A pair of brothers are proposing to remove an existing family home in Sag Harbor’s historically African American Azurest community to build a new waterfront house that they can both use with their children and grandchildren. The Sag Harbor Village Architectural Review Board heard the initial plan on Thursday, September 10, but asked for more information, and one member suggested that the original house be preserved somewhere as it is an example of an early home designed by African Americans.
Attorney Dennis Downes is representing the brothers, Frederich Richards Jr. and Terry Richards, who he said are the second-generation owners of the property at 63 Terry Drive, which they share with the third and fourth generation.
“They need to tear this one down because … it had no foundation,” he said of the existing house. “It was built on large timbers that lay flat on the ground, and they’re all rotted out.
The plumbing in the house consists of a hose that’s coming from a neighbor that services the bathrooms and the kitchen. And the electric is completely unusable. There is what you’d call a construction meter there that they were allowed to tap into so they could have several lights in the house.”
The house was built for Dr. Iris and Dr. Frederich Richards, who were close friends with or perhaps even related to the original subdivider of Azurest, Elsie Gale, Mr. Downes said.
The plan for the new house is to have two wings, one for each brother’s family, and a great room in the middle connecting them. Above the great room, a balcony is planned.
Mr. Downes said the family has been working toward building a new house there for two and a half years. He explained that the plan was previously before the village’s Harbor Committee. To satisfy that committee’s concerns, the owners recently abandoned a short, unpaved portion of Terry Drive so the house could be distanced farther from the bluff at the waterfront. The distance is now 75 feet back. The Richardses also own the adjacent wooded lot, which Mr. Downes said they intend to keep wooded.
Architectural Review Board members expressed concerns over how the balcony would impact neighbors, and board chairman Dean Gomolka said it appeared to be a wish-list house that a surveyor had “shoe-horned in” on the property. All of the members also expressed that they did not have enough information to make an aesthetic judgment.
The presentation, which was just a discussion item on the agenda and not a formal application yet, included a rendering of the proposed house as viewed from Sag Harbor Bay. The board asked for more comprehensive plans and the view from the streetside.
“The modular builder wanted a substantial sum of money in order to give me the four elevations, so now that I have your comments, and I know this thing could possibly fly,” I’m going to get the actual plans, Mr. Downes told the board.
However, board chairman Dean Gomolka told Mr. Downes not to leave the meeting with the impression that the board gave the OK or even a half-way go-ahead.
“I’m not sure it’s going to possibly fly,” Mr. Gomolka said. “It’s shoe-horned in there, so the aesthetics really count from the streetscape.”
Members also said they would like to hear input from the village’s historical consultant, Zachary Studenroth, before making any decisions.
“This is a house that really is a contributing house in Azurest,” board member Steven Williams said of the existing dwelling. He said some people have expressed their hope that somehow the house can be stored in part or in full, “because it is part of a larger legacy of early homes designed by African Americans.”
Mr. Downes said that for six months he’s been trying to find a contractor who wants the house, which the Richardses will give away for free. He noted that it is very expensive to move a house and to find a place for it, and that the house will need a proper foundation.
Though the family owns the adjacent lot, he said that because it is their wish to keep it wooded, that is not an option for placing the old house. The woods have paths where the children play, he said, and Mr. Williams added that he knows the paths well and picked up arrowheads there himself as a child.
The application will be back on the Architectural Review Board agenda on October 8.