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Terryville

Plan calls for homes for older folks at Terryville course

The Heatherwood Golf Club. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Word that a retirement community is being proposed for Heatherwood Golf Club in Terryville brought residents out in full force to last Wednesday evening’s Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting, where they raised concerns about density, increased traffic, storm drainage and sewage.

Doug Partrick, an owner of multifamily housing developer Heatherwood Communities, was at the meeting to present the plan for a 200-unit housing complex on the 70-acre property at Arrowhead Lane and Nesconset Highway.

His family has owned Heatherwood Golf Club since the 1960s but it “is no longer viable as a standalone,” he said. With fewer people golfing, the company — which also owns Pine Hills golf course in Manorville — “no longer can carry the golf course as it is without consideration for development.”

Partrick, architect Steven Hanson and engineer Michael Marinis propose to turn the 18-hole course into one with nine holes that would wrap around two-bedroom rental homes. The residences would be a combination of ranches, townhouses and first- and second-floor flats.

Of the golf course’s 70 acres, homes would be built on 25 acres and 45 acres would remain open space, Partrick said.

Hanson said the new homes would offer direct access to the course, which would act as a buffer between the development and the surrounding community, but that the course would remain open to the public.

Developer Doug Partrick talks about his proposed development for the Heatherwood Golf Club at a recent civic meeting. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy
Developer Doug Partrick talks about his proposed development for the Heatherwood Golf Club at a recent civic meeting. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Of particular concern to residents at the meeting was the fact that development on the golf course could violate the 2008 Comsewogue Hamlet Comprehensive Plan, a study and land-use plan for the area. According to Lou Antoniello, the civic association’s treasurer and chairperson for that hamlet study, the large majority of Port Jefferson Station and Terryville had already been built up at the time of the study, and surveys indicated that residents did not want the few remaining open spaces to be developed.

The study laid out the type of development locals wanted to see, and was geared toward preserving the area’s open space and history while creating a balance of living, shopping and cultural areas, Antoniello said. He sees that balance in jeopardy, as there are several senior housing communities already built or proposed.

MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, an umbrella group of about 30 civic groups, said it would be a “waste and abuse of residents’ time and energy” if local development did not follow the guidelines of the study.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who attended the civic meeting, said in a written statement that the study was “a reflection of the community’s vision” and that she continues “to support the desires of these residents” in her role on the town board.

Residents at the meeting also said they were concerned that the new project could exacerbate traffic problems on the already congested Nesconset Highway and asked about storm drainage and sewage from the property.

Heatherwood representatives said they have yet to conduct a traffic study, but have plans to handle drainage through the construction of ponds, and the 200 housing units would be hooked up to a county-owned sewage treatment plant.

Winning support from residents is only one of the difficulties facing the developer — overcoming zoning hurdles could be another. The property is currently zoned as A Residence 5, which allows one housing unit per 5 acres.

Asked what he would do if the development does not move forward, Partrick said he’d have to ask himself if he would be “better off consistently losing money on the golf course or … just shutting the golf course down, leaving it dormant” and paying taxes on the land.

Civic association leaders said they needed more information on the Heatherwood proposal before deciding whether to support it. However, an informal vote showed that most of those who attended the meeting opposed the development as it was presented.

Cartright advised residents to “listen and reflect on each of these individual proposals to determine what is in the best interest of the community and in line with their vision.”

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Town acquires remainder of notable property

A ticket to a race at the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville on July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Long Island’s last harness horse racing track is a step closer to being preserved, after the Brookhaven Town Board voted last week to spend $1.18 million from its land acquisition fund to purchase almost 6 acres of land at the site in Terryville.

Once the town closes on that property, it will own the entirety of the 11-acre plot off Canal Road at Morgan Avenue, less than half a mile east of Route 347.

The Gentlemen’s Driving Park is now an overgrown path in the woods, but during the Victorian Era it was a place where bettors gathered as men raced the half-mile loop counterclockwise behind their horses in carts called sulkies. The track, which was part of a circuit of harness racing tracks in the Northeast, was adjacent to the Comsewogue stables, which were owned by well-known area horse trainer Robert L. Davis and are now the Davis Professional Park.

Now that the town is acquiring the rest of the site, Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith said in a phone interview last Thursday that he would like to partner with the parks department to clear the track and he would like to “develop programs and events that are appropriate for the site to educate” visitors. He gave examples of placing signs around the track detailing its history so that people may learn while walking around it, and holding an annual fair with vintage sulkies re-enacting the horse races from the late 1800s or participating in a carriage parade.

Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld, who was a driving force behind the site’s acquisition, said last Thursday that preserving the track is important from an environmental standpoint as well — maintaining open space helps replenish the underground aquifer from where the area gets its drinking water.

Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld and Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith on a recent trip to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld and Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith on a recent trip to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville. Photo by Elana Glowatz

In addition to working with the historical society to preserve the track, the councilman said he would like to see a stewardship agreement with the Woodcrest Estates apartments, which abut the property. Fiore-Rosenfeld said the senior residents could use the track, “a relatively tranquil place,” to go for walks without having to go into the street.

