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Head of the Harbor

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Suffolk County Police Homicide Squad detectives are investigating the circumstances surrounding the
death of a man who was trapped after excavated dirt collapsed in Head of the Harbor on Jan. 8.

Employees from Darius Masonry Inc. were installing cesspool rings at 1 Piper Lane when Lauro Pacheco entered the hole to level the ring and the excavated dirt collapsed into the hole at approximately 2:25 pm.

Pacheco, 38, of Bay Shore, was extricated from the hole by Emergency Service Section officers and pronounced dead at 8:20 p.m. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was notified.

Lisa Davidson Photo courtesy Davidson

By Rita J. Egan

Many people search for a lifetime for a place where they feel a sense of belonging. A few years ago, Lisa Davidson found her place as well as a calling when she moved to the Village of Head of the Harbor.

Earlier this year, Davidson ran unsuccessfully for village trustee. The former southern California and New York City resident said her love for the area inspired her decision to run. The wife, mother and grandmother, who traveled extensively for her career with former jobs at the Los Angeles Times, Fox News and National Geographic Society, said that Stony Brook Harbor, the village’s “tree-lined streets, and the views from Cordwood Park rival them all” in a Jan. 26 interview with The Times of Smithtown. The trustee-hopeful explained her run came down to preserving the rustic charm of Head of the Harbor.

The bid for trustee followed her leading residents to rally against a proposed private 186-foot dock in Nissequogue in 2022, which, if approved, would have sat right next to Cordwood Park, overlooking Stony Brook Harbor. While working to block the dock’s construction, she began to learn about her fellow residents’ concerns.

Judy Ogden, a village trustee, said she wished more people would get as involved as Davidson. She added the advocate has “an enormous impact in the community.”

“Because of her appreciation for the beauty and natural resources of the village — clearly an environmentalist who cares about nature — she immediately became involved in the Joint Coastal Commission for the Village of Head of the Harbor, then started a Stop the Docks movement to protect Stony Brook Harbor, and this year, was a key organizer responsible for reinvigorating and restarting the Harbor Day celebration.”

Ogden added, “In the few years that she has been a resident, she has done more than many who have lived here their whole lives. She has become an advocate, a steward, protecting the natural resources.”

Joint Village Coastal Management Commission

Leighton Coleman III, appointed historian for the villages of Head of the Harbor and Nissequogue, said moving so close to the harbor, Davidson was “stunned by the beauty of the area,” and she recognized the need for her to be a steward of the water. 

“She became immediately focused on preserving and appreciating the beauty of the area,” he said.

Coleman credited Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard for having the foresight to appoint Davidson to the Joint Village Coastal Management Commission shortly after she moved to the village. The historian said due to being selected, she learned more about the harbor and how docks and development affect bodies of water.

At the Aug. 27, 2022, rally to block the dock proposed near Cordwood Park, Davidson said she recused herself from the commission on the matter of private docks.

“After seeing the numerous petitions we get for private docks, I realized that this beautiful bay is in grave danger if we as a community do not come together and take action now before it is too late,” she said.

Happy Harbor Day

As chair of Happy Harbor Day, which was held in September to raise awareness about Stony Brook Harbor, Davidson worked alongside her fellow members of the Friends of Stony Brook Harbor, Nissequogue officials and the Town of Smithtown. The event was first organized by the late Larry Swanson, associate dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, and had not been held in 15 years.

Nissequogue Mayor Richard Smith said when he brought the idea of reviving the event to the coastal commission, the members liked the idea — and Davidson loved it.

“She was instrumental in making it the success it was,” Smith said, “She was a tremendous help.”

Coleman said he wasn’t surprised that the event drew approximately 300 people despite rainy and chilly weather. He described Davidson as a natural leader and problem solver who is energetic, committed and able to engage people.

“She has built a very good constituency of concerned neighbors and residents of both villages about the ecological concerns for these two coastal communities,” Coleman said.

Beyond the harbor 

In addition to her volunteer work with the Joint Village Coastal Management Commission and Friends of Stony Brook Harbor, during her short time on Long Island, Davidson has been a Suffolk County polling inspector and an Island Harvest food bank volunteer. This year, she also joined village residents in vocalizing their concerns about the proposed construction of a church along Route 25A, citing the potential of increased traffic and its close proximity to residents’ properties.

Coleman credited Davidson with waking up people to “the threats that are coming along to the village through overdevelopment and a proliferation of docks.”

“Sometimes you need a newcomer to say, ‘Look, I’ve been around the world. I’ve been traveling, I’ve done this, I’ve done that. You don’t realize how beautiful you have it here, and this needs to be saved,’” he said.

Smith called her a “tremendous asset to this community.”

“She has a great passion for our community — our greater St. James, Nissequogue, Head of the Harbor community,” the mayor said. “Her heart is so much in the right place.”

For her advocacy and dedicated work on behalf of her village communities, Lisa Davidson is named as a TBR News Media 2023 Person of the Year.

