Review Panel Approves Renovations at Historic L’Hommedieu House

Architect Anthony Vermandois, center, with opponents Jonathan Morse (left) and Pierce Hance before the Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board on October 10. Peter Boody photo

Despite strident objections from two neighbors, plans to renovate the historic L’Hommedieu house at 258 Main Street — including a “recreation room” on the third floor — won conditional approval from the Sag Harbor Historic Preservation and Architectural Review board on October 10.

The one condition applied to owner Robert Russell’s plan to recreate two long-gone chimneys to complement the two that are still there. The board decided not to approve them until evidence is submitted to prove the chimneys once existed and show their style.

During a public hearing before the board voted 5-0 vote to grant a certificate of appropriateness for the rest of the plan, Main Street neighbors Jonathan Morse, a former village trustee who lives in an historic, Italianate house on Main Street, and former mayor Pierce Hance, who lives across the street at 253 Main Street, renewed the objections to using the third floor as habitable space. It was an issue that they raised in June, when the proposal was before the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The L’Hommedieu House, a classic 1840 Greek Revival townhouse at 258 Main Street.

At the time, Mr. Russell sought a 15.1-foot setback variance to build a pool house and a 240-cubic-foot “sky plane” variance for a third-floor deck to provide egress. The ZBA granted the setback variance but the plan for the third-floor deck was withdrawn, with egress now to be provided by enlarging a third-floor window from 4 to 5.7 square feet.

“The house, like my house, is two stories with an attic,” said Mr. Morse at the hearing, and the attic was “never meant to be habitable.” Allowing people to occupy it, he added, would be “frightfully dangerous if there’s a fire.”

Chairman Dean Gomolka replied that he had checked with Building Inspector Thomas Preiato and had been told, “They can use the third floor,” so the attic’s legal status was “not an issue for our board.”

“The third floor was fully furnished in 2017 when my clients bought” the house, said project architect Anthony Vermandois. He added that state and village codes allow the space to be used as a third floor as long as it is “limited to the confines of the existing attic.”

Mr. Hance said he had tried to meet with the building inspector to discuss the attic but “he refused,” and asserted that “the last CO” (certificate of occupancy) for the property “says it was uninhabited,” as does an inspection report prepared by the HPARB’s consultant.

“Why the building inspector now says it’s habitable, I don’t know,” Mr. Hance said.

“This board has no authority to opine on whether that space is habitable or not,” said village attorney Elizabeth Vail, referring to the board’s limited authority to review the historical and architectural “appropriateness” of changes to contributing buildings in the historic district.

“What has changed in the building inspector’s mind?” Mr. Hance said. “It’s on file it was not habitable. As a resident of this village, to call that space habitable, to put a fire sprinkler over the window for egress and say ‘jump, you’ll be all right,’” in case of a fire, this is crazy.”

There were no other public comments during the 20-minute hearing.

Also at its October 10 meeting, the Review Board granted four more certificates of occupancy, tabled nine applications, and set one for a public hearing for November 14. It will be on builder Robert Tortarella’s proposal to add a French door and two windows in the rear façade of the Nelson Friedman Estate ‘s house at 43 Palmer Terrace after the removal of a non-working fireplace. The board requires a formal public hearing for exterior changes that are proposed for structures containing more than 3,000 square feet of floor area.

The board granted certificates of appropriateness for:

  • Daniel Schiff to build a single-family house, garage, pool and patio on a vacant parcel at 386 Main Street. An existing vinyl fence will be removed. Board member David Berridge voted against the proposal because he objected to its proposed trim elements. “The one-by-eight Aztec board says ‘new house’ and you’re putting in something that tries to fit in” with the older houses of Sag Harbor, he commented. The vote was 4-1.
  • Elizabeth Dow to build a two-foot addition and create a sunken courtyard in the rear of the house at 127 Jermain Avenue.
  • Gregory Gordon to stain the shingles at 12 Bay Street.
  • Cynthia M. Walsh to install a hot tub at 274 Division Street.