Safety issues may mean wrecking ball

The incomplete condo building at the Knolls of Baiting Hollow has been deemed structurally unsound by two engineers and the town fire marshal.

A partially completed condominium building at The Knolls of Baiting Hollow is structurally unsound due to exposure to the elements and should be torn down.

That was the recommendation of Riverhead Town’s fire marshal, its town engineer and an engineer hired by Knolls residents who have been complaining about the structure for some time.

The condo structure is one of three that remain unfinished at The Knolls. Another one is little more than a foundation, and the third is closer to completion but was never occupied.

The Town Board held a public hearing last Wednesday on whether the first building is unsafe, in accordance with Chapter 54 of the town code, which would enable the town to demolish it.

“In my opinion, the structural integrity of the building is compromised,” said Scott Davonski, Riverhead Town’s chief fire marshal, said of the building that was subject of the hearing.

With the building open to the elements, wind can get in and uplift sheathing, causing it to blow away, Mr. Davonski said, and the exposure to the elements from having the building sitting open for about two years likely weakened its structural integrity.

“The only course of action I would recommend is demolition of the building,” he said.

Riverhead Town engineer Ken Testa and Bill Lifford, the engineer hired by Knolls residents, reached similar conclusions.

“I believe it should be demolished down to the foundation,” Mr. Testa said.

Knolls resident David DeCesare said that if the wooden deck on the structure caught fire, it would pose a danger to neighboring homes.

“You have taken an important step to protect the health, safety and welfare of the many people that live here,” Mr. DeCesare told the Town Board.

Residents say work on the three buildings stopped about two years ago, when a lawsuit was filed over ownership of the land, and the structures have been slowly deteriorating.

The developer of the unfinished buildings, The Knolls of Baiting Hollow LLC, bought the property in 2008, and began excavating to install drainage rings on March 1, 2008, on land the adjacent property owner, Baiting Hollow Properties LLC, claimed The Knolls of Baiting Hollow LLC did not own, according to a lawsuit filed by Baiting Hollow Properties.

Baiting Hollow Properties, headed by Barry Beil, owns the adjacent Fox Hill golf course.

The Knolls of Baiting Hollow is run by Eamon Equities, a Holtsville-based building company headed by Jerrold Gorelick, which claims in court papers that an easement and right-of-way agreement allows them to access and improve that land. Mr. Beil’s company, in turn, denies that such an easement exists.

Mr. Gorelick was present at the hearing but declined an invitation to speak. Mr. Davonski said last Wednesday that Mr. Gorelick had stated in a July 7 letter that his long-range plans include removing the deteriorating structure and rebuilding, but to date, no demolition permit application has been sought for that purpose.

The Town Board held the public hearing open for written comments until Sept. 17.

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