Farm manager Annalee Holmdahl at Birdsfoot Farm. Photo by Leah Chiappino/TBR News Media

By Leah Chiappino 

Nestled off of Shep Jones Lane in Head of the Harbor, is Avalon Nature Preserve’s newest addition: Birdsfoot Farm.

Increasingly known to locals for its Saturday farmstand, with offerings that include whole chickens, as well as farm-grown flowers and vegetables, its main mission, consistent with the preserve, is to restore the farm’s land to its natural ecosystem.

“I wanted to use animals in the transformation of this land,” Annalee Holmdahl, the farm’s manager, said.

Flowers growing at Birdsfoot Farm. Photo by Leah Chiappino/TBR News Media

The farm was purchased by the preserve in 2018. Its land has been under the Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Act since the 80s, which mandates it be used for agricultural purposes, explained Avalon’s Executive Director, Katharine Griffiths.

“The property had been on our radar for a while,” she said, noting it is adjacent to Avalon.

Farming wasn’t on Griffiths’ radar until Birdsfoot’s land came along, and Avalon was mandated to conform to the terms of its deed.

“We had to shift and come up with a plan and a farming strategy that met our mandate and also fit our philosophy to protect, restore, inspire,” she said. “It fits in that. It’s not exactly what we’ve done historically, but I think what we’re doing on the farm fits that philosophy.”

It wasn’t until July of 2022 that the farmstand was  able to open on Saturdays. In developing the farm, they started with bees and then acquired egg-laying birds. Once Holmdahl, who lives on the property with her Rough Collie, Maisy, got on board, in February of 2022, they brought sheep and goats in, and developed the hoop houses on the property, along with the flower and vegetable gardens.

“We did not want to do too much because we didn’t have a lot of manpower, but just started to dabble and just see what sort of response we were getting,” said Griffiths.

The farm has only a few full-time staff. Holmdahl focuses on the garden and planning projects for the farm. 

Holmdahl earned a degree in Neuroscience and made her way around the country farming. A native of Washington state, she started farming in California, with a focus on goat, sheep, and dairy farming, before moving on to vegetable farming in Montana, and livestock farming in Georgia and in upstate New York. Then, she landed at Birdsfoot. Living on the property “feels necessary,” Holmdahl said. A few additional farmhands work part-time.

Turkey are just one of the animals that live at Birdsfoot Farm.
Photo by Leah Chiappino/TBR News Media

“Every once in a while, in the morning you wake up and you hear the sheep and you’re like that’s the wrong direction, they’re not where they’re supposed to be,” she joked. It’s a 24/7 job for Holmdahl. “I make sure I get away a little bit,” she said.

Livestock Manager Ryan Lertora cares for the animals. 

In staying true to its mission, the farm tries to use its animals however it can. Its Southdown babydoll sheep eat the grass, its Spanish goats eat underbrush along the hedgerows, and its vegetables are often snacks for the chickens. The breed of goats was selected specifically because they are known for land clearing, up to six feet, of brush, and the sheep, who are often used in vineyards and orchards were picked for their grazing abilities as well as the fact that they can’t reach the produce due to their small size. 

The farm’s 13 goats have been moving down the hedgerows of the Birdsfoot’s pasture since they came outside in the Spring. In the winter, they stayed in the hoop houses. They are only female, and as such have no partners to produce milk. They are surrounded by a temporary electric fence to keep them from wandering. Simplicity is key to having the goats maximize their benefit to the land, Lertora said. “Part of the way to use the animal to their best is to keep them in a smallish area and concentrate on their purpose and then move them along,” he added

While there are other ways to clear the brush, the goats offer unique results. “There are definitely faster ways of clearing brush obviously, people and mechanical means, but it is nice to use the goats,” Holmdahl said. “They kind of can do a preliminary clean first where we can see what’s really in there.”

Sheep graze in the meadow at Birdsfoot Farm. Photo by Leah Chiappino/TBR News Media

The livestock, which also includes both meat and laying hens, as well as turkeys, also frequently rotate their locations in the pasture. While surrounded by the same temporary electric fences to keep them from wandering,  they can follow their natural behavior. The meat and laying hens are in separate sections of the farm. The laying hens share their space with two roosters, and despite the uptick in local roosters needing homes, it’s difficult to acclimate more into the flock. They along with the turkeys have freshly built coops in the pasture. 

The farm doesn’t have quite enough turkeys to sell, so last year they gave them all to Avalon staff, for Thanksgiving. 

Despite the animals giving back to the land, and the land giving back to the animals, the work to care for them is still substantial, said Lertora. “It might be misleading because there’s mostly open empty space here,” he said. “But it turns out that it’s quite a bit of work for everybody, collecting eggs, giving everybody the right amount of feed and then moving them to pasture,” he said.

The sheep have also been sheared, though the wool needs to be sent to a mill after the farm decides on what its final project will be. Holmdahl wants to eventually train Maisy, who was purchased for the farm from a breeder in Pennsylvania, to formally herd the sheep. They also graze without damaging the grass.

“They rip what they’re eating,” said Holmdahl. “They don’t bite the way we bite. But it’s actually really good for the grass that it’s not being bitten.”

