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.