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Neighbors object to proposed maintenance building on billionaire's estate

A representative of billionaire Robert Mercer makes a

A representative of billionaire Robert Mercer makes a presentation about a proposed accessory building to be built on Mercer's Owl's Nest estate During a Nov. 12 meeting of the Head of the Harbor planning board. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Representatives of billionaire Robert Mercer and his wife Diana have filed an application to build an 8,633-square foot maintenance building on the grounds of their Owl’s Nest estate in Head of the Harbor, angering some neighbors who say it is out of place for the area. 

Robert Mercer is the former co-CEO of East Setauket hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, and he and his family are major donors to state and national conservative causes.

Plans submitted with the application, scheduled for a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 10 at Village Hall, call for a 27-foot high building near the estate’s Harbor Road entrance. The application includes an environmental assessment form for a proposed “barn-style guest home,” including a wine room and “medical/spa lounge with a cryochamber, massage room, and hyperbaric suite with a bathroom.”

No plans for that building are included with the application, and the owners have decided not to build it “at least for the foreseeable future,” said Christopher Modelewski, the Huntington lawyer representing 2 Sunset Drive, the limited liability company that owns the land where construction would take place. 

The Mercers control their roughly 66-acre parcel through several limited liability companies and a trust in Diana Mercer’s name. Property taxes on the individual lots that comprise Owl’s Nest total $780,360.80, according to records, a sum that almost certainly places the Mercers among residents paying the highest taxes in the village.

Modelewski said the maintenance building would house equipment, including a skid steer, trailers, pickups, golf carts and lawn mowers used for Owl’s Nest upkeep. 

But Constance "Conky" Nostrand, owner of Thatch Meadow Farm, an adjacent estate she said had been in her family for nearly 70 years, said the planned maintenance building, along with the high deer fencing that already surrounds much of Owl's Nest, would turn the drive to her holdings into something akin to a “gauntlet.”

Owl's Nest occupies a portion of Thatch Meadow that was sold in the 1970s, Nostrand said, and with her family — the same one that gave its name to the Brooklyn avenue — mostly gone, she said she felt obliged to steward the remaining land.

"I'm the only one left and I'm trying to make this work," she said during a visit to her property. In a phone interview, she said, “This is a residential neighborhood, not some industrial park." She also said the proposed construction would be too close to an environmentally sensitive kettle hole on Mercer land. 

Neighbor Arthur Goldfinger echoed her criticisms, calling the proposed building "not in keeping with the neighborhood." He added that it would be in view of his Harbor Road home.

Another neighbor, Anthony Coates, who ran unsuccessfully for Riverhead Town Supervisor before moving to the village, sent Newsday a news release describing himself as spokesman for a newly formed group, Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, and criticizing what he described as “a flawed and secretive proposal by billionaire Robert Mercer.”

Village planning board chairman Harlan Fischer said Mercer’s notoriety would not be an issue for his board. “We treat everybody the same,” he said. “The code is the code.”

Modelewski said “we look forward to the issuance of a building permit. … We understand that the approval process is complicated here on Long Island.”

He noted, also, that hyperbaric chambers — pressurized spaces that feed their users pure oxygen — are “not all that uncommon in NFL facilities.” Typically, he said, “Athletes avail themselves of such devices as a means of augmenting the healing process.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect time for the Planning Board hearing on the Mercer application.

MAINTENANCE BUILDING PROPOSAL

  • The Mercer plan calls for a 27-foot high building near the Harbor Road side of Owl's Nest estate.
  • Woods off the road would not be touched; some land would be paved for a driveway and for parking. 5:30 p.m. at Village Hall.

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