The rotational grazing allows goats and sheep  to experience new foods and helps prevent them from overindulging. It also helps restore the soil, which is in poor condition on the property, by increasing its carbon levels.  The animal’s benefits feed off each other. When the sheep eat the top of the grass and put down manure, it gives the poultry the opportunity to distribute the manure, and spread it throughout the pasture, transplanting the carbon into the soil.

“We’re working very hard to restore the soils on the property that are quite poor,”  Griffiths said “So, the animals are a nice way for us to do pasture maintenance and help improve our organic matter.”

Goats at Birdsfoot Farm. Photo by Leah Chiappino/TBR News Media

The improvement in soil health won’t just be shown by tests, but rather by the farm’s ecological health such as the numbers of different wildlife, products, and plants on the farm, said Holmdahl.

Rescue Jumbo Pekin Ducks also call the farm home, though they stay more stationary due to needing protection from predators, and occasionally lay eggs. They also have golden-layer ducks that do lay eggs.

“It’s slowed down significantly recently,” Holmdahl said. “I think it’s because of the hot weather or they’re old or they’re laying their eggs and we can’t find them.”

On the farm they also practice cover cropping, covering soil when not in use, and low-till farming, as well as using compost and rotting plants. The garden products include eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers,  peppers, carrots, berries, and farm-fresh flowers. The flowers make up a large portion of the farm’s inventory, and Holmdahl tries to grow good pollinators. They have ramped up production of vegetables, like squashes and kale, and lettuces, with the goal of donating the excess. Local churches, through Island Harvest, are able to pick up a cooler of the vegetables each week. 

The challenge growing vegetables on the property, Holmdahl said, is that while the farm is a large chunk of land, the garden is “barely a third of an acre.” She loves growing tomatoes, a huge part of her background, she said, and they have been successful on the farm. Other products took trial and error.

“We did hot peppers last year and this year we’re trying sweet peppers, which have varying degrees of success,” she said. “We tried watermelons this year. They didn’t do so well…I try to focus on the things that I can get a lot out of in this area.”  

Holmdahl has tried to grow some pumpkins for the fall, but is limited due to the space. So, products like lettuce, which can grow in succession, are the most practical.

The poor soil health has also been a challenge, Holmdahl said. “You see it when you have a lot of bug damage because the soil isn’t actually healthy enough to keep the plants healthy,” she added.

The decline in soil quality is due to the fact the land hasn’t been farmed consistently since the 80s, Holmdahl said, so nothing was really being done to keep up its quality.

“We’re lucky because overall the quality of soil on Long Island is great,” Holmdahl said. “So there’s total potential. By planting things and adding more compost and trying to do the best we can with what we have, and then adding soil when necessary, hopefully, we can get the quality up and we can also cultivate a good environment where beneficial bugs are around and that will help everything.”

Additional projects are ahead. Honey is going to begin to be sold, and restoration of barns on the property will begin. They are also building an animal barn, and a head house, for staff to wash and pack vegetables, as well as to arrange flowers.

Though it will take several years, they hope to connect the access roadways in Avalon so the public can walk through and see a working farm, which is presently only open to the public on Saturdays during farmstand hours. 

“It’s a lot of trying to control the flow of people and also keep them so that they can see animals but not accidentally have interactions,” said Holmdahl.

The community has been receptive to the farmstand so far, with frequent flyers from the park, and from the neighborhood coming on Saturdays, picking up eggs, vegetables, flowers, and fresh chicken.

“I love that there hasn’t been a week where I haven’t had somebody who’s new who says, ‘I’ve never been here before. I’ve seen the signs a lot,’” said Holmdahl.  “That’s really cool. Because I haven’t stressed too much about  a lot of advertising. We have a newsletter. We have signs out. People have talked about us, I think,” she said. “ I kind of let the word of mouth do its thing.”

Avalon’s yellow trails currently border the farm. Their maintenance staff helps with big projects, and some of Avalon’s summer camps have come to tour the farm. The farm is still young, and Griffiths is taking it day by day in terms of expansion. 

“We are fortunate in that we’re not trying to make a livelihood,” said Griffiths, who noted they still do want the farm to be financially successful. “We’re very lucky that we can focus on making this property healthy, rather than having to really focus on the return. The goal is clearing out all the invasive species and getting a healthy agricultural habitat.”

For more information on Birdsfoot Farm, call 631-689-0619.

Residents are concerned that a proposed house of worship on the property of Timothy House on Route 25A will destroy the historical integrity of the property. The property is known for its ‘allée’ of sugar maples, which have not yet bloomed in this photo. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A packed room full of Head of the Harbor residents gathered last Wednesday, May 17, for a public hearing on the application of the Monastery of Saint Dionysios the Areopagite, also known as the Monastery of the Glorious Ascension, that occupies the historic Timothy House, to build a church on the property.

The monastery, which purchased the house in 2018, is seeking a special-use permit for religious purposes, to build the church, which will be about 3,341 square feet.  As previously noted by the The Times of Smithtown (March 30, 2023), Timothy House, constructed in the 1800s, was once the home of former Head of the Harbor historian and architectural preservationist Barbara Van Liew, who died in 2005. The house was built by a descendant of Smithtown founder Richard Smith. In honor of Van Liew, community members passed out buttons with her photo reading, “Save Her Legacy.”

