Debate Mounts On What Should Be Done With Land

LAKE RONKONKOMA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Demolition has begun for an eyesore on Long Island that had become a haven for gangs and the homeless, but what comes next for the former Bavarian Inn?

As TV 10/55 Long Island Bureau Chief Richard Rose reported, the Bavarian Inn catering hall on Lake Ronkonkoma has been falling apart ever since flooding drove it out of business six years ago. CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported in June on how teen gangs and the homeless were camping out on what had once been the gateway entrance to the popular lake.

On Monday, the wrecking ball stepped in. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Legislator John Kennedy (R-Nesconset) even joined in the effort with sledgehammers, according to a published report.

The Bavarian Inn was once one of the most popular wedding and catering hall venues in Suffolk County. But the inn was barely recognizable so many years after closing, with its graffiti-riddled, crumbling walls.

“Two of my daughters got married here; always came here for lunch,” said Joyce McGay of Lake Ronkonkoma. “It’s very sad.”

McGay is not alone in her memories. Former chef Peter Bodnar, 81, showed off photos of the big birthday cake he baked on Christmas Eve 1969, during the heyday of the restaurant.

“It’s very painful to talk about,” Bodnar said. “I have a lot of good memories.”

But others said good riddance to a building that had been overrun by gangs, vagrants and the homeless.

“It’s about time,” said Peter Rendazzo of Lake Ronkonkoma. “It’s been an eyesore.”

Suffolk County took over the property by default. After months of weighing the steep price tag to tear it down, Bellone decided the public health threat from the potential fire trap outweighed the cost.

‘Well, I think the demolition will cost a little under $400,000,” he said.

Bellone announced an agreement between the three towns bordering the lake to find a recreational, tax-generating tourist use for the property.

“We’ve talked about kayaks, canoes, some fishing –- it’s a great water body,” Kennedy said.

But not all lakeshore residents want a tourist attraction once the last of the inn is carted away.

“I would love to see it as a park with a few benches. I would walk here I would sit down and I would look at that beautiful lake,” said Janet Lamm of Lake Ronkonkoma. “I learned to swim in that lake when I was 5 years old.”

But county leaders said they are owed $350,000 in back property taxes for the site, and could use the tax revenue generated by any future lakeside attraction.

It will take a couple of weeks to bring down the entire restaurant, because of strict environmental regulations on demolitions near a major roadway.

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