Plans by Suffolk County to restore Coindre Hall in Huntington continue, but not without some controversy.
The county has appropriated $1.6 million in the county budget for a Phase I construction plan to fix the sea wall, pier and boathouse, County Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) said. The county has budgeted an additional $1.5 million in the capital budget for the property that will be implemented in $500,000 increments between 2022-2024.
The project is part of the county's adopted 2020-2022 capital program.
But some residents are concerned about the possible direction of plans for the facility and others are not happy with the progress of improvements. Some were alarmed enough to call the state Department of Environmental Conservation this summer over concerns of environmental violations when vegetation was cleared in preparation for the sea wall restoration project.
"There’s a lot of misinformation out there," Spencer said. "My goal is to make sure Coindre Hall remains a historic parkland for everyone, not to develop it, not to make it a parking lot, not to put a concessionaire or waterfront center there," he said, referring to some of the rumors floating around the community.
Last year Spencer established a volunteer Coindre Hall Advisory Board composed of local stakeholders to help shape plans for the historic site, including its rehabilitation and beautification.
One of those members, Jerry Wood, said he’s disappointed in the progress the board has made. He said the county has "killed" what was a beautiful park through its continued neglect.
"I would like to see funds directly allocated to the park grounds," Wood said. "They have no budget for the grounds at all. The county says they don’t have funds or staff, so why am I on this committee? We can’t do anything."
This week Spencer emailed neighbors of the park with updates about the facility. In it he acknowledged the high cost of maintaining the park’s grounds and structures has been a challenge. The main building on the Browns Road property, a mansion built in 1912, is used as a catering facility.
In July some residents were upset when bulldozers started clearing the lower part of the grounds in the back.
That work was funded by an anonymous donor.
Spencer said the work was done to begin to prepare a path for construction vehicles that will work on the sea wall restoration. He said the county had secured a tidal wetlands permit to begin clearing vegetation by the sea wall and was in compliance with the state. But Spencer said after DEC officials visited the site they advised the county to amend the permit to include working in an area with fresh water because of a manmade freshwater pond in the area. DEC did not fine the county.
The outcry over the vegetation clearing was led by Desiree Benn-Galgano, a Huntington resident for 22 years. She says she uses the park everyday and has established a large social media following aimed at preserving the facility.
"We want to keep Coindre Hall as a park," she said. "We want to promote nature, make it a nature preserve, and to stop overdevelopment there."
She said she understands there are financial restraints but there are options available such as grants aimed at preserving wildlife and natural habitats.
"We want to pressure the people we elect to be better, be more creative, be more efficient," Benn-Galgano said.
Suffolk County purchased Coindre Hall in 1974 from the Sacred Heart Brothers and has designated it as a park.
It contains a 40-room mansion and boathouse. The estate was built in 1912 on 34 acres overlooking Huntington Bay.
On Sept. 19 there will be a cleanup on the property starting at 10 a.m.