With the campaign to save the Mackey-Baker house from the wrecker's ball building steam, a new proposal to move the former funeral home closer to Main Street and renovate it for commercial office space has come forth.
An architect, representing Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, has proposed moving the entire structure approximately 50 ft. closer to Main St. and renovating it for office space for the financial services company, it was revealed at a May meeting of the Baxter Estates Board of Trustees. In the plan, which had not yet been officially presented to the library, the company would assume the cost of the move and renovation, according to the Morgan Stanley representative.
"If this happens, it's on our tab," said Norman Nemec, a Manhasset architect affiliated with the Morgan Stanley Architecture Dept. Nemec presented the Board with plans bearing the Morgan Stanley logo depicting the interior and exterior of the renovated house, and the proposed parking layout.
The building, erected in 1878, is owned by the Port Washington Public Library (PWPL) and, along with the Locust Ave. house behind it, has been slated for demolition to make room for more parking. In recent weeks, a movement to designate the Mackey-Baker house as a landmark and spare it from destruction-- has gathered momentum.
In recent months, the library has held numerous public hearings and fact-finding sessions exploring various ways to expand parking. PWPL officials said they would proceed with their plan to raze the house, which is currently unusable by anyone because of its dilapidated and unsafe condition. Library representatives say that the house is also too small for their needs.
In a related development, the New York State Education Dept. has issued a stay on the permit it gave the library to demolish the Mackey-Baker (see article in May 7, PortNews).
The Morgan Stanley scheme like other parking plans presented in recent months, calls for razing the Locust Avenue house, and moving the former Baker Funeral Home to make room for a 33-space parking lot. In their plan, the company would rent the space from the PWPL for 10 years, "creating an income through rent to offset the operating costs of the library," according to the proposal. In addition, because the property would no longer be for the library's nonprofit use, it would return to the Village tax roles, "creating a taxable revenue against a new business," the proposal said.
"If the village board supported this proposal, that would say a lot," said Nemec.
Though the land is within Baxter Estates, the village has no say over the property--short of approving new curb cuts onto village roads--because the PWPL is organized as a schooldistrict library with authority belonging to the NYS Education Dept. The Village took no action, but the board members were intrigued by the Morgan Stanley plan.
"As a library district, we have no say over them," said Deputy Mayor William Haagenson, who presided at the meeting. "I don't think we can do anything tonight. All these things have to be put on hold until the library makes some kind of commitment."
"What's enticing to us," said Trustee Renee Greenspan, "is you're saving a building that's been here for a long time."
"One of the intriguing things," said Trustee John Weaver, "is being able to put part of the property back on the tax rolls. But the library is the key player here. It's their property."
Village Attorney John Farrell found fault with Nemec's presentation because it did not allow for customer off-street parking for the proposed Morgan Stanley office, required by Village law. "The big problem is the on-site parking," he said. "There's no parking allowed for the business. You're going to have to provide seven or eight spaces for the business. Now you're talking about reducing the new parking lot to 25 or 26 spaces."
In a private interview, with the Port News immediately following the meeting, library officials said that though the demolition permit they received from the Education Dept. has been temporarily stayed, they stand by their plan to raze both buildings on the property, citing the public's support. "We continue to receive the support of the community and are anxious to carryout the parking plan," said Fred Kramer, president of the PWPL Board of Trustees. "The public has been overwhelmingly supportive." The officials would not comment on the Morgan Stanley plan until it was formally presented to them. "We can't comment on 'what-ifs until we see it," said PWPL Director Nancy Curtin. When asked about the push to landmark Mackey-Baker, Kramer said it didn't represent the majority viewpoint in the community. "Three or four people have come forward and written letters to the newspaper and spoken at our meetings and are now advocating using the property for non-library purposes." "Our sense of the public, is they want more parking," said Curtin. "This is not a referendum," Kramer said. "We're elected officials and we have tough decisions to make. Fortunately in this case, we have the support of the vast majority of the people." A 1996 library-sponsored, community survey of both library patrons and non-users found the number one request was for "more parking."