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Repair or demolish town-owned house — Either way, tenants must go

The town-owned house at 40 North Ferry Road must be demolished. That’s not only the view of current Town Board members in response to criticisms of the condition of the premises.

Former officials and reports undertaken by previous administrations reveal that although the house may have previously looked salvageable from the outside, its condition has posed health problems and structural threats to tenants for years.

Estimating that any attempt to save the house could cost close to $1 million, Town Engineer Joe Finora said the discussion shouldn’t be focused on whether the house “could be saved, but rather should it be saved.”

Reports by an independent engineer hired during the administration of supervisor Jim Dougherty and a subsequent report by former town engineer John Cronin and former senior building inspector Chris Tehan predate the need for action on the house called for now by the current administration, Mr. Finora said.

“At that time there were major deficiencies, both structurally and functionally,” the town engineer said. “No funding was allocated for repairs and no long-term plan for the property was developed,” Mr. Finora said, echoing what Mr. Cronin said.

The former engineer said there was no appetite for spending money on the building, noting he recalled the inspection he and Mr. Tehan made at least six years ago

“In my opinion, rehabilitation is not the wise choice when new, more efficient and perhaps more units could be had for the same budget — ultimately with a greater benefit to the community,” Mr. Finora said. 

He further pointed out that if a rehabilitation plan was to be developed, current tenants would still have to be displaced for months at a minimum while repair work would be underway.

“The condition of the building currently is a significant liability to the town,” Mr. Finora said.

When the town purchased the house in 2018, it was with the intention of eventually converting the space for office use.

Tenants were told that was the case, but with no action taking place, most settled in for the long term. Mr. Cronin recalls there was one tenant who actually sublet rooms on an Airbnb site adding a level of legal exposure for the town that was by then functioning as the building’s landlord.

On the advice of Town Attorney Stephen Kiely, current residents were being given 90 days to vacate their apartments.

That concerned Community Housing Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Hanley. At the March 9 meeting of that group she told her colleagues that would mean the tenants would lose their housing in June just as the summer season was heating up.

Housing is already tight on the Island, and the influx of vacationers occupying rental units would mean there’s little chance for the tenants to find housing on the Island.

Supervisor Gerry Siller explained the delay in moving forward with a plan to renovate or replace the house was because of the COVID pandemic. He didn’t want to displace tenants at the height of the crisis when so many people were coming to the Island to escape crowded urban cities.

Mr. Siller seemed open to extending the date tenants would have to relocate to September. Ms. Hanley said any need to displace people should be a subject for the Housing Board.

Councilman Jim Colligan has called on his colleagues to assist the tenants to find other accommodations.

But not all agree. Councilwoman BJ Ianfolla said she felt it wasn’t up to the Town Board to take on that responsibility.