Smith discovered the Gentlemen’s Driving Park a few years ago using Google Earth. He said in a previous interview that he had heard rumors of a racing track in the area, and while looking at the aerial view of Terryville he saw a faint oval shape in the woods off Canal Road. The next day he was walking on the 25-foot-wide path in the woods.

The track is mostly whole — a Long Island Power Authority right-of-way cuts into its southwestern curve.

The historical society president reached out to Fiore-Rosenfeld and the two have since worked together to preserve the site.

“This was not some backwoods, good ol’ boy, local kind of thing. This was a big deal for its time,” Smith said last winter, as the town was still working to acquire the rest of the property. He called it the NASCAR of its day and said, “This was an era when the horse was king. The horse was everything to everyone,” including transportation, sport and work.

The historian has uncovered a few artifacts, including a pair of Victorian-era field glasses near the finish line on the track’s west side. They were broken, likely after being dropped and trampled. Smith also has a ticket from a July 4, 1892.

Ironically, the rise of the automobile likely caused the track’s demise, but cars also helped preserve the track so it could be discovered today. According to Smith, local kids raced jalopies at least through the mid-1950s, which prevented the track from becoming completely overgrown. Those kids left signs of their activities — around the track there are rusty frames of wrecked cars.

“Maybe we should keep one there as a monument,” Smith said last Thursday, with a laugh. “In a strange way we owe a lot to those kids.”

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Past Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld and Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith on a recent trip to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville. File photo by Elana Glowatz

It’s been some 130 years, but the half-mile loop the horses raced is still visible, though it’s coated in layers of leaves.

The path in the woods is all that remains of the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville, where local bettors once gathered to watch men race in carts called sulkies behind horses, or compete on bicycles or even on foot.

Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith said the track is one of the last known of its kind in the Northeast. He discovered the hidden gem a couple of years ago using Google Earth: After hearing rumors that such a track existed off Canal Road, Smith looked at an aerial view of the hamlet and quickly noticed a faint oval shape cut into the woods. He visited the spot with his wife, Pam, the next day and walked the length of the track.

Brookhaven Town has already acquired about half of the 11-acre plot since Smith alerted Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld about the track and an effort to preserve it began two years ago. Fiore-Rosenfeld (D-East Setauket) said the other half is owned entirely or almost entirely by one family, and the town is discussing an acquisition with them so it can preserve the site.

Starting in the 1880s, horses would race in heats throughout an entire afternoon at the Terryville site and the attendees would gamble modest amounts. The horses would take a few minutes to go counterclockwise twice around the half-mile track, which was part of a larger circuit of driving parks. It was adjacent to the Comsewogue stables, of which Robert L. Davis, a well-known area horse trainer, took ownership. The stables are now the Davis Professional Park.

“This was not some backwoods, good ol’ boy, local kind of thing. This was a big deal for its time,” Smith said. He called it the NASCAR of its day and said, “This was an era when the horse was king. The horse was everything to everyone,” including transportation, sport and work.

 A ticket to a race at the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville on July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz

A ticket to a race at the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville on July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Eventually, however, the excitement petered out — the automobile was likely the track’s downfall.

“People were more enamored and more excited with racing automobiles than they were with racing horses,” Smith said.

At least through the mid-1950s, local kids raced jalopies around the 25-foot-wide track, which helped preserve it, preventing it from becoming completely overgrown.

“A lot of this has just been pure luck,” Smith said, referring to the fact that the track was still visible and he was able to find it. He pointed out that if the Google Earth satellite image had been taken not in the winter but during the summer, when the trees had leaves, he would not have been able to see through them to the track beaten into the ground and would not have known it was there.

It was also by luck that Smith found a pair of Victorian-era field glasses. He had been searching for horseshoes with a metal detector near the finish line on the west side of the track when he came upon them. They were broken, likely dropped near the finish line and trampled.

Smith said he cleaned them using toothbrushes and compressed air.

Other artifacts he has are a ticket from a July 4, 1892, race and news articles that mention the track. He does not have photos of the track in use, but he believes they are out there somewhere.

Fiore-Rosenfeld said during a visit to the track that one reason he is interested in preserving the driving park is to make a place where residents can recreate. With it abutting the Woodcrest Estates apartments, he said, it is a natural place to create a public space.

The councilman said, “It’s a miracle that it’s still here” and it’s mostly whole.

In addition to the track being overgrown, a Long Island Power Authority right of way cuts into its southwestern curve. Hurricane Sandy also tore some trees out of the ground, so there are a few obstacles in the way of those who wish to walk it.

As the town waits to acquire the remainder of the track to ensure its future, Smith pieces together its history. A stump could have been part of a guard rail on the border of the track and the infield — inside the racing loop — was clear of trees so viewers could see across to the other side.

It’s hard to picture the Victorian-era scene, Smith said, “but these were local guys and horse racing was their passion.”