In the wake of protest — including by the president of the Sag Harbor Historical Society — this week the board charged with protecting the historic character of Sag Harbor Village called for independent, expert advice on the state of a Main Street building before it will even consider allowing it to be torn down and rebuilt in kind.
On Monday, July 25, the Sag Harbor Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board (ARB) Chairman Cee Scott Brown told local real estate developer Jim Giorgio and his architect Chuck Thomas that he would like the condition of 125 Main Street formally assessed before his board offers any opinions on the proposal.
Last year Giorgio, who has re-developed a handful of Sag Harbor buildings, was granted approval to raise the historic structure, located adjacent to The Latham House, and add a new street-level commercial space. That approval was seen as a part of a restoration project designed to shore-up the building through a new foundation.
However, according to Thomas, once he began taking a closer look at that structure it became clear that plan might not be feasible, as much of the building was in such a serious state of disrepair that it would not be salvageable during the reconstruction project.
Instead, Thomas suggested they would change their plans and re-build a new 125 Main exactly as it appears today, except would lower the structure so two retail spaces would be closer to the street level.
Quickly, the concept of the building, which dates to the 1750s, being demolished raised the ire of the Sag Harbor Historical Society and the not-for-profit Save Sag Harbor. Both groups called for an independent assessment.
And it appears they were heard.
Brown said he would like to work with Giorgio and Julian Adams, the community liaison and certified local government coordinator for the New York State Historic Preservation Office to find an engineer that specializes in historic restoration that could offer an independent opinion about the building’s durability.
“I can tell you right now, structurally, the first floor has to be replaced,” said Thomas, adding the building also needs a brand new foundation. “On the second floor what may be able to be saved are the walls and the roof, but that is about it.”
In the process of restoring and renovating the building, Giorgio will also have to bring it up to code, requiring a new sprinkler system in between the floors, a virtually impossible task with the current state of the structure.
“For me, to take that building down and rebuild it, it costs a lot more money than if we saved it,” said Giorgio, adding he believes they won’t even know what is possible until they start to strip away layers of the structure. Thomas and Giorgio have promised to use as much of the existing historic material in rebuilding 125 Main Street if they are approved.
Giorgio implored the board to give him direction on how they can make a viable plan for the building work, both for the village, but also for him as a commercial real estate owner.
“It’s not an easy answer for us, and I know it’s not an easy answer for you, but we need some direction, some latitude,” he said.
“The best thing we can all do is get someone on board that is familiar with this, a preservationist,” said board member Michael Mensch, adding it may be possible to re-build from the inside out.
Brown added that if it is determined the building can be saved in some form, he would like to reach out to the other village boards and possibly work towards a project – even if it requires variances – that make the space viable for Giorgio to maintain without taking the building down.
Giorgio agreed to explore hiring a preservationist and taking a third look at the project.
“We are trying to find the right mix for what works for the village and what works for us,” he said.
“It might not be as bad as you think,” said Brown. “Or it might be worse.”