The state's Historic Preservation Office has reversed its findings about a TD Bank's controversial plan to tear down a Huntington building and has reopened its study.
At issue is the historical value of the building at Fairview Street and New York Avenue. Owner Joseph Willen wants to sell it to TD Bank, which would tear it down and replace it with a bank branch with three lanes of drive-through service.
The state office sent its letter, dated Jan. 31, to TD Bank and copied to town historian Robert Hughes, saying that its initial finding that the plan would "have no effect on historic or archaeological resources" was incorrect.
The letter came from program analyst Virginia L. Bartos, and said the initial review failed to include the fact that the Conklin House is across the street from the building, and thus in the project's "area of potential effect."
The Conklin site is on the National Register of Historic Places. "Based on this finding, the project has been reopened and is being further reviewed by our technical unit," Bartos' letter reads. The Conklin property sits on the southwest corner of the intersection while Willen's building is on the northeast corner.
The state office also said its attempts to learn more had been blocked by lack of access to its interior.
Fairview Street residents have been fighting the project on multiple levels, citing the building's historical value, concerns about the safety of children who live on Fairview and traffic congestion on New York Avenue.
TD Bank spokeswoman Rebecca Acevedo said Friday night the bank was "very confident" that it would prevail with the state decision. No one from the state office was immediately available for comment.
The building opened for business as the Huntington Hotel on June 16, 1929. Since then it has been home to several businesses, most recently Willen's Advantage Title company.
After Willen bought the property from the Aboff family, he told the New York Real Estate Journal, "This is going to be a magnificent looking building. We intend to restore this building to its former elegance, which it deserves, as it marks the southern gateway into downtown Huntington."
He added, "Our restoration and expansion of this building demonstrates Advantage's continued commitment to the community that we have always called home." Advantage Title was established 20 years ago in Huntington.
More recently, he has cited the severe economic downturn and difficulties restoring the building for wanting to sell the property.
But Lorraine Kelley, one of several Fairview Street residents leading the charge against the bank plan, said, "An economic downturn is temporary;demolition is forever."
"The town has a master plan they put into the place a couple of years ago that says they want ot maintain the character of the village," she said recently. "To knock this building down would be like pulling a tooth out."
The town Historic Preservation Commission voted Jan.24 to ask the town to grant historic landmark status to the building.The Town Board has 45 days from when it received the recommendation to set a date for a public hearing.
A week earlier, the Huntington Historical Society wrote, "The building that was built as Hotel Huntington at the corner of Fairview and New York Avenues in the late 1920's is in danger of being lost. TD Bank proposes to demolish the building constructed at the apex of the Roaring Twenties which sits diagonally across from the Society's David Conklin Farmhouse museum. The society is celebrating its 100th year of owning and operating this museum, making it the oldest historic house museum in Suffolk County and one of the oldest in the country.
"The society has seen many changes over the years, most made in the name of progress. By no stretch could a proposal to demolish an iconic building marking the gateway to Huntington village and replacing it with a building more suited for Jericho Turnpike be termed 'progress.'
"Huntington is not just another post war suburban 'nowheresville.' For over 150 years, Huntington has had a real downtown that is home to stores, offices, restaurants, residences and more. To tear away at the fabric of that community is to threaten its very existence."