By Andrew Wroblewski
In order for Huntington Station master developer Renaissance Downtowns to move forward with proposed revitalization projects, it needed to ink a community benefits agreement with the Town of Huntington earlier this year.
Part of that agreement involved distribution of what is expected to be $300,000-$400,000 in mandated funds that will be generated by the massive project to benefit community-based programs.
To decide where the funds should go, the town assembled an advisory group of about 40 community members. It was chaired by Robert “Bob” Scheiner, a longtime resident with experience in both the private and public sectors.
At the group’s first meeting in mid-2014, Scheiner sat, listened and assessed. That’s what he typically does in these types of situations, taking in all points of view and evaluating.
“There were some nice discussions” had by the diverse group, he said.
But there wasn’t consensus. Some wanted money to go to youth programs, others wanted it for the school district.
This troubled Scheiner. He knew people were “losing hope” and that Renaissance Downtowns’ plan couldn't be slowed much longer. The town needed “to get shovels in the ground.”
“We need to start showing some progress,’” Scheiner, 68, told Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone and members of the town board.
After some research and a few more meetings, Scheiner did what he’s become known across Long Island for doing: he mediated.
Scheiner said to the group, “Listen, I hear what you’re saying. Can we at least agree on youth programs and not who the money is designated to? Let’s get beyond the issue of who it goes to – it’s premature. Once the town initiates this and development starts… the town is going to issue an RFP. And they’re going to say to all of you guys what you’re going to do, and then they’re going to fund you.”
By Jan. 14, 2015, theagreement was inked and opened thedoor for the developer to receive overall approval from the town board in September.
“That’s Bob,” Petrone said. “They all had the same idea, it was just a matter of focusing it.”
This is just one of the many ways Scheiner has given back to the Town of Huntington, a town he loves dearly, and a town he lived in for 35 years.
Scheiner is currently chairman of the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce. He’s a driving force behind Leadership Huntington, a nonprofit foundation where he helps mold young minds into community leaders. And he’s a 29-year veteran of H2M, a Melville consulting and design firm, where he built an architectural group from zero to 85 employees.
For these reasons, and many more, Long Islander News has named Scheiner its person of the year.
Setting The Tone Early
Scheiner was born to Sam and Marge Scheiner on June 22, 1947, in what used to be Freeport Hospital.
He grew up in Merrick with his parents and sister, Susan, and enjoyed a half-Jewish, half-Christian, upbringing.
“They called me half-breed,” he said with a laugh. The family celebrated Christmas with Scheiner’s mother’s side of the family and Hanukkah with his father’s. “I thought that was how everyone did it.”
Scheiner’s father was an architect. He was a very “warm” person and a “good listener” who “wanted to solve problems and bring people together.” He died in 1993.
Scheiner’s mother “wasn’t your typical housewife” and, in part, worked as a physical therapist. She aided young children affected by polio. She was “always involved” and, like his father, a “good listener.”
“There were always kids at my house between my sister’s friends and my friends, and everyone liked to talk with my mother,” Scheiner said. She died 13 years ago.
The family spent much of its free time together giving back and aiding its communities. Scheiner recalled his father’s efforts with Rotary and Boy Scouts. His mother also worked at a children’s shelter and with Girl Scouts.
He remembers fondly weekends he and his family spent at the Nassau County Girl Scouts Camp Tekakwitha in Hampton Bays to help out.
“We all went together to fix the tent platforms, build a building, etc.,” he said. “It was great, great fun.”
His upbringing left a mark on Scheiner’s soul.
“They really set the tone for me. Some people find it in religion, some people provide it in one specific organization – but my parents were more broad-based,” he said. “That encouraged me.”
Scheiner attended Sanford H. Calhoun High School in Merrick. He joined both the school’s baseball and winter track teams. However, he discovered that his true passion lie elsewhere.
He wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an architect.
During his freshman year, Scheiner would sneak into his father’s office to review documents and plans. He was fascinated by them, he said, and it pushed him to begin taking classes in art and mechanical drawing.
When graduation came in 1965, Scheiner’s classmates voted him “Most Artistic.” This sent him over the architectural edge: “That basically told me that this was what I should do,” he said.
He graduated from New York Institute of Technology in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in architectural technology. He later earned his master's degree in public administration from Stony Brook University and is a registered architect and licensed professional planner in four states, including New York.
Soon, Scheiner ventured out into the professional world, and finally started putting to the test what his parents and schooling had taught him.
Professionally, Scheiner has a few different nicknames.
Vice chairman of the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce, Robert “Bob” Bontempi calls him a “resource,” not only to the Town of Huntington, but to all of Long Island.
“He transcends Huntington. He’s sought out as a resource across Long Island,” Bontempi said. “Bob is committed to seeing whatever project he touches through to the end, and to successful outcomes.”