The village board listened to a presentation made by Joseph Buzzell, the attorney for the monastery along with public comments made by the community. A decision has not been made and the next meeting is on June 21. Public comment will be open until then.

Calls for recusal 

At the start of the meeting Deputy Mayor Daniel White addressed calls from some community members to recuse himself from the application, as he has a family member in the monastery. He declined to step aside.

“A grandchild of one of my aunts is affiliated with the monastery,” White said. “While I know this individual, who he is, I have not had any significant conversation or other dealings with him in the last 20 years. I am not required to recuse myself here as a matter of law. I believe I can be fair and impartial in the assessment and determination of this application.”

Village Mayor Douglas Dahlgard stood behind White, and said the village is small, and most people know each other.

Plan details

Buzzell said the Monastery has received a letter from the State Historic Preservation Office noting that the house will have “no adverse impact on the Timothy Smith house.” SHPO is requiring the monastery to take photos of the site for documentation purposes.  He added that the monks “have, do and will fully maintain the Timothy Smith house.”

The plan does not include any changes or modifications to the actual house.

“This is not an insensitive builder, demolishing a historic structure,” Buzzell said. “Part of the monastery’s proposal from the very beginning is to preserve and maintain the Timothy Smith house. It’s done so in the past, it does so now, it will continue to do so.”

Buzzell said that since the monks purchased the home, they have put over $340,000 into the maintenance of the property including structural repairs to the basement and east wing, emergency repairs to beams and front stoop, along with repairs to the roof, plumbing and sanitary systems, electrical repairs, repairs to leaks in the basement and roof and mold remediation. 

The monastery is not presently proposing to widen the driveway, or add new lighting, Buzzell said. The attorney for the monastery said the decision about the driveway came up “late during the SHPO process.”

 The foliage along 25A will also stay the same. A school is no longer part of the plan, according to Buzzell.  It is proposed the church be situated 271.5 feet from the road and that 36 parking spaces be added to the property.

The project would tie the monks to the house, Buzzell said.

“This ties into the church functionally, to the property functionally, to tie them to the property financially, all of which serves to preserve the Timothy Smith house.”

Dahlgard questioned Buzzell as to if the monastery is able to afford the construction.

“My wife and I have two old houses in the village, and we know all too well the cost and the effort that goes into maintaining these houses including money,” he said. 

 Dahlgard continued: “Building a new 3,200 square foot church at today’s prices, the way things are, you’re talking somewhere close to a million dollars.” The mayor asked Buzzell if the village could get  “assurances that [the monastery] has the ability to fund and finance construction.”

While Buzzell previously agreed to  Dahlgard’s request to have a building inspector, he said he was “not involved in the financial aspects of the project but was  sure” something could be worked out.

“If [the monks] didn’t feel that they could actually build and run that church, I would not be standing at this podium,” Buzzell said. 

Parking concerns 

Ethan Schukoske, a traffic engineer for the monastery said they host a large morning service on Sundays for approximately 35 to 40 members.

“They don’t expect a large increase of members,” he said. “Obviously they want to have some space … but it’s really a relocation of services in the Timothy House to their nicer facility on site.” 

Schukoske said the facility had at most 40 cars entering the property during their Sunday peak period, according to his study, in which he observed traffic flow. He noted a maximum of 21 parked cars on site. When projecting the traffic using industry standard data from the Department of Transportation, a standard church of the same size would generate about an additional 17 cars and 31 parked cars, if projecting a typical church of the same size.

  When trustee Jeffrey Fischer pointed out that the study was done in 2021, and it was still at pandemic levels, Schukoske said that around  20,000 vehicles travel on 25A each day, so “when you have less than 100 vehicles during the peak hour, it doesn’t have a significant impact.”

Community response

Erica Rinear, who lives next door to the   monastery, said at the meeting the monks have always been good neighbors.

“They have been nothing but the most wonderful human beings,” she said. Rinear added that she and her husband used to call the section of 25A near their home “highway to heaven,” as there are a number of churches. She welcomes another.

“My husband just died February 5 of this year,” she said. “I like to think that this church will help me get to him directly.”

Leighton Coleman III, the village historian, had a number of concerns about maintaining the historic integrity of the space. He said the SHPO representative, who penned the approval letter for the home, told him she did not make a site visit to the house. He also was concerned that should the parking lot fill up, cars will be parked on 25A, blocking the view of the house.

Natasha Acker, a neighbor, said when she recently went to work, there were three construction vehicles in front of her. Parishioners have also walked up to her fence line, she said. Finally, she was concerned her home would decrease in value after the construction of the church. 

“Say somebody here wants to retire tomorrow,” she said. “It may be years of construction before they’re able to sell their home because nobody wants to buy a home, especially a nice million-dollar historic home, next to a construction area.”

