Panel Resists Plan For Large Addition On Humble House In Historic District

Architectural rendering of the proposed renovation and addition of a 19th-century house at 25 Liberty Street in Sag Harbor.

The renovation and expansion can be tweaked here and there, but “you’re asking us to give up allowable development rights” by reducing it further, Ralph Raciti of Pheonix Realty Group told Sag Harbor Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation members in a Zoom meeting on October 14.

He pointed to that fundamental conflict after a long discussion during which board members and their historic consultant once again urged him to find ways to shrink the mass of an addition he wants to add to a modest house at the corner of Liberty and Hempstead Streets that is listed as a contributing structure in the village’s Historic District.

The project, which Raciti first discussed with the board in August, would comply with all zoning requirements, he said. “We went pretty above and beyond to get it where it is,” Raciti said.

“But it’s still not good enough,” replied board member Judith Long.

The proposal is only in the conceptual stage and has not been presented as a formal application for a certificate of appropriateness. “If you could play a little more with its width versus its length and play with the connector” element, a lower-level structure that would join the addition to the original house, then the board would continue its informal discussion with him or begin a formal review if he choses to finalize the proposal and file a formal application, Kane said.

“There’s a big step between informal” discussion “and a formal application,” Raciti replied.

The board doesn’t need full construction plans, Chairwoman Jeanne Kane said, just renderings and elevation plans “that show us the exterior” of the project “and its relationship to the existing” house.

“Okay. We’ll do it,” Raciti said.

During the previous discussion, architect Eric Peterson told the panel he had striven to replicate the exact roof slope, pitch and trim of the original house in the addition, which he noted would comply with all zoning setbacks and pyramid-law height limits.

Raciti noted that the ridge height of the addition would be “a little more than a foot” higher than the original house, less than the 5-foot differential he said the board had allowed at an addition on a Glover Street house.

The board’s historic preservation consultant, Zachary Studenroth, noted that “given the constraints of the building envelope” on the rectangular lot, “the proposed addition is narrow but very long.” Given the slope of the property northward toward Hempstead Street, he suggested lowering its profile by using steps to allow a lower floor level in the addition “to minimize the height of the [exposed] foundation, which is a bit overwhelming,” as well as to lower the ridge line.

He also said he regretted that the proposed renovation would eliminate “little quirky additions” made to the original house over the years that give it character. The renovation would turn it into “a rectangular box without any particular aesthetic interest,” he said, “but the bigger point is the addition is three times the size of the house.”

Raciti responded that an I/A septic system will be installed along the Liberty Street side of the addition, hiding much of the exposed foundation with fill; and that Peterson’s design already has a step-down from the house into the addition.

“We can develop the idea” of further lowering the level of the addition with more steps, Peterson commented, but “the issue is certain people in this family” that will be occupying the finished project would have a problem with that.

Under the guidance provided to historic districts by the U.S. Department of the Interior, a new addition “needs to be subservient” to the original house, noted board member Steve Williams.

“If you want a smaller house,” Raciti said, referring to overall finished project, “it means giving up square feet” that he’s entitled to have under zoning “or going to a variance” to allow for a narrower addition closer to the rear lot line, which would require a variance from the height restrictions of the pyramid law.

Any addition to the house, he added, “is not going to be small” because the zoning code allows for it. “Eric and I can go back to see if there are any tweaks, but I think the ridge is going to be difficult … putting [more] stairs in this house is a problem.” He asked the board if it wanted the addition’s ridge line reduced 18 inches to match the ridge line of the house.

“Yes, that would be good … or lower,” board member Judith Long said. She agreed with Studenroth that it’s “too bad to lose some of the more interesting aspects of this house, which I think needs to be preserved …”

She added that the “huge addition” is “just simply wrong for Sag Harbor.”