Mother Nature has won the Battle of 21 Charles Ct.
A wrecking crew Wednesday razed the one-story house, nearly five years after rising groundwater from the adjacent Lake Ronkonkoma bog began flooding into its rooms and started the owners on an odyssey that would cost thousands in mortgage payments, taxes and fines even as the house was rendered unliveable.
Jan and Mark McDonnell's house, co-owned with her parents Marie and Eddie Dondero, was flooded almost continuously since rains in October 2005. It has since been condemned.
Jan McDonnell called the flattening of the house "bittersweet." Her mother dabbed her eyes as the excavator crane's claw tore through the roof of the house on a beautifully sunny - and dry - day.
"We were going to retire here," said Marie Dondero, 78, of the house at the edge of the natural habitat that they bought in 1986 in a foreclosure. They paid $57,000. "I would have loved to have lived here," said Dondero, who now lives in Eastport.
The McDonnells actually only lived in the home for a short time. They rented it until it was condemned in 2006, Jan McDonnell said.
While their tenant lived there, and in the years since, the house and some others in the neighborhood have been plagued by backed-up cesspools, mold and sometimes as much as 2 feet of standing water that soaked the kitchen cabinets.
The tortured history of 21 Charles Ct. began during the heavy rains of October 2005 that raised the water table in the area and began regularly flooding the home. In an effort to save it, they began placing sandbags around the perimeter to protect it from the bog.
In March 2007, the state Department of Environmental Conservation fined the owners for interfering with the encroaching wetlands with the sandbags. The family eventually paid a $500 fine. Meanwhile, the family continued to pay the monthly mortgage - they said they still owe $70,000 - and the $4,000 in annual property taxes. After the house was condemned, they said they won a reduction to $400 in taxes.
Suffolk Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) introduced the resolution to buy the home in 2007. It passed unanimously but was vetoed by County Executive Steve Levy, who said he feared the precedent would unleash a number of such requests that the county would then have to honor even in situations beyond their control. The legislators overrode the veto.
The county has agreed to pay $130,000 for the land, though the sale won't go through until the property is completely cleared and the DEC has inspected it because of its location adjacent to wetlands, Kennedy said.
"Anytime we get a piece of property of that price for parkland . . . I think it's a good thing," Kennedy said. What's more, he added, after watching as the house was demolished, it was important to help this "family ravaged by groundwater flooding."
The owners of five other houses on Charles Court and the neighboring two streets damaged by flooding that began in 2005 will be helped by a $187,560 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant secured by the Town of Smithtown that will pay to lift utilities out of the flooding zone and fill in their basements. FEMA will pay 75 percent of the cost, and the town and homeowners will pick up the rest. Sanford said the town will pay design and administrative costs.
As for No. 21, once the debris has been removed, the site will simply disappear into the bog.