Oyster Bay officials did not create inspection reports when they claimed unsafe conditions allowed the town to bypass a Landmarks Preservation Commission review of the Maine Maid Inn and issue building permits, an Oyster Bay official has acknowledged.
The partial demolition of the building in Jericho sparked an outcry and a lawsuit by preservationists and community members after the work was noticed in April.
Oyster Bay spokeswoman Marta Kane said in a statement Wednesday that Commissioner of Planning and Development Frederick Ippolito determined in February that the building's condition had deteriorated to the point where immediate work was required "to protect the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the Town of Oyster Bay."
She said conditions caused by weather and trespassing were "verified by visual inspections conducted by the town's consulting engineer, with verbal reports conveyed to the commissioner, and inspections by the commissioner."
Oyster Bay's town code requires reports of dangerous buildings to be investigated and for inspection reports to be filed with the department of planning and development.
Records obtained by Newsday through a Freedom of Information Law request show the most recent inspection of the building was in 2013.
Kane said a July 2013 engineer's report, not provided to Newsday, formed the basis for Ippolito's decision. She did not explain why none of this year's inspections or reports involved in Ippolito's decision were documented. Ippolito was on a six-week hiatus after his indictment on federal income tax evasion charges when the controversy erupted.
The town's consulting engineer on the building was Hauppauge-based Cashin Spinelli Ferretti LLP, Kane said. Landmarks Preservation Commission member Michael Spinelli, a partner in the engineering company, did not disclose during commission meetings in May that his firm had inspected the property.
The commission approved building modifications after demolition had begun.
Kane said it was not a conflict of interest for Spinelli to vote because he was voting on modifications, not the condition of the building.
Matthew Meng, president of the East Norwich Civic Association, which has settled its suit to stop the construction, said he is worried about the precedent set by the town's handling of the inn. "I'm absolutely convinced the public was misled and the process was not followed," Meng said.
The inn, at 4 Old Jericho Tpke., was built in 1789 and owned by Valentine Hicks, a Quaker. It was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The town board awarded it landmark status in 2012. The Scotto Brothers, a Woodbury-based catering and restaurant company, bought the building in March 2014. The company plans to reopen the inn after an expansion next year.