A decision by Oyster Bay officials to replace round-the-clock security at the fire-damaged historic Mill Pond House with a fence and periodic public safety checks has preservationists worried.
The town this week paid a contractor, Laser Industries of Ridge, $40,000 to install an 8-foot-high chain-link fence around the 334-year-old house that was the site of suspicious fires on March 17 and 22. Preservationists note the fence lacks barbed wire or other deterrents and could be easily scaled.
"If a fence is easy to climb, people who are determined to damage that building through arson or vandalism are going to do it," said Philip Blocklyn, the Oyster Bay Historical Society executive director and a member of the Oyster Bay Preservation Roundtable umbrella group.
Nassau arson investigators are looking into both fires at the house, which has been vacant for many years.
After the second fire and before the fence went up, the town had stationed a public safety officer round-the-clock at the house, one of Oyster Bay hamlet's oldest buildings.
Town spokeswoman Marta Kane said the fence "was done as a more permanent security measure so we didn't have to have 24-7 public safety positioned there. The fence was put up to protect the property and deter anyone from gaining access."
She said public safety officers plan to visit the property more than they had before the fires, and the town is looking into installing video surveillance equipment. The home has no fire alarm.
"We would hope that the town will give that building as much security as they possibly could," Blocklyn said. "The Preservation Roundtable's concern is that having had two fires, any easy breach of security is a threat to the building."
The fires burned part of the 1950s addition to the house. The town is awaiting a report from an architectural consultant and insurance adjusters on whether the house can be restored and at what cost.
Supervisor John Venditto has promised to share the report and confer with preservationists before the town decides the home's fate. Town officials, however, did not tell local historians of the plan to replace patrols with the fence.
The two-story colonial sits at the northwestern tip of Oyster Bay hamlet, hidden from passing traffic on West Shore Road, across from Mill Pond. Its roots date to the 1660s, when the site was deeded to John Townsend, whose father built the hamlet's first mill. It remained in the family for more than 200 years before becoming a gift shop and, again, a single-family home.The town declared the structure a landmark in 1976 and purchased the house and 2-acre property in 2008 from developer Charles Wang for $1.9 million. Before the fires and economic downturn, town officials had considered restoration, at a cost estimated in 2012 to be as much as $5 million, or demolition and construction of a replica.