Nearly 4,000-Square-Foot House Proposed In Sag Harbor Historic District Draws Criticism

The west elevation of the proposed residence at 286 Division Street. The updated design is above an earlier design.

A plan to demolish a house on the corner of Grand and Division streets in the Sag Harbor Village historic district and to replace it with a new nearly 4,000-square-foot residence is before the Sag Harbor Village Historic Preservation & Architectural Review Board, and board members and neighbors are worried about the size. However, the board is heading toward approval.

The owner is builder Tal Litvin, who in 2019 ran afoul of the village and the ARB specifically. His project at 20 Grand Street was supposed to incorporate a circa 1900 structure into a house, but the structure was nearly demolished instead. It was only saved when the building inspector intervened.

That property is just a stone’s throw from the current project at 286 Division Street that is before the ARB. The proposed house is 3,889 square feet, just shy of the 4,000-square-foot maximum that the village allows.

The board received about a dozen letters in opposition to the plan.

“One of the letters that came in said that if our board is not able to stop a 4,000-[square]-foot house being built in the historic district, then who can?” ARB member Judith Long said during the board’s June 24 meeting. “And I don’t know the answer. It seems to me we would have to ask the mayor and the Board of Trustees to write a new law.”

Chairman Dean Gomolka agreed: “The trustees and the mayor would have to re-look at the zoning code and work on that.”

During that meeting, attorney Alex Kriegsman and project architect Ricardo Romo-Leroux presented a number of changes to the plan that were made in response to earlier feedback from the board. Mr. Kriegsman said the proposed house was set an additional 15 feet back from the property line. The move also means that the western side of the house will be sunken into the natural topography of the site. The west side stairwell and roof line were adjusted, and the number of windows on that side of the house was reduced from 24 to 12. Dry wells were added to address stormwater runoff, and the location of the pool was moved from the Division Street front yard to a side yard.

Noting that it was not customary, Mr. Gomulka asked if anyone from the public would like to speak. Mr. Kriegsman objected because the public hearing for the application was closed at the last meeting.

Two neighbors was allowed to speak despite Mr. Kriegsman’s repeated objections.

Dawn Smith told the board that she was concerned about the removal of trees and said the trees serve as a buffer for noise and emissions from the bus depot that is next to the property.

“There are several very mature large trees that I think you need to go and see the future of,” Ms. Smith said. “One tree is magnificent. They’re really big trees.”

She added that there are several large evergreens that are not accounted for on the plans presented to the board.

Mr. Kriegsman said most existing trees will be retained, and more trees will be planted than are being removed.

Mr. Romo-Leroux said one mature tree at the western end is being removed because it is leaning to one side, a tree is being removed for the pool, and three smaller trees are being removed that interfere with the driveway or sit right in front of the house. “There are three other trees in the middle of the property that are not shown on the plan just because they are not mature,” he added.

Janis Donnaud said the size of the house was out of character with the neighborhood and the street. “It will overwhelm the surrounding houses,” she said, adding that she thinks it’s a bad idea to remove so many trees.

When she tried to raise the issue of Mr. Litvin’s other project, Mr. Gomolka cut her off.

“Why can’t I say that that builder tore down a historical house with no permit?” she asked.

“We’re not discussing it, I’m sorry,” Mr. Gomolka responded. “We’re talking about this project in particular.”

Ultimately, after some discussion of the design among board members, Mr. Gomolka told Mr. Kriegsman, “We’re really, really close.”

Mr. Kriegsman also presented a map showing eight area houses of comparable size.

Ms. Smith objected to the choice of those houses. “The very close neighboring properties are much considerably, dramatically smaller,” she said. “It’s five times the size of the house next door. All the properties on Grand Street, between Grand and Division, are less than 2,000 square feet.”

She added that the house is proposed on top of a hill, giving it the illusion of being “even more towering.”

Mr. Gomolka asked Mr. Kriegsman that the trees be labeled to show which will be saved and which will be removed and said that the board members would have one final visit.