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Village of Head of the Harbor

Mike Utevsky, left, Lisa Davidson, center and Judy Ogden. Photo courtesy Judy Ogden

By Sabrina Artusa

Village of Head of the Harbor has inducted Mayor Mike Utevsky, trustee Lisa Davidson and incumbent trustee Judith Ogden to its Board of Trustees. 

Utevsky unseated the previous mayor, Doug Dahlgard, who had occupied the position for 10 years. All three members are on the Heritage Party line, a party whose principal approach to governance is preservation.

A real estate attorney who hasn’t run for office before, Utevsky said he decided to run after noticing the desire of other residents for a change. Indeed, Dahlgard and his board experienced pushback after a vote allowing a monastery to build a church on a historically significant property.

As a resident who regularly attended board meetings, Utevsky said, “When [the citizens] made comments … we were met generally with stony silence.”

Davidson, a retired television producer, echoed this sentiment, and expanded on her desire to represent the people of Head of the Harbor “It was purely my wish that the village government should be more inclusive,” she said. “I ran so that governance is kind.”

The three inductees emphasize transparency and revived vigor for code enforcement as guiding values for their term.

“Preservation, natural resources, code enforcement and understanding policy — those are the key pieces,” Ogden said.

One of the primary concerns of the new administration is reopening one of the three access points to Stony Brook Harbor and making the area more accessible for people to enjoy. Currently, there is one road available to lead to the harbor, which according to Davidson has limited parking and accessibility. The new administration is confident that at least one of these access points will be restored.

“If everything goes according to plan, we will have no additional docks in the harbor, people will not be clearing the trees and the buffers will be remediated and the access points will be reopened,” Davidson said. “The village will look as it does now, but better.”

Utevsky said of the subject, “It won’t be easy – there are many legal and practical issues – but it is very important to many residents of the community.”

The mayor also said that he plans to be vigilant with new construction and development, and wants to improve the village while still being cognizant of how it will affect existing housing and landscapes. 

“I don’t want us to turn into another overbuilt suburb. That doesn’t mean abandoning all construction, it means well-considered design that works well with the existing historical fabric of the village,” he said.

Development has been a frequent subject of contention in Head of the Harbor and neighboring municipalities. As a member of the Saint James-Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, Ogden has advocated for the preservation of Flowerfield Fairgrounds and its release from a subdivision proposal that many citizens deem excessive.

In addition to being an incumbent trustee and coalition member, Ogden is also a landscaper and wants to be reinstated as highway commissioner. In the pursuit of transparency, Ogden intends to organize a newsletter, an endeavor she hopes will foster communication not only between administration and constituents but also among bodies of governance.

“I think there will be more communication among the departments rather than it coming from one person and one perspective,” she said. “The village does not operate because of one person, there are many that make it happen.”

Deer population control is another concern of the mayor who, in the name of preservation and safety, wants to implement a solution. 

Utevsky acknowledged that a lot has to be done to create change, but was eager to start. “We would like to revive a spirit of community in the village,” he said.

The next public trustee meeting will be held Wednesday, April 17.

**Amendment made – 04/17/2024 – “Utevsky usurped the previous mayor, Doug Dahlgard, […]” the incorrect use of verbiage was changed from usurped to unseated.

The Flowerfield Fairgrounds in St. James. File photo by Heidi Sutton
By Samantha Rutt

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently advised the Town of Smithtown of its consideration to acquire Flowerfield Fairgrounds, a St. James community staple. Town Supervisor Edward Wehrheim (R) has stated no objection to NYSDEC acquiring the property.

Community residents strongly feel the importance of protecting this rural area from overdevelopment. The potential state acquisition signifies a breakthrough in the longstanding controversy over a proposal for sprawling commercial development on-site.

“This is a huge step forward in the fight to preserve Flowerfield Fairgrounds for future generations,” Judith Ogden, a Village of Head of the Harbor trustee and spokesperson for the Saint James-Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, said in a statement.

NYSDEC proposed using the Environmental Protection Fund to obtain the property. 

