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Preservationists Not Welcome at Yorktown Farmhouse

YORKTOWN, N.Y.-- Plans to examine the Melbourne Farmhouse by preservationists were spoiled Thursday when Yorktown police officers and school officials didn’t allow the preservationists to set foot on the public school’s property.

Alan Strauber, President of the Calvert Vaux Preservation Alliance, invited Erin Tobin, Regional Director of Technical and Grant Programs for the Preservation League of New York State, to take a look at the farmhouse, which is slated to be demolished.

The farmhouse, which sits at the front of the school property facing Route 202, is the issue of contention between residents and the school district. The school district awarded a bid to demolish the farmhouse Monday night, as per the bond resolution that was voted on and passed on in 2006, which allocated funds for the demolition.

Tobin was dually surprised when she arrived at the site Thursday, because of the police presence and the status of the house.

“I’ve never been told to back off of public property,” Tobin said, standing in front of the bus stop, a location permitted by police officers.

Although Tobin couldn’t examine the building as closely as she had hoped, she said she was still curious as to the decision to demolish the building.

“I feel confident in saying I’m perplexed as to why the school is demolishing this,” she said. “This house is lovelier than I expected.”

Tobin said the goal of her organization is to help find collaborative ways for community members to work with owners of buildings to find a way to preserve the building. Tobin said she had been contacted and asked to come to the site, which is why she and Strauber planned to tour the facility.

“We don’t try to save a project if no one wants it to be saved,” she said.

The school district has said they examined all options before opting to demolish the farmhouse have cited several reasons for the demolition, first of which is that the plans to demolish it were approved by the voters. The school board also entertained the idea of allowing others to purchase the house and use it, but problems arose because the amount of asbestos and work that needed to be done in the house was unlike any of their initial investigations, and was so costly.

Tobin said there are grants that can be used to fund rehabilitating the house, especially since the house has been deemed eligible for listing on the State and National Registers of Hisotric Places, which means it would be eligible for grant money should someone decided to renovate it.

In the resource evaluation completed February 3, 2006, the house was described as “a relatively intact example of mid-19th century vernacular domestic architecture.”

Strauber said he had contacted the school twice to alert them of his plans to visit the house with Tobin, but that his communications were never returned.

“This reception is highly inappropriate but not surprising giving the actions of the school district to demolish this piece of history,” Strauber said.

Strauber said the vote that approved the bond to demolish the farmhouse in 2006 was something voters didn’t read nor understand.

“The school district was deceitfully and slipped this past the voters of Yorktown,” he said. “This illustrates the disrespect they have for the taxpayers.”

Strauber disagreed that the district had made legitimate efforts to find a different option rather than demolishing the house, and that the district had intentionally not kept up maintenance of the house, which led to it’s deterioration.

“Any attempts have been disingenuous,” Strauber said. “The public shouldn’t have to pay for this—and it has only deteriorated through the willful neglect of the district.”

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