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.
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.
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.
In an unassuming shopping center on the corner of North Country and Sound Roads in Wading River, across from the duck pond, is one of the area’s best coffee shops. It has only been opened for six weeks, but there is already a stream of locals who stop in to Hudson Market every morning for the proper cup of coffee the sign out front promises.
The space is small and smells deliciously of fresh coffee — a far cry from the accounting office the space once was. Owner Anthony Coates, who was involved in politics in Suffolk County for about 40 years, transformed the yellow-tinged off-white walls and moldy shag carpeting into a quaint, sunny spot to get a cup of coffee and read the day’s newspaper or a book, which he says many come in to do.
Hudson Market is just one of North Brookhaven’s new eateries that has quickly become a community favorite — the Flying Pig Café on 25A in Miller Place and Go Burger on the same route in Mount Sinai are other spots that opened within the past few months and have been embraced by locals. Two other new food businesses to the area are Lemongrass Asian Fusion in Mount Sinai and Burrito Palace and Grill in Miller Place.
The summer season is often the busiest season for restaurants. Aside from supplying other dining options, Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) pointed out that with new eateries come new jobs. According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurants in New York are expected to add the highest number of summer jobs of any other state — over 44,400 of them.
“We appreciate the diverse food options that’s opened up in our community,” Bonner said. “It’s a good thing.”
That idea — of opening a restaurant that served something not offered by another place — is what led Marianne Ferrandino to open the Flying Pig Café with her husband Jack Schwartz six months ago. The pair owns another restaurant in Center Moriches, called the Country Cottage, but they live in Miller Place.
“I felt that there was something missing from the area,” Ferrandino said. “There was a need for somewhere nice to go for breakfast where you could have a nicer experience than just going to a diner.”
Modeling the new restaurant’s concept after Sarabeth’s in New York City, the Flying Pig Café serves upscale American comfort food with new specials each week, but offers it in a much different setting, with ceramic pigs and canvas paintings modeling the large spotted pig statue outside. For breakfast, customers can get traditional eggs, omelets and pancakes, but they can also get the Café’s more playful breakfast burger, granola crusted French toast and crab Benedict. Ferrandino recommended the famous cinnamon bun pancakes.
Mario Gambino and Marie Desch said their first experience at the Flying Pig Café was a great one. They described the menu as “extensive,” and after looking it over, settled on omelets. “We would definitely come back,” Desch said, looking over at Gambino as he nodded in agreement. “It is very clean inside and the decor is nice.”
The lunch offerings at the Flying Pig Café are just as creative as the breakfast ones — the cranberry almond chicken salad is a best seller, and the half-pound burger options are popular as well. Ferrandino said the burgers are made with a custom blend of ground beef and served on a big brioche bun. She added that the Flying Pig Café also uses artisanal breads baked especially for them.
Breakfast and lunch are the two most popular meals — breakfast on the weekends and lunch during the week. Both are served seven days per week, with dinner offered Thursday through Saturday. Ferrandino recommended the homemade herbed meatloaf and gravy, braised short ribs and half herb roasted free range chicken.
“Our portions are enormous,” she said. “We want people to feel they’re getting a really good value for their money.”
Prices at the Flying Pig Café range from $4 to $12 for starters and salads at $7 to $18 for entrees. Dinner is a bit more expensive.
Serving good food to customers is also something the owners of Go Burger value. Christine Donofrio, who owns the joint with her husband Philip, said their motto is “fresh, quality and family friendly.” She said the burgers are delivered fresh every day from a top New York meat distributor; the potatoes are the top-grade ones available each season and are fresh cut each day; and the ice cream, the only thing ever frozen, is from a company that specializes in the treat.
“We only use the freshest, best ingredients,” Donofrio said. “We strive to get and provide the very best so families can come out for good food and not spend a million bucks.”
Go Burger started as just a food truck on Middle Country Road in Ridge near a pizzeria the couple owns. The Donofrios were looking to open another truck but realized they would be limited in the amount of food they could serve because any new truck would not be parked as close to one of their other businesses. When an opportunity arose to buy the L.I. Burger brick-and-mortar location in Mount Sinai, they took it.
Customers from their truck come to this location for dinner — Donofrio said they love that they can sit inside and eat. This location allowed for an expanded menu from the one on the food truck. Starters, such as onion rings, sweet potato fries and a cup of chili, were added to the restaurant’s menu, as were salads and desserts.
“There was a need for somewhere nice to go for breakfast where you could have a nicer experience than just going to a diner.”
— Marianne Ferrandino
The real deal ice cream sandwich, made with in-restaurant baked chocolate chip cookies and ice cream, is the most popular of the newly added desserts. A customer favorite that was carried over to this location is Go Burger’s milkshakes, which come in the traditional flavors of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry as well as the weekly specials Donofrio concocts.
“Everything here is customizable — it’s all up to you,” she said. “Build it the way you want it.”
Nothing on Go Burger’s menu is over $9, unless a customer adds a lot of extra toppings to a burger. The restaurant is opened daily, but if you’re in the Ridge area, you can still find the food truck if you’re looking for a quick fix.
For Anthony Coates, opening Hudson Market was a “labor of love.” He was running for Riverhead Town Supervisor in 2015 and jokingly said that if he was not successful, he would open a shop in the strip across from the duck pond.
Hudson Market specializes in coffee — it is the only thing made in-house. Coates said he searched high and low for the best quality coffee beans he could find, and he cycles between the blends he found, such as variety coffee roasters from Brooklyn. He also searched for the best types of coffee prep machines to brew the “hearty” cup of coffee he was after.
Coates organized this business, where prices range anywhere from $2 for a regular cup of coffee to $4 for specialty coffee drinks and is open daily from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., with few moving parts so it was easier to run.
“Everything here is miniaturized,” he said, smiling.
After looking around at other businesses in the area, he decided Hudson Market would exclusively focus on making excellent coffee beverages as opposed to also preparing bagels or breakfast sandwiches, which customers come in asking for sometimes. “I didn’t want to set up a ‘me too’ business,” he said.
Customers can purchase baked goods, such as muffins, scones, biscotti and cookies, made by D’Latte in Greenport. Hudson Market also carries bottled drinks, New-York-style hot pretzels, cinnamon buns (but only on the weekends) and pies during the holidays. Neighborhood children ride up on bicycles in the afternoons and scrape money out of their pockets for candy he stocks specifically with them in mind.
His inspiration was the many businesses that were community touchstones in the Three Village area where he grew up.
“I wanted to make a little slice of that here by the duck pond,” he said. “Improving the community really starts at the most basic level, and it does my heart good to have a business here.”
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