“New York State is committed to the conservation and protection of the state’s natural resources and recognizes the significant conservation values of the Gyrodyne property,” a NYSDEC official said. “The Environmental Protection Fund is one of the sources used to acquire lands identified as conservation priorities in the New York State Open Space Plan.” 

The Flowerfield property would then be used for open space preservation and conservation, potentially including active-use recreation amenities such as biking and walking trails.

“I am certainly happy about this development,” said Joe Bollhofer, also a member of the coalition. “We’ve been working on this for almost three years now.”

If not acquired by NYSDEC, the property has been proposed to facilitate a multistory, 125-room hotel, 175,000 square feet of office space, 250 assisted living housing units, a 7-acre sewage treatment plant and parking for more than 2,000 vehicles. 

The development plan was initially proposed by St. James-based Gyrodyne, a real estate investment trust firm that owns, leases and manages commercial properties along the Eastern Seaboard.

The state’s interest in preserving the land comes from discussions between NYSDEC, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and the Peconic Land Trust.

“The state has a tremendous interest in what happens to Stony Brook Harbor,” Englebright said. “The state owns 90% of the bottom” of Stony Brook Harbor.

“The water chemistry of the harbor is pristine right now, or nearly, so it will not be if they build what they have proposed for the Flowerfield property,” Englebright added. “It’s really a matter of protecting the state’s interest and the community’s interest.”

Interactions between the state and town regarding state efforts to preserve the open space portion of the site occurred several months after the Town of Smithtown rejected a controversial proposal to develop a congregate-care facility on nearby Bull Run Farm, citing the desire to protect the area’s rural character.

“Part of comprehensive planning in a community is thinking about how you’re going to develop space so that it works and you protect the integrity of the community,” Ogden said. “So if we look at that area, we don’t need to add more traffic volumes.”

The agreement between the state and town comes as the legal challenge brought upon by the Village of Head of the Harbor and nearby property owners opposing preliminary approval of the controversial plan remains tied up in the state Supreme Court. “Unfortunately, there are other issues involved here — environmental, et cetera,” Bollhofer noted.

Local residents have contributed generously to fund the coalition’s lawsuit to block Gyrodyne’s development plans from moving forward. In a press release in April 2021, Gyrodyne announced that it planned to sell the property and would consider offers for portions of the property or the entire site.

“There’s a lot of water under the bridge here,” Bollhofer said. “And we’re finally having some kind of movement from the state,” adding, “We don’t know if there’ll be other organizations that are going to be involved in helping to manage the property if it is purchased. But there are 48 acres, there’s still open space. … That’s really what we’re concentrating on right now.”

According to a recent statement by a NYSDEC representative, “The DEC has been involved in preliminary discussions with stakeholders regarding the property’s future conservation.”

The Timothy House property on North Country Road. File photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

Residents in the Village of Head of the Harbor and the surrounding area were again able to express their opinions Wednesday, Aug. 16, at 7 p.m. regarding a proposed church at 481 North Country Road. This meeting was held after press time.

The Russian Orthodox Monastery of the Glorious Ascension, also known as the Monastery of Saint Dionysios the Areopagite, has owned the historic Timothy House since 2018 and is proposing a plan to construct a house of worship on the property and a 36-space parking lot. A special-use permit is needed to proceed with any construction.

At the June 21 village meeting, Joseph Buzzell, the monastery’s Melville-based attorney, explained that the proposed church building, with a planned maximum occupancy of 282 people, would not be a parish church but a monastery church. He said while people outside of the monastery at times decided to worship with the monks, the monastery is not looking to expand its congregation. 

Currently, the monks hold services inside Timothy House. According to village code, land, buildings and major landscaping on either side of 25A, also known as North Country Road, are declared a historic area if they extend to a depth of 500 feet within the village. In addition to the village code, covenants and restrictions were placed on the deed by historian and previous owner Barbara Van Liew in 1973 and 1997.

At previous village meetings, while some residents said they had no concerns, others were worried that the construction of a church and the addition of a parking lot may degrade the historic integrity of the property and the landscape.

In a phone interview, Buzzell said the monastery is not modifying the Timothy House. He said the monks have already paid more than $340,000 in maintenance and repairs on the structure.

