The lawyer for a Babylon Village developer says his client will demolish a Revolutionary War-era farmhouse at Deer Park and Ketewamoke avenues to make way for two new houses in the Indian Crossing subdivision, but a group of residents is asking the village to stop the move.
Babylon Village resident Jerry Miskovsky said at a Village Board meeting last week that developer Chase Ognibene and his father, Steve, have ignored pleas to preserve the house and maintain the land around it, and that Babylon Village officials have failed to enforce village laws in the matter.
He and other preservationists scoff at the Ognibenes’ plans to demolish the house, and Miskovsky has threatened to sue the village, a petition known as an Article 78, if it does not intervene.
The historic home was built around 1790 by David Smith, a private in a Suffolk County regiment whose family farm once spread across an area of the village now known as the “Indian section,” with street names like Ketewamoke and Wampum.
Supporters say the now-dilapidated five-bay, 2 1⁄2 -story gable-roofed house is a tie to the village’s early history as vital as the Conklin House, the 1803 home of a major landowner that the village maintains as a museum and cultural space.
In 2012, New York State determined the house was eligible to be included in the National Register of Historic Places, an official list of historic places worthy of preservation, but the home was never included.
Even if it had been, inclusion does not prevent an owner from using private funds to demolish a home. Nor does the village have a historical building code that might prohibit demolition.
Nevertheless, supporters say there is value in the original. Smith “helped establish this nation we are living in right now,” neighbor Patricia Baker told trustees at a village board meeting last week. “Please don’t let this destruction be your legacy.”
But at the meeting and in an interview last week, Ognibene lawyer Darrell Conway, who formerly represented Babylon Town’s planning and zoning boards, argued that acceding to the preservationists’ demands would mean trampling on his client’s property rights.
“I understand the historical perspective, but you can’t take someone’s money away from them. You can’t say, ‘the law says you can tear it down, but we want you to lose your investment.’ ”
In the more than four years that his client has had an interest in the property, he said, the family has contended with conflicting orders from the village, including one from the planning board ordering demolition of the house and a later one from the board of appeals ordering preservation.
Preservationists have promised to find buyers for the house but came up with only two offers, both in the range of $250,000, Conway said. The family stands to earn several times that for each new home it sells. Another home on the subdivision already sold for $620,000, he said, one of the highest sales in the neighborhood in years.
Village officials declined to comment, citing possible litigation. The Ognibenes will seek a building permit within 10 days and will commence demolition should they get it, Conway said.