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Oyster Bay plans to demolish part of historic estate's Mill Pond House

The town wants to remove 'non-historical components' at the site and make sure the remaining structure is safe, a spokesman said. But preservationists called for a qualified assessment of the site first.

The front of the historic Mill Pond House

The front of the historic Mill Pond House on Wednesday. The Town of Oyster Bay plans to demolish part of the structure and preserve other sections. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Oyster Bay Town officials plan to demolish a garage on the Mill Pond House property while preserving the core of the landmarked colonial era home.

Town spokesman Brian Nevin said in an email that officials are looking to “remove the non-historical components of the site and shore up the remaining structure so that it's safe until a decision is made as to what should take place within the building.” Nevin said the town is consulting with members of the town landmark commission.

The plans for the town-owned property in the hamlet of Oyster Bay where West Main Street meets West Shore Road was a surprise to preservationists, they said.

“This is the first I’ve heard about new plans for the Mill Pond House,” Sarah Kautz, preservation director at the Cold Spring-based nonprofit Preservation Long Island, said in an email last week.

Kautz said the town should follow U.S. Secretary of the Interior guidelines for rehabilitating historic buildings. They include using materials consistent with the period when they were built. “Before proceeding with demolition or any other activity impacting the house, Preservation Long Island would strongly encourage the town of Oyster Bay to obtain a qualified consultant to conduct a conditions assessment and/or historic structure report," she wrote.

Preservation Long Island is one of several local organizations that participated in a group called the Historic Preservation Roundtable, which had worked with the town on a preservation strategy in 2014 to sell the nearly 2-acre property with restrictive covenants to protect the house. The property was never sold.

John Collins, an architect and member of the Oyster Bay Landmarks Preservation Commission, said last week he hadn’t heard of the plan, but he has been advocating for the town to stop what he called “demolition by neglect” of the house.

The town gave landmark status to the house, which dates to the 1600s or 1700s and was owned by the Townsend family, in 1976. Last week the town scheduled for Wednesday a Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting to consider demolishing a garage on the property, shoring up the house and performing exterior maintenance.

The Oyster Bay Town Board tabled a resolution at its April 16 meeting that would have approved $55,000 for Glen Head-based architect Douglas A. Wilke to draw up plans for and oversee the removal of a “deteriorated structure” at the site and determine which parts should be preserved, then cover the structure to protect against weather before a future renovation and occupancy. Clean up, carpentry and covering the house would cost an estimated $332,000, according to town documents.

The town hired Wilke in November for $5,000 to create reports on the house’s history and its condition. He was also to estimate the cost of restoration, examine possible future uses of the property and make recommendations about restoration and demolition.

The report was not included in documents made public before the April 16 board meeting. The report recommended the building be restored to how it would have looked in 1840, removing later additions. The report did not include a cost estimate for restoration and suggested private funding sources should foot the bill. Wilke recommended the house be used for tourism-related activities.

A company controlled by the late Charles Wang, Island Properties LLC, purchased the property in 2001 for $785,000, property records show. Oyster Bay bought the property seven years later for $1.9 million.

Mill Pond House

1653: John Townsend born

1666-1720: Oldest portions of Townsend’s house built, exact dates are unclear

1929: Townsend descendants sell the Mill Pond House

1976: Oyster Bay landmarks the Mill Pond House

2008: Oyster Bay buys house for $1.9 million

2014: Fires damage 20th century additions to house

Source: Preservation Long Island

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