Sag Harbor Architectural Review Board Balks At Plans For 6,500-Square-Foot Houses

A rendering of a house proposed for Marsden Street in Sag Harbor Village.

Members of the Sag Harbor Village Historic Preservation & Architectural Review Board are unified in their opposition to approving a plan for three new houses in excess of 6,500 square feet each on Marsden Street.

The scale of the houses was the sticking point during the board’s Thursday, January 14, virtual meeting, and the builder pushed back on the idea that they would be overly large.

The application put forth by Pat Trunzo of Trunzo Building Contractors in Wainscott concerns a five-lot subdivision, but two of the proposed homes would not be visible from the street and are therefore not a concern of the board. The board first heard the plan in November 2019, and much has changed since then. Originally, the houses were designed to replicate historic Sag Harbor homes. The revised plan calls for contemporary houses that could not be mistaken for historic.

The largest of the three street-visible proposed houses is 6,611 square feet where zoning would permit up to 7,000 square feet, and that square footage does not include any finished space on the lower level. The smallest is 6,525 square feet, where up to 6,621 is allowed.

Mr. Trunzo reminded the board that four possible designs pitched in 2019 were not well received. He said the new designs take into account the board’s comments that new houses in the historic district should not mimic the old, should face the street, and should look different from each other.

Mr. Trunzo’s architect, Namita Modi, said each house will have a detached garage linked by a breezeway. Evergreens will screen the homes from neighboring Pierson High School, and street trees will be planted as well. New sidewalks with granite curbing will be installed on the north side of Marsden Street and will wrap around to Division Street.

Board Chairman Dean Gomolka polled the board members for their thoughts on the plan, and each made the same remark: The houses are too large.

Board member Steven Williams also said that while he appreciates that Mr. Trunzo looked upon the board’s previous comments favorably, he wants to know why the plan is to build homes on spec rather than designing homes to meet the needs of the purchasers. Mr. Trunzo did not offer an explanation of why he chose to go the spec building route.

“I find the number, 6,000 square feet, overwhelming — just the thought of something that large in Sag Harbor,” board member Judith Long said. “I don’t think there are any houses in Sag Harbor that are 6,000 square feet, and in that neighborhood particularly.”

Ms. Long said that while 6,000 square feet may be allowed, a way to reduce the scale or make the houses seem less overwhelming should be found.

Mr. Gomolka said the project has moved in the right direction — he called the old design “contrived” — but the massing is huge and not contextual.

Mr. Trunzo made the case that the houses are appropriate considering the size of the lots. “They range from three-quarters of an acre up to almost nine-tenths of an acre,” he noted. “So they are relatively large lots for Sag Harbor. Earlier in the meeting tonight, the board was fine with 3,000-square-foot houses on a third of an acre. Well, the ratio of these houses to their lot area is better than two-to-one.”

He added that the proposed houses will be away from others, without any neighbors, and argued that the size of other houses on other streets is not pertinent.

“In my world, if you will, as a builder in the Hamptons, the size of these houses is not large,” Mr. Trunzo said. “Most of the houses I’ve built are larger than these, some of them extremely much larger than these. And I don’t think size alone is the criteria. I agree these houses need to fit into the properties that they sit on, and I think they need to integrate into the neighborhood that they are a part of, but that can be done without having to reduce their sizes.”

Mr. Gomolka requested Mr. Trunzo come back with more information on the size of houses nearby. “You don’t really see developments like this in Sag Harbor, so I think it’s thrown us a little bit of a curveball,” he said, “and volume — I think you’ve heard it five or six times here tonight from the members — this is sort of a bit of an issue.”

Mr. Trunzo said he will endeavor to find out that information but does not see how the size of those houses is relevant to his proposed houses. “These houses are by themselves, pretty much, on Marsden Street,” he said. “So the context is going to be each other rather than houses on Madison or other houses on Division.”

He pointed out that last summer the board approved a house on Madison Street very close to the size of these houses and on a similar size lot. “The board has seen fit to approve relatively larger homes on an appropriately sized lot not too distant from this location,” he said.

Mr. Gomolka agreed that information will be pertinent to this application.

“Maybe it’s not a large house for south of the highway, but this is in a historic village where I think the median home size is averaging closer to 3,000 square feet,” board member Val Florio said. “It might be allowed by code, but I think the New York State guidelines for this are such that we look at things in terms of if it’s harmonious.”

Gas Lantern Nixed

A majority of the Historic Preservation & Architectural Review Board gave a final thumbs down to a plan to install a gas lantern beside an entry to 47 Howard Street, finding that gas lanterns are inappropriate additions to homes listed as contributing to the historic district.

“Whether the board feels that this is a major issue or not, it’s up to you,” said the board’s historic preservation consultant, Zachary Studenroth. “It’s just not appropriate to the house, any more than introducing any other architectural detail that wouldn’t be authentic. I know it’s charming. It doesn’t seem like it’s such a big deal, but when you begin to add these sort of pseudo-historic elements to a listed building in the village, to me, it’s just not appropriate.”

Ms. Long said she agrees: “Since there would not have been a gas lamp on this house when it was built, why are we putting a gas lamp on now that it’s 2021? To me, it sets a bad precedent for people running around putting little, quote, historic touches on their houses that are not historic. … It’s a little bit of the Disney-fication of Sag Harbor.”

The only board member who did not oppose gas was Vice Chairperson Bethany Deyermond.

Architect Anthony Vermandois said his client, the homeowner, would be willing to install an electric lamp instead so the project could proceed and the entry could be lighted. That board was amenable.

50 Harrison Street

The board unanimously approved the demolition of a 2,000-square-foot cape at 50 Harrison Street and the construction of a 3,000-square-foot-plus, four-bedroom residence with a standing seam metal roof to replace it.

The former house was not a contributing structure to the historic district. Still, board member Robert Adams said he is sad to see the old house demolished.

Ms. Long agreed, saying, “It’s too bad to destroy a perfectly good house.” However, she added: “Harrison Street is changing and there are many large houses. There used to be lots of little houses, and now it’s going to have lots of big houses.”