There may be increasing pressure on property owners in downtown Bridgehampton to renovate, expand or even demolish aging structures in the next few years. Some of the various architectural elements and special relationships that give Bridgehampton’s Main Street its remarkably unique country charm could disappear before too long in a business district where many structures are a century or two old and still in hard use.
“Floors are getting uneven,” Edward Wesnofske, chairman of the Town of Southampton’s Landmarks and Historic Districts Board, told the Southampton Town Board at a work session on December 6. “At some point, some of these buildings might have to be demolished.”
But if the Town Board established an historic district under its own landmarks code — something it has never done before — “any new construction would have to be approved as being ‘in keeping’” with the character of the neighborhood and the original structure, Mr. Wesnofske pointed out.
It’s an idea whose time has come. Previous initiatives to find a way to protect and preserve Bridgehampton’s Main Street always seem to have sputtered out. Let’s hope community interests prevail this time and the Town Board gets the job done.
Prompted by Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, the Town Board informally agreed at the December 6 meeting to consider following Mr. Wesnofske’s suggestion. Meanwhile, the supervisor has asked the town attorney’s office to draft a proposal for a moratorium on changes within the proposed district, just in case property owners are inspired to beat the gun and make big changes or build something new and not “in keeping” before the town can act.
As Mr. Schneiderman later explained it, a moratorium would not halt all construction, repairs or renovations; it would just require the Town Board to review all proposed work to make sure it won’t undermine the aesthetic and architectural integrity of the proposed historic area, which would follow Main Street from Butter Lane to the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike. Look for a public hearing on the moratorium plan to be scheduled early in the new year, once the proposal has been drafted.
Meanwhile, to establish the district, Mr. Wesnofske’s Landmarks and Historic Districts Board would have to complete an inventory of potentially “contributing” landmark structures and sites, from the Greek Revival Topping Rose House and Nathaniel Rogers House, both 19thcentury gems, to the 19thcentury Methodist Church and Gurdon Corwith House (now the Bridgehampton Inn) to the west.
That won’t be hard. The town hired consultant Ann Sandford to prepare a “Bridgehampton Hamlet Heritage Area Report” a decade ago that documents Main Street and a much wider swath of historic Bridgehampton structures, all the way from Brick Kiln Road (opened in 1690) to Pauls Lane (opened 1677) and beyond.
Next, the Landmarks and Historic Districts Board would have to submit a report formally proposing the district to the Town Board, which would have authority to create it after a public hearing as long as 20 percent of the owners of “contributing” properties support the plan. Since the town owns 10 percent of them, including the Community House and the Nathaniel Rogers House, finding another 10 percent in favor shouldn’t be hard.
Once the district is established, owners of “contributing” properties in the district seeking to make any exterior changes would have to submit plans to Mr. Wesnofske’s board to obtain a “certificate of appropriateness,” in addition to whatever other reviews and permits might be required.
If there are people with questions, concerns or fears, stand by for the public hearing phase of the moratorium. Let’s hope any issues can be resolved so that generations more can enjoy the charms of Bridgehampton Main Street.