The Village of Baxter Estates is at a crossroads. Its landmarked namesake is in shambles and the mayor and the trustee say they are powerless to affect an outcome other than demolition. Indeed, they seem to welcome demolition after many years of failing to protect the house.
There are two stories here, one is a tale of good intentions and a hope that an absentee owner will do the right thing despite a history of doing exactly the opposite. The other story, in my view just as tragic, is a municipal government that asks that its laws are being complied with rather than demand it. A government should not have to “persuade, cajole or convince” anyone to comply with the law. As Teddy Roosevelt put it, “no man is above the law and no man is below it: nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it.”
Some have expressed sympathy for the owner because she bought the house not knowing it could be landmarked. There is much disinformation regarding the landmarking process. Many do not appear to recognize that the house was landmarked in 2005 after the owner was afforded extensive due process and that in landmarking the property, the village noted that the owner was aware that the house was over 300 years prior to the sale and that there was a historic preservation law on the books. The village landmarked the Baxter House in 2005 and the owner never sought to challenge that determination in court. Rather, from records obtained from the village, it appears that the owner not only failed to maintain the home in violation of village laws, but also illegally turned the house—a single family—into a multiple occupancy. She was first cited for this in 2012 and then later in 2014. Despite numerous violations of village law, the village has no record of the owner paying a penny in fines.
Each member of the village board took an oath to enforce the laws of the village, but with regard to the Baxter House, that enforcement has been entirely wanting. Please join us on Wednesday, March 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the Port Washington Public Library for the Baxter Estates Landmark Commission meeting. Come to speak for the house and speak for the rule of law.
—Michael A. Scotto