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Oyster Bay makes plans for Mill Pond House

The Mill Pond House on Tuesday, July 12,

The Mill Pond House on Tuesday, July 12, 2011 in Oyster Bay, New York. (Photo by Howard Schnapp) Photo Credit: Photo by Howard Schnapp

Three years after purchasing a landmark 17th-century home along protected wetlands, Town of Oyster Bay leaders said their plans for the property are crystallizing.

The town spent $1.9 million for Mill Pond House, a colonial at the northwestern tip of Oyster Bay hamlet, in June 2008. But significant public action on the site didn't occur until Tuesday, when the town board approved a $21,873 feasibility study.

Newport Engineering, of Oyster Bay, will survey the home, draw floor plans for potential town offices and develop a cost estimate. Officials hope to be finished by summer's end.

Hal Mayer, environmental consultant to the town supervisor, said adapting the site to modern use -- while retaining its historical significance -- would take great care. Proximity to Oyster Bay Harbor and a National Wildlife Refuge also must be considered.

"We're trying to balance a number of things," he said. "It's not run-of-the-mill construction. It's historically and environmentally significant."

The two-story home, vacant for years, was designated a town landmark in 1976. 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. Today, the structure, with its peeling gray siding and rotting windowpanes, is hidden from passing traffic on West Shore Road, across from Mill Pond.

"I'd like to see it preserved in some fashion," said town historian John Hammond. "It's the oldest, or at least one of the oldest, structures in the hamlet -- if not the entire township."

Mayer estimated the renovation project could cost between $1 million and $2 million. As well as town office space, other considered uses are meeting rooms or a learning center.

Because of surrounding wetlands, a detailed environmental review (and state or federal approval) could also be required if additional parking is needed.

"We knew when we bought it that any renovation would present these issues," Mayer said. "We want to preserve it as authentically as possible."

At the same time, the town is pursuing the unrelated Mill Pond Overlook plan. That property -- 3.6 acres of open space on the other side of Mill Pond -- was purchased for $4.5 million in 2006. Mayer said a study to turn that site into a "passive-use" town park, with walking and hiking trails, is ongoing.

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