Buzzell said the plans for the church had been changed twice to move it from the front of the property toward the back. He said there would be no widening of the driveway and no new lighting. However, he said the entrance posts would have to be moved farther apart.

He said the monks respect the historic integrity of the home and property, but he feels those who are against construction “don’t seem to want to take into consideration what’s been done,” he said.

The lawyer added that the monastery being awarded the special exception permit is important.

“This action ensures the preservation of the house,” he said, adding Van Liew wouldn’t want to see the house put at risk.

Inspections

In a July 20 letter to Mayor Douglas Dahlgard from Robert O’Shea, village building inspector, posted on the village’s website, the letter writer said he met with Father Vasileios Willard, deputy abbot, at the Timothy House for a tour. 

He said Willard pointed out some trees he would like to be removed, which O’Shea wrote an arborist will be submitting a report on the condition of the trees. In the letter, the building inspector stated that the grounds were properly maintained according to village and state codes.

Inside the house, new water heaters, waterproofing of basement walls and structural repairs in the basement, first and second floors were among the new work done, according to O’Shea. 

He wrote the structure was in “good overall condition and is well maintained.”

The State Historic Preservation Office also reviewed the monastery’s plans and found there would be no adverse effects on the property, but many, including village historian Leighton Coleman III, said they are concerned because a representative from SHPO didn’t visit and survey the property.

Covenants and restrictions

Among those who have criticized the proposed construction to the property has been St. James-based attorney Joseph Bollhofer, chair of the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals. In an email to TBR News Media, he said, in addition to violating the covenants and restrictions placed by Van Liew, it “would violate various provisions of the village code, having to do with a special exception permit.”

At the June 21 meeting, Buzzell said his clients were not aware of the 1973 covenants, something that Bollhofer said would be part of a title search.

When asked by TBR about the comment, Buzzell said that the 1973 covenants did not turn up in the monastery’s title search in 2018 when the property was purchased. The attorney feels that the 1997 document amended and replaced the 1973 document.

But Bollhofer said the 1997 covenants wouldn’t replace or supersede the 1973 document.

“In every case, where one document supersedes or amends another, it must specifically state that,” Bollhofer said, adding, “Both documents state that they ‘run with the land’ and are binding upon all future owners.”

Traffic analysis

In a letter dated Aug. 2, Aaron Machtay, transportation project manager with Hauppauge-based civil engineering firm VHB, presented traffic and parking recommendations to village counsel Philip Butler after reviewing a traffic statement by Atlantic Traffic & Design prepared for the monastery earlier this year, and a site plan from architect Mark Wittenberg that was dated Aug. 30, 2022.

According to the letter, despite prior testimony that the driveway will remain at its 18-foot width, VHB suggested that the driveway be evaluated to see if it can accommodate two-way traffic. 

The business also suggested that the previous traffic statement was a conservative estimate and “projections for the future activity should be prepared based on the observed demand and compared against thresholds established for a significant impact.”

Among other suggestions, the letter stated that parking observations need to be reconciled “to present the actual peak parking demand expected for the site,” also there should be an analysis for the three-year crash experience on Route 25A, focusing on the three-year period before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The Timothy House property on North Country Road. File photo by Rita J. Egan

Residents in the Village of Head of the Harbor and the surrounding area will again be able to express their opinions Aug. 16 regarding a proposed church at 481 North Country Road.

The Russian Orthodox Monastery of the Glorious Ascension, also known as the Monastery of Saint Dionysios the Areopagite, has owned the historic Timothy House since 2018 and is proposing a plan to construct a house of worship on the property and 36-space parking lot. A special use permit is needed to proceed with any construction.

At the June 21 village meeting, Joseph Buzzell, the monastery’s Melville-based attorney, explained that the proposed church building, with a planned maximum occupancy of 282 people, would not be a parish church but a monastery church. He said while people outside of the monastery at times decided to worship with the monks, the monastery is not looking to expand its congregation. 

Currently, the monks hold services inside Timothy House. According to village code, land, buildings and major landscaping on either side of 25A, also known as North Country Road, are declared a historic area if they extend to a depth of 500 feet within the village. In addition to the village code, covenants and restrictions were placed on the deed by historian and previous owner Barbara Van Liew in 1973 and 1997.

