
Mayoka, of Cold Spring Harbor, said he doesn't think the offer is "adequate" but he also said he feels there's a "lack of negotiations" that have taken place between LIPA and the town. Cuthbertson and Mayoka said only two meetings between the two parties had transpired since the offer was first made on June 20 and expired on Oct. 20.
On the topic of the Oak Tree Farm Dairy on Elwood Road, candidates agreed the project was too dense for the area. The traffic that the development would create would be "terrible" for the area, Price said. That's a concern Mayoka also shared.
"The Elwood roadways are backed up," Mayoka said. "It's impossible."
The discussion on the project also veered into campaign contributions, with Price saying candidates on the Town Board — Cuthbertson, Petrone and Mayoka — have accepted donations from the Engel Burman Group, which is the developer behind the rezoning proposal. Price said any time a Town Board member accepts campaign contributions from a developer with an active application on file in town, the contribution should be posted right on the town's website. All three men confirmed their campaigns had received donations from the developer.
Tracey Edwards debates earlier this month. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Cuthbertson countered that there is already transparency in contributions.
"You can continue to appeal to the cynicism of people ... but the fact is I'll continue to evaluate the project on its merits," Cuthbertson said. He also noted that Town Board members have "universally said to this person, 'No, we're not doing this development at this density, the traffic is a concern.'"
The four offered their thoughts on parking in Huntington village, the lack of which has been a longtime issue for downtown businesses. The Town Board and other community organizations commissioned a recently-completed parking study.
"Parking has been a problem," Mayoka said. "There seems to be more activity since the economy is getting a little better." Mayoka said he supports a rideshare program in town, where employees and business owners park in lots "further off the beaten path" and get shuttled to their jobs.
Edwards also supported that idea, and said the town should encourage use of its existing programs, such as a shuttle bus offered by The Paramount. "As long as people are able to park their car safely, we can shuttle them back and forth," she said.
Josh Price debates earlier this month. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Price said he has personally found it difficult to find parking on weekend nights in Huntington village. Meanwhile, Cuthbertson said he doesn't think the problem is as "acute" as everyone makes it out to be. He also said the town has made strides toward resolving the issue by purchasing lots and converting them to parking and striking up arrangements to park at other properties, such as the Huntington Post Office.
"The bad news is we have a parking problem," he said. "The good news is we have a parking problem."