This home could become a visitors’ center — or get demolished

12/15/2015 12:43 PM |

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A vacant home near 24 acres of town-owned open space in Greenport could soon be home to a nature center for education programs and workshops. Or it could be demolished.

The fate of the house was the main discussion at Tuesday morning’s Town Board meeting, where a team of town planners, engineers and land preservationists pitched turning the former Sill family home on Sill’s preserve near Pipes Cove into a visitors’ center, complete with space for exhibits, programs, trails, and meetings.

“It’s just a great spot,” said DPW director Jeff Standish. “If you were ever going to do a nature center that’d be the spot.”

The home sits on a plot of land purchased by the town in February 2011 with proceeds from its Community Preservation Fund. It was one of three plots of abutting property that were all purchased for a total of $538,000. CPF dollars are collected through a tax at real estate closings and are used to save open space and farmland from overdevelopment.

The surrounding property was once a farm, but now covers an area “rich with diverse environments” like mature woods, an open meadow, a salt marsh and the only freshwater pond on town-preserved land.

Longtime Greenporter Julia Sill had lived in the house but died Nov. 14 at age 105. The resolution clearing the town’s purchase of the land stated the home would be demolished after Ms. Sill died. But according to Mr. Standish and a team including Land Preservation Coordinator Melissa Spiro, former DPW director Jim McMahon, former land preservation chair John Sepenoski, and engineers Jamie Richter and Michael Collins, the home could still be useful.

For the past month, Mr. Sepenoski said, the group has been considering whether to save the home and use it as a visitors center for tourists and local residents.

According to a proposal presented to the board, the visitors center could include guided nature walks of the surrounding area, youth and adult naturalist programs, an outdoor classroom for field trips, workshops for birdwatching or scavenger hunts, a family night, movie nights and other events.

But until that could happen, the home would need to be refurbished to have handicapped restrooms, upgrades to the septic system and other amenities.

“It wouldn’t be that hard to do, but it would take some time and effort,” Mr. Richter said. The renovations could cost upwards of $100,000, according to the team’s estimates. Demolishing the house would cost about $30,000.

“It’s much more economical to start over, but then again there is some history here,” Mr. Richter said.

Town board members decided to revisit the issue in the spring after the team can flesh out ideas for the space while Mr. Richter drafts a complete floor plan of the house. The home will remain heated to prevent damage at a cost of $1,000 for the winter while the town holds off on demolitions.

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