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Babylon Village historic buildings should be saved, petition says

More than 1,000 people have signed a petition asking Babylon Village to adopt a historic preservation code. (Credit: Newsday/Jesse Coburn)

More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition asking Babylon Village to adopt a historic code prohibiting the demolition or significant alteration of buildings constructed before 1912.

That would apply to hundreds of structures in the village, where Revolutionary War-era buildings stand near stately Victorian homes.

But three such buildings were demolished this year, and plans to remodel two more have left some residents fearing that Babylon’s antique charm is under threat.

Others balk at the prospect of a code, saying it would unfairly burden property owners.

Such arguments hold little merit to James Muller, who started the petition late this summer.

“I came to the area for its charm,” said Muller, 41, of North Babylon. “I didn’t come here to live in Nassau County.”

Of particular concern to Muller are a pair of 19th century wooden buildings at the corner of West Main Street and Mansfield Road that a local developer wants to redesign.

Ken Rogers, 57, the owner of Rogers’ Development Corp. of Babylon, said he hopes to remodel both structures — saving “as many of the original elements as possible” — and turn them into two-floor, mixed-use buildings with retail on the ground floor and apartments or office space above.

“I painstakingly rehab buildings,” said Rogers, who counted numerous historic projects in the village in his portfolio, such as remodeling a home built in the 1860s near Argyle Park. “I’m not a guy who plows down old buildings and puts up concrete.”

Rogers expressed concern about the petition, saying old homes often fall into disrepair that makes them dangerous and costly to fix — and that the pair of vacant buildings on West Main Street is in that category.

The rear structure, which once served as the office of the South Side Signal newspaper, has sagging floors and rotting timbers, making it “unsafe and structurally dangerous,” according to a December 2016 letter from the village building inspector to the previous owner.

Village Mayor Ralph Scordino said he was not familiar with the petition and declined to comment about it.

“I’m a proponent of historic preservation,” Scordino said, noting three structures in the village are on the National Register of Historic Places. But he also said he acknowledges the financial hardships that old buildings place on their owners.

Such properties are numerous in Babylon Village, with its compact, old-fashioned downtown that stands out amid the strip malls and tract housing of surrounding areas. A 1980 study found that the village possessed at least 470 homes of potential historical significance, Babylon Town Historian Mary Cascone said. At least 36 of them have been demolished since then, and many more altered, she said.

Were Babylon to adopt a historic code, it would join other Long Island villages, including Bellport and Greenport, which have historic preservation laws and commissions that can designate properties and neighborhoods as historically significant and require approval before they are altered.

Muller said he plans to deliver his petition to village officials before the next public hearing on Rogers’ proposal.

None are currently scheduled, Rogers said.

Historic Babylon buildings

Demolished this year:

  • David Smith House (1790, Deer Park Avenue)
  • Bishop House (1780, Fire Island Avenue)
  • Woodruff Sutton House (1907, Argyle Avenue)

Slated to be remodeled:

  • Selah Smith Carll House (1826, West Main Street)
  • South Side Signal Building (1869, Mansfield Road)

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