Neighbors surrounding the Douglaston home ravaged by fire earlier this month have returned to their soot-filled buildings over the last week, trying to make sense of how such a controversial project was not approached with more caution.
A three-alarm fire severely damaged the home, at 39-12 Douglaston Pkwy., which was undergoing an expansion to the original farmhouse built in the late 1800s. The blaze tore through the inside of the residence around 7:30 p.m. Aug. 14 and spread to neighboring properties before it was doused by emergency responders, fire officials said.
Neighbor Jim McCann called the fire into the police and said he had to vacate his home for days before being able to return.
“We spent days cleaning all the smoke and soot,” McCann said. “We are looking at a five-figures estimate to repair our roof, gutters and repaint the side of the house.”
Although the Fire Department ruled the fire was accidental and caused by torch work being done on some pipes at the construction site, the wife of the property owner said she was aware her neighbors were not fans of the home’s elaborate renovation plans.
“We think maybe somebody just didn’t like the house,” said Jean Huang, wife of homeowner David Huang. “We try to do our best to cooperate with the community.”
The Huang family’s basic insurance did not cover the extent of the damage on the home’s rear 80-foot yard extension, which has been under construction since 2007. And since the family decided to upgrade the property with an extension almost four times the size of the small home, Community Board 11 officials said the surrounding community had trouble accepting the renovations.
“I would have loved to have had the original house that was there,” said neighbor Tom Greaney, who lives across the street and reported hearing two explosions as the fire spread. “It was a gorgeous house.”
The Douglaston property had received a total of 46 complaints about overstepping its construction boundaries since March 2008 throughout the ongoing renovation, according to the city Department of Buildings.
McCann, who once led a charge to landmark the Douglaston Parkway home nearly four years ago before a divided community dropped the idea, said there was no surprise in seeing the fate of the Douglaston home.
“All of those complaints speak for themselves,” McCann said. “The fire attests to the horrendous construction work being done there.”
Jean Huang said her family simply wanted to move on from the controversy and hopefully move forward with some sort of renovation plans.
“I expect the neighbors to be nice so we can finish the job and make the community nice,” Huang said.
And though the flames have long since been extinguished, neighbors like McCann will spend the coming weeks working to undo the destruction created by the flames.
“[David Huang] did a lot of damage because of this,” McCann said. “He owes us all an apology.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.
©2012 Community News Group
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