Greenport Village says they’ll demolish a fire victim’s house

This burned-out building on Kaplan Avenue will be demolished this week. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)
This burned-out building on Kaplan Avenue will be demolished this week. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

The Greenport Village Board decided it just couldn’t wait anymore: the fire-damaged house on Kaplan Avenue has to come down.

The board voted Thursday night to hire a contractor to demolish the home at 415 Kaplan Avenue and clean the husk of a property, which was nearly destroyed by a fire in February

Village employees have said the property — which has shingles made of as much as 19 percent absestos, according to recent tests — poses a safety threat. Now, the contractor will have the house demolished by the end of next week.

“With respect to this property, there are issues that you have to take care of,” said village attorney Joseph Prokop. “This is not a situation in which you can delay.”

But the village has spent the last few months doing just that after the owner of the building, Peggy Richards, accused the board of targeting her with selective enforcement of the asbestos code. She also filed an appeal to put off the demolition, saying she had funds in place to do it herself.

“I’m the only one they brought it up on,” Ms. Richards said. “It’s a real [part of the code] but it should be taken care of properly.”

Mr. Prokop said the bank has stopped working with the village, requiring the board to pay for the demolition. It will cost $46,300 to tear the building down, of which roughly $17,500 will be paid for by Ms. Richards.

The village will have to pay for the rest, and will put a tax lien on her property to recoup the money.

“I thought this was the best way to go because we’ll get the building down,” Mr. Hubbard said. “She’s already told us she doesn’t have the money to pay for it, so somehow we have to do it.”

Ms. Richards has said the bank had given her donations to help cover the costs. She said she had enough money to pay for contractors and was raising more when the village decided to pay for the demolition itself.

“It was like a punch in the stomach,” Ms. Richards said of the village’s decision to pursue the asbestos issue one day before she was ready to take the house down.

Ms. Richards — who’s now living in a rental with her partner — said she hopes to sell the land since rebuilding is “out of the question.” But she’s worried that if she can’t pay off the lien in time, the property will be sold to cover it.

“Somebody could buy the [lien] and take my land away from me if I can’t pay it off soon enough,” she said, claiming “personal grudges” in Village Hall led to the situation. “I still can’t help feeling a little targeted.”

The village did have the option to pursue a court order to knock the building down, which would have protected it from losing out if the funds couldn’t be paid.

Mr. Prokop said the board’s decision to knock the building down and then charge Ms. Richards after the fact exposes them to that risk.

He said there’s about a 10 percent chance the village won’t get its money back, compared to nearly no risk at all if they got a court order. Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said she wanted the house knocked down but was concerned the tax lien wouldn’t be repaid.

“That’s a big nut to put on the tax bill,” she said.

But again, the village attorney advised that the liability of a damaged building was too great to leave as is.

“In this one, you don’t have a choice,” he said.

The board will authorize the contract with the demolition team at next week’s meeting.

The Village Board was also informed that a court order to complete work on the former Meson Ole building went through. Mr. Prokop said the order, approved in supreme court Thursday, requires the property owners to reimburse the village for work on the building.

The former restaurant has numerous fire code concerns that could threaten nearby buildings, he said.

Village administrator Paul Pallas said he would look into prices to pay for the repair work. A tax lien will be placed on that property, too. If it isn’t paid off, there’s a chance the village could seize the property, Mr. Prokop said.

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