Riverhead Town is considering demolition on an Aquebogue house that was badly damaged in a fire more than three years ago.
Chief Riverhead Town Fire Marshal Craig Zitek has recommended the house on Trout Brook Lane be demolished, saying it has fallen into a state of disrepair since the fire and the subsequent death of the homeowners.
“The building is too far gone,” Mr. Zitek testified at a public hearing on the property Thursday. “There’s too much damage from the fire as well as the exposure to the elements over the years.”
Homeowner Brian Schaller and his daughter Shannon were able to escape the fire on March 4, 2013. They later told the News-Review they lost everything in the blaze.
Mr. Schaller, who town officials said owned the house with his mother, was a former LIPA worker who had been unemployed since suffering a back injury. He said he lost cash savings in the fire and had just $26 in his bank account at the time.
He died three months later at the age of 44.
Town officials said they had difficulty tracking down his mother, Elizabeth Schaller, but have since learned she died about a year ago.
Neighbors have repeatedly complained to the town citing issues with wildlife living in the house, as well as teens hanging out inside. The Schallers’ cat might also still live on the property, Mr. Zitek said.
At the request of police, the fire marshal was called back to inspect the property in February 2016 and found the building to be “unsound.” In March, it was officially declared an unsafe structure.
A large hole in the roof, sagging porch and exposure to the elements were among the reasons the building was declared unsafe, Mr. Zitek said.
“[We also] found empty bottles, cans, food and graffiti inside the building,” he added.
Two neighbors spoke Thursday at the hearing, where no representatives of the Schaller family were in attendance.
“There is an abundant amount of raccoons [coming out of the house] at night,” said next-door neighbor Keira Heck. “We have two young children.”
Assistant town attorney Dan McCormick said the property is currently in foreclosure. Eileen Ryan, an attorney for the loan servicer Ditech, said the bank supports demolition of the structure but has had difficulty obtaining approval from note holder, Fannie Mae.
Town Supervisor Sean Walter said the town will take action if the other entities do not and the cost would be added to the tax bill.
“We might actually light that fire under Fannie’s rear end, no pun intended,” Mr. Walter said.
The town closed the public hearing Thursday, but allowed for written comment until Monday, Nov. 28. A Town Board vote to demolish the structure is expected to take place Tuesday, Dec. 6, Mr. Walter said.
That was welcome news to other residents of Trout Brook Lane.
“It really is an eyesore,” neighbor Joan Bernat said.
Photo caption: The house on Trout Brook Lane Thursday morning. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)