Pictured is the exterior of the Bourne mansion which is...

Pictured is the exterior of the Bourne mansion which is included in St. John's University's preservation plan for the 1890s Bourne estate lands it owns in Oakdale. The mansion and lands belonged to the Singer Sewing Machine company president Frederick Bourne. (March 3, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile

Key buildings on Oakdale's historic Bourne Estate will be forever preserved after the Islip Town Board voted after more than two hours of emotional testimony Tuesday to adopt a zoning change for the property.

The decision binds the owner of 170 acres of the estate, St. John's University, and subsequent owners to preserve the 115-year-old Bourne Mansion, boathouse and its former carriage house.

The zoning change is the first move necessary for a plan touted by the university to spend $40 million to preserve the historic buildings, funded by revenue generated from the development of up to 380 housing units.

Tuesday's town board meeting heard testimony from about 30 residents, most concerned about possible impacts of the housing -- including increased traffic on Montauk Highway.

Planning Commissioner Dave Genaway said further traffic analysis would be undertaken if the housing mix significantly differs from the analysis in a previously prepared traffic study.

Resident Kurt Fisher, an associate professor of physics at Dowling College, warned of possible environmental impacts on nearby wetlands and the Great South Bay front into which the property extends. "I think it will destroy the small village aspect of Oakdale, which is cherished."

Carol Schwasnick, president of the Oakdale Civic Association, said she was surprised by the reaction. St. John's has gone to great lengths to involve the community, she added. "Residents need to consider a realistic approach to maintaining and preserving the property," she said.

Speaking afterward, Supervisor Tom Croci said he and the board appreciated the concerns of residents and would continue to listen to those opposed to the proposal.

But in voting unanimously to grant the property landmark preservation status, board members noted the university was within its rights to develop 103 single-family dwellings without a zoning change. Councilman Anthony Senft noted that if the board did not act to adopt the change, the university or a subsequent owner could demolish the buildings.

Deputy Supervisor Trish Bergin Weichbrodt sought assurance that further traffic studies would be required if the subsequent housing plan involves more development.

Genaway said the proposal would ensure a total of 79 acres of the property's 140 acres above the water line are preserved as open space.

In a statement, St. John's officials thanked the board for accepting the proposal. "St. John's University will provide the resources for preservation and further develop a portion of the property, enabling us to generate local economic benefits to fund the work needed. We look forward to the challenges ahead."

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