Nancy Kirk has lived on Sumter Avenue in East Williston since 1956. She has seen her fair share of ups and downs, but nothing compares to the eyesore that sits across the way, filled with unkempt shrubbery, loose roofing and vermin of all kinds. The eighth house on Sumter Avenue has been the bane of the street’s residents.
Neighbors say the property’s owner, John Muzio, has been an absentee homeowner, letting the house decay to a point that quality-of-life issues have been hammered at village and planning board meetings. Broken windows, overgrown weeds, racoons, rats and mice are a few of the slew of complaints that have dominated the block’s psyche for the past few years.
At the final planning board hearing on 8 Sumter Avenue last month, residents were out in full force, pleading with the board to deny BNL, a developer that would buy the property from Muzio if subdivision approval is granted, and build two houses on the land.
Lenore Carella of Sumter Avenue is frustrated “beyond belief” that Muzio may benefit from a developer coming in to turn a profit. “I don’t think that man should be rewarded for being such a horrible neighbor,” she said. “It’s not fair. He’s been a blight. He hasn’t cared about anything on his property.”
While all residents would like to see the property improved, many view the developer’s plan as overkill, shortchanging the community’s character. “No one disputes that this property is in total disrepair; the dispute is building two houses,” Kirk says. “If you build two more houses, you’ll have more cars on the block. There’s enough traffic coming up the block from Sagamore Avenue.”
Even if the plan is approved, BNL will still need a variance from the zoning board on frontage requirements. The developer will also have to pay off some of the 16 outstanding liens, estimated at $200,000, on the property.
Muzio could not be reached for comment, but he would get a substantial payment–and that also rankles his neighbors.
“I’m sure if you put this property up as one house, it will sell,” Kirk says. “Two houses would create too much clutter on the street. The lot is perfect for one house. Do you want to reward Muzio for harassing us for all these years?”
East Williston Planning Board Chairman John Lekstutis indicated the board planned to vote on the subdivision plan on July 18, but the board decided to hold off on the vote to review transcripts of previous hearings and BNL’s application. Lekstutis expects a vote some time at the end of August. If denied, the control of what happens to the property reverts back to the Village of East Williston.
“I was ready to vote and get it over with but I think that it’s important that every board member be able to participate,” he said after the meeting, noting board member Roger Cocci was not present. “I’m hoping to get everything done by the end of August.”
According to BNL developer Bruno Callelo, the new homes would range between 2,200 and 2,400 sq. ft., with an estimated price tag of $950,000 each.
BNL would divide the existing property into two lots of 55 x 100 ft. BNL legal counsel rep Kevin Walsh says most of the lots on the block are already smaller than that.
“The reality of it is that this block has a lot of non-conforming lot sizes,” he said. “A number of them very close to the site are less than the property the applicant wants to build on.”
Some residents are pleased at the prospect of an improved site, even if it might be a little crowded. Walsh read a letter from Tom and Joan Broderick, who live next to Muzio’s property, indicating they were in support of building two homes in place of the rickety, blighted structure.
“We are directly affected by the deplorable conditions of 8 Sumter Avenue,” the letter said. “Sixteen months later, nothing has been done. Vandals still creep up onto our property. There are several properties on Sumter Avenue that do not have 60 by 100 plots. We have a 50 by 100. We are both 76 years old and in the future would like to sell our homes. We cannot do so under the present condition.”
The board received five letters of support for the subdivision of the land, but resident Richard Tanner is against it. He sent a letter to the board, which Lekstutis read into the record.
“As a neighbor to this property and a longtime resident of East Williston, I can not object strongly enough to this absurd proposal,” Tanner’s letter said. “This property is suited for one home, not two.”
Joe Masters lives across the street from what he calls a “horror show” and spoke to Tanner, who intends to sell his Sumter Avenue house. Masters says Olin Brown, another resident opposed to the subdivision, has not lived in his house for 15 years.
“He is not a resident of the street living there on a daily basis, but he certainly does have the right to object to this plan,” said Masters, indicating that he understands that a single home might not generate enough profit for the builders. “My feeling is that I’d love to see one house go there, but I agree with the builders that to put one house would not work. Two houses would work.”
The condition of the existing house caused the the village to take legal action against Muzio last year. The Nassau County Supreme Court granted summary judgement, according to court officials, to either demolish or refurbish the home, at a cost to Muzio. The village board has awarded a contract for demolition if the deal isn’t finalized.
John Allessandri moved to East Williston from Brooklyn 20 years ago to escape the concrete jungle to have his own lawn and backyard. What he didn’t expect, he said, was to fight off rats and racoons.
“I’ve had numerous confrontations with Mr. Muzio, his wife, his daughter and whoever else lived there,” Allessandri said. “I understand people have to put up with vermin problems. I have issues because of that house.”
Barbara Seixas of Sagamore Avenue has been the most outspoken about Muzio’s home since complaints began years ago. She also goes with the consensus that two houses would be too dense.
“I’m against the two houses,” she said. “I’d take exception if it were part of a commericial area but this is my village, my street. Build one house. It would be a wonderful thing. But mow [8 Sumter] down. I’ll help clean it up. Just get rid of this thing.”