The Oyster Bay Landmarks Preservation Commission has voted to approve plans for demolition and alterations in progress at the historic Maine Maid Inn in Jericho.
The 5-1 vote in a public hearing Wednesday night followed a private meeting of the commission that appeared to violate state open meetings laws. A commission member denied the session should have been public and said members had met to review the plans before the vote.
The partial demolition of the building -- which the town awarded landmark status in 2012 because it was a stop on the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves before the Civil War -- had outraged some community residents.
Changes to the structure were supposed to be approved in advance by the landmarks commission.
Oyster Bay officials have not fully explained why the owner, the Scotto Brothers Inc. of Woodbury, had been allowed to begin the demolition process without commission approval.
Architect Angelo Francis Corva, who was hired by Scotto Brothers, told the commission Wednesday that he believed he had addressed concerns raised by the community and commission member John Collins, who cast the lone "nay" vote.
Collins said revisions to the plan were insufficient. "It retains the spirit of the north facade [but] no original historic fabric will survive," he said.
Corva outlined a number of technical changes to a plan first outlined to the public at an emergency meeting two weeks ago, called after people complained about work at the antebellum structure.
The commission can take as long as two months to review plans for landmarked buildings, but Wednesday they saw them an hour before their publicly scheduled emergency meeting.
"Everybody on this board was pleased with the changes," commission member Michael Spinelli said. "The documents we have in front of us are sufficient for us to form an opinion."
Spinelli said the panel's earlier meeting had not violated open meetings law. "It's the way it's always done. It's not a meeting, it's just reviewing it," he said.
But Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, said Spinelli "is clearly wrong. Any gathering of a quorum for the purpose of 'conducting' public business . . . constitutes a 'meeting' required to be preceded by notice and held open to the public in accordance with the Open Meetings Law."
The commission's vote followed a public hearing in which about a half-dozen speakers criticized the proposal and the process and asked for more time for public review and input.
"There seems to have been a rush to make a determination when the grounds didn't merit it at this point," said Richard Handler, an attorney for the East Norwich Civic Association that spearheaded the landmarking of the building. "Unfortunately, a process wasn't followed that will have an impact on future applications."
Maine Maid Inn plan approval timeline
Mid-April: Preservationists and community members notice demolition work at Maine Maid Inn and contact Oyster Bay officials.
April 22: Oyster Bay officials schedule emergency Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting.
April 24: An Oyster Bay official says a building permit had been issued for the property but doesn't release the permit.
April 30: Landmarks Preservation Commission meets and instructs the architect to submit plans to the building department within seven days.
May 13: Landmarks Preservation Commission sees revised plans for the first time and approves them in an emergency meeting. An Oyster Bay official declines to say who issued a building permit.