Community concerned over Lake Ronkonkoma eyesore
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More than 100 community members attended a Nesconset meeting on Thursday night to discuss razing a long-defunct restaurant catering facility owned by Suffolk County that has become an eyesore littered with graffiti and drug paraphernalia.
"I want them to clean the property up there. There's no reason we have to look at it," said Fred Gorman, chairman of the Nesconset-Sachem Civic Association, which organized the meeting at the Nesconset Branch Library. "Don't make it an embarrassment every time I have someone come in to Ronkonkoma."
The Bavarian Inn, which has been closed for more than six years on the shore of Lake Ronkonkoma, has an exterior covered by graffiti and parking area of broken asphalt overgrown with weeds, said John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset).
The lawmaker urged Suffolk to turn the property -- bordered by Lily Pond Park and Walter S. Commerdinger's historic home to the north, Lake Ronkonkoma to the south and Lake Ronkonkoma County Park to the north and west -- into a park earlier this month, but officials said his plan was too costly.
"We are concerned that Legislator Kennedy's proposal could cost Suffolk County taxpayers, at minimum, $600,000 inclusive of demolition, restoration and the inability to recoup tax arrears," Suffolk County spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said earlier this month, adding that the county took ownership of the Smithtown Boulevard property on June 19, 2012, due to tax default.
"At a time when the county is facing a fiscal deficit, we must be extremely prudent with dollars spent," she said.
Kennedy told the audience that "as recently as the beginning of this week, the county executive's division of real estate has talked about exploring putting the property up on auction."
He said the property "with its characterization as an environmentally sensitive wetland with no functioning septic, has no permissible use . . . you couldn't put anything on it legally."
Kennedy said that he filed a resolution to the county legislature in March to take the property out of general holding status and add it to the county park system, in order to convert the property into to park land.
"Once we take that step . . . it takes an extraordinary step to get it out of park status," he said.
But Warren Sulmasy, 80, of Nesconset, said that the community should think about the implications of removing the property from the tax rolls if it becomes an extension of the county park.
Sulmasy, who has lived in the community for 44 years and serves as treasurer of the Nesconset Taxpayers Association, said, "You think about maybe developing that property. Maybe it's a group of town homes."
Sulmasy's suggestion drew a rash of no's from the audience.
Patrick McGarrett, 42, of Ronkonkoma, said the county's move to sell the property for development would be "shortsighted," because the tax money generated from the sale "would be a drop in the bucket."
Paul Albert, chairman of the board of the Walter S. Commerdinger Preservation Society, said that the group would like to maintain it as "a passive park area" and a small museum about the history of the area, its people and how it developed.
"We envision canoes and kayaks launching out of that area, as well as maybe paddleboats, some picnic areas, and we'd tie in directly to the county park that's further west," Albert said. "The lake used to be the Hamptons of New York at one time. If we can get closer to that . . . we can attract quite a bit of tourism."
Marie Mawn, a 40-year-resident of Ronkonkoma, said she didn't want any buildings on the property, but thought the area would be ideal for boating and fishing.
"I would like to see the park be just an open space without any buildings," she said. "When you have a building on the property, that's where you have problems. That's where the people hang out who shouldn't be there and make it unsafe for other people."
Kennedy's resolution will be up for a vote on July 24 at 10 a.m. before the Ways and Means committee, where community members can voice their concerns at a public hearing, Kennedy said. If the resolution passes in the committee, it will come before the general legislature for a vote on July 30, he said.
"I'm going to continue to lobby my colleagues to get it approved," he said. "One way or another, we have to have the building torn down."