Residents are concerned that a proposed house of worship on the property of Timothy House on Route 25A will destroy the historical integrity of the property. The property is known for its ‘allée’ of sugar maples, which have not yet bloomed in this photo. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Head of the Harbor residents are waiting for village officials to schedule a meeting to discuss the proposed plans of the Monastery of Saint Dionysios the Areopagite.

The monks who reside in the historic Timothy House on Route 25A are proposing a plan to construct a house of worship and school on their property. While some residents say they have no concerns as long as the historic house itself isn’t altered, others worry that it may change the historical integrity of the property and the landscape.

On Wednesday, March 15, Village of Head of the Harbor trustees canceled a public hearing regarding the monastery’s proposal. According to Mayor Douglas Dahlgard, the monks originally submitted an application to the village’s Planning Board in 2021. The application was delayed when the monastery decided to change counsel and amend the plan. Dahlgard said the amended plan will require a special use permit and will also involve a time-consuming process. The public hearing was delayed to give the board more time to prepare, according to the mayor.

The Russian Orthodox Monastery of the Glorious Ascension, also known as the Monastery of Saint Dionysios the Areopagite, purchased Timothy House in 2018.

“It’s rare to have such a beautifully, perfectly balanced relationship between the structure and the landscape, and that ‘allée’ leading to the house balanced by the open space of the field.”

Robert Hartman

According to Head of the Harbor’s code 107-1, “The land, buildings and major landscaping on both sides of North Country Road, extending to a depth of five hundred (500) feet within the Village of Head of the Harbor, is declared an historic area.”

The code requires criteria such as changes not creating a depreciation of adjacent buildings, and the proposed structure needing to be consistent with the area’s general appearance. Applications are required to be approved by the village Architectural Review Board before a building permit is issued unless the trustees decide otherwise.

Lisa Davidson, who ran unsuccessfully for village trustee, said she heard residents’ concerns about the property while she was campaigning. After speaking to hundreds of residents, she said, “When the topic of development was discussed, not one person was in favor of the church and school proposed for Timothy House.” 

Residents have cited concerns about increased traffic and a proposed parking lot abutting neighboring properties. Davidson said a few people who live close to the house are worried that their property values may be diminished.

Davidson added the Joint Village Coastal Management Commission would also need to weigh in on the proposal.

Timothy House history

Many in Head of the Harbor remember when the home was owned by Barbara Van Liew, a former village historian and preservationist, who died in 2005. 

Head of the Harbor resident and preservationist Robert Hartman knew Van Liew. He said the house, which was built around 1800, was constructed on property that had been part of a land grant since the 1730s.

He added it’s important to distinguish between the house and the property, and he said he and many have no problem with the monks living in the house.

“I just think that this site is problematic because it’s not conducive to having a second building that’s equal in volume to the house,” he said.

Hartman said there are three important historical and architectural phases to the parcel. 

The first period of importance was when the home was built around 1800 by a Smith, who was a descendant of Smithtown founder Richard Smith. Hartman said the house is a well-built, classical farmhouse considered Federal style in that era. It is named after one of the former owners, Timothy Smith.

The second historical and architectural phase was when it was purchased around 1900 by Lawrence Smith Butler, who was also a descendant of Richard Smith and the nephew of architect Stanford White. Butler moved the house back from the roadway to where it stands today.

“He planted that beautiful ‘allée’ [walkway] of sugar maples,” Hartman said. “That was all part of his training at the École des Beaux Arts and plugged into the Colonial Revival movement in architecture here in this country, and he’s the one who really created the landscape that we have now. And, it is a remarkable landscape.”

Hartman added the third phase of importance was when Van Liew owned the home. In addition to preserving Timothy House, she was involved in the village and taught about the importance of preservation. The late owner was also engaged in work outside of the village on state and county levels, including being instrumental in convincing the state governor not to widen Route 25 near the historic homes that now make up the Smithtown Historical Society.

“It’s rare to have such a beautifully, perfectly balanced relationship between the structure and the landscape, and that allée leading to the house balanced by the open space of the field,” he said.

Hartman said keeping the land intact maintains open space in the area and it’s “like being able to touch history.”

“It’s just so beautiful to be able to see something that so connects you to the past,” he said.

In addition to concerns over a proposal to build a house of worship and school on the grounds of Timothy House, village residents have had other issues with the monastery that owns the property, including a storage container that has been outside the historic house for months. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Many St. James residents as well as those in surrounding communities are breathing a sigh of relief after a recent update from the Town of Smithtown regarding a proposed assisted living facility. However, homeowners living near Route 25A in Head of the Harbor and St. James are growing concerned and impatient about a proposed church on the corridor.

Bull Run Farm

Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said in a statement that the Town Board would not move forward with a special exception for a proposed assisted living facility on the former Bull Run Farm parcel on Mills Pond Road.

“We as a board demanded community outreach by the applicant, prior to bringing this application to the board for a public hearing,” he said. “This is something we insist on when large development is proposed in an area that abuts up to residential zoning, and to provide total transparency to the community. In the end, there was insufficient support from the Town Board to proceed with a special exception.” 

