In the latest effort to catalyze governmental involvement in purchasing the former Underhill property in Jericho, residents last week officially formed a not-for-profit corporation called the Society to Preserve Underhill, with Oakwood Princeton Park Civic Association leader Joseph Lorintz acting as president.
This new organization, still in its infancy stages and without a board of directors, is already planning its first major rally for Saturday, June 19, at noon, on the property that lies directly adjacent to the controversial parcel, that of William and Ellen Doremus.
The Doremuses have been at the forefront of the Underhill dispute since the very beginning, more than a decade ago. The couple protested when Underhill property owner Tilles Investment Company sought to rezone 81 acres of the land for the construction of 270 homes. Tilles had bought the property from the late Henry Underhill, whose wife Margaret, who recently died, also opposed Tilles' plan.
The Underhill land, one of Nassau County's last untouched land parcels which sits above the county's main water aquifer, is visible from the Doremus property. Guests will be invited to "enjoy the beauty of the land," said Lorintz, who emphasized that at no time will anyone venture upon the actual Underhill property.
These guests are likely to include town, county and state representatives of the area, most of whom have said they are in favor of purchasing the land from its current owner and preserving it for future generations.
Nassau County Legislator Judy Jacobs was among the invited, and plans on attending the rally. "I'm 100 percent with them," Jacobs said.
Lorintz said that the purpose of the rally is to serve as a reminder that "this is a very public and well-supported issue."
To back up that statement, Lorintz and fellow residents have assembled an unprecedented coalition of organizations that officially support the idea of the state and county buying the land.
These include multiple civic associations, the Jericho Water District, the Jericho Union Free School District, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Long Island Regional Planning Board, the Sierra Club, the Nassau County Department of Health, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York State Legislative Commission of Water Resource Needs of Long Island, Action for the Preservation and Conservation of the Northshore of Long Island and the Coalition for the Protection of Long Island Ground Water, among others.
It is presumed that the state and county have the means of purchasing the land through the New York State Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act.
Since Judge Melvin Barasch ordered Tilles Co. to draft another Environmental Impact Statement regarding its construction plans, there has been a lull in activity surrounding the issue. "It's just that it's been so many years we've been attempting this, and people lose interest, lose track," said Lorintz. But the rally should bring the issue back into the forefront again. "There is an opportunity to make significant strides toward preservation," said Lorintz.
Lorintz said that it will be important that the event go smoothly. Therefore, "We're asking people to get there early because we want to ensure safe parking and safe access to the rally." Lorintz also suggested that people planning to attend the rally bring food.
Meanwhile, Judge Barasch's decision is under appeal by Tilles and the Town of Oyster Bay. The New York State Appellate Division is reviewing the appeal.