Residents fight demolition of historic Mackay home

Residents fight demolition of historic Mackay home
The mansion built by the Mackay family at 2A Melby Lane in East Hills, which contains asbestos, according to an environmental study of the area. (Photo courtesy of The Island Now)

Dozens of East Hills residents sought to prevent the demolition of a lavish East Hills property, formerly owned by the famed Mackay family, which lies at the heart of a subdivision application presented before the village’s Planning Board on Thursday.

“Whether a historic building is destroyed is in your hands,” Howard Kroplick, the North Hempstead Town historian and a resident of East Hills for 33 years, said to the board. “It’s your responsibility to consider the impact of a large subdivision on residents now and in the future.”

Residents Steven and Wendy Shenfeld own the 2.23-acre property and are seeking to demolish its two-story mansion and develop a four-house subdivision at 2A Melby Lane. 

The mansion, known as the Stone House, was built by John Mackay in 1924 as a smaller replica of a 688-acre estate at Harbor Hill that belonged to his father, Clarence.

The first John Mackay, Clarence’s father, was an Irish immigrant who built the family’s wealth on profits generated by a silver deposit found in the mid-1800s during the Gold Rush.

“No variance is required for the subdivision. It complies with village regulations,” said Andrea Tsoukalas, an attorney representing the applicants on behalf of the firm Forchelli, Curto, Deegan, Schwartz, Mineo & Terrana LLP. 

Tsoukalas said each of the four proposed lots exceeds the 15,000-square-foot minimum required by village code, and provides sufficient street frontage due to a private road that will give entry and exit to the subdivision from Melby Lane.

From June 2015 to September 2016, the Shenfelds attempted to sell the property for around $3.5 million. They could not find a buyer, said Michael Lynch, an appraiser representing the applicant on behalf of the firm Lynch Appraisal.

Lynch estimated that each of the four homes in the proposed subdivision would garner at least $2.2 million.

Groans erupted from the crowd of 30 attendees when Lynch said construction on the homes, which he said would last at least two years, would not negatively impact the value of nearby properties either during or after completion.

Sheryl Karnovsky, who lives across the street at 7 Melby Lane, said the subdivision would reduce the value of her home.

“My house was facing another house,” she said. “Now it will have a road.”

Village officials did not know whether they could take the historical significance of the house into account when issuing a judgment on the subdivision.

“Does the Village of East Hills have any laws on the books concerning the historical value of a building?” Planning Board Chairman Steven Kafka asked village Attorney William Burton.

“Not to my knowledge,” he replied.

“Can you research it?” Kafka asked.

“Yes,” Burton replied.

Richard Brummel, a local environmental activist who opposes the subdivision, said the village can take historic significance into account as part of its assessment under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, a state law that requires municipal governments to assess the environmental impact of any project seeking their approval.

Brummel called the historical significance of the Mackay Estate “the smoking gun of this application” which “needs to be fully analyzed.”

Several attendees spoke about the historical significance of the home.

“This is a jewel,” said Jay Corn, secretary of the Roslyn Landmark Society. “If anything can be done to save it, it’s something future generations would appreciate.”

As the meeting stretched past 10 p.m., Kafka put forth a motion to adjourn until a second hearing to be held on May 10 at 8 p.m. at East Hills Village Hall. The motion was approved unanimously. 

Michael Coritsidis, a nearby resident who opposes the subdivision, was the last attendee to address the board.

“I have a horse in this race,” he said. “I think most of us do, or we would be doing something better at this hour.”

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