The Society to Preserve Underhill and Town Councilwoman Bonnie Eisler have, in the past, been unified in their efforts to preserve the Underhill property, an 81-acre parcel in Jericho that sits atop one of only two state-designated Special Groundwater Protection Areas in Nassau County. This relationship has recently been severed.
Local environmentalists, civic groups, politicians and individuals have been fighting to preserve this property for over a decade. The Society to Preserve Underhill, which was formed in 1998 as a coalition of Island-wide environmental and civic groups dedicated to preserving the Underhill Property, has been fighting to preserve the property and prevent landowner Roger Tilles from building on the land. Due, in part, to the efforts of the Society to Preserve Underhill, development has been delayed this far.
According to Eisler, she had been meeting with Tilles and developer Gerald Monter over the past year to verbalize a deal that would preserve as much of the Underhill Property as possible. A deal was verbalized that would allow approximately 46 acres to be preserved and roughly 30 acres would be available for the developer to build about 102 units on, according to Eisler.
The Society to Preserve Underhill did not agree with Eisler's "secret meetings" with Tilles and Monter as they were not made aware of the meetings until after all three parties reached a verbal agreement, according to members of the society.
The Society to Preserve Underhill and other environmental groups claim that Eisler's plan would preserve less than half of the 81 acres and would pay developers millions of dollars for land they are required by the State to set aside as open space in connection with their high-density housing project. The group showed their disappointment in Eisler and what they call her "secret deal" by holding a rally outside of Town of Oyster Bay Hall last Monday.
In response to the rally, Clifford Eisler, Bonnie Eisler's husband, started an advertising campaign in several of the local weekly newspapers, including Anton Community Newspapers, attacking the Society to Preserve Underhill and specifically Joseph Lorintz, Executive Director of the Long Island Drinking Water Coalition and past president of the Society to Preserve Underhill, for opposing the verbal deal Eisler reached with Tilles and Monter.
"Bonnie has decided to blame Joe," said Richard Amper, Executive Director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society at a Wednesday night meeting of the United Civic Associations. "We know her plan won't preserve Underhill so she needed someone to blame. Joe's leadership has gotten us this far and he didn't deserve this personal attack. We won't spend our budget calling names. Joe is doing a great job," he said to a round of applause.
Through the advertisement, it was revealed that Mr. Eisler recently started a new society, named the Society to Save the Underhill Property (This society has no affiliation with the Society to Preserve Underhill), which he is president of, in response to what he described as "destructive behavior by the Society to Preserve Underhill."
According to Mr. Eisler, the main goal of the two-week old society, which currently has approximately 12 members, is to preserve as much of the property as possible. "We are working with the state, county and local officials to make sure that we get this deal done, which proposes 50 acres of the property to be preserved forever," said Mr. Eisler, who is a past-contributor to the Society to Preserve Underhill. "We thought that the Society to Preserve Underhill's main goal was also preservation. I find that their behavior over the last couple of weeks is shocking and they put this entire deal in jeopardy. If this deal blows up, the owner will do what he already has the legal right to do, which is develop the property."
Members of the Society to Preserve Underhill disagree with Mr. Eisler and say they have the same goals from when they originally started - to preserve the property. "Fortunately whether Underhill gets preserved or not is not going to be decided by one local councilwoman. We think the Governor, State Legislative leaders, the County Executive and Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor can make preservation happen," said Lorintz. "That's what we are concentrating on. This is just the latest act on the part of a small time politician who is in over her head and has lost the support of all the citizens she promised to represent. Her development scheme is neither legal nor satisfactory. We've rejected the development and are actively promoting a real preservation plan."
Mr. Eisler and the other members of the Society to Save the Underhill Property, question the motives of the Society to Preserve Underhill. "It is not logical for them to behave the way they are behaving unless something else is going on," he said. "They have stopped working to preserve the property and started working to preserve themselves. If 60 percent of the property gets preserved, and it is a great deal and it is combined with 25 other acres that the town owns to form a 75 acre park forever, it would be a wonderful thing, but it would mean that the Society to Preserve Underhill is out of business. I think that is the problem."
Many residents and civic leaders learned of the recent ad campaign at Wednesday's United Civic Associations meeting and expressed their dismay. This ad campaign has angered many local residents and members of local civic groups. "This advertisement really bothers me - put your name on it and don't hide behind smoke screens and use fake organizations," said Vicki Rosenberg, president of the Wantagh Seaford Home Owners Association and a representative of the South Shore Joint Council of Civics. "This advertisement is vicious and suspect and not worth the time it takes me to throw it in my fireplace," she said.
Louise Harrison, Executive Director of Friends of the Bay, suggested people ignore the ad campaign. "Skip past it when you see it and just ignore it," she said. "Factually it is erroneous and it takes the focus off of the main issue."