Idle Hour mansion in Oakdale continues to be in a state of disrepair with ongoing trespassing and further damage being inflicted upon the former Dowling College site.
Local residents have banded together to do nightly patrols and calls to Suffolk County Police Department happen at least two to three times a week.
A neighborhood watch group was started over a year ago with two to three members patrolling the mansion and grounds, and has now grown to eight to 10 people who walk the property soon after dusk to keep away trespassers and to document new damage.
Dave Chan, a retired New York Police Department detective, who helped form the neighborhood watch and lives near the former dormitory and dormitory parking lot of the expansive Idle Hour mansion property, said that when Mercury first took control in 2017, they were welcomed as a good community member who had security and maintenance workers keep the mansion in respectable condition, but had abruptly stopped funding for services two years ago.
“Nightly, especially in summer and on the weekends, we patrol because there are neighborhood kids who come to the property to do burnouts [screeching of tires], ride their quads, use drugs, and break into the [former] dorms,” Chan said.
With regards to the Suffolk County Police Department’s Fifth Precinct, which has jurisdiction over the Idle Hour mansion and properties, Chan said they have been incredibly responsive and understanding, even offering to team up with the neighborhood watch group last summer to help community members in their efforts to provide gratis security.
Acting commissioner Stuart Cameron said, “The Suffolk County Police Department has worked alongside the community to deter criminal activity on the former Dowling College campus during the last several years. Officers have attended community meetings and engaged in dialogue with residents about their concerns, as well as performed patrol checks on the property. The department is committed to working with residents to keep the community safe.”
Tom Alfano, a lifelong resident of Oakdale, who was able to get the attention of NBC News to do a story on the decrepitude of the mansion and property last Wednesday, was heartbroken about the current state of a defining feature of the community. “The mansion is the heart of the community; the uniqueness of this community that was formed from the splendor of the Vanderbilts. It’s heartbreaking. There are acres of blighted land. We need Town of Islip to listen. Well over a dozen of us have spoken to the town. She [Islip Town supervisor Angie Carpenter] can go to open a 7-Eleven at the South Shore Mall, but she can’t respond to this.”
The Town of Islip has been continually citing Mercury International for property and maintenance violations, but for each violation, the property owners are given 30 days (by statute) to respond and rectify.
According to a spokesperson for the Town of Islip, there have been dozens of summonses issued to Mercury International since taking over the property in 2017. The town fire marshal inspected the property last week and again served notice of violation to a Mercury representative for failure to maintain the grass and other vegetation, and failure to remove all fallen trees and branches.
In addition, a violation was served for failure to maintain the sprinkler systems, the fire alarm systems and the portable fire extinguishers in all buildings, including the mansion, the library, the performing arts center, the student center and the dormitory building. “The town has, and continues to do everything within its authority to hold the property owner accountable. A 30-day reinspection is scheduled for June 11. If no progress is made, the town will be issuing appearance tickets and moving the property for a town resolution.”
Should Mercury fail the inspection on June 11 and a resolution be upheld at the next town board meeting on June 15, the Town of Islip would then board up the windows of the buildings and clean up the property (such as cutting the grass to be in compliance with height ordinances), adding the fees associated with the services to Mercury International’s tax bill.
Over half a-dozen residents whose homes are adjacent to the mansion have been taking it upon themselves to mow parts of the property after feeling that Mercury would not comply with regular maintenance.
Alfano credited Legis. Anthony Piccirillo (R-8th District) with being “the only government official who has listened. He has come with us for nightly walks, answered messages sent at 11 p.m., called SCPD on our behalf.”
Piccirillo said, “Every time I’ve reached out to the town, they have been responsive. Mercury is given a 30-day window to respond to a violation and the clock resets when they respond. Quite frankly, this is a disgrace. Mercury has failed to be a steward to a historical institution. We were only able to get in touch with Mercury through the comptroller’s office when they were three years behind on their taxes last year. They actually paid $2.9 million in taxes. We have a company that refuses to pay taxes, refuses to maintain the property. I think it’s only fair for the quality of life of the residents to take care of this property.”
Residents have paid out of their own pockets to have historical statues safely winterized (multiple times because slashings of the plastic wrap took place soon after application), donated flags, fixed the flagpole, and removed and broken down fallen trees.
Don Cook, a representative for Mercury International who is in regular communication with community members about patrols and repairs on the properties, did not respond by time of press to questions about Mercury International’s lack of care of the Idle Hour mansion or plans to ameliorate the situation.