East Hills Planning Board strikes down Mackay House demolition

Rose Weldon
The John Mackay III House at 2A Melby Lane in East Hills. The East Hills rejected plans to demolish it at its meeting last week. (Photo courtesy of the Roslyn Landmark Society)

After months of back and forth, the Village of East Hills Planning Board rejected an application to demolish buildings on and subdivide property housing a 91-year-old historical house at their meeting last week.

The Mackay estate at 2A Melby Lane is owned by Steven and Wendy Shenfeld, who in 2017 sought to demolish the estate’s main house and split the property in half as part of a four-house subdivision.

“The board concludes that the applicant, perhaps, has not shown that their proposed plan mitigates the significant impact attending to the demolition of the Mackay house,” Planning Board President Steve Kafka said at the meeting.

The board also concluded that there will be no significant environmental impact for a three-lot subdivision, a move considered an alternate plan by the applicants. Kafka added that if the applicants wanted to pursue it further, it would have to be brought to the village’s Board of Zoning Appeals.

Made of stone and constructed in 1929, the house was originally built for John Mackay III, grandson of John Mackay, who was among the discoverers of the Comstock silver mines in the 1870s. His father was Clarence Mackay, owner of the 648-acre Harbor Hill estate, which made up much of East Hills from 1902 to the 1940s.

Harbor Hill was left to the youngest Mackay upon his father’s death in 1938, and the estate gradually fell into disrepair due to neglect and vandalism, according to the Roslyn Landmark Society. The property’s main mansion was demolished in 1947, and parts of the area were sold to real estate developers in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Now the only remains of the Harbor Hill estate are the gate lodge, a water tower, a dairyman’s cottage, two pink marble copies of the classic Marley Horses statues, and the  Melby Lane house.

The Village of East Hills ordered an environmental impact study on the project in 2017, and took control of the estate’s gatehouse in November of that year. Residents, environmentalists and local historians subsequently voiced strong opposition to the property’s demolition at Planning Board hearings.

The Roslyn Landmark Society, a group that was among those protesting the demolition, said in a statement that it “applaud[ed] the action of the Village of East Hills Planning Board and supported “prudent and feasible alternatives that retain the building.”

“I believe, with many others, that when you acquire something historic, whether it is a painting, an automobile or a home, you are a custodian of history with a duty to care for it, preserve it, protect it and never destroy it,” society President Howard Kroplick said in a statement.

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