This week in North Fork history: Town tried to add theater building to tax roll

HANNAH GRAY FILE PHOTO | North Fork Community Theatre past presidents and family representatives at the June 17 gala at Vineyard Caterers to benefit the NFCT building fund.

The following stories were excerpted from Suffolk Times issues published 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 years ago this week:

30 years ago …

Board upholds NFCT tax exemption

A resolution to return the North Fork Community Theatre building to the Southold Town tax roll was defeated Jan. 5, 1982, according to a story in that week’s issue of The Suffolk Times.

Town taxes on the building, which was — and still is — owned by neighboring Mattituck Presbyterian Church, amounted to $1,450 in 1982 Rev. Frederick Hummel of the church said having to pay the taxes would have put the theatre group out of business.

The change in tax status was recommended by the former town attorney, who argued the taxes should be paid since the space wasn’t being used for religious purposes.Rev. Hummel argued that since the theater company did not have to pay rent on the building taxes should not be charged.

The matter was taken to the New York State Supreme Court, which ruled the tax status of the building should remain unchanged. The Town Board had been considering an appeal of that decision.

Postscript: NFCT is currently trying to buy the building, where it has performed for 50 years. The group is in contract to purchase the building for $500,o00 and it has currently raised more than $345,000 toward that goal.

25 years ago …

Blass shatters Glass in race for presiding officer

William Lindsay has been the presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature and East End Legislator Ed Romaine has been in the minority for so long now it’s hard to remember a time when the North Fork representative was also the PO.

But 25 years ago that was the case … and it was unexpected.

Considered a maverick Republican, East End Legislator Gregory Blass of Jamesport was not expected to retain his role as Presiding Officer of the Legislature when the 1987 reorganizational meeting was held. GOP leaders made a play at instead having Gerard Glass of Lindenhurst take over the post.

When role was called, however, Blass managed to get 10 votes to Glass’ eight.

“Everyone here, I’m sure, will understand if I suddenly find myself identifying with the biblical miracle of Lazarus,” Mr. Blass said at the meeting. “Indeed, a resurrection has taken place.”

Postscript: Mr. Blass is now the commissioner of Social Services for Suffolk County.

20 years ago …

Our woman in the White House

The Jan. 9, 1992 issue of The Suffolk Times featured a profile on Cutchogue Native Aileen Finger, who had recently begun a job working as a staff assistant in the visitors’ office at the White House.

The 1987 graduate of Mattituck High School told stories of meeting President George H.W. Bush, the First Dog and even attending the Congressional Ball.

“I felt like a little princess in fairyland,” she told The Suffolk Times. “I had a picture taken with the President and Mrs. Bush.”

14 arrested in drug sweep

In what was billed then as the largest drug bust in Greenport history, 14 suspects were arrested on charges related to the sale of cocaine Jan. 3, 1992.

“I’m calling this phase one,” said then-Mayor Bill Pell. “Drug sales will no longer be tolerated in Greenport.”

More than 30 officers played a role in the sweep. Nearly all of the arrested suspects sold drugs to an undercover officer, some of those transactions occurred at the Rhumb Line Restaurant.

15 years ago …

Development rights bank gets its first deposit

The first-ever sale of Pine Barrens development rights credits took place Jan. 8, 1997, according to The Suffolk Times issue published the following day.

Olin Warner of Warner Duck Farms in Calverton was the seller.

The Pine Barrens Commission approved Mr. Warner’s application to redeem 48 development rights credits from his 30-acre property on River Road for $480,000.

At the time, the state’s land bank had $5 million earmarked for development rights purchased but not a single taker.

Postscript: The county purchased Mr. Warner’s property for preservation in 2009.

 10 years ago …

Restaurateur Cliff Saunders Jr. dies at 74

Longtime North Fork restaurateur Cliff Saunders Jr. of Laurel died Jan. 3, 2002, we reported the following week. He was 74.

Mr. Saunders was the owner of several popular eateries, including the Rendezvous and the Elbow Room.

He purchased the Elbow Room property in Jamesport in 1958 after trying a variety of careers as a gas station owner, an ad salesman and a butcher. He also owned Jamesport Travel Agency for more than 25 years.

Postscript: His restaurants remain, in my opinion, the best place to get a steak on the North Fork.