As she watched an excavator grab through the vine and graffiti-covered walls of the crumbling building, Sakinna Thomas breathed a sigh of gratitude.
The derelict Copiague building at 1305 S. Strong Ave., which had been vacant for 17 years, was demolished last week by hired crews after years of problems, promises and crushed hopes.
“We’re finally getting some relief,” said Thomas, who lives across the street. “It should have happened a lot sooner.”
Babylon officials feel the same way. “Every time we thought we were getting to the point where something could be done, there was litigation or something else that would stop any progress,” Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer said.
The 25,000-square-foot building, once used to test missile components and manufacture aircraft parts, was bought in 2005 by Deer Park-based developer Crescent Group Realty LLC.
The site was found to have extensive contamination, and the company’s owners, Eugene G. Smith, Dominick Mavellia and Kenneth Auerbach, had entered into an agreement with the state Department of Conservation to clean up the property. But little work was done, according to the DEC, and the agreement was suspended in 2010. The DEC in 2013 finished the cleanup, and a $750,000 lien for the work was placed on the property, which also has about $1 million in unpaid back taxes, town and county officials said.
Further, the building was first deemed structurally unsafe in 2014, with that conclusion affirmed in later inspections.
In 2015, the Babylon Industrial Development Agency said it would buy the property and build a craft beer incubator, but the deal fell through in 2017, the same year a fire ripped through the building. Homeless individuals, and teens who created their own skate park, had occupied it, Schaffer said.
Part of the building collapsed last year, and an engineering study found the building presented a "clear and imminent danger," prompting the town to pay $238,400 for the demolition. That cost will stay with the property, Schaffer said.
But the site is still owned by Crescent, and the partners said they were not notified about the demolition. Babylon officials said the town was not required to give notice for an emergency demolition.
“I don’t know why the town would be knocking down a building that they don’t own,” Auerbach said, adding that “no one worked” with the partners to fix up the site and they “got stuck in this endless cycle and morass of red tape and people’s promises that never came through.” The partners have pending litigation against the county over tax lien payment on the property.
The Suffolk County Landbank Corp. acquired the tax liens and has been trying to take over the site. Dorian Dale, the county's director of sustainability, said the county had tried to work with Crescent, which had made promises of potential buyers.
“The deals never really amounted to anything more than a dead smelly fish,” he said. “They totally neglected that property, and it let it become a rat-infested blight on the neighborhood.”
The owners said they regularly secured the building. Smith, who once ran a contact paper company out of the building, said he’s never going to turn the property over to the county: “They’re going to have to pull it out of my hands."
1305 S. STRONG AVE. IN COPIAGUE
1950s: Brown & Mole, which later becomes Dayton T. Brown Inc., moves into the building, constructed in 1951, to manufacture aircraft parts and test missile components for the Korean War.
1960s: A four- and eight-track tape duplicating company, Dubbings Electronics Inc., is run in the building.
1970s: Barad Auto Industries Corp. has an auto repair company onsite.
SOURCE: BABYLON TOWN, NEWSDAY ARCHIVES