By Stephen J. Kotz
Matt and Katherine Smith’s plans to renovate their house at 34 Jermain Avenue ran into a stone wall of sorts before the Sag Harbor Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review last Thursday.
At an earlier meeting, board members told Mr. Smith and his builder, Mike Nobiletti, they would not be inclined to approve a stone retaining wall between the sidewalk and the elevated grade of the front yard, telling them the dearth of stone on Long Island meant such walls were probably not historically accurate. But last week, armed with photos they said showed walls all over the village, Mr. Smith and Mr. Nobiletti, who were joined by attorney Dennis Downes, and architect Ryan Kesner, returned to fight for a 30-inch retaining wall made out of bluestone.
But the board was not swayed. When Mr. Downes said board members had to look no farther than across the street where a retaining wall runs along Mashashimuet Park, board member Chris Leonard dismissed him, pointing out that wall is made of poured concrete and not historic.
When asked why they were insisting on the wall when the board seemed set against it, Mr. Smith told them he and his wife had a child and were worried about his safety in front of the house. Mr. Smith said cars pass by fast and “if someone left the road, they’d hit the wall, not the house.”
Zach Studenroth, the board’s consultant, said the wall seemed to be about a foot above the existing grade. “Our job is to preserve the streetscape,” he said, adding he thought it would set an inappropriate precedent.
“You don’t want to do what we are recommending,” Mr. Leonard told him, as he and other board members suggested a fence instead.
“It’s also such a historical house. It’s a signature house as you drive into Sag Harbor,” added Anthony Brandt, the board’s chairman.
At Mr. Leonard’s urging, the board denied the request.
The board had strong words for Tom Cooper, who is in contract to buy a house at 209 Division Street. Mr. Cooper recently received an exemption from the moratorium on most major residential construction projects from the village board, but ARB members were not pleased he had begun demolition work without a permit.
Mr. Cooper said the house was in serious disrepair with water damage and dry rot. A roof over a rear portion had collapsed to the ground, he told the board.
Although Mr. Cooper said he had only cleaned up the site, Mr. Brandt said, “you cleaned it up pretty extensively…. So much of the house is not only deteriorated but destroyed.”
“I did take some liberties. I’ll admit it,” Mr. Cooper said, adding that he had asked permission from the village Building Department to clean up the site.
“You’ve taken a contributing house and you’ve taken it apart,” said Mr. Leonard. “I don’t know how you took it upon yourself…. In this village you are not supposed to do this.”
Fred W. Thiele Jr., the board’s attorney, said it remained open for debate if a demolition permit was required for the work Mr. Cooper had done, but he said building inspector Tom Preiato had told him the building was in bad shape.
“I don’t think the building inspector has the expertise to determine what is historically significant,” said Mr. Studenroth. “Historic fabric has been removed…. The falling apart doesn’t make it less historic.”
The ARB signed off on a plan to surround much of the 1,3,5 Ferry Road property with a chain-link fence to keep out vandals and homeless people who have been staying in vacant buildings on the property.
Mr. Downes said the fence would cut off a parking lot that has been used by the public, some of whom leave garbage behind. “My clients should not have to be sweeping out that parking lot every weekend,” he told the board. He said he has been asked by village police at least three times to repair windows that have been broken by squatters trying to gain entry.
The property is owned by East End Ventures, which wants to build a condominium project at the site.
Mr. Downes said a crew was ready to clean up the site, including boarding up the buildings but they did not want to leave their equipment there if it was not secured.