Despite Angry Exchange, Panel Approves Oversized House at 8 Wilson Place

Attorney Dennis Downes at the podium before the Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board on November 14. Peter Boody photo

After the attorney and architect for the problematic house at 8 Wilson Place in the Ninevah Beach community — built thousands of cubic feet higher than allowed by the village code — bitterly complained about any further delays, Sag Harbor’s Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board voted 4-1 last Thursday to grant a certificate of appropriateness for the structure and its landscaping plan.

The “no” vote was cast by board member David Berridge, who was the target of attorney Dennis Downes’s and project architect Anne Sherry’s ire after he raised concerns about people being able to stand close to the edge of two elevated decks and look down on their neighbors.

“This is ridiculous, what’s going on,” Mr. Downes said in the midst of the rancorous back-and-forth argument. “You can’t stop somebody from going on their roof if they have access to the roof, plain and simple,” he added.

“You’re trying to redesign everyone’s project that comes before this board. I resent that as a lawyer,” Mr. Downes charged.

“There’s seems to be only one stumbling block here and it’s you,” Ms. Sherry scolded Mr. Berridge.

“We’re trying to approve an appropriate house for the neighborhood,” Mr. Berridge said, noting the board’s jurisdiction was “architectural review; it’s not zoning. I feel it’s inappropriate to have someone who can stand on the deck with the railing outside of the pyramid law; you could have someone six feet high standing up there looking down on the neighbor.”

HPARB member David Berridge at the Nov. 14 meeting of the panel.

No other board members raised the same concern. They conditioned their approval on a covenant that will require a “green” roof on top of the house, as owners Delia Brennen and Julio Leitao have proposed. According to their plan, the garden will consist of planters set up in six rows.

The decision clears the way for work finally to resume many months after the building inspector halted it early this year because it did not conform to plans he and the HPARB approved in 2018. Ms. Sherry has testified that the problem was a software error made in her office when the construction plans were generated for Mr. Leitao, who acted as his own contractor to save expenses.

In July, with neighbors no longer mounting any opposition, the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals reluctantly granted a “sky plane” variance for the house of 3,215 cubic yards. The ZBA also granted a 2.1-foot rear-yard setback variance because the house was built 12.9 feet from the property line, not the required 15 feet.

There was no outright opposition from neighbors who attended the HPARB meeting. John Brannen told the board “this whole thing has been a problem from the beginning and seems to lean you guys up against the wall to allow something that shouldn’t be”; and Prudence Kwan expressed appreciation for modifications that had been made to address neighbors’ concerns but worried that a rooftop garden that depends on planters — as proposed — would be “easy to disassemble” for future  property owners seeking to abandon the garden.

The rancorous discussion on the case took about 35 minutes of an HPARB meeting on November 14 that had a few other contentious moments and lasted more than five hours, probably a record.

In another case featuring moments of impatience and frustration for Mr. Downes, the board tabled until December 12 Rose Cheng’s application for a certificate of appropriateness for a proposed shed to house a walk-in refrigerator behind Espresso’s food shop at 2 Main Street.

The case parallels a similar case involving a structure installed without approval for the refrigeration unit behind the adjoining K Pasa restaurant, which the board has been weighing since July. “It’s exactly what K Pasa did,” Mr. Downes said, under the impression it had obtained board approval.

“K Pasa put mechanicals on the roof with no permit,” Mr. Gomolka explained. When the building inspector sent the case to the HPARB, “we brought up the fact the refrigerator and the freezer were obnoxious and needed some aesthetic treatment.”

“The paperwork says you approved it,” Mr. Downes said.

“That’s where the confusion is. We are in talks with K Pasa,” Mr. Gomolka said, “on the mechanicals on the roof and the refrigeration unit in the back. They were going to come back to us with a solution.”

“We’re trying to match what they’ve been approved for,” what amounts to “two stainless steel boxes,” said Mr. Downes, who asked the board to give him direction so he can come up with an appropriate design.

Mr. Downes and Danny Cheg, who appeared on behalf of Rose, were asked to return next month with more detailed plans. “This is not an architectural drawing,” Mr. Berridge said of the plans submitted.

20 Grand Street

Taking board chairman Dean Gomolka’s lead, the board was in no mood to hear excuses or consider taking any steps to bless developer Tal Litvin’s decision to relocate a 19th-century house from its site at 20 Grand Street to make way for an entirely new and much larger structure. The old house was supposed to have been incorporated in the new structure.

Tal Litvin with rotten board he brought to the HPARB meeting on Nov. 14.

The board instead voted to set a public hearing for its December 12 meeting to initiate a process that should have taken place before the removal of the old house: approval to demolish a house in the historic district, a move that requires a public hearing.

“We had a handshake,” Mr. Gomolka told Mr. Litvin, who came to the meeting with a rotting board taken from the old house to show its poor condition and the “extensive wood rot” he said his engineer had found, declaring it unsafe.

“This is a big deal. We let you put in this big structure; the little house was supposed to have been saved … We made a deal to save this old structure.”

“We can make this simple,” Mr. Gomolka said, “and you take that 20-by-20 structure that you created” where the old house used to stand “and take the old structure and built it as we requested, we’re all good to go.”

“Unusable,” Mr. Litvin replied.

“Maybe you need a new architect and a new engineer,” Mr. Gomolka replied. He added later, “This is the core of our existence, historic preservation.”