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Preservationists won’t give up on Snouders in Oyster Bay

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Preservationists remain adamant about what they believe should be done to save Snouder’s Corner Drug Store, a crumbling landmark on the corner of South and West Main streets in the heart of Oyster Bay. They have never considered demolition, as the building’s current owner, Great Neck businessman Hamid Nazif has said must be done.

The drugstore, which dates back to 1884, is the oldest operating business in the hamlet. The first telephone in town was installed there, and Theodore Roosevelt was known to ride from his home at Sagamore Hill on horseback to use it.

Nazif bought the landmark building in September 2015 for $690,000, five years after the store closed. He has not done any work on it, and the building, which had appeared shabby for years, is now an eyesore.

Nazif and his architect, Michael Sergio Tedesco, hired A.S. Engineering Services P.C. to conduct an evaluation of Snouder’s in October 2017. Stating that the overall condition of the building was fair to poor, the evaluation concluded that it would not meet building code requirements. The report added that many of the past repairs and improvements were done in an “unorganized fashion without consideration for the building structural system as a whole.” Because repairing the building did not appear to be feasible or cost-effective, in A.S.’s opinion, it recommended that Snouder’s be demolished and that a new building be constructed. 

“This is in the middle of the hamlet, so it doesn’t make sense for us to say tear it down or replicate it, like what was done to the Matinecock Lodge,” said Harriet Gerard Clark, executive director of the Raynham Hall Museum, where Robert Townsend, a spy for Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War, once lived. Replicating a building, which was the fate of the Matinecock Lodge 10 years ago after it was destroyed in a fire, is “a short cut” for building something new, Gerard Clark added.

There are only 38 historical landmark buildings left in the Town of Oyster Bay, which dates back to the 1600s.

Gerard Clark said she didn’t understand why Nazir has done nothing to improve the building. “As is, it doesn’t currently have any economic use,” she said.

A year ago, she toured the building with Nazif and Tom Hogan, a real estate broker who renovates old buildings. “Tom gave Mr. Nazir ideas, and showed him buildings he restored in Huntington, but it apparently all fell on deaf ears,” Gerard Clark said. “Why throw away the baby with the bathwater?”

Architect John Collins, a member of the Town of Oyster Bay Landmarks Preservation Commission since its inception in the 1970s, is the only commission member who has lived in or owned a landmark house. In November, he voted, along with the six other commissioners, to accepting the findings of the architectural firm Jan Hird Pokorny Associates, hired by the town to weigh in on Snouders, which was to renovate the building.

JHPA concluded that the drug store’s foundation, façade walls and cladding, chimneys, windows and doors were in “restorable condition,” but recommended that the building’s attic wall be repaired. “As a result of the on-site survey and considering the architectural and cultural value of Snouder’s Drug Store,” the report stated, “we recommend that it undergo adaptive reuse and sensitive restoration, rather than demolition, which would deprive the Town of Oyster Bay of an important historic resource.”

“Why would you buy a landmark if you didn’t have the intention of restoring it?” Gerard Clark asked. “Mr. Nazif is such a nice man and we want to like him, but the building still sits empty.”

The commission also voted unanimously to direct the town to charge Nazir with code violations. According to Marta Kane, a town spokeswoman, a notice of violation was issued in December “requesting the owner provide a plan to the Town Landmarks Preservation Commission to maintain the structure.” She added that Nazir had been in touch with the town after receiving the violation. “We expect further details as to how they plan to rectify the situation by month’s end,” Kane said.

Collins, a former president of the Oyster Bay Historical Society and the current president of Raynham Hall Museum, said that razing Snouders was not an option.

“From the beginning, Nazir talked about tearing it down,” Collins said. “He should sell it to an owner that would be sympathetic to historic preservation. If it was renovated correctly it would be a jewel.”

There’s another option, too — getting the building on the National Registry of Historic Places. Then Nazif would be eligible for a 20 percent federal tax refund for the money he invested in rehabilitating the building. Collins acknowledged that it would take time to complete the process, including a form that he described as “long and complicated,” but he said that Nazir could hire a professional to assist him in the process. Collins said he had already made the suggestion to Nazir.

Collins said that Nazir was eligible to receive a tax refund from the town of between 10 and 12 percent, which a provision of the town’s land law offers owners of historic buildings as an incentive to maintain them, which is often costly.

“Sure, the building has cosmetic problems, but it’s not on the verge of collapse,” Collins said. Also, he said, changes can be made to a landmark building. The only requirement is that the preservation commission help decide on what the changes will be.

Collins tried to help Nazir when he first bought the building by drawing up the floor plan. Collins said he came up with alternative ways to reconfigure the interior, so Nazir could add apartments.

The building is in terrible shape, Collins said, because it has not been renovated in 30 years. He insists that it is not beyond repair and would be worth the effort. “Inside the building is the frame of an 18th-century house,” he said.

John Bonifacio, vice president of the Oyster Bay Main Street Association — a non-profit that has been at the forefront of revitalization efforts in the hamlet — and the third vice president at Raynham Hall, said he was committed to working with Nazir to come up with a viable solution. “The building where Snouders was means so much to me,” Bonifacio said. “It’s part of Oyster Bay’s history, which dates back to 1653. Not much else is left in town. It was made a landmark for a reason.”