03/12/13 5:37pm

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty called for Town Board resolutions relating to St. Gabriel’s Retreat Center.

Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty is continuing his campaign to prevent residential development of the St. Gabriel’s Retreat Center by using town money to preserve the property as open space.

At Tuesday’s Town Board work session, Mr. Dougherty discussed minutes from a meeting last month of the Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board (CPFAB), the group tasked with targeting and vetting open space purchases, which revealed the CPFAB has no interest in St. Gabe’s.

The CPFAB is funded by a 2 percent tax on real estate transfers that goes to the town to purchase open space to preserve.

Minutes from the February 25 meeting of the CPFAB  in an executive, or members only, session stated that they “unanimously agreed to remove St. Gabe’s from the priority list.”

Peter Vielbig, chairman of the CPFAB, has maintained that St. Gabe’s is developed property with five buildings and a 1,000 foot  bulkhead that either has to be removed or maintained. And using the so-called “2 percent” money to maintain structures defeats the point of open space preservation.

At Tuesday’s work session, Mr. Dougherty said the CPFAB’s “priority list” was a “kitchen sink” list, with numerous properties on it and St. Gabe’s should be put back on it.

He called for a Town Board resolution to achieve that goal.

But Mr. Dougherty wasn’t finished. He noted that in August 2010 the Town Board passed a resolution giving the CPFAB the “leadership role in preserving St. Gabriel’s.”

The resolution notes that the property has  “prospective open space as well as a number of buildings and improvements …”

Mr. Dougherty asked for another resolution to take back the leadership role in acquiring St. Gabe’s to the town.

He also noted that the CPFAB is more interested “in pruning than acquiring open space.”

After the meeting, Mr. Vielbig, speaking about the proposed resolutions,  pointed out that his group was an advisory board and the Town Board “can do whatever they want.”

He was pleased that the issue of St. Gabe’s was receiving more discussion. “It’s good it’s coming to the fore … I think it’s very healthy for the town,” Mr. Vielbig said.

As for the supervisor’s remark about pruning, Mr. Vielbig said that was unfair. He noted that even though the Community Preservation Fund had taken in about $1 million in the last couple of cycles, it was $2 million in debt it had borrowed to acquire property.

“It’s manageable, planned  debt,” Mr. Vielbig said. “We’re all confident it can be handled. While we’re in this hiatus time, it’s a good time to look at properties we’ve acquired and how we can improve them and keep them healthy. It may be true we’re pruning, but we’re not more interested in pruning than acquiring.”

 

 

 

03/12/13 5:37pm

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty called for Town Board resolutions relating to St. Gabriel’s Retreat Center.

Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty is continuing his campaign to prevent residential development of the St. Gabriel’s Retreat Center by using town money to preserve the property as open space.

At Tuesday’s Town Board work session, Mr. Dougherty discussed minutes from a meeting last month of the Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board (CPFAB), the group tasked with targeting and vetting open space purchases, which revealed the CPFAB has no interest in St. Gabe’s.

The CPFAB is funded by a 2 percent tax on real estate transfers that goes to the town to purchase open space to preserve.

Minutes from the February 25 meeting of the CPFAB  in an executive, or members only, session stated that they “unanimously agreed to remove St. Gabe’s from the priority list.”

Peter Vielbig, chairman of the CPFAB, has maintained that St. Gabe’s is developed property with five buildings and a 1,000 foot  bulkhead that either has to be removed or maintained. And using the so-called “2 percent” money to maintain structures defeats the point of open space preservation.

At Tuesday’s work session, Mr. Dougherty said the CPFAB’s “priority list” was a “kitchen sink” list, with numerous properties on it and St. Gabe’s should be put back on it.

He called for a Town Board resolution to achieve that goal.

But Mr. Dougherty wasn’t finished. He noted that in August 2010 the Town Board passed a resolution giving the CPFAB the “leadership role in preserving St. Gabriel’s.”

The resolution notes that the property has  “prospective open space as well as a number of buildings and improvements …”

Mr. Dougherty asked for another resolution to take back the leadership role in acquiring St. Gabe’s to the town.

He also noted that the CPFAB is more interested “in pruning than acquiring open space.”

After the meeting, Mr. Vielbig, speaking about the proposed resolutions,  pointed out that his group was an advisory board and the Town Board “can do whatever they want.”

He was pleased that the issue of St. Gabe’s was receiving more discussion. “It’s good it’s coming to the fore … I think it’s very healthy for the town,” Mr. Vielbig said.

As for the supervisor’s remark about pruning, Mr. Vielbig said that was unfair. He noted that even though the Community Preservation Fund had taken in about $1 million in the last couple of cycles, it was $2 million in debt it had borrowed to acquire property.

“It’s manageable, planned  debt,” Mr. Vielbig said. “We’re all confident it can be handled. While we’re in this hiatus time, it’s a good time to look at properties we’ve acquired and how we can improve them and keep them healthy. It may be true we’re pruning, but we’re not more interested in pruning than acquiring.”

