The Morpurgo House on Union Street in Sag Harbor. Photo by Michael Heller.
By Stephen J. Kotz
The Morpurgo house, which has been crumbling for decades on its Union Street lot behind the John Jermain Memorial Library, has caught the attention of Sag Harbor Village building inspector Tom Preiato.
On January 13, the Sag Harbor Village Board agreed to hold a hearing on February 10 before acting on the recommendation of Mr. Preiato that it order the house’s owner to secure the property and to demolish those portions of the house that are in danger of collapsing.
Mr. Preiato, who joined the village in November, said as a Sag Harbor native, he had been “well aware of the house’s condition.” He said residents have complained about the appearance and safety of the house since he joined village and that village trustees had also asked him to inspect the dilapidated building.
“It’s dangerous,” he said. In the backyard, he said there is open cesspool or dry well. “You could disappear down there,” he said.
The front porch has already collapsed, and inside, there are holes in the floor and portions of the roof and ceilings have caved in, according to Mr. Preiato’s report. In additon, some doors are missing and there are holes in the exterior walls.
If the owner does not comply with the village’s order within 30 days, the village is prepared to do the job itself. “If that means taking part of the building down, we’ll do it,” said Mayor Brian Gilbride on Monday. “But we’re hoping that by the time we have the hearing, we’ll have contacted the owner and they’ll agree to take care of the problem.”
If the village is forced to act, village taxpayers will be reimbursed because the cost of securing or razing the structure will simply be added to the tax bill, according to Mr. Gilbride. “It’s not going to be paid by the taxpayers by any stretch of the imagination, he added.
But finding the owner may prove to be a difficult task, as the house’s ownership has been tangled in legal knots arising out of a mortgage fraud scheme. The taxes on the property have most recently been paid by Captain Hulbert House, LLC, which was controlled by Samuel Glass, a Brooklyn attorney, who held a mortgage on the house and was trying to foreclose on it to obtain clear title. But last October, Mr. Glass said he had sold that mortgage to new investment group led by Manhattan attorney Joel Zweig.
Mr. Zweig did not return calls seeking comment.
Village attorney Fred W. Thiele Jr. said on Tuesday he expected the property to be taken care of by mid-Spring.
“I don’t see this taking a long, long time,” he said. “I don’t think there are a lot of questions about the condition of the building. It really depends on any extenuating circumstances” raised by the building’s owner at the public hearing.
Mr. Thiele said the village was well within its rights to act on its own to protect the public, adding that the crumbling building could prove to be inviting for curious children. “There’s a reason they call them attractive nuisances,” he said.
Prior to the latest developments, the house was the subject of a decades-long fight between sisters Anselm and Helga Morgurgo. Eventually it was sold at auction in 2007, but it then became entangled in the mortgage faud scheme that landed former Suffolk County Legislator George O. Guldi in prison and left Mr. Glass and his investors grasping at straws.
This week, Mr. Preiato said he believed a portion of the house may still be solid enough to save, but he would not speculate as to what the owner will do or whether the village would try to save any of it, if takes matters into its own hands.
Besides demolishing those portions of the building at risk, the village will request that the property be fenced, the house bordered up, the cesspool covered, and the yard cleaned up.
The village has had its eye on the property for years. In February 2007, then fire marshal Tim Platt toured the building with building inspector Al Daniels and his report listed a number of health and safety concerns including a woodburning stove with a large hole in its flue, unsound staircases, crumbling plaster and missing window panes. In his own report, Mr. Daniels cited concerns about the wiring, the amount of garbage strewed about and signs of rodent investation.