Though it is just one of a huge slate of derelict homes the Town of Brookhaven deals with on a monthly basis, one house in Mount Sinai has been causing more issues than others recently.
At the Feb. 27 Town Board meeting, the council members voted to demolish a garage located at 63 Shore Drive in Mount Sinai, though the house would remain untouched.
This set off a press of neighbors angry the Town would not be touching the residential part of the property, which they said has been a problem property for years.
Lynn Capobianco, a Mount Sinai resident and previous president of the school board, said while she appreciates the Town coming in with work crews to keep the property somewhat tame, the issue with the house remains.
“We’ve been saying that for a long time — it’s only in the last year the Town has started to listen,” she said.
In a 2019 report by Hauppauge-based firm Cashin Spinelli and Ferretti LLC, the building was cited as being “in extremely poor condition,” with the inside filled with trash and debris. Additionally, ceilings were collapsing due to water damage, with engineers also suspecting mold. The inspectors cited the property for multiple fire and safety violations. The house was originally boarded up after the report in June 2019.
Town officials said another reconnaissance of the property was done Feb. 24 of this year. Inspectors did not go into the residential portion of the property, said Brendan Sweeney, who works for the Town, often presenting to the board about these zombie homes. He also said the new analysis by the inspector, “did not certify the house was unsafe.”
The garage was reportedly collapsing with a building full of debris and garbage. Town officials said inspectors recommended the garage be torn down. The owner has 30 days to file permits showing he’s making an effort to fix the garage before the building is removed.
Some local residents took umbrage with this, citing the 2019 engineering report and their own personal dealings with the property. Several cited issues such as young people exploring the empty structure and animals inhabiting within.
Kerry Hogan, a neighbor who has worked in and taught construction arts, said on visits to the property the damage was such that the best recourse is to simply tear it down and build something new.
“Once I saw [the] condition, I knew I would not bid on the house when it became available,” she said at the meeting.
Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) directed all inquiries about the house and plans for demolition to the law department.
Town attorney Annette Eaderesto said the Town senior building inspector went to the house Feb. 24 and saw that the garage was in immediate danger of collapse, while the house wasn’t.
“This is not the first time we’ve taken down a shed or garage instead of the main residence first,” she said.
Part of the process, the Town attorney said, takes into account the house is in a transitional historic area. That requires a review from the Historic District Advisory Committee, which meets the second Tuesday of every month. The process is the same whether the building is in the transition zone or the historic district.
Edna Giffen, the recording secretary of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society, said the transition zone is basically a buffer between the Town and the main historic district in Mount Sinai. While the rules affecting property are laxer in the transition zone than the main historic district, she confirmed the Town’s advisory committee still has to look at every permit for property in both.
Still, she said it was a shame to watch it and other houses deteriorate. Two other buildings, one in the main historic and the other in the transition zone, have been taken down by the Town since 2012 and the impact of Superstorm Sandy.
“It’s a sad situation it was allowed to deteriorate so much,” she said. “It’s like watching an old poor soul die a slow death.”
Since the 2008 mortgage crisis and subsequent recession, the Town has been inundated with thousands of these derelict or zombie homes. Brookhaven has taken the unique approach to dealing with the situation by taking care of flagrant properties, mowing the grass and boarding up homes, then putting liens on these properties. If owners cannot be reached or cannot handle reconstituting the property, then the Town will hire contractors to demolish them, putting the cost as additional liens on the property.
However, in this case, Town officials said they have come across hiccups due to the historic nature of the surrounding area. This does not mean the Town would not be able to demolish the full property in the future.
At the Feb. 27 meeting, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Bonner both said they would like to do an additional engineering report on the property.
Neighbors also said the owner had brought in unlicensed contractors to fix the building’s roof in 2018, but after calls from residents the Town had put a stop-work order on that construction.
The property is owned by TAB Suffolk Acquisitions, an elusive real estate company reportedly based at 63 George St. in Roslyn Heights, according to the Town. Local officials, including from Port Jefferson village and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), have been on the hunt for the company owner as it has also purchased a derelict property at 49 Sheep Pasture Road in Port Jefferson. That house has significant historic worth, according to local historians. The assemblyman interjected before the property could be demolished by the village, and the house has remained boarded up ever since.
Sweeney said the owner of 63 Shore Drive had come to the meeting but left without speaking. He did not get the owner’s name.
Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) said TAB Suffolk Acquisitions has bought up a lot of property in Suffolk foreclosures, according to their data from the comptroller’s office. Bonner criticized the company for sitting on such properties and not doing anything with them.
“There’s a lot of money coming out of the city and western Nassau — there’s a lot of property being bought up,” Panico said. “This is one of those companies that buys up a ton of houses.”
Neighbors said they knew the owner only as “Sam.” They said he has been cordial in the past but has largely been absent.
When called, the person on the other end who confirmed he was the owner of the property said they are in the process of getting permits from the Town to fix up the property, “within 30 days.”
He spoke about his prior attempts to fix the roof before the Town put a stop-work order on those repairs. As to residents’ complaints, he said residents have known and stayed silent on the state of the house for longer than recent efforts to demolish it.
“The house has been in this shape for years,” he said.
After he said his name was Sam, he hung up the phone and did not answer further calls for comment.