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Historic Flanders building to be demolished

Southampton Town has approved the demolition of the Brewster House in Flanders, after years of contention. 

Town Board members voted last Tuesday to acquire the land for water quality preservation, allocating $400,000 from the Community Preservation Fund. The demolition will be funded by CPF money that hasn’t already been designated for water quality projects. The town might use the land for planned neighborhood sewage treatment infrastructure or just general groundwater protection, officials said at the meeting, but for now the land will be used as an open public space.

“We recognize that … the Peconic estuary system has problems with nitrogen loading and one day, there might be opportunities to connect houses close to the water to sanitary systems that remove nitrogen,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman told the News-Review.

He said the option could both improve water quality and make it significantly less expensive for neighboring homeowners to change their sanitary systems, noting, “It doesn’t mean it will actually ever happen, but it just preserves our options.”

Town officials at Tuesday’s meeting mentioned vandalism on the property and said the site posed a safety concern. Mr. Schneiderman pointed out that a storm could cause the existing house to collapse or, if kids wandered in, might not be structurally sound enough to prevent injury.

“Years of exposure to elements without being maintained will easily cause any structure to be potentially unsafe,” Timothy Ganetis of Southampton’s Landmarks & Historic Districts Board said over Facebook Messenger.

He said community members “interested in the history of the structure” and those “who lobbied for decades to somehow preserve or save the structure are devastated by the impending loss but none of us had the means to purchase and restore [it].” 

“It is an all too common case of demolition by neglect — one of the major ways in which we lose these buildings that are a major part of our area’s unique cultural heritage,” Mr. Ganetis added. 

The Brewster House started out as a hotel called the Grove House in 1880, according to a 2014 Flanders Hamlet Heritage Area Report. It was converted to a boarding house in the 1920s, after it was acquired by the Brewster family, and functioned as a police headquarters in the 1950s. 

In 1987, the building was badly damaged in a fire that left a hole in the roof and allowed water to seep in. It has been neglected since then, although in 2016 its owners toyed with an $8 million plan to convert the structure into a hotel with “less than 100 rooms,” a restaurant, a pool and an on-site sewage treatment plant. 

That plan was apparently abandoned because of opposition from neighbors. The property was purchased by SSG RE Holdings LLC in 2018 for $285,000. 

“I know some people in the community were hoping somehow this house could be saved,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “It is, I believe, beyond the point of salvation here. It does need to come down.”

The Flanders, Riverside, Northampton Community Association accepts the town’s decision, according to its president, Vince Taldone. 

“It’s a blight that people who live in the immediate area shouldn’t have to look at every day,” he said. “But it still irks me that one of the wealthiest towns in America couldn’t preserve a historic treasure of the Flanders community.” 

Mr. Taldone believes there were elements that could have been saved and rebuilt, or repurposed for public use. But, he said, “we have to allow it, support it, because that immediate vicinity is so upset year after year looking at this.”

Mr. Schneiderman said the town has not discussed placing a historical marker at the site, but “that’s something we certainly could consider.”