By Sophia Chang

But the new owner of the “White House,” Steve Chai, has clashed with residents and the Douglaston and Little Neck Historical Society over the future of the home.

The historical society alleged last week that Chai began construction work on the interior without the proper permits. William Seivers, vice president of the historical society, said Chai parked a dumpster at the house's rear, and construction workers filled the container with “doors, plaster and lath, and other demolition debris from the first and second floors of the building.”

According to a statement by the historical society, “residents fear that the interior demolition is the first step in the demolition of the entire building.” Some have worried since November's announcement of the house's sale that a developer would buy the property, tear it down and build four smaller homes on the 100 by 250 foot lot.

Because the house is under consideration to be landmarked by the city, it is unofficially protected from construction and demolition for 40 days, according to experts.

Seivers notified City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) of the ongoing work at the house, and the next day the city building inspector visited the site, reviewed photos of the dumpster's contents and issued a stop work order.

Seivers pointed to the fact that Chai left the front and back doors wide open as another reason to be suspicious of his intent to live in the house. “He doesn't lock his property, he parks a dumpster behind the property – it doesn't look exactly like someone who buys a house and wants to live in it.”

Chai said that he was only renovating the kitchen and preparing to move in this Sunday. “I am doing nothing. I was just moving in,” he said.

He said he did not understand the society's actions. “I don't know what they want to do. I just bought a house and I want to live. I don't care what they do. I'm just a little annoyed.”

According to Chai, the area's history is actually the reason why he chose to buy a home in Douglaston Hill. “It's a historical district.” He removed the dumpster Friday, and all work has ceased.

The house “was built in 1903 by William J. Hamilton. He was the master builder in Douglaston at the end of the century,” Seivers said. “The man built a town atmosphere, and this structure has survived over a hundred years. There's an architectural history behind it.”

The society and other concerned residents are fighting to have the “White House” and 34 other single-family homes designated the Douglaston Hill Historic District by the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Though the landmarks commission originally denied the society's request, the residents held rallies and with the help of Councilman Avella, the decision has been overturned and the commission will reconsider the request.

The society's application is now calendared by the commission, and the neighborhood is one step closer to being recognized as a historic district by the city. It is already on the state's register of historic sites.

Avella said preservation problems similar to the “White House” situation exist all over the borough.

“This is one more example of the illegal construction activity that goes on in the neighborhood, the borough, the city,” he said. “The department of buildings should be more accountable. Their response time is woefully inadequate.”

Paul Graziano, an urban planning and historical conservation consultant who has studied the area, said the landmarks commission's slow reaction to the situation is emblematic of the city's disregard for the borough.

“Clearly the commission needs to act very quickly to landmark the area,” he said. “This whole thing speaks to how we're not preserving these neighborhoods. The homeowners want it, and the neighborhoods deserve it. Douglaston Hill is the first.”

Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.



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