Letter: Facts Not Falsehoods Should Prevail on Coindre Hall

Dear Editor,

We are fortunate to have two of the premier Suffolk County historic properties in Huntington, the Vanderbilt Museum and West Neck Farm, A.K.A. Coindre Hall. Both properties are owned by the County and listed on the National Register of Historic Places and dedicated to the Suffolk County Historic Trust. As such, they mandate protection and restoration.

In 2019, the former legislator in the district created the Coindre Hall Advisory Board with the purpose of restoring and preserving the historic site, which had fallen into despair due to a lack of funding over the years. The Board has no legislative power. It is purely advisory in nature, which means that suggestions are presented to the Parks Department, which in turn determines the viability and feasibility of these suggestions, and then presents these to the County Legislature for a vote.

The Town of Huntington does not make these decisions because Coindre Hall is a COUNTY PROPERTY, under the County’s purview, to be enjoyed by ALL OF THE RESIDENTS AND TAXPAYERS OF SUFFOLK COUNTY.

The Board is entirely made up of volunteers – all either working full-time, or retirees. In addition, they are all from the community. One member lives a stone’s throw away from the park, others a few blocks away, and the rest within the community at large. A few of the members went to school at Coindre Hall and the majority have lived in Huntington for many decades while enjoying the park. All members bring their own unique insights to the table, and at least one member to date has a technical background with a degree and experience in marine engineering. Needless to say, all of the members care deeply about this historic property.

Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation and plain-out lies have been circulated on social media about the Board’s work, its goal, and its members. Even the Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society has been dragged into this, with its director being pulled through the mud online. The most vicious things have been said about her and some of our board members. I find this fascinating, as the Board has been nothing but transparent; all meetings have been open to the public and since I took over from the former legislator, all updates on the work being done have been posted online. No one is being compensated for the work they are doing and no one has or will enter into a contract with the County for any proposed work.

In addition, upon the request to change the meeting time to accommodate more people, the last board meeting took place in the evening rather than in the afternoon. When my office received a request for a virtual option to attend the board meetings, I immediately contacted the IT department at the County and was informed that this would not be possible since the County does not have the necessary technical setup at Coindre Hall. This was shared with the community at the following board meeting, where it was explained that we would be more than happy to offer a virtual option. However, the meetings would then have to be moved to the Legislature in Hauppauge, which is equipped to handle virtual meetings and where all other advisory boards that offer this option are held. The community chose not to go with this option.

What is truly mind boggling is that some of the people who attend the advisory board meetings on a regular basis are the very same people who spread misinformation. Some do it overtly by plain out lying or accusing Board members of being “corrupt,” while others do it more discreetly by making innuendos about nefarious activities. And despite the Board members repeated attempts at addressing the misinformation, the same few responsible for said misinformation keep pushing it.

Why? That is the big question, why? In the end, everyone wants the same thing – to preserve the park. Is it politically motivated? Is it personal? Is it because of a lack of anything else productive to do? Or is it because we have chosen not to appoint one of the bullies to the Advisory Board??? A bully will never be appointed. Due to the lies and misinformation circulating even today, let me provide some much-needed clarification on some important issues:

1) The proposed landscape plan, that was so generously prepared and drafted at no cost by one of the Board members, has not been adopted by the County.

2) All the proper and necessary permits to commence the restoration of the Boathouse complex are in place. Since the actual redrawing of wetland maps can take up to 10 years, it is not necessary to wait for the completion of the new maps. Under the DEC’s watchful eyes, sensitive areas have been marked and fenced off.

3) While it is true that there was some cutting on the property (in 2021 – before I took office) that should not have taken place, this issue has been addressed and the flora will be replaced as appropriate.

4) There are no plans for a private yacht club, a restaurant, a party venue, or anything else of a commercial nature. No ferry to Connecticut. Final plans for the usage of the restored boathouse complex have not been decided yet, but they will be educational in nature. Suffolk County Marine Bureau Police will most likely keep a boat at the restored dock for quick access out to the sound in the case of an emergency.

5) The removal of the granite seawall in order to create a natural shoreline is out of the question. If the seawall is removed, the boathouse will eventually fall into the water. Furthermore, the removal of the granite blocks would cost a fortune, not to mention all the work that has already been done on the wall and the money spent. Do we want to throw taxpayer dollars in the water (no pun intended)? I think not.

