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Robert Mercer

Aerial shot of Mercer propery. Photo from Google Maps

By David Luces and Donna Deedy

What is going on with the Mercer project?  

Since the Dec. 12 planning board meeting in Head of the Harbor, when Robert Mercer’s site plan application for a 8,633-square-foot tool shed was considered, a string of people have quit village government. 

Richard Warren of Inter-Science Research Association, an environmental consultant hired by the village to review the plan, resigned unexpectedly. During the Dec. 12 hearing, he concluded that the Mercer application was incomplete.  

Village attorney, Anthony Tohill, also resigned Jan. 15. 

Meanwhile, Christopher Modelewski, Mercer’s attorney for the project, has requested that the upcoming public hearing, schedule for Jan. 28 be postponed. 

“No, we haven’t heard back from village officials,” the attorney said in a phone call.  

Harlan Fisher, chair of the village planning board, was traveling and could not be reached for comment. An employee from village hall confirmed that they had received a letter from Modelewski requesting a postponement. The employee disclosed that at this point they have not been told to cancel the hearing as Fisher is currently away. They declined to speak on the two resignations. 

Meanwhile, Anthony Coates, who is leading a coalition of neighbors opposed to the project, has requested from the Attorney General’s office a review of the project’s proceedings, which Coates said violates laws governing procedures.  

“At a public hearing in December, it became clear that Village residents overwhelmingly oppose this plan to commercialize and forever alter the rural Harbor Road corridor,” he said in a letter. “What was not clear at the time is that Village government had apparently known about the project for months before Village residents were informed, and has engaged in a non-transparent, secretive and potentially unlawful process, engineered by people inside Village government, to approve the project before residents had any idea what was going on.”

Coates said the group’s concerns center around a meeting of the Village Planning Board on Sept. 10. Meeting minutes, he said, show that the board voted to accept a partial abandonment of subdivision, a required first step toward approval of the project. The coalition argues that the action, taken without notice to village residents, was an illegal segmentation of the environmental review for the project under state law. 

“Neither the chairman of the planning board, nor any members of the public, attended the meeting,” Coates said. “Members of the planning board who did attend the meeting were provided no notice that the Mercer matter would be discussed. Planning board members who asked questions about the project were advised that the questions were not relevant. This was for all intents and purposes a ‘secret meeting’ of the planning board under New York State open meetings law and held exclusively for the benefit of the applicant.”

The coalition also sent a letter to Attorney General Letitia James (D), citing potential violations of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), the State’s Open Meetings Law, as well as the Public Officers Law and requested a review by her office. 

Residents remain skeptical about a maintenance shed project proposal by Head of the Harbor resident and Robert Mercer, a hedge fund billionaire. Photo from Anthony Coates

Scores of Head of Harbor residents voiced their opposition and called on the village Planning Board to reject proposed plans for a 8,633-square-foot maintenance shed on property owned by hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer.

Many who spoke at a Dec. 10 public hearing stated that the rural character of the village would change, and that the maintenance shed was too big for the neighborhood. Others expressed concerns that the Mercers have additional projects in the works such as adding a guest house on their close to 70-arce Owl’s Nest property.

Christopher Modelewski, Huntington-based lawyer representing Mercer, said the shed would only take up less than 2 percent of a two-lot section of the property and the architects would make it into a “beautiful barnlike structure.”

Mercer representatives said the structure, called a “tool shed,” would house equipment used to maintain the Owl’s Nest property, including lawn mowers, golf carts, trailers and other vehicles.

Neighbor Michael Folan, who lives on Thatch Meadow Farm with his wife and two other friends, said the proposed development would impact their day-to-day life.

“Nobody stands to be impacted like we do, the northern end of this project will start 70 yards from my kitchen window, we’re the closest residents to this proposed project,” he said. “Mr. Mercer worked very hard for his money, he can spend it however he wants to. For him this would be an occasional diversion. It would be a daily hindrance and a nightmare for us.”

“For him this would be an occasional diversion. It would be a daily hindrance and a nightmare for us.”

– Michael Folan

Other neighbors said the shed would block scenic views of Thatch Meadow Farm and Stony Brook Harbor and were concerned about the increase of noise and light pollution construction would bring.

Constance “Conky” Nostrand, owner of Thatch Meadow Farm, whose estate is adjacent to the Mercer property, said the shed would threaten the location of her water supply and asked for a 30-feet buffer to be reinstated.

According to Nostrand, she reached out to the village a few times regarding the buffer with no responses. She said village officials have left her in the dark on the situation.

“You act like I don’t exist,” she said. “Thatch Meadow Farm is one of the last Smith estates that has not been split up and developed.”

