The Baxter Estates Village Landmark Commission meeting to discuss the fate of the Baxter House, which was scheduled before the historical home was destroyed by a blaze last month, was packed with concerned community members rallying for its preservation.
The meeting was originally scheduled to discuss the owner of the Baxter House submitting an application to tear down and replicate the property, but the application has since been withdrawn.
First to speak at the meeting, held Wednesday evening in a packed room in the Port Washington Public Library, was Thomas Levin, the attorney for Sabrina Wu, the owner of the Baxter House. Levin clarified the application is “not exactly withdrawn.” He said Wu “agreed to revisit the idea to preserve the house,” but didn’t officially agree.
“In the next several days we will have an application to file with the Village,” Levin said.
He described the Baxter House as an “eyesore,” an “unwanted tourist attraction” and an “invitation for people to explore [the private property.]”
On Saturday, Feb. 4, a cleanup was scheduled on the property. On early Sunday, Feb. 5, the house was destroyed by a fire.
“This unanticipated event has resulted in a substantial financial loss to Ms. Wu,” Levin said, adding that the insurance on the house had be canceled since it was found unfit for occupancy 1.5 years ago.
About one week after the fire, Village Building Inspector Joseph Saladino and independent structural engineer Dean Koutsoubis evaluated the building from behind a 6-foot chain-link fence and determined the building should be demolished. On Feb. 22, the building was inspected by officials on the property, Levin said, and also concluded the house was a “total loss.”
Wu is evaluating her options and preferences, Levin said.
“I’m not going to fool myself into thinking there aren’t going to be significant differences in opinion between her and the Village as to her legal rights with respect to the property,” Levin said.
In fact, many residents came to the meeting to voice their differences in opinion. During the public comment period, many speakers discussed their thoughts on the next steps for the Baxter House and Wu’s job as a landlord:
- Several residents at the meeting accused Wu of neglecting the outside of the home, causing it to look dilapidated. Wu bought the property in 2003 and two years later it was deemed a historic site by the Village. This means Wu would have to get Board approval whenever she would want to make outside changes to the home. One speaker called her an “absentee landlord.”
- Stephanie Hall, who lives in a historic home herself, said Wu was “not a loving caretaker” and neglected the home for 14 years. “The house was allowed to fall into disrepair,” she said.
- Michael Scotto said he believes the owner let the outside of the Baxter House rot and made no steps to secure the house despite reports of squatters inside the home.
- Colleen O’Neill, a descendant of Israel Baxter, attended the meeting and said she "implores the Village to not give up on this house.”
- Many speakers urged for the Village to get an independent forensic architect with experience working with historical homes to inspect the Baxter House. Howard Kroplick, the Town Historian of the Town of North Hempstead, said a decision on the house should not be made until there is an interior inspection.
- Others gave examples of historic buildings that were successfully restored. Anita Sethi said her parents bought a dilapidated home, which is now known as Stromboli Hill Tavern, and restored it.
- Gloria Marmor, a resident of Baxter Estates since 1980, detailed her two-step goal of the Baxter House. First step would be for the Village to buy the Baxter House, preserve most of the home and replicate the rest. Second step, she said, would be to sell the Baxter House to a private owner and write maintenance of the landmark elements of the property into the deed. Residents could agree to take a $2 million, 20-year bond to pay for purchase and restoration of the estate. Marmor estimated the bond would cost each resident $500 per year in additional taxes.
- Many other residents voiced they do not believe the Village is using the full extent of their power to protect the historic home from possible demolition.