A Russian Orthodox monastery’s proposal to build a church next to its historic Head of the Harbor home — revamped after opposition from neighbors last year — is scheduled to go before the village board Wednesday.
This time the application includes a September letter from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation that attests the work will have no adverse impact on the surrounding historic district and the monastery's home — the 1800s-era Timothy House where a descendant of Smithtown's founder once lived.
The new plans propose moving the planned 3,341-square-foot church and 32-stall parking lot farther from North Country Road in an effort to preserve the property's "character-defining" front lawn, according to the state's letter.
But neighbors told Newsday that the new design is no improvement, pushing the planned parking lot uncomfortably close to a carriage house property that horse trainer Natasha Acker owns.
They also disagree with the central point of the lawyer representing applicant Saint Dionysios Monastery that its roughly eight monks will be trusted long-term caretakers of a community asset.
“They have not been good stewards of this property,” said Kim Nurge, 56, a stock trader whose home looks out onto the property. “They don’t do a darn thing to maintain it.”
Nurge and Acker, 51, said in an interview at Acker's property Monday along with neighbor Dorothy Nuerge, 82, that unsightly mold has spread across the wood shingles of Timothy House and paint has chipped on the chimney since the monks moved there in 2018.
Garbage bags sometimes sit on the property for days, they said, and other eyesores include what appears to be a shipping container and a dilapidated recreational vehicle.
The neighbors also contend that virtually any change to the property would violate a 1997 agreement between the preservationist Barbara Van Liew, a former owner of Timothy House, and the village.
The monks' lawyer, Joseph Buzzell, has said that agreement is vague and unenforceable. In an interview Monday, he said his clients were conscientious housekeepers and good neighbors.
The monks are seeking a special use permit to allow the church in a residential zone. The latest plan would put the structure about 272 feet from North Country Road — deeper than the 148 feet initially proposed — and moves the parking lot to the back.
The monks contend they need more space for guest worshippers because an on-site chapel is so small that some worshippers must pray outside. Buzzell has said the monks expect no more than 100 worshippers on holidays and far fewer most days.
The monastery filed as a foreign not-for-profit with New York State in 2017 and bought its village property in 2018 for $1,065,000, Newsday previously reported.
The monastery is part of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, according to its website. The monks have no connection to the Russian government and include Long Island natives, according to their attorney.