Anthony Coates, village resident, said he is not convinced they have seen the last of the guest home plans and opposes the construction of the tool shed.

“We still maintain this is the wrong structure in the wrong place,” he said. “It needs a full SEQRA review.”

Coates added due to the application being incomplete, the planning board should make the developers go back to the drawing board on any proposed plans.

Harlan Fischer, planning board chairman, said the board would not vote on the proposal until it was revised by Mercer’s representatives. The application, he said, was incomplete and inaccurate because of the inclusion of proposed plans for a guest home.

In response, Modelewski said those additional plans were meant to not “see the light of day” and was never the subject of a site plan review. He admitted that submission was a mistake and that they would withdraw it.

Fischer said it would be better for the board to have a thorough review of the application before moving forward. The public hearing could continue on Jan. 28 at 5:30 p.m. if revised site plans are resubmitted in time.

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Residents remain skeptical about a maintenance shed project proposal by Head of the Harbor resident and Robert Mercer, a hedge fund billionaire. Photo from Anthony Coates

 

Some residents in the incorporated Village of Head of the Harbor are sounding alarms, stating that the rural character of their village is about to change. 

They’re accusing officials of concealing from residents for more than six months a proposed “commercial style” development plan submitted by their billionaire neighbor Robert Mercer, who helped finance the Trump 2016 campaign, Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica, which reportedly played a role in the Brexit campaign for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. 

“The Mercer project is probably the largest undertaking in our small village in 50 years,” said village resident Anthony Coates. “It’s a medical center, gas station, parking garage and apartment building all rolled into one. Yet, you can’t get a bit of information about it from Village Hall. Why?”

Residents have formed the Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition that aims to gather information about the proposed scope of the project. They estimate that the project may be as large as 28,500 square feet. 

The village clerk and Building Department staff did not respond to telephone messages. Officials have previously stated that its email system is only used internally, a practice that is in potential violation of New York State’s Freedom of Information Law. 

The situation with the Mercer project raises questions about the transparency issues in village operation, perceived and real. 

Harlan Fischer, chairman of the Planning Board for Head of the Harbor has said in a telephone interview that the only project he has in front of him for the 74-acre Mercer property is a roughly 9,000 sq. ft. equipment shed. 

That plan, Fischer said, was submitted one month ago for review. The Planning Board will hold a public hearing for that structure at its Dec. 10 meeting, which starts at 5:30 p.m.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Fischer said. “I think that people might have a problem with the political leanings of the property owner, but we’re not a political board.”

The Planning Board, Fischer said, follows the village code, which is published on the Head of the Harbor’s website. Residents, he said, can view the plans at Village Hall.

Cleo Beletsis, a member of the village’s Joint Coastal Commission, which ensures that projects conform with the Town of Smithtown Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, said that discrepancies in the project’s scope may possibly be discussed at the commission’s next meeting Dec. 5. 

There may also be a host of zoning issues that need to be discussed, but these matters are not in the Joint Coastal Commission’s purview.

Coates said he has information suggesting that the Mercer plans call for construction of three separate buildings, a maintenance facility with a six-bay garage, a “guest” cottage equipped with medical facilities including a cryotherapy chamber and hyperbaric suite and “service entrance for doctors and related staff” and an accessory building with a four-bay garage.

The Times of Smithtown was unable to reach Mercer for comment. 

The Village of Head of the Harbor’s meeting dates and code can be found at its website: www.villagehohny.org.

photo by Anthony Coates

Peace group now focuses attention on proposed renaming of school of medicine to include Renaissance

Members of the North Country Peace Group plan to continue organizing demonstrations at Renaissance Technologies in E. Setauket despite the announcement that co-CEO Robert Mercer is stepping down. File photo by Rita J. Egan

The end of a co-CEO’s reign won’t stop an activist group from demonstrating outside of his hedge fund’s East Setauket office, especially after members heard a local university school of medicine may be renamed to include the company name.

Robert Mercer, of Renaissance Technologies, announced in a Nov. 2 letter to investors that he will be stepping down as co-CEO and resigning from the firm’s board of directors as of Jan. 1. In the letter, he stated he would remain a member of the technical staff and be involved in research work.

For nearly two years, the North Country Peace Group, a local peace and social justice organization, has often held demonstrations in front of the entrance of Renaissance Technologies. Most recently, the group held an August rally protesting the alleged contributions of millions of dollars to alt-right causes by Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, and the pair’s alignment with the ultraconservative online media company Breitbart News.

“We were shocked [when we heard the news], because we immediately thought look what we’ve accomplished,” said Bill McNulty, a member of the North County Peace Group.

