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Dozens urge board to reject billionaire's 'tool shed' plans

Billionaire Robert Mercer is applying for a permit

Billionaire Robert Mercer is applying for a permit to build an accessory building on his Owl's Nest estate. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Dozens of Head of the Harbor residents Tuesday implored the village planning board to reject plans for an 8,633-square-foot maintenance shed on property controlled by billionaire Robert Mercer and his family.

Residents speaking at a Village Hall public hearing said the proposed facility, which Mercer family representatives called a "tool shed," was too large for the neighborhood. One speaker likened the size of the shed to a golf club maintenance facility.

Opponents also expressed fears that the family would later add a guesthouse on the roughly 66-acre property, called Owl's Nest.

Mercer, former co-chief executive of East Setauket hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, and his family are prominent donors to national and state conservative causes. The family controls the Harbor Road parcel through several limited liability companies and a trust in the name of Mercer's wife, Diana.

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

Opponents said the shed, which would sit atop a hill, would block views of the nearby Thatch Meadow Farm and Stony Brook Harbor. They expressed concern about bright lights on the property and noise from trucks and maintenance vehicles.

"Mr. Mercer worked very hard for his money," said Michael Folan, who lives on Thatch Meadow Farm. "He can spend it however he wants to. For him this would be an occasional diversion. It would be a daily hindrance for us."

Christopher Modelewski, a Huntington attorney for Mercer, said the shed, despite its size, would occupy less than 2% of a two-lot section of the property. He said the family's architects "made it into what I think is a beautiful, barnlike structure."

Carolyn Zenk, a Hampton Bays attorney for the Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, said the shed would be unsightly.

"It's going to sit up there, and it's going to be ugly," she said. "Can't we do something beautiful here?"

Planning board chairman Harlan J. Fischer said the board would not vote on the proposal until it was revised by the Mercer family's representatives. He said the public hearing would be resumed at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 28 if the plans are resubmitted by then.

"I think it's better for the board to have a thorough and complete review" before voting, Fischer said.

Among the application's problems were the inclusion of plans for a proposed “guest home,” including a wine room and medical spa with a cryochamber, massage room and hyperbaric suite.

Modelewski said including those plans was a "mistake" and said they would be withdrawn.

"It never saw the light of day," he said. "It didn't fit neatly" into village zoning restrictions.

But many speakers said they were not convinced the Mercers would not resurrect the guesthouse plan at some future date, and they called on planning board members to consider it part of the maintenance shed plan.

"I'm betting we will see this proposal again," village resident Anthony Coates said.

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