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Advocates say Vanderbilt Mansion is falling into disrepair

The Vanderbilt Mansion in Oakdale was built in

The Vanderbilt Mansion in Oakdale was built in the 1870s. Credit: Veronique Louis

The owner of the defunct Dowling College’s Oakdale campus — home of the historic Vanderbilt mansion — filed a lawsuit against the Town of Islip contesting property taxes and is prompting concern by an advocacy group that the mansion is falling into disrepair.

Delaware-based Mercury International LLC filed the lawsuit in August disputing property taxes at four sites on the former college campus, including the Vanderbilt property, according to court records.

The mansion was built in the 1870s and is formerly part of the Idle Hour estate of William K. Vanderbilt, the grandson of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt.

The Islip Town Board voted last November to designate several Oakdale landmarks, including the mansion, as a landmark preservation zoning district.

During the vote, Islip councilors also preserved a performing arts center, “Love Tree” and a water well on campus. The “Love Tree” is a mature weeping beech east of the Idle Hour House.

Maryann Almes , president of the Oakdale Historical Society, said the Vanderbilt site has degraded over the past six months. She said on a recent visit that grass was not cut, weeds were overgrown, and toppled branches from recent storms remained on the ground.

The historical society advocated for two years to preserve landmarks now owned by Mercury.

“They are not maintaining the property, they are not protecting it,” she said. “We need this building to be here to maintain the historical nature of this community. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. We can’t let it happen. It’s our heritage.”

Islip officials said town fire marshals visited Mercury properties in Oakdale on Sept. 6. The company was issued a notice of violation for storing unregistered vehicles. Islip had previously issued a notice of violation to Mercury for failing to remove fallen trees and branches, officials said.

Islip spokeswoman Caroline Smith said in an emailed statement: “There is a tax certiorari matter pending, but it is the Town’s policy not to comment on litigation. We sent a fire marshal out to the site to make sure the property is up to code. The covenants and restrictions run with the land, and the protections they provide will be in place whether it's Mercury International, LLC or another owner.”

An attorney with the firm representing Mercury did not return a call for comment. A call for comment from Mercury officials was also not returned.

The Mercury lawsuit alleges properties were incorrectly assessed.

The “subject property is being assessed in an erroneous, arbitrary and capricious manner. … The criteria used by the respondents for the determination by tax class is … unlawful,” according to records.

The lawsuit was filed in Suffolk County Supreme Court.

The private liberal arts college had $54 million in long-term debt in 2016. It laid off 450 faculty members and lost its accreditation. The school filed for bankruptcy, and Mercury bought the campus in 2017 for $26.1 million.

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