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A. Thomas Levin Quoted in The Island Now, "Baxter House Owner Submits Demolition Application"

Apr 18, 2017Local Government and Land Use

The owner of the historic Baxter House on Monday submitted an application to demolish the home, ending weeks of waiting and speculating on the future of the property.

Trustee Chris Ficalora said Tuesday that the Baxter Estates Landmarks Preservation Commission would review the application submitted by the home’s owner, Sabrina Wu, at a meeting on Monday.

But Village Clerk Chrissy Kiernan on Wednesday said the building inspector will not refer the application to the commission because it is “deficient.” “We have notified the property owner of the deficiencies,” Kiernan said.

The house, which dates to the 18th century, was heavily damaged by a fire in February.

“We note that there is a consensus of all of the professionals who have inspected the property since the Feb. 5, 2017, fire that the existing structure is damaged beyond repair, and that it should be demolished,” Wu’s attorney, A. Thomas Levin, said in a letter to the village’s building inspector, Joseph Saladino.

The application was submitted with a $262 demolition permit fee, a letter from PSEG about disconnecting the power, proof of tax payments and a copy of the deed.

However, Levin and Wu did not include information regarding the demolition contractor and documentation of worker’s compensation, utility shut-off certifications from PSEG, Keyspan/National Grid and water utilities and rodent, asbestos and lead certifications — documents required with demolition permits.

In the letter, Levin said the omitted documentation is “not necessary for the Landmarks Preservation Commission review of this application.”

“Ms. Wu should not be required at this time to undertake the expenses required to obtain that documentation until it is determined that the LPC will authorize the demolition,” Levin said in the letter.

Under the village’s historic preservation code, Wu is required to either rebuild the exterior of the home at 15 Shore Road as an exact replica — because it was landmarked — or repair and restore the home, Ficalora said.

Wu did not submit plans for what is to follow demolition.

Efforts to reach Levin were unavailing.

Ficalora said the commission will seek a long-term plan for the home to make sure Wu follows the guidelines in the village code.

“My belief is that she’s just going to drag her feet and not do anything,” Ficalora said. “She wants to tear the house down and ultimately subdivide the property.”

The commission was originally scheduled to review Saladino’s reports and photographs and determine if the home’s condition violates the village code.

In a letter from Saladino to the commission, he said he believes “the present condition of the site constitutes disrepair and deterioration of a structure within the meaning of village code 118-9,” the section of the code pertaining to historic preservation.

“In my opinion, the premises has deteriorated, decayed and fallen into a state of disrepair such that the deterioration and decay has a detrimental effect on the character of the historical site and the historic district within which the premises is located and is otherwise in violation of standards in village code,” Saladino said.

Saladino and an independent engineer hired by the village deemed the home structurally unsound after the fire and said it should be demolished.

Wu withdrew her original application to demolish and rebuild a replica of the home days before the fire, and was planning to revise her plans and renovate the home. The house was built in the 1700s and once sat on the Baxter Homestead, which dates to 1673.

Wu purchased the house in 2003 for $990,000. The home’s exterior was landmarked in 2005, a decision Wu opposed.

The village issued Wu four Order to Remedy violations last month, and Ficalora said it is considering issuing more to make sure the property is secure.

Ficalora said this month that the village has already spent over $100,000 on matters relating to the home, including legal and consulting fees.

The spending includes legal advice to the Board of Trustees, including lawyers reviewing documents; communications with the building inspector and other hired consultants; communications with the owner’s attorney; special internal strategy meetings related to the house; community meetings; and legal advice for various village committees, Ficalora said.

A small group of residents, a few of whom run the “Save the Baxter House” Facebook group, have filed papers to establish a 501(c)(3) foundation to raise money to purchase the Baxter House, Kathy Coley, a resident, said.

If residents raise enough funds to purchase the house, and Wu agrees, Coley said, they would like to build a replica and turn the first floor into a museum, chronicling the history of the area and land, starting with its Native America roots and the Baxter family’s participation in the American Revolution.

“It’s a big task but it’s worthwhile, and that’s why we’re spending our spare time working on it,” Coley said last month. “Once we have the foundation established, we hope to get support from the community.”