A 19th century Eastport house that civic leaders had hoped to preserve has been torn down by its owner to make way for apartments and a business complex.
The vacant farmhouse on Montauk Highway had been the subject of a dispute between Brookhaven Town officials, who said it was blighted and unsafe, and civic leaders, who believed it could be renovated and used as a community center.
Engineers hired by the town had reported in November that the house had numerous structural problems, such as insulation removed from walls, loose foundation bricks and animal dung. Town officials said the property had been cited for repeated violations of town building codes and three years of unpaid taxes.
MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, said she was “heartbroken” that the house was demolished last month. She and Jim Gleason of the East Moriches Property Owners Association had proposed acquiring the structure and restoring it.
Johnston said the house had been built more than 150 years ago by the Hawkins family, one of Eastport’s earliest inhabitants.
“Historic structures don’t belong on the zombie list,” Johnston said, referring to a Brookhaven Town registry of vacant homes. “It wasn’t in any danger of falling down. . . . Unfortunately, the town facilitated it coming down.”
Developer Jim Tsunis, who owns the property through his Hauppauge-based company, Northwind Group, said he had the building razed because it was “in deplorable condition for the last five years.” Town officials have approved his plans to build a pharmacy, offices and apartments on the site.
“I was under an order from the town to demolish the building by Dec. 31,” Tsunis said in an interview. “I complied with that order and demolished the house that, to the best of my knowledge, was unable to be rebuilt.”
Tsunis’ development, to be called Eastport Commons, includes plans for a village green with a four-sided clock. Tsunis said he expects to start construction next year.
Gleason said he was “very disappointed” that Brookhaven building officials and the town board had approved the demolition.
“The town and the developer were aware there were efforts to save the house,” he said. “It’s really a loss to the community because if it were possible to save the house and have it restored in a suitable location in Eastport, it would have been a benefit to the community both because it would show a sense of the past” and serve as a community center.
Councilman Dan Panico, who represents Eastport on the town board, said community groups had been “pressing to have that eyesore removed” for several years.
“It was always known that this blighted property would be torn down,” Panico said. “I think we all appreciate Ms. Johnston’s 11th-hour effort. I’m sorry they [Johnston and Gleason] fell short.”