The owner of a historic East Hills home on Wednesday rebutted opponents of his plan to knock it down, saying his family should not be stuck with a property no one wants.
Steve Shenfeld, who owns the Gold Coast mansion built by the Mackay family at 2A Melby Lane with his wife, Wendy, said he resents other residents’ claims that the couple does not care about their neighborhood.
“We love the home more than anyone in this room, and I’m insulted by the notion that that’s not a true statement,” Steve Shenfeld told the village Planning Board near the end of a two-and-a-half-hour hearing Wednesday night. “But it is not an asset. It is a liability.”
The Shenfields want to demolish the 93-year-old manor known as “Happy House” and build four new homes on the 2.23-acre lot. Residents and historic preservation activists have opposed the plan, and some said Wednesday that it shows the couple’s disregard for others’ property and the house’s history.
Shenfeld rejected that, noting that he and his wife have been active in the community — she was president of the Roslyn school district’s parent-teacher organization, and he founded the Roslyn Bulldog Boosters group.
The couple also helped pay for new recreation room at the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center and a new turf field at Roslyn High School, Shenfeld said.
They appreciate’s the home’s unique background, Shenfeld said, but no one showed interest in making it a historic landmark until their plans to demolish it went public.
“I find it incredibly ironic that this is so significant to the community, and I’ve never met any of the people who have come up here before you to claim its extraordinary importance to them,” Shenfeld said.
The Shenfelds tried to sell the house as is more than a year to no avail, he said. An appraiser, Michael Lynch, said it’s worth about $2.5 million. But buyers did not want to put any more money into the house to bring it up to their standards, Shenfeld said.
Shenfeld’s remarks came after about a dozen residents said the project would decrease property values, make Melby Lane more dangerous and destroy a piece of the village’s history.
“This house reflects who we are as a community, who we are as a people, and even, to take it one step further, who we are as a nation,” Spencer Kanis, the chairman of the village’s Architectural Review Board, said.
Residents questioned experts’ claims that the project would take only two years at most to build and would not hurt property values or cause traffic problems.
Several worried about the proposed development’s exit onto Melby Lane, a curved road where children often play nearby.
“To put a road adjacent to where they play on a regular basis presents a danger,” Paulette Waiser, whose daughter and grandchildren live next door to the house, said. “I understand traffic studies have been done, but god forbid an accident happens, where does that traffic study play a role?”
Shenfeld’s engineers submitted additional materials Wednesday in response to concerns expressed at last month’s hearing. Steven Kafka, the Planning Board chairman, said the board had not gotten to review them and asked the engineers to submit future additions at least 10 days in advance of a hearing.
The Planning Board did not discuss whether it could consider the house’s historic value as a factor in its decision under the village code. The question was raised at an April 27 hearing on the project.
The Shenfelds’ attorney, Andrea Tsoulakas, said the house has no historical significance under the state’s environmental review law because it is not on any landmark lists.
The board will decide on June 21 whether the plan has a significant environmental impact that would require an in-depth environmental study, Kafka said. That could add months to the approval process.