Earlier this month residents crowded the second floor of the St. James Firehouse on North Country Road to air their concerns about the possible development of former farmland. An informational meeting was headed up by attorneys for Frank Amicizia. The Fort Salonga developer had proposed a two-story, 97-bed facility on 9.02 acres of property on Mills Pond Road that is zoned residential. The facility would have needed a special exception from the Town of Smithtown.

Residents’ concerns included the proximity to the Gyrodyne property on Route 25A which also faces potential development; 24-hour lighting on the property; increased traffic; and the building not fitting the community aesthetics. Others were concerned about a sewage treatment plant that is proposed for the property, ranging from how it would affect local waterways due to the disposal of pharmaceuticals in the facility to the noise it would make.

Judy Ogden, a Head of the Harbor trustee and spokesperson for the Saint James-Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, said, “This is exactly the kind of leadership that residents hope for in their elected officials.” The coalition along with the Facebook group Save Bull Run Farm headed up the opposition against the proposed development citing the plans were not in line with the town’s Draft Comprehensive Plan.

“The supervisor’s comments about the need to protect the bucolic nature of this portion of Mills Pond Road is especially encouraging,” Ogden said.

Timothy House

Less than 2 miles down the road, residents of Head of the Harbor and those surrounding the historic Timothy House on Route 25A were prepared to attend a public hearing Wednesday, March 15, to air their concerns about a proposed house of worship to be built on the property. The day before the meeting, Village of Head of the Harbor officials posted on its website that it was canceled.

According to an email from Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard, the monastery monks originally submitted an application to the village’s Planning Board in 2021. The application, which included constructing a house of worship and school, was delayed when the monastery decided to change counsel and amend the plan.

Dahlgard said the amended plan will require a special use permit and will also involve a time-consuming process.

“Prior to last week’s scheduled trustees meeting, we decided to delay to give us more time to prepare to properly represent our village,” Dahlgard said.

The mayor added they will be checking with the monastery’s counsel to see what date works for him for a public meeting.

The Russian Orthodox Monastery of the Glorious Ascension, also known as the Monastery of Saint Dionysios the Areopagite, purchased Timothy House in 2018.

The amendments to the proposed 3,341-square-foot building include being situated farther from Route 25A than originally presented and moving planned parking spots from the front of the building to the back.

Head of the Harbor historian Leighton Coleman III said in an email that local residents have concerns about multiple issues regarding the proposed house of worship and school, including the parking lot for 35 cars being situated close to neighbors’ properties.

Among the residents’ concerns are also the impact the construction will have on the historic property, lighting from the parking lot and increased traffic on Route 25A. Many have had issues before the application, including a huge metal storage container on the property that has become an eyesore.

Timothy House, constructed in the 1800s, was once the home of former Head of the Harbor historian and architectural preservationist Barbara Van Liew, who died in 2005. The house was built by a descendant of Smithtown founder Richard Smith.

Head of the Harbor resident Lisa Davidson is in the process of gathering signatures to run for village trustee. Photo from Lisa Davidson

Rallying against a proposed private dock has given one Head of the Harbor resident inspiration to run for village trustee.

Head of the Harbor resident Lisa Davidson is in the process of gathering signatures to run for village trustee. Photo from Lisa Davidson

Last year, Lisa Davidson and her neighbors were busy fighting the proposed construction of an 186-foot private dock on Swan Place in Nissequogue, which, if approved, would have been right next to Cordwood Park and Head of the Harbor.

Now, Davidson aims to collect 51 signatures by Feb. 14 to run for trustee in March. Two trustee seats will be open during the March 21 election as Daniel White and Jeff Fischer are up for reelection.

Not one to sit on the sidelines, Davidson said, “Just complaining accomplishes nothing.”

A village resident for more than two years, she immediately fell in love with Head of the Harbor. During her short time living on Long Island, Davidson said she has been a representative on the village’s Joint Village Coastal Management Commission, a Suffolk County polling inspector and a volunteer with Island Harvest food bank.

The wife and mother, who recently became a grandmother, was born in Los Angeles, and raised her two sons in New York City. An alum of UCLA, her professional career includes working as a business reporter with the Los Angeles Times and a field producer with Fox News. She has also worked for the National Geographic Society. Currently she is a consultant for those looking to produce their own television projects.

She said in addition to living in places such as California and New York City, her work as a print journalist, news and television producer took her around the world, which Davidson said has given her even more appreciation for her current hometown. She added Stony Brook Harbor, the village’s “tree-lined streets, and the views from Cordwood Park rival them all.”

The trustee-hopeful explained her run all comes down to preserving the rustic charm of Head of the Harbor. 

“It’s human nature when you’re exposed to something of beauty, you take it for granted instead of realizing, ‘Wow, this is so special,’” she said.

Last year her love for the village inspired her to help gather signatures for a petition, organize a rally at Cordwood Park and attend Nissequogue Village Planning Board meetings multiple times to speak out when the private dock on Swan Place was proposed. The board denied the owner’s request at the beginning of this year.

She and others collected 787 signatures on the petition to oppose the structure.

“It was really clear that the community did not want that dock,” she said.

