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Bank to help tear down zombie house in Bellport

A Bellport zombie house will be torn down

A Bellport zombie house will be torn down -- with the help of Wells Fargo, the bank that holds the mortgage. Credit: AP / Matt Rourke

A Bellport zombie house will be torn down -- with the help of the bank that holds the mortgage.

Brookhaven Town officials said San Francisco-based Wells Fargo is contributing $20,000 for the demolition of the mold-infested house, where thieves have ripped out pipes. The bank also has donated the property to the town, a gift the town board accepted Thursday.

Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said the agreement is a first for the town. "Banks have dedicated properties, but they've never agreed to give us $20,000 for the demolition as well," Romaine said.

Romaine has estimated the town has up to 2,000 zombie properties -- houses in the foreclosure process that are unoccupied and not maintained.

A yearlong Newsday analysis showed that Long Island municipalities spent at least $3.2 million last year to board up, clean and demolish abandoned homes. Brookhaven spent more than $800,000 last year.

Many public officials have said banks should share more responsibility in taking care of vacant homes. But bank officials told Newsday that doing so would be expensive and clash with private property laws.

California-based RealtyTrac, which monitors real estate trends, has estimated Long Island has more than 4,000 zombie homes, most of them controlled by Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo spokesman James Hines said in an email the company last year donated 1,600 properties, including 40 in New York. "Property donations such as this one enable us to work with municipalities and nonprofits to help revitalize neighborhoods" and provide low-cost housing, he said.

Romaine said Wells Fargo has cooperated with the town, including by voluntarily listing homes in the town's vacant property registry. "Of all the banks, Wells Fargo . . . has been the most forthcoming," he said.

Town officials have not decided what to do with the Bellport property, Romaine said.

Councilwoman Connie Kepert, who represents the community, said she hopes Wells Fargo's donation starts a trend. "If we can get all the banks to do what they are doing, then we wouldn't have this problem," she said.

The town board Thursday night also approved an agreement with Suffolk County making it easier for town workers to demolish unsafe structures on county-owned land. Town officials this week tore down three structures on county land on Route 112 in Medford.

Romaine said the agreement would waive fees to demolish empty buildings. "This will ensure that these dilapidated eyesores . . . will be taken down much quicker," he said.

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