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A. Thomas Levin Quoted in The Island Now, "Village Panel Says Baxter House Owner Violated Landmarks Code"

Apr 25, 2017Local Government and Land Use

Media Source: The Island Now

The Village of Baxter Estates Landmarks Preservation Commission said on Monday that the owner of the Baxter House has violated the historic preservation law by letting the home fall into disrepair.

The commission voted 4-0 at a meeting to authorize the village’s building inspector to issue violations under the historic preservation law to the home’s owner, Sabrina Wu.

Jim Bradley, the attorney advising the commission, said he will draft a more formal resolution that will be voted on at another meeting.

“The conditions at 15 Shore Road (the Baxter House) violate all standards for having a detrimental effect upon the character of the historic site,” Peter Salins, commissioner of the landmarks commission, said.

The penalty for the first offense cannot exceed $10,000 or 15 days in jail, according to the village code. The penalties increase for subsequent offenses.

Wu submitted an application on April 17 to demolish the home, which was heavily damaged in a fire on Feb. 5, but the village deemed it “deficient,” saying it lacked nine documents needed.

In a letter sent to the village on Monday, A. Thomas Levin, Wu’s lawyer, said she submitted the incomplete application to expedite the process and noted that the omitted documentation is not yet available.

“Rather than opposing her efforts to remove the present blight on the property, the village should permit the prompt demolition of the fire-damaged structure, and engage with Ms. Wu to resolve all issues as to the future use of the property,” Levin said in the letter.

Levin said in the letter if the village continues to restrict Wu’s “lawful” use of the property, “both parties can expect to spend substantial time and expense in appeals and litigation, during which time the property will remain fallow and blighted.”

The nine omitted documents include a water shutoff certificate, a sewer line shutoff certificate, a Department of Health rodent form, an asbestos abatement certificate, an oil tank abatement certificate, removal of any septic systems and storm water retention drywalls, the name of the contractor, a certification of worker’s compensation and a commercial general liability insurance policy naming the village as coinsured.

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

In the letter, Levin said Wu has no obligation to file an application laying out plans to reconstruct anything on the premises or repair the damage.

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

Levin said this was false, saying there is no requirement in the code or any other law.

“This ‘requirement’ exists only in the mind of the village,” Levin said in an email.

Ficalora said “it may not say it exactly that way but that’s the extent to what the code is.”

Levin said he has told the village that some of the documents needed for the application to demolish will take weeks to obtain.

He added that other documents “cannot be obtained until the date of demolition is known and the demolition begins.”

“The village refuses to work with Ms. Wu to find a solution, until she files a plan for a replacement building satisfactory to the village, although the village has no authority to do this and is acting in violation of Ms. Wu’s rights to make lawful use of her property,” Levin said. “The village is not going to permit Ms. Wu to do anything with her property until she yields to the village’s unlawful demands as to what she can build there.”

Levin added that it is looking like Wu will have to seek “recourse” in court and it is likely the village will end up paying “substantial” damages to Wu and her legal fees — adding to the money already spent on the matter.

The landmarks commission meeting was a response to a letter Saladino sent to the commission, saying he believed “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.

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

At the meeting, residents continued to urge the commission to preserve the home, and said if it is demolished, Wu should be required to use materials from the existing home to rebuild a replica.

“We should require some sort of salvage of materials of the original home,” Nancy Comer, a resident, said.

Josh Friedman, a Port Washington resident who said he is in his last semester of architecture school, said demolishing the home should not be discussed, and he has seen homes that are restored after being 80 percent damaged.

Days before the fire, Levin told the village Wu would withdrew her original application to demolish and rebuild a replica of the home, but Ficalora said it was never withdrawn.

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.