Panel Ponders Sag Harbor Historic District’s 1st Residential Development in Memory

One of the proposed house styles presented to the HPARB on Nov. 14 for Pat Trunzo's planned five-lot development on either side of Marsden Street in Sag Harbor.

It has been too many years to remember the last time a subdivision of four or more lots was developed in the historic district of the Village of Sag Harbor, dominated as it is by a jigsaw puzzle of small parcels dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

Builder Pat Trunzo, who grew up in Sag Harbor, will break the long streak of single-property redevelopment in the heart of the village with a proposal for five high-end houses with pools, pool houses and detached garages on properties that straddle Marsden Street, just across Division Street from Pierson High School.

His parents, Pat and Ruth, acquired the properties in the 1970s as three partially cleared and disturbed parcels north of Marsden Street and one parcel south of Marsden, according to Mr. Trunzo. The family reconfigured the parcels by subdividing the northern properties into four lots in 1984, he said. They were further modified a decade ago with a lot-line change.

The parcels, which are all at least three-quarters of an acre in size, were the site of two long-gone ice houses and later what Mr. Trunzo called an “informal” dump, which he said his father had cleaned up. His father also brought in clean fill to raise the grade of the property, which may have contained a glacial kettle hole long ago, to the level of Marsden Street and partially cleared the parcels, he said.

Seeking feedback before finalizing his building plans, which will require a “certificate of appropriateness” from the Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board, Mr. Trunzo went before the panel on November 14 to informally discuss the siting and design options.

The response was clear: Don’t make the houses all the same and don’t make them look like they’re all supposed to be old Sag Harbor houses. That would be deceptive, said the board’s historic consultant, Zachary Studenroth.

Pat Trunzo at the Nov. 14 meeting of Sag Harbor’s HPARB.

“Excessive uniformity is the worst trap,” Mr. Studenroth added. The houses, even if not faux old-fashioned, “shouldn’t look like a variation on a theme.” Even a modern house would be fine, he said.

“I’d be very unhappy,” said board member David Berridge, “if all these five houses looked and felt the same.” He would oppose “having a unified development dropped into Sag Harbor. There would be alarm bells going off for me,” he said.

Mr. Trunzo noted he planned to use granite curbing on the roadsides, which he said he loved and “pays homage to Sag Harbor.”

His family construction company “builds high-end custom houses done mainly in traditional style,” he added. “They are stately and detailed houses.”

“The driveway down the middle” of the four lots on the north side of Marsden Street “starts to look like a development,” Mr. Berridge said. A single access road for those lots was required by the village Planning Board when it approved the subdivision in 1985, Mr. Trunzo told the board.

Board member Judith Long agreed and, generally, most board members said they preferred siting the houses north of Marsden Street so they face either Division or Marsden, not a central common driveway. Mr. Trunzo himself agreed that, in Sag Harbor, houses facing the street are the norm.

Neighbor Laurie Friedman, who attended the discussion — which came near the close of a record-long, five-hour HPARB meeting — said she didn’t think the “very long suburban driveway” actually conformed to the 1984 subdivision approval. She later submitted a copy of a subdivision plan showing separate driveways for two of the lots on the north to Division Street and two that connect to Marsden. The single lot on the south would also have a driveway to Marsden.

In a letter submitted the following day to the board’s attorney, Elizabeth Vail, Mr. Trunzo agreed that a common driveway “is not in keeping with the well-established pattern language and character of the village …” If the board would indicate it strongly supported the move, he offered to apply to the Planning Board to modify the original subdivision to allow the driveways for at least two of the four northerly lots to have direct street access.

There was also pushback to the house renderings presented by Mr. Trunzo’s architect for the project, Namita Modi of Modi Architects in New York. They showed what some people might call imposing two-story, white clapboard “colonial” houses even though they actually share 19th century Greek Revival elements.

Mr. Studenroth commented, “If they’re all sort of Greeky, they’ll have the same feel.” He suggested instead using “five or six compatible” but different styles.

New HPARB member Steven Williams asked Mr. Trunzo why he was building “spec” houses on the properties; Mr. Trunzo replied he hoping to pre-sell the project.

“It’s a sticking point that it looks like a development,” said the board’s chairman, Dean Gomolka.

Ms. Modi commented in a phone interview on November 25 that she thought the meeting had gone well and that it was “back to the drawing board” to address the board’s concerns.

In a phone interview that same day, Mr. Trunzo also said that the discussion had gone well. “I personally agree,” he said, that there shouldn’t be a common driveway for the four northerly lots. “I honestly don’t know why the Planning Board wanted to restrict access on those four lots to a common driveway,” he said.