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A. Thomas Levin Quoted in, "Residents raise issues with proposed Baxter house"

Apr 18, 2019Local Government and Land Use

A site plan for the proposed replacement of the historic Baxter House was brought before the Village of Baxter Estates Landmarks Preservation Commission on Thursday.

Sabrina Wu, the owner of the property, demolished the home in October 2017 after a fire severely damaged it several months earlier.

Many of the residents who attended the public hearing at Village Hall said that the proposed replacement for the home that stood at 15 Shore Road for over 300 years was not the replica they were expecting.

A. Thomas Levin, Wu’s attorney, said that he and his client hold the position that the village cannot force them to build a replica of the home.

Wu purchased the Baxter House in 2003, and in 2005 the home’s exterior was landmarked in a decision that she opposed.

Shortly before the blaze, Wu of Flushing, Queens, submitted an application to demolish the home and rebuild a replica on the property.

The house, built in 1692, has historic roots dating back to the Revolutionary War, when it housed Hessian soldiers, and it was home to renowned architect Addison Mizner in the early 20th century.

Wu contracted with N2 Design + Architecture, based in Baxter Estates, to design the proposed home.

Frank Genese, the principal of the architectural firm and a trustee in Flower Hill, billed the proposed structure as a modern house with historic characteristics.

He said the proposed development follows current building codes and would not require any variances from the village Building Department.

Genese said he and his team did a lot of research to come up with a plan that would respect the character of the home without creating a replica of it.

Creating a replica would be almost impossible, he said, given the client’s program as well as zoning, setback and building code requirements.

He said the proposed design is governed by current codes, such as stormwater management and the state energy code.

“So even though we are trying to create a sympathetic design,” Genese said, “we have to meet those requirements by using modern materials.”

Genese said his firm incorporated elements from the former house such as the dormers, roof lines, brackets along the gable roof section, the hardware that attaches shutters and some of the profiles of the railings and banisters.

He said the original house was added onto over time which made it a conglomerate of several additions and not one cohesive structure.

The proposed structure is 44 feet wide and Genese said it is very close in square footage to the original house.

Historic gray was selected for the exterior of the home with solid white trim and a dark charcoal gray for the shutters.

The architects proposed building the exterior of the home out of a material called Hardie planks, a flame-resistant material used in lieu of wood.

Peter Salins, chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, mentioned that the original home was shingled and said it would be helpful for the board to see an actual plank to review.

Genese said that he and his team did not believe a shingled look would be consistent with the style of the proposed home.

He said for the columns of the home, designers chose a 12-inch tapered column, which he said is a very good replica of the former home.

Genese said that the proposed house will not include a habitable attic and he expects the flooring of the home’s porches will be constructed with wood.

Resident Michael Scotto said he does not think the house is consistent with the site.

“While the commission may approve the construction of a structure with a similar architectural style, as [village Attorney Chris Prior] mentioned, I don’t believe that the proposed structure is in the best interest of the site or frankly appropriate,” Scotto said.

Scotto reminded the board that almost two years ago, the commission found that Wu allowed the house to deteriorate to a point where it was in disrepair and needed to be demolished.

He implored the commission to reject the proposal and require Wu to rebuild a house more consistent with plans of the architect Norman Nemec, which he believes are more uniform with the original home.

Steve Stalbaum, a resident whose home is adjacent to the property, raised concerns over lead in the soil.

He said that the lead on the exterior of the house was 183 times the allowable amount and when the house was demolished there was lead consistently in the air. He said he was advised by medical personnel to keep the windows and doors closed.

He suggested that the owner commission a lead test on the soil outside of the home.

Bob Barbach, the village’s superintendent of buildings, said he thinks it would be prudent to get a test or to see certification that there is no contamination in the soil, not only for lead but also for any other possible contaminants.

Third-generation Port Washington resident Jill Morrison, who is not a resident of Baxter Estates, said she wants to know what this proposed home has to do with the original structure.

“We were expecting a replica, and that’s not a replica, it’s an imitation,” she said.

Kathy Coley, a resident of Baxter Estates, said she doesn’t hate the proposed home but it was not the replica she was expecting.

“I hope we will have a new beautiful replica of our house, our Baxter House,” she said.

Levin said, “We have been working very hard to try to find something that’s suitable for the village and satisfactory in the village.”

He said he thinks the proposed design is appropriate under the required code sections and is compatible with the neighborhood and the nature of the property.

Barbach said in a statement that the design as currently proposed “is fully compliant with all zoning code requirements.”

Salins said in a statement that “the commission has jurisdiction to ensure that the project is in harmony with the historic nature of the site.” He said the board’s decision will be based on the design characteristics of the structure and the site plan and technical review by the village’s Building Department.

The board closed the public hearing at the meeting but did not make a decision on the site plan. The board postponed the decision for another meeting that is expected to occur within the next few weeks.