Riverhead, Southampton cracking down on unsafe buildings

01/21/2016 6:00 AM |

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There are plenty of beautiful homes and scenic landscapes in Riverhead Town. Farm fields provide expansive sunrise and sunset views, while the entire downtown area is in fact listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Beyond the breathtaking and the historic, there are also various “what you’d expect” properties around town: the typical Cape-style home with a white picket fence. The stately Victorian that now houses a law office. A good, old-fashioned park.

And, as is the case in cities across the country, there are also structures that stick out so badly — sometimes even posing a threat to the general public — that the towns of Riverhead and Southampton want to raze them entirely.

One of those buildings is the former Court House restaurant on Griffing Avenue, a once-popular venue that closed 17 years ago. Two others are structures for which the town held hearings last Thursday to determine whether or not the town can tear them down. One is a vacant house on Creek Road in Wading River that a neighbor claims is unsecured and has squatters and animals living in it. The other is a home on Overlook Drive in Aquebogue that was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy and appears to be falling down.

In the past five years, only four other Riverhead structures have had to be demolished by the town. Six buildings in the Flanders and Riverside area have been razed by Southampton Town in that timeframe.

“We usually get voluntary compliance before we have to go to a Chapter 54 proceeding,” said deputy town attorney Dan McCormick, referring to the section of town code that allows the town to intervene.

Last week, the Riverhead Town Board voted to authorize demolition of the dilapidated Court House building after hearing reports from chief fire marshal Craig Zitek and town engineer Ken Testa, who said the 125-year-old structure is in “imminent danger of collapse.”

Its owner, Lyle Pike of Southampton, argued that the building is structurally sound and openly questioned the credentials of Mr. Zitek and Mr. Testa.

“Is it going to fall down tomorrow? No,” Mr. Pike said at the hearing. “Is it in disrepair? Yes.”

Companies operated by Mr. Pike were also were on the agenda in Southampton Town just two days earlier, where town leaders on the southern side of the Peconic River held similar hearings about whether to tear down two buildings owned by the companies. They ultimately voted to demolish them.

In both Southampton and Riverhead towns, potentially unsafe structures can either be removed by their owners or made safe. If the owner declines to do either, the town can then commission the work on its own and add the cost to the owners’ taxes.

So, which buildings were deemed so unsafe last week that they’ve been considered for demolition? And what are Riverhead and Southampton towns doing about them?

COURT HOUSE RESTAURANT, RIVERHEAD

The Town Board held a public hearing in November on the Court House, during which board members agreed to give Mr. Pike 30 days to come up with an engineering report stating that the building was structurally sound. If he did, he’d get another 30 days to submit a proposal to redevelop it.

Mr. Pike did not submit either document, according to Mr. Zitek.

Mr. Pike said the town boarded up the building several years ago and wouldn’t let him in.

“Every time I try to do something, I’m met with resistance, so it doesn’t really matter.” he said. “You guys don’t care; why would I?”

Mr. Testa and Mr. Zitek submitted separate reports with similar conclusions: that the building should be demolished. They said holes in the roof are allowing water to get inside, weakening beams and concrete.

Supervisor Sean Walter, Mr. Wooten and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio voting in favor of demolition. Councilman Tim Hubbard, who just took office this month, abstained because he wasn’t yet on the board for the November hearing. Councilman John Dunleavy was absent.

168 CREEK ROAD, WADING RIVER

This beachfront house on Long Island Sound was owned by the late Huang Rong Fang, a Flushing resident, and, according to town investigator Richard Downs, has open doors and windows and unstable rails and decking.

Louis Magnan, who owns the property next door, said the house has been vacant for a decade and “there’s been no one living there except for occasional squatters.”

Mold is growing inside the structure, which was flooded during Hurricane Sandy, and animals like raccoons are living and defecating there, Mr. Magnan said.

“It’s a despicable property,” he told the Town Board last Thursday.

Virginia Grieco of nearby Oak Street said some of her neighbors’ homes have been broken into by the squatters living in the house.

Mr. Zeng, who acknowledged there are seagull feces inside the structure, which he called “disgusting,” said he has hired someone to remove the debris and that the home’s doors have been locked. He said he’s waiting for town permits to allow him to board up the structure.

120 OVERLOOK DRIVE, AQUEBOGUE

This house, situated on a private street near the water, was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy and now has a collapsed roof.

Its owner, Andrew Insardi, has applied for a demolition permit from the town. He said he’s “embarrassed” by the building’s condition and intends to knock it down and rebuild. The property is currently fenced off.

“This structure is in an obvious state of collapse and is in danger of completely collapsing at any time,” Mr. Testa said in his report on the building. “While there is fencing surrounding the structure to keep people away, my primary concern at this time is the potential for flying debris if we experience a northeast storm or hurricane”.

Mr. Testa said the structure “will act as a ‘sail’ in the wind, with the potential for the remaining structure to ‘up lift’ and drop debris on adjacent homes, roads and possibly East Creek.”

The property’s proximity to East Creek means the demolition will require a wetlands permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Mr. Insardi said he was involved in a divorce and was not allowed on the property for several years. He said no one has lived there for seven years.

Mr. Walter said the town will try to convince the DEC to move quickly in this case because of the danger of flying debris.

40 PINE ST., RIVERSIDE

This structure is the middle of three manufactured homes on a quarter-acre parcel owned by 40 Pine Street Inc., a company headed by Mr. Pike, according to town and state records.

It has no proper foundation or tie-downs, the floors have holes in them and it hasn’t had any substantial repairs or maintenance for years, according to assistant Southampton Town attorney Richard Harris. The only electricity the home had came from an extension cord run from the adjacent house. There’s no central heat, no septic system and no plumbing, he said.

Until late November, a tenant was living in the structure, Mr. Harris said.

“The woman who vacated the morning prior to us being there stepped into a hole leading to her bedroom and fell through the floor,” fire marshal John Rankin said.

433 RIVERLEIGH AVE., RIVERSIDE

This structure is owned by 433 Riverleigh Avenue Corp., a company with the same Mariner Drive address as 40 Pine St. and the Court House restaurant.

“This building has continued to deteriorate and fall in upon itself,” Mr. Harris said.

It was damaged by a fire in the 1990s and has had no structural repair or maintenance for years, Mr. Harris said.

“The roof is collapsing in a number of areas and the structural members are collapsing as well,” he said. In addition, Mr. Harris said, “the floor’s structural members couldn’t even hold the weight of a person,” pointing out that there’s a basement in the home a person could fall into.

Mr. Harris said the property’s owner has submitted a “nearly complete demolition permit application” but said he’d need about a month to take it down himself.

“However, based upon the amount of time it is taking to get to this point and not even having a fully submitted application, I’m seeking this resolution to demolish the structure,” Mr. Harris said.

There were no speakers on behalf of the property owners for either of the two Southampton hearings.

The Southampton Town Board voted to authorize the demolition of both the Pine Street and Riverleigh Avenue structures.

Photo caption: The buildings pictured, considered public safety threats, will either be razed by Riverhead Town, Southampton Town or the property owner in coming months. The properties (clockwise from top left) are located on Creek Road in Wading River, Overlook Drive in Aquebogue, Griffing Avenue downtown, Pine Street in Riverside and Riverleigh Avenue in Riverside.

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