Oheka Castle to Build 95 Townhouse Condos
By Rupert Deedes
Oheka Castle is about to undergo major changes - with the building of 95 townhouse condos on the 22 acre property.
The historic building in West Hills on the Huntington-Oyster Bay line, took five years to build – from 1914 to 1919 – and served as the country home of investment financier and philanthropist Otto Hermann Kahn and his family. The name "Oheka" is an acronym made up of the first several letters of Kahn’s name. The mansion is the largest private home in New York, and the second largest in the United States, comprising 127 rooms and more than 109,000 sq ft.
Kahn died in 1934, and the mansion was sold and re-sold to different individuals and organizations. In 1984, Oheka was purchased by Gary Melius, a Long Island developer. The building was in a state of disrepair, and restoring it proved costly, so, in 1994 Melius sold it, but the buyers ran into financial problems of their own, and Melius reacquired the castle under a long-term lease.
Since then, Melius has operated the imposing building as a weddings and events venue, luxury hotel, and conference center - as well as his private home.
But the financial problems which have bedeviled Oheka Castle have not abated, so Melius’s representative, attorney Michael McCarthy, told the Huntington Town Board meeting last week that Melius is seeking permission to build 95 townhouse condominium units on part of its 22-acre property. The proposed townhouses would be approximately 200,000 square feet.
Last week's Huntington Town Board meeting was attended by over 100 residents - who were overwhelmingly supportive of the plan. "This will enhance the neighborhood and allow Oheka to remain a natural preserve," stated one speaker.
A half dozen critics of critics of the plan also spoke at the meeting, and focused on low income housing. They demanded that more low income housing be constructed, instead of the luxury townhouses envisioned by the Oheka plan.
Oheka's attorney McCarthy told the Huntington Town Board that Oheka Castle is a "crown jewel" of the Town of Huntington, and that it is in "jeopardy" because of the current financial crisis. He said that condominium buyers would pay annual dues in return for discounts at the castle's restaurant or hotel rooms.
The "cash infusion" from the condominium sales would allow Oheka to "satisfy its debts and keep the castle going in perpetuity," McCarthy said.
"Clearly, Mr. Melius and the neighborhood want to see the castle succeed," McCarthy said at the meeting. "It's very, very important."