While the current owners of the storied massive dilapidated blue former boarding house on Flanders Road are making the rounds of community meetings drumming up support for conversion of the building into a boutique hotel, Southampton Town Board members aren’t sure if the building can be saved.
After a public hearing Tuesday, May 10 before the board on whether to demolish the building, owners Jamie and Keri Minnick were given two weeks to prove to the board that the building isn’t in immediate danger of hurting someone.
Southampton Town Engineer Christine Fetten is expected to inspect the building this Thursday, May 12, and provide a report on its current condition to the board by their May 24 meeting at 6 p.m., when the public hearing will continue.
Ms. Fetten has already inspected the building this year —Assistant Town Attorney Richard Harris said at Tuesday’s hearing that she visited the property on March 28, where she observed “degradation and deflection of the foundation, failure or partial failure of the main support beams and substantial rot and decay.”
“It was her opinion, based on the inspection, that the frame is in need of immediate stabilization and repair under the supervision of an engineer certified by the state,” he added. “If not, it should be demolished.”
But since March 28, the Minnicks have hired an architect and state they have taken measures to shore up the structures on the property and “believe in their current state they should remain standing for eight years.”
The building, at three-and-a-half stories and 2,040 square feet, was once at the center of Flanders life when the sleepy hamlet served as a getaway for sportsmen who fished and hunted with local guides, and slept at either the Brewster House or other nearby boarding houses. It also includes a two-story, 650-square-foot addition, which likely predates the main building.
Parts of the rear portion of the building date back to the 18th Century and much of the building was constructed in the mid-19th Century, according to Southampton Town Landmarks & Historic Districts Board Chair Sally Spanburgh, long before the R-40 and R-10 zoning now on the four acre property would have precluded its height or its use as a hotel.
The Minnicks’ attorney, Timothy McCulley of Burke & Sullivan PLLC, said that, due to the historic nature of the property, his clients could petition the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals to be allowed to continue its historic uses, even though the building has not been in use for decades.
He pleaded with the board for more time for his clients to discuss their options with town planners and work with their investors and architects on a plan.
But town board members, who have seen little happen since the Minnicks bought the property in 2014, weren’t sure.
“It sure looks to me that it is beyond rehabilitation,” said Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. “The cost to bring it back would far exceed the cost to build something that looks just like it in its place. I just don’t want to see this go on and on. I understand that if it gets torn down, you will never be able to build it back, but that doesn’t outweigh the public safety concerns.”
Councilwoman Christine Scalera agreed.
“They came to the town a year-and-a-half ago trying to figure out what to do with the property,” she said. “We’re going to hear that people are not going to want to look at a blighted property for the next two years.”
Board members added that they want a professional engineer to look at the building, not just an architect.
Mr. Minnick said that the delay so far has been due to the time he’s spent courting five different potential groups of investors.
“We have partners in this project,” he told the town board. “Some of their ideas were not good in the community’s opinion. People did not want to see a nursing home in that location.”
He added that he has received 150 signatures on a petition to save the building.
But many community members in attendance also seemed skeptical.
Susan Tocci said she attends nearly every community meeting in Flanders, and she’d never heard anything about a nursing home there.
“The owners seem to have really good intentions and want to do something, but the only time anything has been done with that property is in the last month. I never heard about the nursing home,” she said, adding that the idea for a hotel there was greeted warmly by the community.
“I do have some concerns about this house, but I also would like to see it preserved,” she said. “There’s what my heart’s saying and what my gut feeling is — I’m not sure it could be preserved…. Safety is our main concern. If it goes up in flames, our volunteer firemen are in trouble. I’m not for giving them three months or six months. We’ve been looking at this a long time.”
Chris Cariello, whose house is on a flag lot behind the Brewster House and shares a driveway with it, says he believes any recent work done to shore up the buildings is shoddy at best.
“In the last two years, the safety of the building is definitely an issue. The building has collapsed, and the only reason they knew is we contacted them and told them,” he said. “The claim they shored it up is absolutely false. They’re just showing an interest in doing something now because they’re going to lose it.”
Mr. Cariello added that “curious kids are walking on the property all the time,” and they don’t heed warnings to stay away from the building.
Lauren Cariello, his wife, said the only kids she’s seen on the property have been having intercourse in cars, and she’s seen vagrants hanging out in the tall grass surrounding the building as well.
As a restaurant owner, she said she often comes home from work in the early hours of the morning and “it’s extremely concerning every evening.”
Flanders, Riverside & Northampton Community Association President Ron Fisher said that some kids from his neighborhood went into the building two weeks ago and later sent him more than 100 pictures of the dangers inside.
“Kids are going into it,” he said. “It’s not sound. It’s not safe.”
“Personally, I don’t understand why people want to save it,” said Mr. Schneiderman. “I’m not a historian and I’m not an engineer but I don’t get it. It looks like a lot of other things.”
“You’re talking about a community that idolizes a duck,” said Mr. Fisher.
“I get that,” said Mr. Schneiderman.
“We don’t have a lot that makes us special,” said Mr. Fisher. “A lot of interesting people stayed there.”
Sally Spanburgh, of the town’s Landmarks & Historic Districts Board, was reluctant to speak about the project because her board has not yet given its recommendation about the historic nature of the building.
She did say that “in its current state it would not be eligible” for landmark status.
“To evaluate something on a public safety level is one thing, but to evaluate its salvageability — those are two totally different endeavors,” she said.
Board members urged the Minnicks to get a professional engineer’s report on the property, to fence it off and to fully cooperate with Ms. Fetten’s inspection before they return May 24.