The Town of Oyster Bay Landmark Preservation Commission voted unanimously on Tuesday to direct the town to issue code violations where applicable to the owner of Snouder’s Corner Drug Store, Great Neck businessman Hamid Nazif, who bought the landmark building in September 2015 for $690,000. It is in dire need of renovations — or perhaps, as Nazif believes, it should be demolished.
As the oldest operating business in Oyster Bay, the drugstore dates back to 1884. The first telephone in town was installed here, and Theodore Roosevelt was known to ride from his summer home at Sagamore Hill on horseback to use it. The business closed in December 2010.
In an interview with the Guardian in October 2015, Nazif said he was unsure what he would do with the property, and was debating whether to turn it into retail space, rent out the second floor as apartments, or both.
He was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting due to an illness. His architect, Sergio Tedesco, was also absent. He had requested a postponement two weeks ago when the notice was received, but had not heard back from the town. “Even if I wasn’t sick,” Nazif said, “there was no reason for me to go without him, because he needs to explain things.”
He and his architect hired the engineering firm A.S. Engineering Services, P.C. to conduct an evaluation of Snouder’s in October 2017, the results of which the commission has seen — and taken issue with. Nazif had requested at the commission’s April 25 meeting that the town hire another engineer to conduct an unbiased engineering report of its own. Nazif said he had wanted to be at Tuesday’s meeting, where the findings of the architectural firm Jan Hird Pokorny Associates were discussed.
Like A.S. Engineering, JHPA was tasked with identifying the possible sources and levels of deterioration at Snouder’s, and determining the viability of a restoration. The commission voted on Tuesday to adopt JHPA’s 13-page report.
Nizif, when reached a few days later, said he was disappointed that the commission had held the meeting. "We waited seven months to get this report," he said, "and they couldn't wait two extra weeks so we could be present?"
The firm determined from the foundation and framing that the building was built in the 18th century, “contemporaneous to the nearby Raynham Hall,” where Revolutionary War spy Robert Townsend once lived, also on South Street.
After a visual inspection of the cellar and attic as well as the building’s exterior and roof, JHPA concluded that “the foundation, façade walls and cladding, chimneys, windows, and doors are in restorable condition.” But the building’s attic wall needs repair. “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.”
A.S. Engineering came to different conclusions. Stating that the overall condition of the building was fair to poor, the architects believe it would not meet building code requirements. The report added that many of the 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 Core to be feasible or costs-effective, the recommendation was to demolish the building and construct a new one.
“If it was a straight-up building, I could secure it,” Nazif said. “It sits back three steps and has three roofs. Much of it is rotten and in bad shape.”
He had brought representatives from the town to see the building, he said. “As soon as they reached the second floor they said they’d seen enough and were afraid to go in,” he said. “From the outside the building looks OK, but inside it’s not OK.”
The windows facing the street, Nazif said, are “rotten.” Although the new report suggests repairing the windows, it can’t be done, he insisted, adding, “And the report doesn’t explain how it can be repaired.”
Sarah Kautz, the preservation director of Preservation Long Island, a not-for-profit in Cold Spring Harbor that is committed to protecting, preserving and celebrating Long Island’s cultural heritage, seemed to express the hope of many people who attended Tuesday’s meeting.
“JHPA’s report states that the building is not falling down,” Kautz said. “There are original windows in the building, and it is special to Oyster Bay.” She suggested that because Snouder’s is a commercial landmark, efforts should be made to have it listed in the National Registry.
Nazif said he was planning an open house on the weekend of Dec. 8, so people can see the interior of the building for themselves.