Activist fights to save Mineola tree

East Hills resident Richard Brummel is not shy in taking on village hall whether in East Hills or elsewhere.

Brummel has attended four consecutive meeting of the Village of Mineola Board of Trustees in a bid to save a tall red oak tree located on a foreclosed property at 208 Roslyn Road from being cut down by a developer if the property is purchased.

“Development is the corrosion of the environment based on money and greed,” Brummel said. “It’s not based on ignorance anymore because now we know better.”

Brummel, 52, hired an arborist who he said determined the tree in Mineola was 125 years old and filed a petition with 168 signatures to save it. 

He has continued to attend village meetings despite being met by skepticism on the part of Mineola trustees.

Village of Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss said the village is already doing everything it can to preserve trees in the village.

“I think you’re under the mistaken impression that Mineola is slashing and burning its trees,” Strauss said. “We don’t take down a healthy tree unless there’s a problem.”

Mineola Deputy Mayor Paul Pereira said Brummel was raising an “important” issue and the red oak Brummel sought to protect was a “beautiful tree.” 

But, he said, the board also had to consider the property rights of the home’s owner.

“We have to walk a fine line between the village’s responsibility and the public’s right to develop,” Pereira said.

Pereira, according to a MIneola Patch report,  recently disproved the arborist’s age of the tree with historic photos of the property and said many of the signatures in the petition are from non-Mineola residents.

On his Web site,, Brummel claims that he has gained the support of Strauss and Trustees Lawrence Werther and Pereira, and that “Strauss said the issue remains under consideration.”

Brummel’s crusade to save tree in Mineola is not his first battle to conserve the environment. 

He said he’s filed petitions and even lawsuits against the Village of East Hills, the most recent over the village’s approval of plans to build new houses and destroy trees in the area.     

“The other side is all about money and greed,” Brummel said. “It never stops. It’s like what Neil Young said about rust. Rust never sleeps.”

Brummel, a Yale graduate and former journalist, said he became interested in environmental issues after moving back to Roslyn in 2009 due to medical problems that began after his dog died. 

“I started to become aware of all these environmental issues and looked around and realized nobody was getting involved. I’ve always been fascinated by the law, so I began reading about the laws, and living in the East Village, I have that sort of punk rock mentality and my time as a journalist enabled me to be able to present information in certain ways.”

To find areas of East Hills to defend from development, Brummel said he applies for access to the village’s zoning files to learn of building plans and brings what he’s read to the property’s neighbors, then takes their feedback to meetings.

Brummel, who now works as a cook across Long Island and the metropolitan area, said he has dreams studying law and biology, and that even though he is proud of the environmental activism he’s done, he doesn’t enjoy the contentious nature that comes with being an activist.   

“I hate trying to argue about how to make things better because it just feeds into all the social dysfunctions that led to the way it is now. I would rather spend my time enjoying nature and trying to figure out how to make it better rather than fight those who want to make it worse,” Brummel said. “It engages the part of me that says to fight, and I don’t want to fight. To be a fighter is not a good way to live. It’s drained my time, energy and money. Competition is not the way the world is going to improve, it’s through cooperation, to share what we have.”

Brummel began appealing to the Board of Trustees in East Hills in early 2012 over the impending demolition of a house at 37 Laurel Lane, down the road from where Brummel lives, which he said has stood since he was a kid.

When he began advocating in East Hills, Brummel said Village of East Hills Mayor Michael Koblenz met with him over breakfast to “air out their differences” and offered to appoint him to the head of an environmental committee which would advocate to the board on environmental issues throughout the village. 

“He co-ops anyone who could be an alternative leader and he makes them part of the family,” Brummel said. “In a lot of ways, it’s like student in government in high school rather than an actual government in the state of New York.”

Brummel said he gained the support of his neighbors in petitioning the village. The architectural board ignored the request and, he said, he successfully sued the village. But, he added, the community support dissipated.

“These people in East Hills are not the people that have always lived in East Hills. It wasn’t always this way,” Brummel said. “Now you’ve got people here who’ve scrimped and scraped and used their bureaucracy to get ahead. They’ve become brainwashed by a  set of ‘90s housing bubble values who think living in a big house with no land around it and having a big flat screen television and living on top of all your neighborhood is “making it.

“East Hills has the worst of all possible worlds,” he said. “The people have money, but they don’t have the confidence that comes with having money. There’s no sense of trying to make things better. There’s no aristocratic sense of idealism.  These are the people whose money allows them to be even more selfish, as opposed to more generous, and it is obvious if you see how the community looks and how the village is run.”

Koblenz said he does not recall trying to appoint Brummel to any specific committee, but always welcomes people who want to work within the village.

“If he’s talking about people who are bringing nothing to the table and who are destructive, that’s one thing,” he said. “But if you’re talking about people who want to work and have something to contribute, there’s all kinds of committees we’ve created for people to get involved.” 

Brummel said his relationship with the mayor since their initial meeting has grown more contentious, with Koblenz calling police to remove him from Village Hall on numerous occasions.

“If he gets really bad we’ve got to call the police because he’s being disruptive. People don’t want him to take their pictures or get abused at meetings,” Koblenz said. “He goes to every [architectural review board] and zoning board meeting and tries to get access to every single filing of every little thing a resident wants to do on their home. You just can’t do that.”

During Hurricane Sandy, Brummel said he was removed from Village Hall by police under the authority of Koblenz’ declaration of an emergency situation. 

“I was there filing a letter demanding access to files at issue of the architectural review board, for what they’d be taking down, and was having a conversation with some of the staff there,” he said. “I later read that the declaration was invalid because it wasn’t put in writing, and when I did a FOIL [Freedom of Information Law] request, they didn’t have anything on it.”

Koblenz said he remembers that day differently.

“The village bought a generator and hooked it up at Village Hall to use as a shelter because we have locker rooms there and showers,” he said. “We were housing and feeding displaced people there during the storm and he comes in taking pictures and handing out fliers and being very disruptive. I mean, people don’t want to be bothered with that stuff right after a tree just went through their house.”

Brummel said he believes government should have all the resources its citizens need and be run by people who live modestly, are conscious of the environment and share a strong sense of social justice. 

Though Brummel said there is a group in opposition to the village board, he doesn’t think it is as vocal or as active as he is in the community. 

“We have this really tepid, timid and lawyerly opposition to the government who never help me even when it would be in their best interest to do so,” he said. “It’s like they think they’ll get elected by being present but not actually doing anything.”

Because of this, Brummel said he cannot trust his advocacy’s intentions with another group of people.

“I don’t listen to the little voice we all have that tells us to give up, that you should have listened to your mother or whatever. That’s the stuff of losers, actually,” Brummel said. “I realized that if I walk away, then they win. People need to keep at it and ignore the impulse to stop.”

Brummel said he will next advocate against traffic abuse, particularly unsafe conditions along Glen Cove road.

“It’s really destroying the Island,” he said. “People go highway speeds out here and the noise out here never stops. Nothing’s being done about it.”

About the author

Bill San Antonio

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