The Huntington Zoning Board of Appeals has approved an application by TD Bank to demolish a building at the gateway to the downtown area despite objections from residents that the building is historic.
TD Bank requested a special-use permit to tear down the three-story white brick building at the corner of New York Avenue and Fairview Street - originally the Hotel Huntington.
Not so fast, said Robert C. Hughes, Huntington Town historian and secretary of the town's historic preservation commission. If the building is designated historic by a vote of the town board - and Hughes said the commission believes the building meets the criteria - it can't be torn down. The commission is currently reviewing a recommendation of historic designation for the building to the town board, which would then have to vote on it.
"I think it would a great loss for the village and the whole Town of Huntington if it was torn down," Hughes said.
The building at 410 New York Ave. opened in 1929 as the Hotel Huntington. In 1950 it was converted into the first of several department stores.
"It was a very significant event in the town's history when it opened," Hughes said. "It plays an interesting part in the development of the town in the 1920s. It was a culminating event in the town's explosive growth just before the Depression."
The preservation commission is set to meet Jan. 24. Building owner Joseph Willen and TD Bank officials have been invited. It's not clear when the commission will make a recommendation to the town board.
Residents of Fairview Street have mobilized to stop the demolition because of concerns about traffic and because of the building's history.
The zoning request greenlighted Dec. 16 called for replacing the current structure with a one-story bank with a three-lane drive-through and a 23-stall parking lot.
Zoning board chairman Christopher Modelewski said the board considers the bank use less intensive than the current use as a title company business.
"It's a much smaller building, and the applicant met the standards necessary for granting the release," Modelewski said.
The bank must make its parking lot accessible to the public when it is closed. Bank officials must now apply to the town planning board for approvals and to get building permits.
In its decision, the ZBA said it received "expert" real estate and traffic reports, and the proposal "will have a net positive impact on traffic and general congestion in the downtown area."
Willen, who purchased the building in 2003, said in a statement it has remained commercial office space for more than 50 years, "so I question any reference to its 'historic' significance."
Robin Araujo, who has lived and worked on Fairview Street for 27 years, called the decision "aggravating," "depressing" and "a horror."
"We'll keep fighting until it's beyond our control," she said.