An activist at an Aug. 23 rally in E. Setauket. File photo by Rita J. Egan

He said the sense of accomplishment was short-lived after news reports of companies pulling their investments from the hedge fund, and he said he believes this was the determining factor for Mercer stepping down and not the group’s demonstrations.

“I don’t feel he’s really stepping down,” said Myrna Gordon, a member of the activist group. “In his statement, he said he was still going to be involved with Renaissance, that he would still be doing work there. The only thing that was changed was the word co-CEO. He’s still there. So, we feel that he’s still entrenched in the company.”

Members of North Country Peace Group were alerted to an Oct. 2 Stony Brook Council meeting where it was proposed to rename the Stony Brook School of Medicine to the Renaissance School of Medicine. The council serves as an advisory body to the campus and Stony Brook University’s president and senior officers. In the webcast of the meeting available on SBU’s website, council chairman Kevin Law said a resolution regarding the renaming was approved electronically a few weeks prior and needed to be ratified by the council members at the Oct. 2 meeting.

Dexter Bailey, senior vice president for advancement and executive director of the Stony Brook Foundation, said during a presentation Oct. 2 the reason for the renaming was due to the generosity of 111 of the 300 Renaissance employees over the last few decades. The university received its first donation of $750 from one of the firm’s employees in 1982, and through the years Renaissance employees have donated $508 million to the university. In 2011, Renaissance Technologies founder and former CEO Jim Simons and his wife Marilyn donated a historic $150 million.

“These are individuals who have graduated from the top schools around the world — a lot of Ivy League grads — and to be able to have them adopt Stony Brook as one of their philanthropic priorities has really been a pleasure,” Bailey said.

He said many of the donors like to keep their contributions private, and the university looked for something that the employees could reflect on and take pride in.

Members of the North Country Peace Group will now keep an eye on developments for renaming the Stony Brook School of Medicine to Renaissance School of Medicine. File photo by Rita J. Egan

“We feel that naming the school of medicine will not only recognize the 35 years of history, but it actually sets the stage for future giving.” Bailey said.

During voting for the resolution, only one council member, Karen Wishnia, who represents the graduate student body, opposed the proposal. Wishnia said in a phone interview after the meeting, that even though she recognizes the generosity of the Renaissance employees and Simons, she “couldn’t in good conscience vote yes for this” largely because of the association with Mercer.

The next step for the resolution is for the university to obtain approval from the State University of New York chancellor and board of trustees.

McNulty and Gordon said members of the North County Peace Group strongly believe a state school of medicine doesn’t need to be renamed after a company, even if its employees are generous. They said the group has struggled in the past with how to separate the employees of Renaissance from the CEO.

“It puts the employees in a strange spot,” McNulty said, adding it’s understandable how those making good salaries with the company may be reluctant to admit Renaissance may be involved in negative activities. “We have had people come out of the company’s office who have been supportive of the information that we’ve imparted, and we’ve had others who have given us the [middle] finger.”

The two said the North Country Peace Group plans to continue demonstrations in front of Renaissance and educate the community about the renaming of the medical school. Gordon said when she watched the video of the Stony Brook Council meeting she was surprised there was no discussion after the vote was taken, and she wonders why the university hasn’t been more transparent about the proposal that involves a state school of medicine paid for by taxpayers.

“I would be pleased and honored to have the Stony Brook School of Medicine right up there in the forefront, and once big money corporations start buying landmarks, arenas, stadiums, you’re dealing with a whole other type of situation,” Gordon said. “We should be proud that it’s the State University of New York at Stony Brook. We should be proud that it’s the Stony Brook medical center.”

A Renaissance representative did not respond to requests for comments by press time.

By Rita J. Egan

A local activist group is asking a Long Island billionaire and his daughter to stop funding the alt-right.

According to a press release from the North Country Peace Group, Robert Mercer, billionaire co-CEO of the Setauket-based hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, and his daughter Rebekah have allegedly contributed millions of dollars to alt-right causes due to his alliance with the online media company Breitbart News.

The group held a rally in front of the company’s entrance on Route 25A Aug. 23 because members feel Breitbart News has provided a forum for white supremacist, sexist and other racist voices.

Approximately two dozen protesters were in attendance with signs in tow. During the rally, Charles Perretti of Setauket grabbed a megaphone and addressed the crowd.

“What does [the Mercer family] want?” he asked. “They want to control the public dialogue. They want to advance their attitudes and values at the expense of true representative government and the spirit of one man and one vote.”

Perretti said Mercer supports the current Republican presidential administration, referring to that of President Donald Trump (R).

