Veterinary Medical Center of Long Island, the 24-hour specialty and emergency care clinic in West Islip, is looking to expand to a nearby former veterinarian’s office.
Attorney Lisa Pace, representing applicant VMC LI co-owner Robert Composto, came before the Islip Town Planning Board Feb. 24 for a public hearing on a proposed application.
The application under review by the Islip Town Planning Board proposes a change of zone for an overlay of planned landmark preservation district designation and a special permit. If approved, the plan would preserve a two-story house and barn located at 467 Higbie Lane in West Islip and both structures would be repurposed as a multi-family building and animal care center, respectively.
The plan would also increase the size of the house from 1,310 square feet to 4,200 square feet to create eight apartment units. At approximately 150 square feet each, the apartments would be primarily occupied by veterinary interns associated with VMC LI, Pace said. The size of the barn would be increased by 1,169 square feet and would include a second floor if the plan is approved.
The house was previously owned and operated by veterinarian William Herbold of West Islip. Pace said that when he died in 2019, William’s wife, Diane, began speaking with Composto about the sale of the property.
“We thought this could be the perfect way to preserve the historic use of a veterinary hospital from Dr. Herbold and also preserve the historic use of a groomer,” Pace said.
On the opposite side of the property is the barn, which is home to Sharon’s Ark Kennel, a pet grooming service and kennel which has been in service for over 60 years.
The buildings may have been constructed in the 1850s, senior planner Sean Colgan said at the meeting. The house is one of the only pre-Civil War structures remaining in West Islip, and the original windows and style are typical of the 1850s. The house previously served as a dairy farm in the early 1900s.
While the property is not in a historic registry, Pace said, the applicant is looking to maintain the historic integrity of it. The proposal aims to maintain these buildings unless they are unsafe.
A representative with CarmelHill Architects stated during the meeting that both buildings are in poor shape, especially the barn, and require “significant work” to make sure the buildings are structurally stable.
John Davis, president of Willets Point Association of West Islip, spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting and stated that the site would attract “transient” people from outside the area.
In general, he said, the community is opposed to construction of “any apartment complexes, large or small, in West Islip.” Davis noted that the recent West Islip School District bond on the proposed Masera property, which would have created senior apartment units in the hamlet, overwhelmingly failed earlier this year.
Community member Dennis Pope said he also opposes construction of the apartments. He said the shift from business one district to planned landmark preservation district is intentional so that planners can skip the regulations about apartment complexes.
“It seems like they’re going to make this a landmark, and then destroy the landmark by doubling its size and basically rebuilding it,” Pope said.
Under town law, the intent of the planned landmark preservation district is to “protect, enhance, perpetuate and use buildings and structures, having a special character or a historic interest or value.”
Patricia Howlett, representing the Herbold estate, said, “I think overall the concept is a good one. It will benefit the West Islip community, it will be in line with what Dr. Herbold always believed in, which is the education and treatment of the animals.”
Board member Gary Bruno said as an architect, he has doubts about the building’s ability to survive and said he believes the building must be removed and replicated on a larger scale.
Planning board chair Edward Friedland said the board must determine if staff will restrict the use of the apartments. If not, the application may have to be resubmitted with its true intent: an apartment complex with an accessory use for the veterinary service, or vice versa.
The board reserved decision to review the comments submitted by the public and to further investigate alternative options for the structure.