At previous village meetings, while some residents said they had no concerns, others were worried that the construction of a church and the addition of a parking lot may degrade the historical integrity of the property and the landscape.

In a phone interview, Buzzell said the monastery is not modifying the Timothy House. He said the monks have already paid more than $340,000 in maintenance and repairs on the structure.

Buzzell said the plans for the church had been changed twice to move it from the front of the property toward the back. He said there would be no widening of the driveway and no new lighting; however, he said the entrance posts would have to be moved farther apart.

He said the monks respect the historical integrity of the home and property, but he feels those who are against construction “don’t seem to want to take into consideration what’s been done,” he said.

The lawyer said the monastery being awarded the special exception permit is important.

“This action ensures the preservation of the house,” he said, adding Van Liew wouldn’t want to see the house put at risk.

Inspections

In a July 20, 2023, letter to Mayor Douglas Dahgard from Robert O’Shea, village building inspector, posted on the village’s website, the letter writer said he met with Father Vasileios Willard, deputy abbott, at the Timothy House for a tour. 

He said Willard pointed out some trees he would like to be removed, which O’Shea wrote an arborist will be submitting a report on the condition of the trees. In the letter, the building inspector stated that the grounds were properly maintained according to village and state codes.

Inside the house, new water heaters, waterproofing of basement walls, and structural repairs in the basement, first and second floors were among the new work done, according to O’Shea. 

He wrote the structure was in “good overall condition and is well-maintained.”

The State Historic Preservation Office also reviewed the monastery’s plans and found there would be no adverse effects on the property, but many, including village historian Leighton Coleman III, said they are concerned because a representative from SHPO didn’t visit and survey the property.

Covenants and restrictions

Among those who have criticized the proposed construction to the property has been St. James-based attorney Joseph Bollhofer, chair of the village’s zoning board of appeals. In an email to TBR News Media, he said, in addition to violating the covenants and restrictions placed by Van Liew, it “would violate various provisions of the village code, having to do with a special exception permit.”

At the June 21 meeting, Buzzell said his clients were not aware of the 1973 covenants, something that Bollhofer said would be part of a title search.

When asked by TBR about the comment, Buzzell said that the 1973 covenants did not turn up in the monastery’s title search in 2018 when the property was purchased. The attorney feels that the 1997 document amended and replaced the 1973 document.

But Bollhofer said the 1997 conventants wouldn’t replace or supersede the 1973 document.

“In every case, where one document supersedes or amends another, it must specifically state that,” Bollhofer said, adding, “Both documents state that they ‘run with the land’ and are binding upon all future owners.”

Traffic analysis

In a letter dated Aug. 2, Aaron Machtay, transportation project manager with Hauppauge-based civil engineering firm VHB, presented traffic and parking recommendations to Village Counsel Philip Butler after reviewing a traffic statement by Atlantic Traffic and Design prepared for the monastery earlier this year, and a site plan from architect Mark Wittenberg that was dated Aug. 30, 2022.

According to the letter, despite prior testimony that the driveway will remain at its 18-foot width, VHB suggested that the driveway be evaluated to see if it can accommodate two-way traffic. 

The business also suggested that the previous traffic statement was a conservative estimate and “projections for the future activity should be prepared based on the observed demand and compared against thresholds established for a significant impact.”

Among other suggestions, the letter stated that parking observations need to be reconciled “to present the actual peak parking demand expected for the site,” and due to the site driveway being located across and offset from the Route 25A and Northern Boulevard intersection, an analysis for the three-year crash experience should be provided, focusing on the three-year period before the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

The Village of Head of the Harbor will hold its next meeting and the public hearing Wednesday, Aug. 16, at 7 p.m. Village Hall is located at 500 N. Country Rd, St. James.

Stock photo

In this year’s Village of Head of the Harbor March 21 election, trustees Jeffrey Fischer and Daniel White were challenged by Lisa Davidson.

Davidson decided to run after joining with fellow residents to oppose a proposed dock that would have been constructed by Cordwood Park. 

Fischer and White retained their seats with 186 and 164 votes, respectively. Davidson garnered 141 votes.