 

 

 

03/06/13 5:00pm

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Center Post Office

To the Editor:

I would like to thank Supervisor Dougherty for trying to find a way to preserve St. Gabriel’s. (See “Dougherty fights to save St. Gabe’s” in the February 28 Reporter.)

I believe that whatever avenues can be explored to save this beautiful property should be investigated. The open fields, the picturesque coastline, the shady cedar groves make St. Gabe’s one of  the most beautiful and tranquil places on our Island. St. Gabriel’s is truly a sanctuary and if there is a way to preserve this land, it should be done.

For this land to be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations of Islanders would be an immeasurable asset to our town and our community. I am in complete agreement that “If there is a will, there is a way,” and I believe that a way should be found.

This land is too beautiful and too important for it to be simply subdivided and forever lost to our community.

BRYAN KNIPFING
Shelter Island Heights

To the Editor:

I was dismayed to read the comments attributed to Peter Vielbig, the chairman of the Town’s Community Preservation Advisory Board, in response to a possible purchase of the St. Gabriel’s property. As with other appointed town committees and boards, the emphasis should be on his board’s advisory capacity. The authority and decision-making to purchase open space lies with our elected supervisor and Town Board.

I applaud Supervisor Dougherty and his decision to investigate the possibility of a purchase of this property.

Yes, there are legitimate concerns about the purchase price and the maintenance costs involved, but it is far too early in the process as well as being inappropriate for the chairman of an advisory board to make the statements attributed to Mr. Vielbig. I certainly disagree with his statement that money designated for open space preservation cannot be used to purchase St. Gabriel’s. This is absolutely not true.

There has been concern that with all the attention and money being directed to Sylvester Manor, there is a danger that other potential opportunities for open space purchases, such as St. Gabriel’s, are being overlooked.

It would be great if St. Gabriel’s could be purchased with open space money, but in any case, it should not be dismissed out of hand by an advisory committee chairman.

The direction and final decision on such a purchase rests with our elected Town Board.

TIM HOGUE
Shelter Island

To the Editor:

I am writing in support of any efforts Supervisor Jim Dougherty or other Islanders might make to preserve St. Gabe’s retreat center in its entirety. I say this as a former Islander who laments the diminishment of tranquil, open space on the Island, and as a Presbyterian pastor who sees possibilities for the property in joint use as a place for spiritual renewal as well as a place for community gatherings.

As some may know, mainline denominations are pursuing new models for “doing church” — taking worship and the service of others outside their walls and directly into communities. With creativity and collaboration, the facilities at St. Gabe’s could be a site where sponsoring churches gather the faithful and at the same time implement programs that support and enrich the life of Shelter Island and its visitors.

In a conversation I had in January with a person knowledgeable about the Passionist Fathers’ application to subdivide, it seems that ll potential support for this unique site — such as ecumenical church groups, or one or more spiritually minded individuals — has not been fully explored. Thus there is still the possibility that religious bodies or private sources might be interested in purchasing the space. At a time when life in the New York area grows ever more stressful, and retreat centers grow hard to find, maintaining the property for its original intention seems especially important. I understand the buildings are in good, if not perfect, shape, adding to the attractiveness of the offer.

The Passionist Fathers have provided many wonderful faith-filled summers of growth for youth. Continuing the tradition of spiritual nourishment that comes from God — for those who seek Him ­— or that comes simply from the warmth of community, is a fit way to honor their work. And the blessing of the natural beauty of Coecle’s Harbor is one the Island can, and should, maintain as a blessing for all.

CANDACE WHITMAN, M. Div.
Southport, Connecticu

01/08/13 10:03am

PETER BOODY PHOTO | Bryan and Kerri Knipfing by one of the five rocks on the campus of Camp Quinipet, where he runs the ecumenical youth group and the camp’s summer program.

Two of the freshest faces on Shelter Island are newlyweds Bryan and Kerri Knipfing, who have settled in to their apartment at Camp Quinipet after Bryan’s appointment in July as the assistant director of the Methodist Church’s ecumenical camp and head of the Shelter Island All-Faith Youth Group that is now based there.

Kerri is a substitute teacher at the Shelter Island School who helps handle administrative tasks at Quinipet, a place that  — according to its website — “provides an opportunity for children and youth to experience the outdoors, and discuss and examine their spiritual faith in a safe and fun environment.”

Run for many years by Pastor Bill Grimbol of the Presbyterian Church, the youth group faded away for a while when he left the area two summers ago. Bryan and Kerri are rebuilding the nonprofit program, which is sponsored by the Island’s churches and run by a local board of directors. Quinipet’s director, Greg Nissen, who hired Bryan, is a member. In the summer, Bryan will run Quinipet’s summer camp, which features outdoor activities, sports and games as well as discussion groups.

