Plans for a Jefferson Street House Draw Fire


By Stephen J. Kotz

A funny thing happened to us on the way to the Sag Harbor Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review, a Jefferson Street property owner and his architect told the Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday.

“The ARB was absolutely aghast and multiple members of the organization Save Sag Harbor basically reamed me out for proposing to have a house in the back of the property,” architect Anthony Vermandois told the ZBA of the plans of his client, Evan DiPaolo, to build a new house at 10 Jefferson Street.

The objections, he said, were primarily because the new plans called for breaking up a pattern in which most houses are close to the street. The ARB signaled in no unclear terms that they would not be willing to approve it in that location, he said.

“I tried to explain to the ARB that to put the house in the front would require multiple area variances,” Mr. Vermandois said. “We are in a situation where to get this house through the ARB we need to put it in the front.”

“The irony of that is that it doesn’t conform to the zoning code,” he added.

Mr. Vermandois said he had originally proposed an approximately 4,700-square-foot house for the rear portion of the irregularly shaped 0.7-acre lot. But faced with the ARB’s criticism he and Mr. DiPaolo returned to the drawing board and began working on a plan for a slightly smaller house that would be placed closer to the street, but require front and sideyard setback variances as well as a variance from the pyramid law, which regulates a building’s height in relation to its distance from the property line.

“If it was me, I’d build it in the back,” said ZBA member Brendan Skislocki. “I’m trying to figure out how a nice road into the back, how that really destroys the integrity of the streetscape.”

The attorney Dennis Downes, who usually represents applicants in their dealings before the board, this time appeared in opposition, as a neighboring property owner, threatening to sue if the house were approved in its proposed location.

“The ARB has no authority, no authority, to send someone to the ZBA for variances,” Mr. Downes said. “Send this case back to the ARB and tell them to grant whatever permits are required.”

Mr. Downes said he objected to the plans for a number of reasons, saying that most houses along Jefferson Street have 25-to-30 feet of frontage on the street. The DiPaolo house would “cause an undesirable change in the neighborhood,” he said, in part because it would loom over other smaller houses on the street.

Plus, he said, the house would look down over the backyard of his own house on Main Street.  “I don’t want nine windows looking down at me,” he said.

Mr. Downes also questioned Mr. Vermandois’s assertion that the house would be about 4,400 square feet, saying his own calculations led him to believe it would be closer to 5,700 square feet.  “It’s a monstrous house if you put it on that part of the property; it’s not monstrous if you put in in back,” he said.

Mr.  Downes said that a neighbor, Robert Weinstein, had encouraged members of Save Sag Harbor to oppose Mr. DiPaolo’s plans, a charge Mr. Weinstein rejected.

“I did not get a group of Save Sag Harbor Friends to speak about this,” he said. “It was a spontaneous meeting where many members of the community opposed putting a house in the back of the property.”

“All of us have to think about what has been here before historically and what is coming after us,” he added.

Mr. Downes suggested that Mr. DiPaolo could have the kitchen removed from the current house on the property, a ranch that had been constructed by the Santacroce family, and convert that to an accessory structure, thus answering the ARB’s concerns about disrupting the streetscape. Board member Tim McGuire suggested that the idea be pursued as one possible solution and said he was particularly concerned by the extent of the pyramid law variance being requested.

“If the applicant could make this house more conforming, would you be opposed,” board member Scott Baker asked Mr. Downes. “I’m opposed to a two-story house in that location,” he replied.

“Getting on the same page with the ARB is really important,” noted board chairman Anton Hagen, who suggested a joint work session with that board.

“Our job is to grant the least number of variances,” said Mr. Baker.

“Why is this before us? asked Mr. Skisloski, referring to the ARB. “Did they suggest or did they deny?”

“They obviously gave them such a hard time the applicant felt he was going to be denied,” replied the board’s attorney, Denise Schoen.

The board tabled the matter pending a discussion with the ARB and revised plans reducing the need for variances.