An Aug. 27 rally at Cordwood Park, organized by Davidson, drew environmentalists such as former state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket); Kevin McAllister, founder and president of Defend H2O; and John Turner, conservation chair of Four Harbors Audubon Society. 

Ralliers listed issues with private docks in the area, such as the shallowness of the water in the area. The Department of Environmental Conservation requires docks stand in 3 1/2 feet of water even at low tide. The length of the proposed Swan Place dock would have obstructed residents’ view of Stony Brook Harbor and restrict access to those walking along the beach or using their kayaks and canoes in the water. A dock would also adversely affect birds, turtles, flora and fauna as well as the water quality.

Another concern of Davidson and others was that if the village allowed one to be built, others would follow. 

“If that one dock would have been allowed, he’d be representing every single person on this harbor, who wanted a dock demanding that, ‘Well, you let that one in, you have to let this other one,’” she said.

According to Davidson, another issue is that while an owner may own their land, they do not own the water. If a dock were allowed, she said, it would be the private taking of public land.

“If it was somewhere else on the harbor, it wouldn’t have been so catastrophic to the community,” she said. “That dock was going to take public land that was used all the time and make it private.”

“Let’s figure out how this can work for everybody, and that’s what I would like to do in general.”

— Lisa Davidson

Davidson said it’s vital for the villages to follow the Local Water Revitalization Program when making decisions regarding coastal management, something she said some seem to have forgotten.

She added that another one of her concerns is the budget as the village has started to spend its reserve, and she would like to see more transparency in the village, as she believes many residents don’t know the trustees’ decisions before they finalize them. Davidson said updating the village’s website and the return of the newsletter would help the trustees communicate better.

Many residents have also asked for the Hitherbrook Road extension, where kayaks were once launched, to be restored for use. Currently there are boulders there, because in the past a few drivers were known to have driven down the dirt road and wind upin the harbor at low tide and thenbe stuck. She said there has to be a solution to allow people to use their kayaks there once again but also be safe.

“There’s no listening,” she said. “Let’s figure out how this can work for everybody, and that’s what I would like to do in general.”

Like many in the village, Davidson has also been keeping an eye on the Gyrodyne property on Route 25A, right outside of the village, and its possible development in the future. In the past, the owners have talked about the possibility of developers constructing a hotel and assisted living facility. She said, “The village and its residents have made it really clear — they want to preserve our historic corridor and open spaces because once we allow development we’ve lost those assets forever.”

Davidson added she supports Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard’s plea to preserve the entire property as a park.

“Short of that, the compromise plan, whereby half remains as open space and half is developed, is acceptable to the community,” she said. “Unfortunately, we now have another threat to that area as Albany is seeking land on which to build affordable housing. Whether it’s housing or a hotel, the streets cannot handle the additional traffic those would bring so we have a real challenge ahead of us.”

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Brookhaven Superintendent Dan Losquadro, left, and Village of Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Daniel Losquadro announced the recent completion of a stormwater project at the culvert on Rhododendron Drive in Stony Brook, just before the entrance to the Village of Head of the Harbor.

Following a pipe collapse, Rhododendron Drive was experiencing an erosion and flooding issue during heavy rainstorms. In addition, the roadway often saw runoff from the spring-fed wetland that crosses under Rhododendron Drive.

The Brookhaven Highway Department replaced the damaged pipe, installed new gabion baskets on each side of Rhododendron Drive to eliminate erosion, extended the curb, and installed a new drain to capture sediment.

The total cost for this project was approximately $30,000.

“We were happy to partner with the Village of Head of the Harbor to complete this stormwater project,”
Losquadro said. “The project successfully eliminated the flooding experienced on Rhododendron Drive following a heavy rainstorm.

Village Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard added,  “It protects the environmentally-sensitive wetlands in the area. This was a win-win for community members and the environment.”

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This year one of the new Rockettes is Head of the Harbor’s Courtney File. Photo from MSG Entertainment

A Head of the Harbor native is proving that dreams really do come true.

Courtney File, 24, is among the newest members of the Rockettes who are kicking their way through the holiday season, performing multiple shows in Radio City Music Hall’s “Christmas Spectacular.”

Seeing the Rockettes staple at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan has been an annual tradition for File since she was 6 years old.

“I just fell in love with it immediately,” she said.

Her parents were nervous about taking her and her brother Connor when they were younger, but she said her parents told her she was mesmerized by the show.

When the curtain came down, she turned to her mother and said, “That’s what I want to do, and it never changed my whole life.”

The 2016 Smithtown High School East graduate attended Chorus Line Dance Studio in St. James until she was 11. She then started training at the Broadway Dance Center in Manhattan, where she was part of its Children & Teens Program for four years.

File said her parents, Richard and Wendy, have always been supportive of her dreams and would drive her into the city when she was in middle and high school.

“My parents have been unbelievable since I was younger and really decided that I wanted to commit myself to dance,” she said.

This year one of the new Rockettes is Head of the Harbor’s Courtney File. Photo from MSG Entertainment

The dancer was also taking acting classes in addition to the CTP program. Sometimes she would audition or take a master class.

