The Village of Baxter Estates’ building inspector last Wednesday told the owner of the historic Baxter House she must demolish the remaining structure due to “hazardous health and safety issues,” village officials said.
The home, which has been the subject of a controversy in which village officials and residents have condemned the owner, Sabrina Wu, for not preserving it, was heavily damaged in a fire on Feb. 5.
“The trustees and I are deeply saddened by what has transpired concerning the Baxter Home,” Mayor Nora Haagenson said. “The village has followed, and will continue to follow, the lengthy legal process to ensure the rights of the residents of the Village of Baxter Estates and the private property owner are upheld and respected. The village will endeavor to remove and secure selected architectural elements for preservation.”
Trustee Chris Ficalora said the building inspector, Joseph Saladino, “has the legal jurisdiction to issue such a notice under the law when life-safety issues are present, without the approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.”
“The building inspector determined that the structure is unstable and has a high probability of collapsing,” Ficalora said. “Both an independent structural engineer and an architect concurred with the building inspector’s determination.”
A. Thomas Levin, Wu’s attorney, said Wu is “pleased” with the village’s decision. Her contractors will “continue to compile the extensive paperwork to meet the village’s exacting requirements,” Levin said.
Ficalora said the demolition will begin when Wu completes her paperwork and the permit is approved.
Wu has yet to submit post-demolition plans, Ficalora said.
He said the village believes Wu must rebuild a replica of the home under the landmark law, but Levin said, “Our position is that the village has no authority to do this.”
Ficalora said the disagreement could be the start of a legal battle.
The building inspector also sent a document with 16 specific requirements that the owner must adhere to before, during and after the demolition.
Last month, the Landmarks Preservation Commission said Wu had violated the village’s landmark preservation law by letting the home fall into disrepair.
Wu has authorized village officials to go onto the property and salvage parts of the home for historical purposes.
Three residents, Michael Scotto, Kathy Coley and Gloria Marmor, all of whom have spoken against the home’s being demolished, said in a news release that “the village code does not allow the building inspector to bypass the Landmark Preservation Commission and order demolition.”
Ficalora said, “They are completely wrong.”
“They are also saying the village is in violation of the law, which we are not (even though they do not indicate what law we have broken),” Ficalora said in an email. “They are also spreading that the ‘vast majority of BE’ does not want the burnt house torn down. They are wrong! They are once again on a merit less smear campaign.”
The commission passed a resolution authorizing the building inspector to issue violations under the historic preservation law to Wu.
“There is no doubt that the continued existence of the fire-damaged structure is a hazard, and a blight on her [Wu’s] property,” Levin said in an email.