Friday, December 19, 2008

A Message from SPLIA Regarding the Hitchcock Estate

Following is a copy of SPLIA's letter to the Village of Old Westbury regarding the future of the Thomas Hitchcock estate:

Dear Mr. Carillo and Members of the Board:

The Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities (SPLIA) thanks you for providing the opportunity to comment further on the Queen of Peace Cemetery development that is proposed for the former Hitchcock property.

After learning more about the scope and scale of the project through the applicant’s presentation on November 17th, as well as hearing comments from other community stake-holders, the Society wishes to reassert that this project, as proposed, will have a negative impact on potential historic resources and the overall historic character of the surrounding area. The projected residential subdivision of 26.75 acres on the northern end of the property does not call for the retention of existing structures in the vicinity, and the proposed 70.5-acre cemetery development – with raised berms, extensive paving, and several buildings including three-story mausolea – will radically alter the site’s rural setting. In its current state of open meadow and woodlands, this setting is the view shed that provides context to the existing Hitchcock buildings and conveys the historic pastoral quality of Hitchcock Lane in general.

Beyond its impact on potential historic resources, the fully realized density of this cemetery, as proposed, is staggering and it cannot be characterized as “open space” (as suggested by the Dioceses’ representative). With up to dozen buildings, a network of interior roadways covering 16 acres, and the conversion of 70 natural acres into a managed landscape accommodating 145,739 graves, it is hard to believe a negative effect will not be rendered on the area’s natural resources, especially groundwater quality. While the project’s DEIS report enumerates several remediation plans to mitigate impact (including the explanation that full development of the cemetery is not expected until a century from now), it is the right and responsibility of the Village to consider both current and future impacts on environmental issues when regulating land development projects.

Despite its extensive volume, SPLIA maintains that the Dioceses’ DEIS report does not thoroughly evaluate the project’s impact on the site. Insufficient information was provided to the State Historic Preservation Office for the issuance of its 2005 statement of no effect under SEQRA. A subsequent letter to that point was sent to you by the same office in 2008 stating a willingness to reevaluate its determination based on the emergence of new information.

Understanding that a court ruling permits the Catholic Dioceses of Rockville Center to develop a cemetery for religious purposes, SPLIA believes that further assessment is necessary to determine an appropriate scope and scale for this project. This holds for both historic and natural resources. With respect to historic resources, the Society would like to make the following recommendations:
• That the Village request a site visit from the New York State Historic Preservation Office that includes an interview with the Village Historian to re-evaluate the Hitchcock Farm’s eligibility for listing on the National Register.
• That the Village require the Diocese to adequately seal all buildings to minimize current deterioration until a final decision is made about development.

If the property is deemed eligible for National Register listing, the Society recommends:
• That a feasibility study for restoration be obtained
• That every effort be made to preserve these resources
• That the scope and scale of the proposed cemetery be reduced to preserve some semblance of the historic view shed.

The Society thanks you for considering these recommendations and commends Village leadership for its diligence in seeking an equitable solution for all invested parties.

Alexandra Parsons Wolfe
Director of Preservation Services

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