A public hearing last week on a plan to build homes at Oheka Castle was met with a mostly friendly crowd, though vigorously opposed by a competing former partner in what promises to be a continuing fight over land use.
The Huntington Town Board heard from several members of the public, many of whom live in the area, to raise questions, and speak on the development’s value. Those who spoke, including many members of the Cold Spring Hills Civic Association, and several wearing I Love Oheka buttons, said that the project to build 95 condominiums on the landmark’s grounds would be acceptable because it would save Oheka’s owner, Gary Melius, from financial insolvency and because the impact of new homes would be manageable.
The hearing centered on making changes in the Historic Building Overlay District and rescinding various covenants and restrictions.
Attorneys Michael McCarthy, representing Oheka, and John Armentano, representing FBE Limited, which is working with the Cold Spring Country Club, once a partner with Oheka on a housing development, but now an opponent of Oheka’s narrower plan, took turns arguing the legalities of the proposed overlay rule changes.
The Oheka plan had considerable support from the crowd. Vita Scaturro, chair of the Huntington Chamber of Commerce, cited the benefits to business and the availability of more housing, while Jim Kelly, owner of The Long-Islander weekly newspaper, endorsed the plan, citing its positive impact on downtown businesses.
Unlike some other proposed developments in Huntington, the affected fire department did not come out to oppose the Oheka plan. Connor Beach, second assistant chief, and Steve Fitts, first assistant chief, said the department would not oppose the project as long as they were kept informed as the projet went along so they could make preparations. Huntington Manor representative Michael Pastore agreed that his department supports Cold Spring Harbor, and added, “This town needs Oheka Castle and it needs Gary Melius.”
Councilman Sal Ferro questioned Armentano early in his presentation, asking why the country club would be opposed to the plan since it was not longer a partner, suggesting that the club was unhappy because Oheka had gotten its first plan in first. and that, should Oheka be approved, the tolerance for more housing that the country club might want to build would run out.
“The pieces were coupled, and are now divorced,” Armentano said, to which Supervisor Ed Smyth joked, “You want the kids in the divorce?” and Armentano said, “Yes!”
Because this was a public hearing, there was no action taken on the proposal. However, Armentano and Dan Millman, another attorney for the country club, said there were serious legal flaws in the Oheka plan, which they said depended on use of East Gate Drive for vehicles, and access to sewerage service, which the attorneys said the club would not grant.
Cold Spring Harbor Fire Department representatives