6) There will be no paved access road to the boathouse, nor a huge parking lot. It is true that things may not have been as transparent under the former legislator. However, the Board and I have done nothing but been completely open about the restoration and preservation efforts at Coindre Hall; in addition to having held more meetings than required to ensure that the public was kept in the loop about the progress made, a Coindre Hall Updates page was created so everyone around the County could stay informed about the latest progress; again Coindre Hall is COUNTY PARK for all residents to enjoy. I have reached out to several members of the community and invited them to my office to discuss the plans for the property. I sponsored a resolution to appoint an environmental expert to the board. The list goes on and on. Despite this, the bullies continue their vicious attacks and lies – the bullies will not prevail. In addition, I want to express my gratitude to the Advisory Board members and the Parks Department for their efforts in preserving and restoring this historical gem for generations to come.

Lastly, our obligations and facts matter – not bullies.

3 Replies to “Letter: Facts Not Falsehoods Should Prevail on Coindre Hall”

  1. Unbelievable! Calling anyone who asks questions about the county’s piecemeal plan a bully?!

    You can tell by this letter that Stephanie has no experience and is trying to govern like the schoolteacher she is.. This kind of leadership is abhorrent; Legislator Bontenpi is painfully unqualified and incompetent to lead. Alienating your constituents who have a different perspective from your own is just pathetic!

    1. Legislator Bontempi by using the power of her office has shown that she only backs the boaters and does not represent the rest of her constituents in her District. In this letter regarding the renovation of Coindre Hall Park, she calls some of her constituents Bullies.
      It was the Community who stopped the clear cutting of one acre of Park land last year by notifying the DEC., fought for the fixing of the Boat house roof and renovation of the repair of the Mansion exterior and adjacent parking lot.
      The Coindre Hall Advisory Board are highly represented by Boaters, Yacht Club members, and Commodores who have know each other for years in this continuation of a Huntington Boys Club.
      Who is the real Bully here forcing this extravagant tax payer County spending spree?
      This letter is truly unprofessional behavior by a County legislator.
      Legislator Bontempi has attended two full CHAB meetings and two meetings were recently canceled by her. She has not taken one question from her constituents publicly on any of the proposed projects.
      This has caused much confusion and misinformation in her District since her election

      It’s time for an 18th District Town Hall meeting to answer questions from her constituents.
      Elections matter….and one is coming in 2023.

      1. As far as “transparency” it looks months and months of exhaustive work to even begin to gain access to what proved to be the often wrong and incomplete Coindre Hall “Advisory” Board minutes. Meetings changed times or were cancelled altogether. Any access to information or consistent meeting times was only gained by the most relentless pursuit of any semblance of “transparency”.

        Again, as this is now repetitive behavior our legislative representartive is calling the people she is supposed to represent liars. Outrageous ! As constituents we are liars yet the one thing the legislator will not engage in is fact based discussions with said constituents to freely discuss what is and is not fact i.e. the truth.

        In the legislators parlance a bully refers to someone who speaks the truth consistently. Since the legislator will not engage with her constituents other than to label them liars and bullies (childish rubbish) she could not possibly be put in a position to have to confront the convolution and lack of veracity in her own comments.

        When I was unable to gain any coherent information what so ever regarding Coindre Hall the legislator did indeed invite me to come to her office where she said all manner of specific and complete information would be provided for my perusal. I was instructed to call the legislators assistant and all the information in detail would be forthcoming. When I did as instructed and called the legislators office I was told “There is nothing for you to see here”. I repeated that the legislator herself had instructed me to call. I was told again “There is nothing for you to see here”. I was directed to a presentation given by the Suffolk County Historian Richard Martin to the Suffolk County Legislature. I was at that meeting and had already heard Mr. Martins presentation. In his presentation in response to public outrage over what had occurred at the park Mr. Martin assured the public and the legislature that Coindre Hall was on the National Historic Registry and could not be touched. Small problem. Five months before Mr.Martin and Suffolk County Deputy Commissioner of Parks Don McKay (by his own admission at a Coindre Hall “Advisory” Board meeting) had signed off on the brutal clear cutting of an acre of pristine woodland and (they found out after the fact) protected wetlands along with accompanying increasingly rare animal habitat. This savage clear cutting which included critically endangered trees was done without the required SEQRA Environmental Impact Study, without required DEC permits, without the required permission of the Suffolk County Board of Trustees, without the required permission of the Environment Parks and Agriculture Committee of the Suffolk County Legislature or the General Legislature. With no environmental oversight what so ever the donated labor recruited from a local landscaping company cut down everything in sight for three days The public outrage was so great that the DEC arrived on scene an issued an immediate Stop Work Order.

        So respectfully legislator, who has a credibility problem ?

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