“What do we want, the people on the corner?” he said. “We want concern for the common good.”

The statement inspired protesters to respond repeatedly: “Concern for the common good.”

In recent months, the local peace group has organized or participated in several rallies covering various topics including Trump’s proposed transgender military ban, climate change, alleged use of force by police and a sister event to the Women’s March on Washington.

Peace group member Rosemary Maffei, of Setauket, has been in attendance for much of the group’s protests. She said attending political demonstrations is something she feels she needs to do for herself personally and for the country, and she appreciates being around like-minded residents.

“I feel it’s important to let people see that there is resistance to Trump and the Republican Party, especially here on ‘red’ Long Island,” she said. “Sitting home and doing nothing while the country is being torn apart is something I don’t understand.”

Mercer did not respond to a request sent through an executive assistant at his company for comments about the rally.

This post was updated Aug. 30.

 

Co-CEO of East Setauket-based investment firm connected to major money behind Trump administration

 

A large group of political protesters paraded along busy Route 25A in East Setauket March 24, aiming their outcry not just at the administration in Washington, D.C., but a reclusive hedge fund billionaire by the name of Robert Mercer residing in their own backyard.

Mercer, the co-CEO of an East Setauket-based investment firm and resident of Head of the Harbor, has been under the spotlight for being the money behind President Donald Trump’s (R) administration, maintaining a major influence on the White House’s agenda, including its strict immigration policies.

Mercer, a major backer of the far-right Breitbart News, reportedly contributed nearly $13.5 million to the Trump campaign and, along with his daughter Rebekah, played a part in securing the leadership positions of chief strategist Steve Bannon and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.

Regarding Mercer as the administration’s puppeteer-in-chief, protesters assembled to bring public attention to the local family’s power in the White House and the influence “dark money” has had in America.

“I think we’ve reached a worrisome point in our history that a single individual can have the kind of influence that Robert Mercer has, simply because he has a huge amount of money,” Setauket resident John Robinson said. “I think he’s an extremely dangerous individual with worrisome views. He just wants government to not be around so people like him and companies like his can plunder to their heart’s content.”

The short march, made up of several protest groups including the North Country Peace Group, began at the CVS shopping center and landed at the bottom of the hill where Mercer’s Renaissance Technologies sits. Leading the march were local residents wearing paper cutout masks of Trump, Bannon and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), each strung up like puppets and controlled by a resident in a grim reaper outfit, representing Mercer.

Equipped with signs reading “Mercer $ Bought Trump We Pay the Price” and “Resist Mercer,” Long Island residents stood in front of the investment firm’s office and participated in a mock debate with the faux-political figures. The topics ranged from Mercer’s denial of climate change to Zeldin’s stance on the now-pulled American Health Care Act.

Sue McMahon, a member of the grassroots coalition Building Bridges in Brookhaven, had only recently learned about Mercer’s heavy involvement in Trump’s presidency and his close proximity and participated in the march to expose him.

“I’m very concerned we have a person like this among us who holds the power of the Republican Party,” McMahon said.

She said she’s particularly troubled by the administration’s overwhelming ignorance of environmental issues, its emphasis on money and the extreme views of Breitbart News.

“This is not the America I grew up with, this is not what I want,”she said. “I’m not normally a protester, but I believe we all have to stand up now.”

Paul Hart, a Stony Brook resident, said he was there to support democracy.

The American people have lost representative government because campaign contributions are now controlled by the rich, he said, and it’s hard to think about the needs of constituents when they don’t contribute in a way that’s beneficial to a politician’s re-election.

“The average person has absolutely no voice in politics anymore,” Hart said. “Bbefore, we had a little bit, but now, we’re being swept aside.

One protester referred to Mercer as one small part of a larger picture, and expressed concern over a growing alt-right movement throughout the country that prefers an authoritarian government that runs like a business.

“I guess that’s what Trump is all about,” said Port Jefferson resident Jordan Helin. “But we’re seeing what the country looks like when it’s being run like a business, [and it’s scary].”

Myrna Gordon, a Port Jefferson resident and member, said her organization has held previous actions against Renaissance Technologies, and was among the first grassroots groups on Long island to take notice of how entrenched in the White House Mercer and his family are. According to her, Rebekah Mercer is in many ways more powerful than her father.

“We cannot take the focus off [Rebekah Mercer] right now, because she’s become a powerful force in this whole issue of money in politics, buying candidates, everything we see in our government,” she said.

Since Robert Mercer is local and lives in our community, she added, it’s time that we showed our strength and our voice regarding what this money is doing to our country.