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Oyster Bay to sell historic Mill Pond House, with conditions

The Mill Pond House in Oyster Bay stands

The Mill Pond House in Oyster Bay stands battered and gutted on March 24, 2014. Credit: Johnny Milano

Oyster Bay's historic Mill Pond House will be sold, under a preliminary plan town officials announced Wednesday that includes restrictive covenants on the structure.

The plan would allow a developer to build on the two-acre property on West Shore Road in Oyster Bay hamlet while restricting changes the owner can make to the home, which dates to the Colonial period.

"This belongs to the community, and we wanted to maximize community input from all interested parties; and I think we've done that here," Town Supervisor John Venditto said.

The covenants are being developed, Venditto said. "The intent of the covenants will be to bring about . . . the sensible use for the developer and yet maintain the historic significance, but that's still a work in progress," he said.

Town officials expect to issue a request for proposals as soon as next month. Venditto said potential development on the property would need to be "in harmony" with the Colonial-style house; and he ruled out condominiums.

A feasibility study the town commissioned for preserving the house has not been completed, but it will be part of the RFP, Venditto said.

The town has been working with the Historic Preservation Roundtable, an ad hoc group that includes representatives from the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, Oyster Bay Main Street Association, Oyster Bay Historical Society, and Raynham Hall Museum. The group's recommendations about preservation will also be included in the RFP, Venditto said.

Philip Blocklyn, executive director of the Oyster Bay Historical Society and a leader of the Oyster Bay Preservation Roundtable, said the covenant plan was an important step toward preserving the house, which he described as "a very important symbol of the Town of Oyster Bay."

After two fires broke out at the home in March, the town surrounded it with a fence. Venditto floated the idea of selling the home to a private buyer with covenants in May.

He said the town could do the preservation, but by selling the property with covenants, "we get the benefit of a willing developer who wants to be there and have a true partner with the town; and it does help lighten the financial burden as well."

The town purchased the home across from Mill Pond in 2008 for $1.9 million from developer Charles Wang.

The landmarked house was built in the late 17th or early 18th century by the Townsend family, which erected the town's first grain mill.

The house "represents very early commercial development in Oyster Bay," Blocklyn said. "When houses disappear, part of their story disappears -- the story of the people who lived there."

Preserving the physical structure has more impact than a plaque that says what used to be there, he said.

"You can point to a house and say, 'Esther Townsend lived here, and here's what she did,' " Blocklyn said.

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