A developer seeking to tear down a Revolutionary War-era house in Babylon Village is offering to build a replica house on the site in order to appease residents seeking to preserve the home.
The farmhouse at 527 Deer Park Ave. is one of the oldest buildings in the village and town, with a section of the home dating to 1790. The house’s original owner, David Smith, a farmer and tailor by trade, served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War in a regimen which fought in the battle of Long Island in 1776, according to Babylon Town Historian Mary Cascone.
Chase Ognibene and his father Steve have been seeking to develop the property to build two new houses in the Indian Crossing subdivision. The asking price for the homes in the subdivision where the old house sits range from about $640,000 to about $700,000, according to the subdivision’s website.
The Ognibenes, the village and residents seeking to preserve the house by moving it elsewhere, have been battling over the home’s future for four years. In 2012, it was determined that the house is eligible to go on the National Register of Historic Places, but an application, which requires the property owner’s participation, has not been made.
At a zoning board hearing last week, St. James architect Louis Santora testified for the Ognibenes that the home is “not structurally stable” and has termite damage and dry rot. He said moving the home and upgrading it to code would cost as much as $400,000.
The Ognibenes’ attorney, Chris Modelewski of Huntington, proposed his client tear down the existing house and build a replica home in its place using materials from that period. He then asked the board to direct the building department to issue a building permit and a demolition permit for the home.
“The function of this board is not to be a de-facto historical preservation board,” Modelewski said.
Several residents who live near the home spoke out in favor of the demolition. Peter McGuinness, who said he and his wife own a home across the street that is over 100 years old, described the Smith house as being an eyesore in “horrible shape” with animals living inside it.
“As much as we love old things and love old houses ... moving that thing, it’s just going to fall over,” he said.
Resident Mary Gallagher noted that the Smith home has already been moved on the property and withstood the strain.
“To me the idea of a replica is ludicrous,” she said.
Preserving the house, she said, is an “acknowledgment of what that man did fighting for our independence. A replica certainly will not replace it.”
Cascone tried to save the house by buying it for her family but said her offer of $244,000 was rejected by the Ognibenes. Cascone said she could offer no support for a replica house, saying it would be “as insulting as trying to pass off a forgery of the Mona Lisa as the real thing.”
“There is a craftsmanship and a personality in older buildings that cannot be fabricated in newer structures,” she said.
Village Zoning Board of Appeals chairman Bruce Humenik said it would take the board several months to render a decision.