In her concession statement, Davidson said she will continue to be involved in the village.

“I will remain a vigilant observer and citizen doing everything I can to protect Head of the Harbor from the looming onslaught of development and a board of trustees and mayor who too often misconstrue the easy way out with the right way forward.”

Stock photo

Current Head of the Harbor trustees Jeffrey Fischer and Daniel White are running for reelection March 21, and newcomer Lisa Davidson is challenging them for one of the seats.

Lisa Davidson

A village resident for more than two years, Davidson 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.

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.

Last year, Davidson and her neighbors fought the proposed construction of a 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.

In a January 2023 The Times of Smithtown Article, “Head of the Harbor resident’s love for village inspires trustee run,” 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.

In the article, Davidson said she would work on better budgeting and transparency in the village.

In a recent email, she said while canvassing the village, residents told her they are concerned about possible developments on the Gyrodyne property located on Route 25A, the former Bull Run Farm on Moriches Road and proposed construction on the Timothy House property on Route 25A. She has found that constituents are “united in their opposition.”

“Residents want Head of the Harbor to remain rural,” she said. “Pushing back against all the special exemptions and variances — needed for proposed developments — will be my top priority when I’m elected.”

She added, “We have codes in place now to block all of these threats,” she said. “What we need is the spine to enforce them. Doing the right thing is not necessarily the easy thing. In fact, it is usually the hard thing. Always taking the easy way out is not governing at all. The path of least resistance is not something that interests me.”

Jeffrey Fischer

Fischer has lived in St. James for nearly 30 years. He is the president and CEO of Atlantic Business Systems, an IT company in Hauppauge that he started 35 years ago. During the past six terms as trustee, he served on the finance board and is responsible for maintaining and balancing the budget.

He has also served on the zoning board of appeals, and for 10 of those 17 years he was chairman of the board.

Fischer was not available to answer questions about this year’s run before press time for this article.

Daniel White

For more than 37 years, White has been a licensed attorney, and he currently has been working as an adjuster on crime claims with a Melville-based insurance company. He said while school and work at times have taken him away from the village, he has considered Head of the Harbor his home since 1964 when his family moved from Smithtown proper.

His past law experience includes serving as assistant district attorney in Kings County. He is also on the executive committee of Preservation Long Island, where he has been involved with the nonprofit dedicated to preserving Long Island’s diverse cultural and architectural heritage for more than 15 years.

White said since he was first elected 10 years ago, the trustees and mayor have worked well together and have accomplished a good deal. Among their accomplishments, he listed sound village finances, minimal tax increases, a good relationship with the St. James Fire District and exemplary service from the police department.

“It’s not an echo chamber,” he said. “It’s not a place where people sit in a room and agree with each other. We figure it out — of the different ways to solve the problem, how do you solve the problem?”

He said everyone’s experience has helped the trustees take on various challenges. White gave the example of Fischer’s financial background helping to keep a balanced budget and keeping taxes under the cap.

As for White, even though he doesn’t practice law for the village, he feels his legal experience has been an asset during his tenure as trustee and current deputy mayor.

“I used what I have learned in 37 years of practicing law to look at problems dispassionately, try to find a solution, try to find the best or least-worst solution.”

Two environmental-related projects concerning Stony Brook Harbor are on the forefront of his mind. He said both projects involve multiple agencies and levels of government.

One is to replace the culvert near the intersection of Harbor Road and Harbor Hill Road. He said the replacement will help to promote the flow of freshwater and to prevent phragmite buildup.

“It would be an important part of restoring the ecological balance to that part of the harbor,” he said.

Another initiative underway is the Cordwood Beach runoff project. He said there are a couple of proposals and the project is at a point where public hearings need to be held, and stakeholders given the opportunity to provide their input.

White compared the village to a salad bowl regarding water runoff, and he said the hope is to keep water from running down the roads out into the harbor.

“Cordwood Path is a pretty classic example because the drop is pretty significant in a very short distance,” he said, adding finding a solution will require innovative thinking.

Election Day

Residents of the Village of Head of the Harbor can vote Tuesday, March 21, between noon and 9 p.m. at Village Hall located at 500 North Country Road.