Married in June, Bryan and Kerri went straight to work at Quinipet after a honeymoon cruise to Bermuda. He’s 28 and from Miller Place; she’s 26 from Farmingville. Both are elementary education majors who met at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue. Both grew up deeply involved in their own church youth groups, his Catholic and hers Lutheran.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever fill Pastor Bill’s shoes but we’re trying to get involved in the whole community and the youth group is meant for any teenager,” said Bryan, who over his years here during the summer sometimes helped Pastor Bill.

The youth group meets every Wednesday evening all year from 7 to 8:30 at Camp Quinipet’s Willard Lodge and is open to all high school-age kids. There’s no charge; donations on local churches keep the bills paid. Currently about 15 students take part but the number varies. Basketball practice at this time of year causes some absences.

An evening might start off with a game of some kind. Recently the kids had to try to pop a balloon that each had tied to an ankle. There’s always a theme and that night it was “intersecting.” The play eventually leads to some frank conversations about life.

“We talk about issues they go through as teenagers and see how it all relates to God,” Bryan said. “We try to meet them where they are with whatever faith they have and build on it.”

Bryan got to know Shelter Island through St. Gabriel Retreat Center, where regional Catholic schools and churches sent kids for decades until the Passionist Fathers closed it in 2009. “I used to love going there,” said Bryan, who went as a high school student and later volunteered and worked there, finally serving as assistant retreat director its last summer in operation. After that, he went to work at Quinipet in the summers.

St. Gabe’s “was definitely a chance for me and everybody who went there to figure out what we believed in. To figure out who God was in our lives and to work on a relationship with God — to build on our faith,” he said.  Its closure was “really sad” for everyone who knew the place.

Before his new job here, Bryan was a seventh grade home room teacher at a Catholic school in Port Jefferson, teaching social studies and religion, He knew he wanted to be on Shelter Island. “Once I had the Shelter Island bug in me, I was always looking for a way to get back,” he said. He loved the small town feel of the Island. And kids here are different. “They want to be involved in the program,” he said of his youth group participants. “You can see their excitement. They really care about each other.” They’re also funny and yet “very respectful.”

What makes kids here different, he said, is that “they have a lot of support” from their families, thanks to the small school and the close ties they have with other kids’ families and people in the community. Some kids in bigger communities “don’t have that support and encouragement, that love, and these kids have a lot of ways of getting that.”

When he was teaching, Bryan also worked at Quinipet’s summer camp, getting to know its director, Joe Young. Joe mentioned to Bryan in October 2011 he wanted to move on and that his full-time job would be opening up. “The minute he told me that I think that’s all I could think about and talk about for the rest of that school year,” Bryan said. The director, Greg  Nissen, wasted no time, hiring Bryan over the phone.

It was a quick transition for Kerri, as well.“He was like literally checked out and he was moved here and living here before we were ever even here,” she said with a laugh.

The couple met on a Habitat for Humanities project from St. Joseph’s that Bryan was running in South Carolina during spring break in 2006, when he was a senior and she was a sophomore. After that, Bryan went to work as a volunteer at a Catholic retreat camp in Wisconsin and Kerri got a job teaching first graders at North Shore Christian School in Port Jefferson Station. In 2009, her best friend got a job teaching at the same Catholic school where Bryan landed his last job. She texted Kerri that news, Kerri called Bryan, they got together and started dating.

Kerri’s father is a project manager for a commercial sign company. After raising three kids, her mother went to work in a doctor’s office and later as a secretary to the special ed superintendent in the Patchogue-Medford School District. Her mother is a practicing Lutheran; her father is a Catholic for whom church is of less importance.

Like Bryan, she’d been deeply involved in her church’s youth group when she was in high school. “I spent more time in my church than I did with my friends from high school … it just became part of who I was. Anyone who knows me would tell you church is very important to me and God is a huge part of my life,” she said.

Before they came here as a couple, Kerri had been to the Island to visit Bryan. One summer “he kind of roped me into working at Quinipet as a counselor … and it was not my favorite summer,” she said. “It was fun but exhausting,” too much like her chaotic work as a teacher during the year. “It was just a lot for me to handle,” she said.

She gave up her full-time teaching job last summer and Greg Nissen set her up in a less hectic job helping out in the camp office. “It was difficult” to give up her position “but it seemed like that was where our lives were headed and I wanted to do that for Bryan,” Kerri said.

Of Shelter Island, she said, “I’ve never experienced a place like this before. I just think there’s something really special about the people here, about the environment here. My first experience was over a summer and I think that wasn’t a really accurate description of what this really is.”

Now, being involved in the school as a substitute teacher, she has learned the Island isn’t about flashy summer folk. Families here include some “very humble people” who “live more simple lives than I thought people did” because of her preconceptions about a trendy second-home hangout for the wealthy .

“I didn’t think I would enjoy the quiet as much as I do,” she said of life off-season. She and Bryan are thinking of starting a family here.

“Now when we’re home” in Farmingville or Miller Place, she said, “both of us just want to be back here. We were just home for Christmas break for a week and a half and we got to the point where we said, ‘We’re ready to go back home.’”

“ It’s just the peace of it … I don’t know. It’s not that life here comes to a halt; people keep themselves busy all winter.”