More than 250 people gathered at the Port Washington Public Library on Wednesday in support of the historic Baxter House, offering suggestions for the future, expressing their fondness for the home and sharing memories.
“History will judge all of us on the actions or inactions we take today,” said Michael Scotto, a resident who has been outspoken about the preservation of the home. “The residents of the Village of Baxter Estates will fell the effect of a decision to demolish for many years to come.”
Residents of Baxter Estates and Port Washington, speaking in front of the village’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, condemned the home’s owner, Sabrina Wu, for not preserving the house before a fire significantly damaged it on Feb. 5.
The commission was originally scheduled to review Wu’s application to demolish and rebuild the home, but after the fire the village said Wu withdrew it.
A. Thomas Levin, Wu’s lawyer, said at the meeting that the application wasn’t entirely withdrawn.
“It’s not exactly withdrawn, but we’re also not at this time proceeding with it,” Levin said.
Levin said Wu will probably submit an application in the next several days.
Levin, who spoke for 35 minutes, said Wu told the village she would revisit the idea of renovating the house before the fire — an idea she dismissed in the past due to excessive costs.
During the Revolutionary War, Israel Baxter, who fought against the British, lived in the home.
Colleen O’ Neil, a descendent of Israel Baxter, urged the commission to preserve the house and detailed her family’s history with the house.
“The Baxter Homestead is our town’s shared history,” she said. “It is part of the Port Washington landscape and preserves the stories that give us place. The previous owners knew that and became stewards of the property and they knew they were part of a bigger story.”
Residents, one by one, asked the commission to preserve the home, some coming from out of town to support it.
“I would like to implore that we all stand Baxter strong,” Stephanie Hall, a resident, said.
Peter Salins, chairman of the commission said, “we all have an interest in saving the house.”
“We all love the Baxter House and I am heartened by the community coming together to save the Baxter House,” Salins said.
Wu allowed village trustees, the village building inspector and an independent engineer hired by the village to inspect the home last Wednesday, along with her architect.
The reports concluded that the house is structurally unsound and should be demolished.
Levin said Wu was concerned about people going onto the property after reading on social media that people have gotten near the home to take pictures.
“Nobody has a right to enter the property without the consent of the owner,” Levin said. “To protect her property and protect the people that go on it, Ms. Wu intends to enforce her rights and take whatever action she can to prosecute or prevent anyone from trespassing on the property.”
The home, at 15 Shore Road, was built in the 1700s and once stood on the Baxter Homestead, which dates back to 1673. Wu purchased the house in 2003 for $990,000.
The first resident to talk was Violet DiResta, a 5-year-old, who presented the commission with a picture she drew of the home, which said “do not thinking about knocking down that house.”
Because the house was unoccupied, Levin said, the insurance on the home was cancelled, resulting in a financial loss for Wu.
The village sent a survey to residents on Monday, asking if they would support the village purchasing the Baxter House with a five-year bond if residents’ taxes included an additional total of $6,270 spread over five years, and then $740 per year for fixing and maintaining the home.