There’s a big pile of dirt on the New Suffolk waterfront this week, the remains of a demolition project that has once again highlighted divisions in the once close knit community, between vocal neighbors and the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund.
On Friday, the local landmark known as the Houston Barn was torn down to make room for a septic system for the Galley Ho restaurant, a proposed 66-seat eatery that will be owned and operated by the waterfront fund.
The project has received strong criticism, even a lawsuit, from neighbors who accuse the group of wanting to hold special events like weddings as a way to make money on a property that has long been viewed a community treasure. The restaurant was approved by Southold Town last November.
An original construction plan for the Galley Ho, dating back to April 2014, called for the vintage barn to stay. But changes to the plan were made that August, a few months before it was approved by the town, according to online records.
“It’s a part of our overall plan that’s been filed with the town,” said New Suffolk Waterfront Fund chair Pat McIntyre. “It was required to come down in order to make room for the septic [system].”
According to a flier posted by the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund at the site of the barn, the group spent 11 months trying to find someone to take the structure.
“We spoke to over 20 residents, businesses, and farmers in New Suffolk and Cutchogue who expressed interest in having the barn on their property,” the group wrote. “In every case, moving costs were so prohibitive that each of these possibilities fell through.”
The New Suffolk Waterfront Fund wrote that while the barn may date back to the 1920s, it was never designated a historic structure and appears to have been renovated more recently than previously thought.
Since no one was willing to take it, the group was forced to tear the barn down, according to the notice. Planking from the barn will be reused inside the new Galley Ho restaurant.
But some neighbors say they were misled.
Danny Petrie is a co-owner of the Summer Girl boutique, located directly across from where the barn stood.
Mr. Petrie — one of sewveral neighbors to file legal action in December to stop the Galley Ho project — said he can’t complain about the new view of the water with the barn gone.
But, he said, the barn added “character” to the hamlet, character that’s now lost.
“That was just a shed to them,” he said.
In the days before the barn was razed, Mr. Petrie and others rallied to save it. Someone chalked a message — “Save our barn” — on a nearby business. Mr. Petrie himself built a replica of the barn and pulled it on a small wagon as a “float” in New Suffolk’s Fourth of July parade.
But it didn’t work. Southold Town approved the demolition last week and the barn came down Friday; it was reduced to rubble in a few hours.
“They got their demolition permits so fast I didn’t know it was possible,” said Dennis Harkoff, an owner of Legends restaurant across the street. “Who in Southold Town can get a permit that quick?”
Mr. Harkoff said the demolition was one more thing to incite critics against the waterfront fund.
“Everybody’s giving them a hard time about anything they do,” he said.
Mr. Petrie said he plans to build a “roadside memorial” for the structure.
“I fought really hard to keep the barn,” he said.
New Suffolk Civic Association president Paul Cacioppo said he felt deceived by the whole affair.
“We’re never getting a straight story,” he said. “They say something and they do something else.”
Others noted that the waterfront fund had included the barn in renderings of the site.
“The waterfront [fund] has been saying for years how important [it was] and how many years it’s been there,” Mr. Cacioppo said. “All of a sudden when they pushed for this maximum 66-seat restaurant … then the barn has to be moved, has to go.”
Kim Petrie, Mr. Petrie’s wife, said she’s disappointed to see the barn go. But she’s also saddened by the rift the proposed restaurant has caused in her community.
Ms. Petrie said New Suffolk had remained united for decades until recently. The waterfront fund itself was an offshoot of the civic association it often finds itself at odds with, created by a united hamlet to defeat earlier plans for a marina on the waterfront.
The people who run the organization are her neighbors.
“Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I hate your guts,” she said.
But despite the dispute, the New Suffolk residents still find common ground.
Mr. Cacioppo was quick to mention the civic association’s free opera concert on Saturday at the New Suffolk baseball field. The field itself is being renovated thanks to donations from everyone in the community, whether they’re for or against the Galley Ho, he said.
“The community has come together like you wouldn’t believe,” Mr. Cacioppo said. “It’s nice to focus on something else.”
But the Galley Ho’s restoration remains a sticking point, Ms. Petrie said. Controversies like that just don’t happen in her hamlet.
“I never thought I’d be in the middle of this,” she said.
That’s part of the reason Mr. Petrie painted a message atop the replica barn he built: “Bring the spirit of New Suffolk back.”
Photo credit: Paul Squire