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Suffolk committee backs purchase of friary land in Mt. Sinai

The Suffolk Legislature’s environment committee on Monday unanimously approved the $1.65 million purchase of the last remaining 15 acres of Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai to create a 59.3-acre park with hiking trails.

The purchase, which still has to be approved by the full county legislature Tuesday, will be split between the county, which will pay $12.4 million, or 75 percent, of the total cost, and Brookhaven Town, which has agreed to put in a 25 percent share.

“It the last largest piece of undeveloped land in Mt. Sinai,” said Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai). “It will preserve the way Mount Sinai once was for future generations.”

In 2013, the town and county also bought 44.3 acres of friary property, owned by the Society of St. Francis, which is affiliated with the Episcopal Church and Worldwide Anglican Communion, to help pay for the care of aging clergy.

The friary, a local landmark that once attracted thousands of faithful for retreats, Masses and prayer services, was in operation from 1918 until about 18 months ago. Local residents recall brothers selling baked bread every Friday starting at 5:30 a.m. on the honor system in which buyers simply left their offering in a can.

Not included in the deal is 5.5 acres that include the friary church-retreat house. That site is being leased with an option to buy with Hope House Ministries, a nonprofit that treats young people at risk.

Several lawmakers wanted to make sure there were no restrictions on the county from including a small, off-road parking lot on site. County real estate officials say there are no restrictions. Anker also indicated that the county may be able to make an agreement with Hope House to allow hikers to park on its grounds.

County real estate officials also told lawmakers that maintenance of the property will be the joint responsibility of the town and county, but details of an ongoing agreement have yet to be worked out.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Jane Bronner, Brookhaven Town Board member, who represents the area. “It’s a pristine piece of property — one of the highest points in Mount Sinai. And its topography is such that it will take care of much of the storm-water runoff on its own.”

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