While she juggled a busy schedule, after being on Smithtown’s kickline team in middle school, she could not be on the Whisperettes, the high school kickline team at Smithtown East. While she wanted to, she said it would have been difficult with her schedule, and she would have missed some practices and games.

“That was probably one of the hardest things that I had to give up,” File said.

She added once in a while she was able to catch a game to see the kickline team perform

“I always supported them, and I thought they were great,” File said. “It was so fun to sometimes be able to watch.”

Standing 5 feet, 8 inches tall, her height fits in perfectly with the Rockettes’ range of 5 feet, 5 inches to 5 feet, 10 1/2 inches. The minimum requirements were recently changed from the previous 5 feet, 6 inches tall.

File, who was part of the Rockettes Conservatory program this summer, said among her fellow rookie Rockettes are a few dancers who were able to audition due to the new height requirements.

“They have made a lot of amazing strides to open up the opportunities to a bunch of different women this year,” she said, adding 17 of the 18 new dancers were from the conservatory program.

File said she was honored to be invited to participate in the program, which enables dancers at no cost to work with the Rockettes as well as performers with Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and Syncopated Ladies, a female tap dance band.

“It was a really awesome opportunity that the Rockettes gave, to give us a real life experience of what their day-to-day kind of looks like.”

This year wasn’t her first audition, though. She first aimed to be a Rockette when she was 18, and she was cut. In total, she has auditioned six times for the coveted spot.

“It was my dream, and I couldn’t give up on it,” she said.

She was home with her mother and brother when she received the call telling her she had made it. File said she kept asking her mother and brother if it really just happened.

“It was an unbelievable moment that I will never forget for the rest of my life,” she said.

A typical day for File now involves waking up every morning in her apartment and stretching. She said eating enough is also important as the dancers burn a lot of calories.

As a part of the gold cast, she performs in the evenings. The number of shows in one day can vary, and she recently had her first four-show day.

This year one of the new Rockettes is Head of the Harbor’s Courtney File. Photo from MSG Entertainment

The “Christmas Spectacular” began Nov. 18 and runs through Jan. 2, meaning dancers worked Thanksgiving and will be performing Christmas and New Year’s Day, too. Fine said she doesn’t mind as the cast and crew have become like family to her since they have been working regularly together from the beginning of October.

She added she’s lucky that her own family lives close to the city, and it’s easy for them to come to Manhattan to see the show. They have attended the show three times so far
this season.

Among her favorite dances is a lyrical number called “Dance of the Frost Fairies,” where each of the 36 Rockettes has a different costume that includes fairy wings that easily work during the complex, athletic number.

Another highlight, Fine said, was performing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and she also attended the premiere of the Hallmark Channel movie “A Holiday Spectacular,” which features two current Rockettes with speaking parts.

While living a dream come true, File had advice for young people regarding their goals.

“Never give up,” the Rockette said. “Every day in the audience, I see little girls that are looking up at the stage like how I did when I was 6 years old. Just work hard and never give up. Dreams do come true. I’m very lucky to be able to say that. Just keep going because all the hard work will be worth it.”

The Village of Nissequogue Planning Board put off a decision about a private dock in the village until Oct. 3. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Village of Nissequogue Planning Board announced on the village’s website Tuesday that it would be adjourning an application for a private dock at Swan Place in Nissequogue scheduled for Sept. 6 until its Oct. 3 meeting at 7 p.m.

The proposed dock would be adjacent to the Town of Smithtown’s Cordwood Park, which is located in Head of the Harbor. The application has received criticism from neighbors and environmentalists, including state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and John Turner, conservation chair of Four Harbors Audubon Society.

At an Aug. 27 rally at the park, organized by Head of the Harbor resident Lisa Davidson, local residents voiced concerns over the possible construction of the 186-foot dock and the potential of another 200-foot dock a few houses away in the future. The footage includes a combination of permanent and floating docks. Because the harbor is shallow, the dock must meet New York State Department of Environmental Conservation requirements that it stands in 3 1/2 feet of water even at low tide, hence the lengths of the proposed docks.

Protesters and speakers, including Englebright and Turner, cited among their concerns the 186-foot dock spoiling the view of Stony Brook Harbor and restricting access to those walking along the beach or using their canoes and kayaks in the water. Many also feel it may encourage other homeowners to build similar private docks, leading to harbor pollution due to more or large boats.

Davidson, a member of the Joint Village Coastal Management Commission, a waterfront board of the villages of Head of the Harbor and Nissequogue, recused herself from the commission on the matter of private docks. The commission recently concluded that the Swan Place dock is inconsistent with Nissequogue’s waterfront revitalization program.

At a June 6 Nissequogue planning board meeting, George Jacob Turner, an attorney for the dock applicants Andrew and Maria Georgakopoulos, represented them along with a Land Use Ecological Services representative, according to the board’s minutes. During the meeting, representatives stated the proposed dock’s use “is in character due to other docks.” The trustees responded that existing docks were preexisting to the current requirements. The board members also questioned if public access would be impacted due to the applicants indicating “that the only public access will be by going under the dock.”