Developers submit new plan for 4-year-old charred house in Greenport, again

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO The remains of this burned-out house on Second Street in Greenport will be knocked down to make room for new construction.

The village’s Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board held a joint public hearing April 26 to discuss a pending plan to replace the Second St. house damaged in a 2008 fire and, if possible, to expedite the process.

But about a week before the meeting, the North Fork Housing Alliance, which owns the property, submitted an alternative, which includes demolishing the foundation and repositioning the house, placing it farther back from the street in order to create a parking area in the front yard.

Although ZBA president Doug Moore said he felt “discomfort” holding the hearing when the public hadn’t had time to review the new plans, the Village Board went ahead with the meeting. Both boards and local residents expressed displeasure with the demolition delay and with the NFHA’s new 30-foot setback request.

Ed Reale, an NFHA board member, said during the meeting that plans to use the existing foundation, located 14 feet from the street, were scrapped after engineers decided it wasn’t reusable and blamed demolition delays on the state.

“This has been a nightmare for everyone, including the neighbors,” Mr. Reale said. “It’s a funding issue … The state put the brakes on the funding once the plan changed.”

The charred shell of a house destroyed by fire has stood at 620 Second St. in Greenport Village for nearly four years.

Although the property owner conceded this year that the structure isn’t salvageable and agreed to knock it down, demolition plans have yet to be finalized.

The housing alliance, a Greenport-based group that finds affordable housing for low-income residents, has owned the house since 1993. It also owns the property next door at 618 Second St. The home on that site also burned in the August 2008 blaze and was subsequently demolished.

Although severely damaged, the house at 620 Second St. was initially spared because the NFHA believed the three-family structure could be saved.

To renovate a house in the village, a developer needs to obtain only a building permit, whereas new construction requires approvals from both the planning and zoning boards.

Renovation work began in February — nearly three and a half years after the fire — once the village cited NFHA and ordered it to stabilize the structure.

Shortly after construction began, work ceased because engineers found that the structure couldn’t be saved.
The NFHA then agreed to knock down the house and submitted plans to build a new two-family home on the original foundation.

But ZBA and Planning Board members questioned Mr. Reale as to why NFHA can’t demolish the structure now during the construction approval process.

“We’ll do our best to get a little money to get rid of it,” Mr. Reale said.

As for the front-yard parking area, Garrett Strang, a Southold-based architect who was hired to design the house, agreed it wasn’t ideal, but said a side-yard driveway would put an economic hardship on the NFHA.

“If we do that, then the state is going to mandate curbing, sidewalks, lighting, paving, drainage, trees, shrubs and the list goes on and on,” Mr. Strang said.

In addition, Mr. Strang said the state was favorable to a front-yard parking area because it would maintain open space in the rear of the property that could serve as a play area for children.

But both village boards expressed concern because they believed the plan goes against the character of the historic neighborhood. Many homes have side-yard driveways and some of those driveways lead to a back-yard parking area.

During the public hearing, Mr. Moore read a letter from Frank Uellendahl, chairman of the village’s Historic Preservation Commission, who said the 30-foot setback should be denied because the approval would set a dangerous precedent.

Interim Planning Board president Amy Martin said she opposes the front-yard parking plan not only because it’s out of character with the community, but because she’s against paved front yards.

Many residents who attended the meeting also criticized NFHA’s plan for a front-yard parking area, describing it as “offensive” and “awful.”

Steve Helinski, who lives at 625 Second St., said during the meeting he believed the village should get tougher with the NFHA.

“The NFHA isn’t a struggling family with children trying to build their first new home,” Mr. Helinski said. “They are getting taxpayer money from the state, which we all contribute to … For [NFHA] to save a little money now, the rest of the neighborhood is going to pay for it for the rest of our lives.”

The village previously approved NFHA’s plan to construct a new house at 618 Second St., which includes a side-yard driveway.

Some ZBA and Planning Board members questioned if a shared driveway leading to the rear of both properties could be constructed. Mr. Reale said it wasn’t possible because the state looks at the properties separately, even though the NFHA owns both.

While the housing alliance and the village iron out plans for the parking area, Bunny Ferrer, who lives 631 Second St., requested that burned-out structure be demolished as soon as possible in order to improve the area’s quality of life and restore property values. The owners of 629 and 636 Second St. have taken their homes off the market due to the property devaluation caused by the charred house, she said.

“Houses are selling again in Greenport, except on our block,” Ms. Ferrer said.

Carrie Shedrick, who lives at 611 Second St., also pleaded with the village boards to have the house razed, saying she and her neighbors can still smell the charred wood when it rains, depending on which way the wind is blowing.

“I hope to live to see that burned-out building taken down,” Ms. Shedrick said.

The ZBA kept its portion of the public hearing open and adjourned it to its next meeting on May 16. The Planning Board also decided to keep its portion of the public hearing open, adjourning it to its next meeting scheduled for May 3.

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