Despite several Rockville Centre residents’ calls to preserve a historic 19th century home at the top of an expansive Hempstead Avenue hill, the structure will likely be knocked down.
“The house is not going to remain regardless of what happens,” said Chris Brown, an attorney for James and Brett O’Reilly, the property owners. “I’m not saying that as a way to upset anybody, but the reality is that it’s an old deteriorating home.”
Rockville Centre’s Zoning Board of Appeals is reviewing a site plan for the two acres at 220 Hempstead Ave., dated April 28, as the O’Reillys want to knock down the home and build four single-family dwellings. In addition, the proposal calls for a road perpendicular to Hempstead Avenue — Killarney Lane — to be dedicated to the village, which will lead to a driveway.
According to the site plan, two homes would face Hempstead Avenue, while the others would be built behind them. Killarney Lane would run halfway up the hill, eventually becoming a driveway that would lead to the house farthest in the back, where the O’Reillys would live, Brown said. The four plots meet the minimum required size, but the back two do not have the necessary street frontage — a minimum width of 80 feet along the new public road — so the owners need a variance to start building.
The zoning board is set to continue reviewing the case at its meeting on Wednesday. Check back at www.liherald.com/RockvilleCentre for updates.
The house dates back to at least 1898, and was previously owned by St. Mark’s Methodist Church next door, which used it as a parsonage. But the O’Reillys have owned the house for a few years, and it is no longer “conducive to modern living,” Brown said.
“I understand it looks very nice from Hempstead Avenue to see this big, old house up on a hill,” Brown said, “but if you went up and looked at the house, it’s not in good condition at all.”
Residents spoke at a zoning board meeting on May 24 expressing their concerns about the plan, but it was adjourned on a technicality after a resident pointed out that there was no signature from the applicant on the notice. The hearing, though, went on for a while longer before ending, Brown said.
An online petition against the proposed development, meant to be submitted to the village ahead of its decision on the matter, had garnered more than 350 signatures.
“We’re concerned that obviously the plan would be eroding the history of the town,” said Cedar Avenue resident Jennifer Santos, who has lived in the village for 10 years. “We’re concerned that it sets a precedent for other builders to come into town and buy these historic homes and then subdivide the plots and build new homes on them.”
Elizabeth Licata, whose home is opposite the proposed development, said having another road emptying onto an already busy Hempstead Avenue would pose a danger. Like Santos, she also said it would hurt what she called “the historic charm of our village.”
“Tearing down the former St. Marks parsonage in the heart of Rockville Centre and dividing up the property sets a bad precedent that I fear will lead to overdevelopment and further loss of our history,” she wrote to the Herald in an email.
This is not the first project James O’Reilly has tried in the village. He got similar pushback from residents in 2015 for a proposal to tear down a two-family home at 62 Rockaway Ave. to build townhouses. He sought a variance at that time, but the project did not move forward as proposed.
The O’Reillys have already spent about $150,000 on maintaining parts of the property, Brown said, adding that salvaging the home would not be cost-effective.
“We understand people’s concerns, and people have every right to be interested in the project and raise their concerns about it …,” Brown said. “[The owners are] not trying to jam in houses or overbuild. What [they’re] trying to do is use the land as wisely as possible and create a reasonable subdivision.”