Applicants Reject Historic Consultant’s Report on Burke Street House

Clifton Murdock, left, and Paris Fields speaking before the Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board on July 11. Peter Boody photo

The two partners of F&M Star Inc. who need a “certificate of appropriateness” from the Sag Harbor Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board (HPARB) to renovate a 19th-century house at 11 Burke Street sparred again with the board at its July 11 meeting. Instead of the quick decision they wanted, their case was tabled once again, this time to July 25.

Clifton Murdock and past HPARB member Paris Fields, who have renovated a number of historic houses in Sag Harbor, cited what they called an ethics case in Southampton Village that involved the board’s historical consultant, Zachary Studenroth; read into the record a long, typewritten rebuttal of Mr. Studenroth’s July 5 report on the property; and demanded that two board members, Bethany Deyermond and John Connor, recuse themselves from their case because of past relationships.

The east side of the house at 11 Burke Street. Peter Boody photo

Ms. Deyermond recused herself because her husband, former Sag Harbor Mayor Ed Deyermond, was in office when Mr. Fields was cited by the village in 2005 for converting an antiques shop on Washington Street into a yoga studio, which the village called an illegal switch from a retail use into a place of public assembly. The case is still in court, with Mr. Deyermond having been called to testify earlier this year.

Mr. Connor, who was absent from the July 11 meeting, is an interior decorator who has worked for Mr. Fields. The board continued its hearing on the F&M Star matter with only three members, a bare quorum.

The so-called ethics matter, reported by The Southampton Press and 27East in 2018, involved an application to that village’s ARB to enlarge an historic house on Lake Agawam in Southampton Village. A neighbor alleged that Mr. Studenroth, a consultant for the Southampton panel, had inappropriately given advice to the applicant’s consultant. After Mr. Studenroth explained that conducting site visits and talking with applicants is a standard practice for him, the ARB moved on with the case without finding any fault.

The house at 11 Burke Street is sited on a property that once stretched from the shoreline at Bay Street to Rysam Street and included the shop of Sag Harbor’s whaleboat builder William Cooper, according to Mr. Fields, who has said he is employed by New York City as an historic preservationist. The house — which they say served as the region’s first Catholic meeting house — dates from 1810 and has gone through many alterations over the years, according to Mr. Fields.

The two men first appeared before the board on June 27, when Mr. Fields rejected board chairman Dean Gomolka’s request that board members be allowed to conduct a site inspection of the house with Mr. Studenroth. They also objected to Mr. Gomolka’s call for tabling the case until July 11 because Mr. Studenroth, who usually attends the board meetings, was absent.

Mr. Studenroth was absent again when the case resumed on July 11 but, meanwhile, he had filed his report on the property, which prompted Mr. Fields and Mr. Murdoch to draft a six-page point-by-point rebuttal challenging Mr. Studenroth’s findings. In addition to demanding that Mr. Gomolka read Mr. Studenroth’s 2-page report into the record, Mr. Murdock insisted on reading his and Mr. Field’s detailed response.

“There is no loss of historic details” in the renovation plan “as suggested by the paid historic consultant, Zachary N. Studenroth …,” read Mr. Murdock. “There are no original details left on the house except for the bottom section of the front door and the flanking elements of the door mantle. Everything else had been replaced. The four original windows that exist are on the back of the house and cannot be seen.”

Their rebuttal concludes, “Lastly, no one is invited or welcome to be at or on the property. I want to maintain my privacy.”

Mr. Gomolka responded that he would have to consult with Mr. Studenroth but added that the consultant had to proceed with whatever available information he could find — such as the National Register’s dating of the house to the 1850s and a reference to it as Greek Revival when Mr. Fields says it’s a Federal building — and that errors, if any, might have been avoided had Mr. Fields allowed a site inspection.

Telling the two men that the board and they “are on the same side,” Mr. Gomolka said Mr. Studenroth had used the “register because you’ve not allowed him” to inspect the house.

“I’m a very private person,” Mr. Fields said.

After a long presentation, Mr. Murdock, who told the board that the two men had been “disrespected” at the June 27 meeting, asked the panel to expedite a decision so work can commence.

“There’s no way we’re going to approve it tonight,” Mr. Gromolka said, adding that the board wanted Mr. Studenroth to respond to Mr. Fields’s and Mr. Murdock’s challenge to his findings. Member David Berridge, who assured the two men that the board appreciated “if it weren’t for people like you, Sag Harbor wouldn’t be” the well preserved 19th-century historic village that it is, said he was “uncomfortable being forced into making a decision tonight.”

Having grown up a “good Catholic boy,” he said, he questioned Mr. Fields’ narrative that the house had been Catholic meeting place. “We never lived in the best house” in town, he quipped, adding he was “concerned you’re dressing up the house to be more than it was.”