I write to respond on behalf of the Village of Baxter Estates to your January 2016 article entitled “Then & Now: The Baxter Homestead.” The Village of Baxter Estates and its elected officials are extremely concerned about the condition of The Baxter House.
As you know, it was the Village which initiated the process to designate The Baxter House, and the lot upon which it sits, as an historic site under the Village’s Historic Preservation Law, in order that it be preserved not only for the benefit of the Village, but for the benefit of all of those on the Port Washington peninsula and elsewhere who appreciate the preservation of such historic structures.
The Village Landmarks Preservation Commission initiated consideration, conducted public hearings and recommended, by resolution adopted in 2004, that the Village Board of Trustees make that designation. By resolution adopted in 2005, the Board of Trustees made that designation.
Baxter Estates is a small village, with approximately 250 homes. Our budget supports a part-time building inspector. Village officials began to notice deteriorating conditions at The Baxter House within the last few years. In 2014, the former building official issued orders to remedy relating to conditions of the structure. The owner took some preliminary steps to remediate, and the structure has been vacant since then, by order of the building official.
Since 2014, the Village has had numerous discussion and meetings with the current owner and her representatives, in which the Village has strived for a productive dialogue to be followed by action that will preserve the home.
The Village recognizes that a landmark designation imposes obligations on a property owner that differ from the obligations and rights that owners of other homes typically bear.
The current owner correctly observes that the designation is not something that she had herself pursued. In fact, she opposed
the designation when that process was underway.
The Village is mindful of that unique burden and how it came to be imposed. While the Village firmly believes that it is an appropriate burden to be borne by those who acquire such treasures as The Baxter House, the owner has expressly advised the Village that she will pursue legal recourse to attempt to establish her contrary position in that regard.
In any event, the dialogue with the owner has led to formal application to the Village for approval of a project that, as proposed, would preserve and expand The Baxter House, while subdividing the lot, to permit construction of a new home on a parcel to be partitioned from the existing parcel. Whether the proposed project, or some variation thereof, is approved will be decided by the appropriate Village Boards following adherence to legal process.
While the Village is encouraged that the application process is underway, we also recognize that the process itself is not a friend to the preservation effort, if it continues too long.
Therefore, many months ago, the Village Board directed its counsel to prepare a proposed local law to amend and strengthen its Historic Preservation Law. The Board has on several occasions adjourned consideration of that amendment at the request of the owner, when her counsel was unable to attend the relevant public hearings.
Now, the Village Board, at its Jan. 7, 2016 meeting, has enacted that amendment, which we believe strengthens the hand of the Village in requiring remedial and maintenance steps be taken by the owner of a landmarked structure as the application process goes forward. The Village intends to act promptly under that new law to require appropriate repairs and maintenance by the property owner.
Actual work by or on behalf of the Village on private property to preserve the Baxter House, whether that involves a tarp covering or more, present issues for the Village and its residents that go far beyond those presented by cutting tall grass.
Nevertheless, the Village has now reached out to the owner to explore the possibility of cooperating with the owner to accomplish at least the basic remedial step of protecting the structure with a tarp.
We must reject your contention that the Village and its elected officials are somehow accomplices in the deterioration of The Baxter House. If the Village did not take the steps it has already taken, The Baxter House would likely be long gone. To the contrary, we have created the opportunity for this treasure to be preserved for the benefit of all.
The Baxter House is privately owned. The Village itself is not in a position to acquire the property and to renovate it. If the Cow Neck Historical Association or some other party is interested in owning The Baxter House, we urge them to contact the current owner.
If no one comes forward, then
the Village, within the framework of a budget paid for primarily by approximately 250 families, will enforce its laws, observe the property rights of the private owner and work with the property owner to attempt to achieve plans that will preserve The Baxter House.
—Nora Haagenson, mayor of
The Village of Baxter Estates