A Conversation with Melanie Cirillo


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Melanie Cirillo, the director of conservation planning at the Peconic Land Trust, discusses “Save Your House!,” a forum on how to preserve historically significant houses that will take place on Thursday, April 7.

By Stephen J. Kotz

The Peconcic Land Trust is teaming up with the Southampton Town Landmarks and Historic Districts Board, the Sag Harbor Historical Society and the John Jermain Memorial Library to present this forum. Can you give us an overview of what the event will entail?

The purpose of this program is to help participants learn if their house is historically significant and what the three types of historic designations are —local landmarks, state historic register and national historic register. We’ll go over the negatives and positives of these designations and explain what a deed of historic preservation conservation easement is, how to sell a historic easement on your property to the town and how to donate a historic easement to the Peconic Land Trust.

Sally Spanburgh of the town’s landmark board will give a presentation on the town’s tools; I will discuss the private historic conservation easement tool; and Fred Thiele, the Sag Harbor Village attorney, will speak on behalf of Sag Harbor Village and share his knowledge about the Community Preservation Fund.

A homeowner who has a Peconic Land Trust conservation easement on his historic house in Water Mill, the owner of a landmarked property in Southampton and a qualified appraiser who can answer valuation questions about historic preservation easements will also be there.

Doesn’t it cost a lot of money to preserve a historic house?

It does not cost a lot to preserve your home in relation to the value of your home. There are costs that we will explain during our presentation so we encourage homeowners to attend. Unfortunately, there are not usually any grants you can apply for as a private owner. Nonprofit organizations are usually the recipients of grants, but there are potential tax benefits we will be talking about.

Is there a particular reason you have targeted Sag Harbor at this time?

We were asked by the Sag Harbor Historical Society — whose members were aware of the presentation we did last year with the Southampton Historical Society — to partner with them on a similar presentation in the Sag Harbor community. As real estate values continue to rise, and new homes are being built, there is also growing sentiment that the communities would like to see more historic homes protected. We are simply providing information to educate homeowners about the options that are available to them.

Why is preserving historic architecture so important to a community like Sag Harbor?

The Sag Harbor community has a rich whaling history and the village homes have unique character that sets it apart from any other village on the East End. We want to bring awareness to the owners of these homes that there are ways to preserve the historic character of their homes using tools they may not have known about. Their historic homes bring the past alive when you walk through the village and admire the detail and skill of a bygone era.

We typically think of the Peconic Land Trust as an organization that focuses on protecting and preserving the East End’s agricultural land for future farmers. What role do you play in protecting historic houses?

Peconic Land Trust’s mission is to conserve Long Island’s working farms, natural lands and heritage for our communities now and in the future. Yes, the majority of our work is conserving the working farmland and natural lands in our communities, but throughout our 33-year history, we have also been involved in a number of historic façade easements throughout Suffolk County — Stony Brook, Wading River and Southampton, to name a few — that preserve our heritage. Our architectural heritage gives us a sense of place and connects us to the history of those who lived before us.

“Save Your House!” will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike in Bridgehampton from 3 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 7.