Wait continues for demolition of burned-out house

Photo of an eyesore house, located at 808 Photo of an eyesore house, located at 808 Johnson Ave. in Ronkonkoma, that was damaged in a fire three years ago and has remained in its current state since then. Nicole Mammolito, of Ronkonkoma, contacted Newsday's Community Watchdog Column for help after the Town of Islip did not raze the house earlier this summer as planned. Photo Credit: Nicole Mammolito

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Judy Cartwright Judy Cartwright

Judy Cartwright writes the Community Watchdog column ...

I am writing about an abandoned and burned house on Johnson Avenue in Ronkonkoma across from Edith Slocum Elementary School. It is quite a horrid sight. The fence was damaged as well from superstorm Sandy, giving us way too much of a view. Community members have repeatedly called the Town of Islip.

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— Nicole Mammolito, Ronkonkoma

Steps have been taken to get rid of the burned-out structure in the months since Mammolito contacted us. The town says it is moving as fast as it legally can.

But whether, or when, that demolition will happen remains unresolved: The structure's future is up to a judge.

When we reached out to Mammolito a few months ago, demolition seemed imminent: She said the town attorney had just told a meeting of the Ronkonkoma Civic Association that the structure would be torn down in June. But July found the house still standing. When we checked in with the town, we were told the attorney's words apparently had been misunderstood.

Town spokeswoman Inez Birbiglia said that although the town board had adopted a resolution calling for demolition of the house, at 808 Johnson Ave., other steps were necessary before that could happen. The next one involves seeking authorization in State Supreme Court in Suffolk County; the town expects to file that action later this month. If the court rules in the town's favor, action will be taken immediately to demolish the house.

In a separate action, the town is also prosecuting the property owner in Fifth District Court in Ronkonkoma for failure to maintain the property. That proceeding will be concluded "well before" the Supreme Court hearing, Birbiglia said, and would require the property owner to fulfill his "ongoing responsibility to maintain the property" even though the house could wind up being demolished.

"The civic members were informed that the [town] board passing the demolition resolution was the first big step in a process that wouldn't be quick and the town would seek judicial approval in Supreme Court, and (like it or not) . . . [the owner] is entitled to his day in court," Birbiglia said in an email. "The town is very strongly on the side of the residents, but in order to be successful, we must take special pains to ensure every legal process is followed so our case is rock solid and compelling."

She said the owner has sued in an effort to collect an insurance payout for fire damage. The carrier has refused to pay the claim, she said, citing the house's use as a multiple-family home when it was insured as a single-family dwelling.

The fire, in February 2011, resulted in the death of a 31-year-old woman. Seven residents escaped.

In the small category of good news: Mammolito said the side fence has been repaired. Unfortunately, it does little to obscure the eyesore house itself.

— MICHAEL R. EBERT

Here's one more entry in the post-Sandy cleanup story: Freeport told a resident she must pay the cost of repairing not just damaged sidewalks, but also the nearby curb — even for removal of the tree stump.

Yolanda Mouzon thought that policy was odd. After all, many municipalities have been doing at least some of those Sandy repairs — typically stump removal and sometimes curb repair — without charging property owners. A few even replace sidewalks at no charge.

And, Mouzon said, a few years ago the village removed a diseased tree at the curb at no charge.

So we followed up with Village Hall about the policy. Here's what Village Attorney Howard Colton told us:

"Under the Village Code the homeowner is responsible from the curb line through and including the full sidewalk," he wrote in an email. "So if there is damage to the sidewalk or any trees, tree stumps, etc., from the curb through and including the sidewalk, they would be responsible."

And yes, he added, that policy applies even if the damage was caused by Sandy.

As for the tree removal a few years ago? Mouzon said she was told that work had been done "as a courtesy."

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