August 13, 2008
Groton owner fights to keep house standing
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Christopher Muka and his son Nathan are renovating an historic house in Groton. The Town Board has given him more time to finish the work.
GROTON — When Chris Muka bought the property at 924 Lick St. three years ago, he had little idea of how much work he would have to put in to keeping the house on it standing.
The house, a three-bedroom Greek Revival-style home built in the 1790s, was overgrown with vegetation and suffering from about a decade’s worth of neglect and abuse, Muka said.
“Even then, I knew it was a beauty,” he said.
Muka purchased the 3 1/2-acre property at a Tompkins County tax foreclosure auction in 2005. He said he routinely bought properties at auction, which he would then use for forestry or resell to people interested in developing them.
He said his research into the Lick Street house revealed that Major Lemi Bradley, a Continental Army officer who fought in the Revolutionary War, had constructed it. The property was part of a 600-acre parcel Bradley was guaranteed for his wartime service. Bradley, Muka said, was present at the first town meeting for the community that would eventually become Groton, which initially was part of the town of Genoa.
He said he originally planned to similarly sell the Lick Street house, allowing a buyer to take on the task of restoring the property.
But after his first buyer returned the property to him after 10 months, Muka said other potential buyers were scared off by Groton Town officials, who informed them that the house had been condemned and could be torn down at any time.
Muka began working to fix up the home himself. The job began with hauling out the mountains of rubbish that had accumulated over all the floors.
With the house still uninhabitable, the Groton Town Board sought and secured a Tompkins County Supreme Court order giving permission to tear down the house. Seeking to save the centuries-old home, Muka asked the board to give him time to restore the property.
The board agreed, but only if Muka provided a $20,000 bond to guarantee that if the town needed to eventually demolish the building, it would be using Muka’s money. Muka also had to sign a contract with the town last year, which detailed a schedule of needed repairs to the home and determined a date for completion — Aug. 1.
Muka’s work on the house did not proceed as quickly as the contract required, and Muka met Tuesday night with the Town Board to ask for more time.
While he has installed a new septic system, put in new floor joists and supports, and installed new six-over-six windows and sashes, there’s still much to be done — the house lacks a kitchen and bathroom, the walls need wallboards, and the yard needs to be cleared of the remaining debris.
“I’ve done the best I could, and I want to continue to do the best I can,” he told the board. He said his work had been hampered by various family issues and with his work on a nonprofit corporation he has started up.
Board members told Muka they had driven by the Lick Street house and been unimpressed with his progress, and reminded him that he had signed a contract that had specific time requirements for repairs — which had yet to be completed.
But Groton resident Gailanne MacKenzie told the board she was amazed by the transformation of the house.
“At this point, it’s a very attractive house,” she said when the board opened the discussion for public comment. “I really think it’s a building we don’t want to lose. It deserves to live, I’d say.”
After some heated discussion, Groton Town Supervisor Glenn Morey told Muka that he could meet with the town’s code enforcement officer, Gary Coats, to create a new and more realistic work schedule for repairs to the property — meaning Muka will have another shot at fixing the old home.
After the meeting, Morey said the town does not want to tear down the house.
“We want to save it — it’s still on the tax rolls,” Morey said. “But we want to see it finished.”
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