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Residents fear for future of historic Baxter Estates home

The landmarked Baxter House in the village of

The landmarked Baxter House in the village of Baxter Estates, next to Port Washington, shown Nov. 26, 2016, is vacant and deteriorating. Its owner might demolish it, a move some in the community oppose. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The Baxter House, a historic home that dates to the early 18th century, was once the stately Colonial home of a prominent North Shore family. Today, it lies vacant and in disarray, with a blue tarp covering its outlines, obscuring a decaying roof, and a porch that no longer supports its weight.

The steady deterioration of the sole landmarked property in the village of Baxter Estates next to Port Washington has long had residents concerned about its future, but anxieties are now amplified over renewed reports that the homeowner will demolish the two-story, 3,386-square-foot house.

Village officials confirmed that the homeowner, Sabrina Wu, of Flushing, recently notified the board of a possible redevelopment of the property, raising the potential of demolishing the structure to replace it with a replica. This follows Wu’s June appeal of a village order to remedy the home’s dilapidated state.

The repairs would be “excessive and burdensome,” according to her appeal. A town official said the appeal is still outstanding.

Residents say that the village — one of the smallest in North Hempstead at just 109 acres — has failed to ensure Wu’s compliance with its landmark legislation, to adequately enforce violations, and ultimately, to safeguard the house, which is the namesake of the village of Baxter Estates.

Since Wu bought the property in 2003 for $990,000, residents report watching the neglected home fall into shambles. The village landmarked the home in 2005, a move that Wu contested, alleging that the status would cause undue financial hardship and limit resale value. Real estate website Zillow estimates the house’s worth at $2.6 million, though the home’s assessed value is about $800,000, according to Nassau land records.

Over the years, Wu has intermittently pursued multiple options for the house, including cleaving the property into two parcels and rebuilding a second home on the site, and illegally subdividing the house into three living units. Wu’s attorney, A. Thomas Levin of Garden City-based Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, declined to comment.

The village’s preservation law sets standards for maintenance and repair, with violations punishable by jail time or a fine of up to $1,000, according to the code. Wu has been served with multiple notices of violation: for dead trees, an unsafe chimney and illegal rentals. Baxter Estates Village attorney Chris Prior said that Wu was appealing several outstanding violations, and was unsure if she had paid any penalties to the village.

The house, at 15 Shore Rd., dates to the early 1700s, possibly as early as 1673, and was owned for more than 150 years by the Baxter family. They were shipbuilders, whalers and sea captains whose homestead and property made up the village of Baxter Estates. The home is one of the Island’s oldest structures, and its architecture — a combination of Dutch and English styles — is a testament to the period.

‘Labor of love’

Demolition of a historic home is an extreme measure that is the last possible step advised by the federal government, said town historian Howard Kroplick. “I think that anybody with a case for history and preservation would not go that route,” Kroplick added.

Old homes require upkeep and aren’t meant to be bookmarked for redevelopment, said Chris Bain, of the Port Washington-based Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society. Living in a historic house is a “labor of love,” Bain added.

Historic preservation is largely the responsibility of local municipalities. State and federal laws do not apply unless a structure is listed on state or national registers.

The town of North Hempstead, which has landmarked 17 historical locations, including two designated districts, does not regulate incorporated villages. Within the town’s bounds, there are many villages that have shaky landmark legislation, or none at all, Kroplick said.

Many cited the Roslyn Historic District as a successful example of preservation. There are more than 100 properties ranging from 17th century to early 20th century styles in the district, which covers a large portion of the village’s nearly 400 acres. All changes to a structure’s exterior are presided over by the Historic District Board. Homeowners who let properties fall into disrepair are required to restore the home, and must prove significant hardship before demolition.

Prior said that the village would “remain vigilant” throughout next steps with Wu’s plans, and that he expected Wu to submit an application to the village’s Historic Preservation Commission in the coming weeks. He added that the board would not know of Wu’s specific intentions until an application is received.

“It may be that she comes with a plan that preserves what’s there,” Prior said.

Nancy Johnson, a Baxter Estates resident, said that losing the original Baxter House would be another piece of the community’s history discarded.

“In Europe, homes and buildings are cherished . . . because they believe they’re precious,” Johnson said. “Here we tend to rip them down. Having a gem like this and allowing it to fall down is a real display of disrespect for our history.”

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