January 19, 2011
Shells To Pay: Another Legacy Of Bill's
The Selah Lester house is just a shell. There's no money to complete the interior.
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The Peach Farm house is just a shell. There's no money to complete the interior.
The Baker House is just a shell. So is its ancillary barn. There's no money to complete the interior.
The Duck Creek Farm House is a little more than a shell. But it doesn't have utilities and there's no money for hook ups.
And the old East Hampton Town Hall building? That's only partially occupied. There's no money to complete the work needed to make it useful.
Last month The Independent articulated an array of issues related to the historic town hall, a project inherited from disgraced former supervisor Bill McGintee, who left behind the half completed structure and no money to finish it.
That wasn't the only one.
McGintee also acquired the four other historic buildings, some with accessory barns and sheds, listed above. Two, the Baker House and Peach Farm, were donated to the town, the other two were purchased with Community Preservation Fund dollars.
Over five million of them, over five years ago.
Tucked back off Three Mile Harbor Road in Springs, Duck Creek Farm was once owned by designer Helmut Lang. The town voted to buy the property, which included the 1795 Edwards House for $2.5 million in 2004. It's not visible from the road.
The Selah Lester House, located on the corner of North Main and Cedar street was all too visible to critics who watched as weeks stretched into months while exterior shingling progressed at glacial speed. The property, which includes a second, unfinished structure, cost $2.5 million and was purchased in 2005. It's estimated it will cost in the neighborhood of $110,000 to complete the interior.
The Peach House was part of a donation of a handful of historic structures that comprise the town hall complex. It sits apart from the main hall, vacant and unusable. Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said it will take a staggering $800,000 to restore. The Baker House was also a donation, but the town spent close to $1 million for the property it occupies immediately adjacent to town hall on Pantigo Road. "There's nothing inside for heating or ventilation, there's no parking, nothing to make it handicap accessible, no office walls, no walls period," the supervisor said.
Lamenting the legacy of unfinished buildings, Wilkinson said he doubts he'll ever have the money, while he is supervisor to complete the houses. "I have assets right now I have no choice but to let atrophy. There's no money to maintain them, no money to restore them."
Further, he criticized his predecessor for failing to detail any plans for the structures, much less how to pay for their completion. "This is indicative of a town that was reactive rather than living within a discipline of long term planning," Wilkinson said.
And that's not all.
When McGintee heralded his scheme to cobble donated historic buildings together to create a new town hall, he offered a vague description of the future of the original town hall. East Hampton officials could sell off-site office suites that house a number of departments -- planning, building, assessors, tax receivers and natural resources -- and move them over to the old building when he and the town board decamped to newly refurbished digs.
Trouble is, Wilkinson pointed out, there was no plan in any town board files describing how the grand move might work. Last year the supervisor found an engineer who offered to assess what it might take to make repairs to the aging building in advance of such a departmental switcheroo. He estimated it would cost $1 million.
"And that doesn't even get in to the reconfiguration to fit the departments," Budget Officer Len Bernard informed. That's just to pay to fix the roof and crumbling walls.
As far as Bernard and Wilkinson can tell, the prior administration never consulted with any architect or engineer or any department heads on the scheme. "There was no plan," Bernard declared. "If it was in somebody's mind, we don't know whose it is. Basically we have all these buildings, but they're not usable. They're just sitting there. This kind of stuff should have been thought about."
Town officials are thinking hard now and trying to come up with outside-the-box methods to complete the projects. One strategy may involve finding donors to underwrite the cost of a project in exchange for having the building named after them.
In the meantime, as the structures sit fallow, town taxpayers continue to cover the cost of highway and parks department crews assigned to mow the lawns, rake the leaves and clear snow from the otherwise uninhabited properties.
And there may be still more house headaches in the town board's feature. There's a residence on Keyes Island in Springs that could be due for maintenance and Boys Harbor in the Northwest section of East Hampton hosts a variety of outbuildings that must be razed, plus a community building in need of renovations to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. There's also the Amagansett Life Saving Station, the future of which has been the subject of heated debate. It needs an estimated $500,000 worth of work before it can be used. . . and once the work is completed, exactly how will it be used?
The same question applies to all the empty, albeit historic, houses East Hampton Town owns. The answer, so far, eludes.