Just days after being ravaged by a fire, snow fell through the patchy roof of the historic Baxter House after village officials said they had no authority to stabilize the home against the elements.
Baxter Estates Deputy Mayor Charles Comer said that the village board heard residents’ calls to cover the gaping holes in the home’s roof with plywood, but that they could not force the homeowner, Sabrina Wu of Queens, to take measures to protect the property.
“We are dealing with private property where the owner has extensive legal rights that the Village must respect,” Comer wrote to residents on Tuesday. “Moreover, the Landmark status only covers the exterior of the building; not anything inside.”
According to village code, when there is “clear and imminent danger” to property due to unsafe conditions, the building inspector may perform temporary repairs, safeguards or barriers.
Based on a recent village building department review of the home, officials concluded that an emergency situation does not yet exist, according to a Thursday village email sent to residents.
Village resident Michael Scotto said he wasn’t surprised by the decision not to seal the house, saying that the village board “didn’t even appreciate they had the power to do so under law.”
On Thursday, a thick layer of snow padded the roof, and multiple windows with missing panes left the structure open to the cold, but the home was “standing strong,” said village resident Stephanie Hall. The exterior still bears scorch marks from Sunday’s fire, which took more than four hours to extinguish.
The Nassau County Fire Marshal’s Office announced Wednesday that though its investigation had been completed, the fire’s cause could not be pinpointed. The main façade of the home was effectively “gutted and destroyed,” said James Hickman, Investigations Division supervisor for the fire marshal’s office.
The village has yet to receive a full report from the fire marshal, said village Clerk Chrissy Kiernan. After conducting a site visit on Wednesday, village building inspector Joseph Saladino and an independent engineer concluded that the entire home is “structurally unsound and should be demolished,” according to a village email to residents on Thursday.
Wu had recently submitted an application to demolish the home and rebuild a replica, a proposal which will be discussed by the village Landmarks Commission on March 1.