Another nickname, “the connector,” was given to him by Liz Uzzo, vice president of human resources for H2M, who’s known Scheiner for 28 years.
“Bob is just one of those people you want to be around because he exudes positive energy,” Uzzo said.
She credited the nickname to author Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point,” where he describes a connector as a person in the community who knows large numbers of people, and effectively “link[s] us up with the world.”
This fits Scheiner perfectly, said Uzzo.
“It’s a natural thing for him,” she said. “He gets to know people for who they are, not just on a surface level. He’s interested – really interested – in who people are, and that shows.”
This trait has been evident in Scheiner ever since he started his career in architecture with his father in 1969. Even then, Scheiner’s genuine nature shined as he only worked for his father for six months. He said he felt as if he was taking advantage of his father and that he needed to find a new job, one where he could develop his craft.
He joined architect George Meltzer in Flushing, Queens, and remained there until 1971, when he joined the now-defunct Levitt & Sons real estate development company.
“That was a good start for me in architecture because I got to work with a lot of folks, and I got to work in the building end of the business, besides design,” Scheiner said.
In 1976, Scheiner was recruited by the Town of Riverhead and took a job as the town's community development and planning directors.
“I wanted to see what it was like to serve the public,” he said.
There, he met the then-town supervisor and current town justice, Hon. Allen Smith.
“There are a lot of people who pretend to know how to get things done,” Smith said. “Bob is someone who knows how to get things done.”
Scheiner became the town’s deputy supervisor and helped lead its efforts to provide housing for the needy.
“We were one of the few jurisdictions on Long Island that was providing housing for the poor and Bob was instrumental in that,” Smith said.
While with Riverhead, Scheiner said he was “introduced” to the idea of working with everybody. A registered Republican, Scheiner said that didn't stand in the way of him working with both parties to tackle issues.
“It allowed me to become a good listener,” he said.
Scheiner soon returned to the private sector with a consulting and design firm he became familiar with while working for Riverhead. That firm was then Holzmacher, McLendon and Murrell. Today, it’s H2M.
“I felt they were extremely professional, above water, and I knew exactly how they treated their clients,” Scheiner said.
He was hired in 1986 and created an architectural group. Through his 29-year stint, Scheiner grew that group to 85 employees, the largest in the firm.
“I’m very proud of that,” he said.
Scheiner eventually became senior vice president and chief marketing officer – the highest position he held before semi-retiring last year.
He’s now the corporate municipal market leader in charge of the firm’s Long Island market.
He’s “going to be missed” by the firm when he fully retires, said Liz Uzzo. But “Bob will always stay with us.”
‘I Always Loved This Town’
As a child, Scheiner and his family often visited Huntington. “I always loved this town,” he said.
That’s why, when Scheiner started a family of his own with his wife Janet in 1970, the couple eventually moved to Dix Hills.
The couple has a 40-year-old son, Michael, and 42-year-old daughter, Cara, and three grandchildren.
They’ve lived in Bellmore and Coram before making the move to Dix Hills in 1981. They moved to Commack in 1993 and remained for 23 years until moving to Hauppauge in October.
But, throughout the 34 years he lived in the Town of Huntington, Scheiner joined a slew of causes and organizations that include the Rotary Club of Huntington Station, the Commack homeowners association, Leadership Huntington and the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber is where Scheiner’s influence has, perhaps, most been felt. For example, earlier this year, Scheiner helped push the town toward solving the perennial parking problems in Huntington village.
“If you went to the average Joe, I think they’re saying: ‘What’s going on around town that it’s so difficult to find a parking spot when I want to go out to dinner?’” he said. “People get tired, they turn around and leave because there are other alternatives for them.”
The town as a whole, but specifically Huntington village, he said, is “suffering from the success of itself. Which is wonderful, but we really need to act because I don’t know that people understand parking is not just a problem when The Paramount has a show, or on the weekends. Parking is a problem during the week, in the evenings, and during the latter part of the day.”
To help remedy this, the town has begun rolling out recommendations made in the June 2013 Huntington Village Parking Study, which was conducted by Nelson Nygaard in conjunction with the town’s Huntington Village Parking Consortium, which Scheiner co-chairs.
The study recommends valet strategies, private lot acquisition and the exploration of one or more joint-development parking structures in the village.
Supervisor Petrone said Scheiner played a pivotal role to move forward the town’s plan to issue a request for proposals for one or more parking structures to be built in the village.
“He’s a great blend of a community activist, businessman and someone who really cares,” he said. “Bob leads in such a way that he’s able to blend the concerns of the business community and the community at large. There is always a solution to a problem and there’s always a compromise.”
And Scheiner knows how to reach them, he said, “That’s what Bob does and he does it so well.”