Plans for L’Hommedieu House Raise Neighbor Concerns

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Plans to renovate the L’Hommedieu House, the red brick Greek Revival townhouse that has stood along Captains Row on Main Street since 1840, drew concern from two neighboring property owners at Tuesday night’s Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, although the new owner of the property assured the board and neighbors that he is committed to a renovation that is true to the structure’s historic roots.

Architect Anthony Vermandois, representing property owners Robert and Elizabeth Russell, presented preliminary plans to the ZBA for the construction of a 186-square-foot pool house and a 100-square-foot third-floor egress platform on the roof of the second floor, for which the Russells have asked the board to grant a 15.1-foot front-yard setback variance and a pyramid variance of 240 cubic feet.

According to Mr. Vermandois, the plan varies significantly from a 2016 proposal by the previous property owner that would have altered some of the design elements of the residence, which is a “contributing” building in the village’s historic district. Mr. Vermandois said the Russells’s plans would not alter “the footprint or habitable area of the house whatsoever,” but that the homeowners did want to install an elevator from the basement to the second floor, which would protrude slightly through the rear, second-story roof.

Robby Stein, in his last meeting as ZBA chairman, asked if it would be possible to explore installing a hydraulic elevator, one that has its equipment in the basement, to avoid that protrusion — a request the rest of the ZBA appeared to support.

Pierce Hance, a Main Street resident and former village mayor, also questioned the possibility that the third floor would be considered habitable. “This house has stood there since 1840 and that space on the third floor has been an attic,” he said. “It is not habitable and these plans show bathrooms, bedrooms, fine wiring, air conditioning.”

He also questioned the need for egress — two ways of egress are required by building codes for a habitable space — that would leave someone 120 feet from the ground in the event of a fire. Mr. Hance also said if the number of bedrooms and bathrooms were expanding, the application would need health department approval and would need more parking on the site.

“My objection is a historic structure being modified,” he said. “This is a contributing structure, one of the most important ones in the village.”

Mr. Vermandois said during a walk-through he took through the house before the Russell family purchased it, he found the third floor fully furnished and that it had a fireplace. He said the current certificate of occupancy, however, includes five bedrooms — likely accounting for three bedrooms on the main level and two bedrooms in a basement level.

There is an application for a nitrogen-reducing septic system pending before the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, Mr. Vermandois said.

“I think what this board is trying to impart is that we would rather know that now as a part of the process,” said Mr. Stein of the septic plan. “We can’t rule on the interior space, but if there are going to be further exterior needs, it would be good to know.”

Resident Jonathan Morse, who lives nearby in an historic house, said the application was “a backdoor attempt to make the attic into habitable space” and also an attempt to create a roof deck by calling it “egress.”

The board’s attorney, Denise Schoen, said she would discuss the application with building inspector Thomas Preiato to determine if the attic is habitable. ZBA member Scott Baker said the board should also have an understanding of where the new septic system will go on the property.

Mr. Russell pledged to the board that he understood the historic significance of the L’Hommedieu House, in which he said he and his wife planned on retiring. The reason for an elevator is the narrow stairs, he said, but added he was committed to “an expensive rehab of this house. Everything needs to be replaced.”

“So, we are going to do that work,” said Mr. Russell. “To my neighbors, we are going to take care of it. We are not developing it, we are not fixing to sell it, we are here.”

“If people don’t do anything to this house for 10 years,” he added. “It will be derelict.”

Mr. Vermandois said he would discuss the application with Mr. Preiato before returning to the ZBA.

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