Grand Street Builder Ordered to Tear Down New Structure

The all new structure at 20 Grand Street that was supposed to have incorporated the front-gabled historic house as a design element, now being stored in the rear of the property at right. The Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board on January 9 ordered the copy of the old house at the right end of the building to be demolished and the original structure returned to its location and incorporated into the replacement. Peter Boody photo

The Sag Harbor Village Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board last week ordered the builder who defied the board last summer — he removed a historic house that he was required to preserve at 20 Grand Street — to demolish the new building he put up in its place.
By unanimous vote, with one member recusing herself, the board took the unprecedented step of requiring builder Tal Litvin to tear down the entirely new, front-gabled western section of the house he is putting up, and replace it with the original, 1890-to-1900 modest house that he moved out of the way last summer after the building inspector stopped him from demolishing it.
A day after the board’s vote, Building Inspector Thomas Preiato said that he plans to lift the stopwork order that has been in place on the project sometime in the coming week. Meanwhile, site work can begin immediately, he said, including steps to protect the historic structure from the elements.
Alex Kriegsman, Mr. Litvin’s attorney, told the board before just before the vote that his client “will immediately take all steps to preserve the historic structure.”
The building is located in Sag Harbor’s Historic District and is listed as a contributing structure in the district’s inventory. In its original approval, the Review Board required Mr. Litvin to incorporate the historic house as the main component of the new structure.
Board member Judith Long left the room for the vote, explaining later that the board’s attorney, Elizabeth Vail, had recommended that she recuse herself because of a comment she made to Mr. Litvin when he appeared before the board for its public hearing on the case on December 12: “If I had my way,” she said, “you’d be put in the stocks down on Main Street.”
Mr. Litvin was not present for the decision, which came as an almost anticlimactic procedural step after the builder had failed over the past two months of meetings and the public hearing to convince the board that he should be allowed to finish the house as is, including several design features that the board never approved.
At the public hearing last month, Mr. Litvin offered only to incorporate only what he considered salvageable pieces of the original building in the new one. He told the board he had decided not to incorporate the original house in the new structure as required, because the old building was rotten and termite-damaged. It has been sitting out of the way at the rear of the property, unprotected from the elements, since August, when the first in a series of partial and full stop-work orders were issued.
The board’s historic consultant, Zachary Studenroth, rejected Mr. Litvin’s assertions. In a November report to the board, he found that the building’s essential structural members were sound and there was no reason the building could not be preserved. He urged the board to require the new structure that mimics it to be torn down and the old structure put back, in compliance with the board’s original requirement.
The board did allow Mr. Litvin to keep some of the unapproved design changes that he made on the rest of the house, including a gabled roof over a foyer where a flat one was approved. He must, however, lower its pitch to “close to flat,” Mr. Gomolka said after the meeting. He will be allowed to keep an unapproved carport and four or five unapproved windows, he added.
“The board, although extremely disappointed with the property owner’s original failure to comply with the prior approval plans,” according to the draft resolution the board approved, did accept “testimony indicating that to comply with the original roof plan it would cost in excess of $100,000, which would be cost prohibitive, forcing them [the builder and associates] to pursue potential litigation, and this board recognizes the emergent nature of the present condition of the historic structure, its current exposure to the elements and the need for the structure to be restored immediately to ensure its preservation, rather than allow for protracted litigation to ensure its demise …”
Mr. Gomolka commented in a phone interview a few days after the decision that the Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board was created under former chair Anthony Brandt’s leadership years ago to preserve and protect Sag Harbor’s historic structures.
“If we cannot preserve and protect,” he said, “then a precedent could be set, and historic preservation could be at a real risk here in Sag Harbor.”
Temple Plans Expansion
Also at its busy January 9 meeting, the board cleared the way for Temple Adas Israel to obtain a building permit and begin a long-planned expansion of its social hall and classroom space. The plan, by architect Bill Chaleff, includes the recreation of two pilasters, or corner towers, that once adorned the front of the original 1899 temple.
The board’s historical consultant, Mr. Studenroth, opposed the plan to recreate the ornamental towers. “That is an historical building we all know and love,” he said, adding that putting back “a feature from a prior era and attaching it to what is there now … I just find that concept a little uncomfortable.”
“We’re entitled to move with the times but not forget who we were,” Mr. Chaleff said, defending the plan — and all the members of the board agreed.