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Harlan Fischer

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