By Douglas Feiden
The grandfather of Bill Pickens co-founded the NAACP in 1909, and Mr. Pickens says his father “followed the bulldozers” in to the newly built African-American community of Sag Harbor Hills in 1950.
Now, he says the neighborhood, which has been both home and sanctuary for the Pickens family for 66 years, is being transformed — and he doesn’t like what he sees: “The bulldozers are coming back, and this time, it’s for our history, our culture and our way of life,” he said.
In an impassioned argument to the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review on Thursday night, Mr. Pickens and more than a dozen other Sag Harbor Hills residents said the enclave between Route 114 and Sag Harbor Bay should be protected with the same vigilance the board uses to safeguard the village’s historic district.
“Our community deserves no less,” said Noel Hankin, who has lived in the adjoining black community of Ninevah Beach for more than two decades. The area should be protected as “ferociously” as the historic district, he said.
The flashpoint for the neighborhood’s disquietude was a project proposed by the architect Peter Cook to merge four separate and adjoining lots — 116, 110 and 106 Hillside Drive East in Sag Harbor Hills and 55 Lincoln Street in Ninevah — and demolish the two homes that now sit on the parcels.
They would be replaced with a two-story, 6,000-square-foot, waterfront-facing residence, complete with seven bedrooms and seven baths, a detached gym and garage, swimming pool, pool house and terracing. Other features include a kosher kitchen, 775-square-foot covered porch and 287-square-foot master deck off the second-floor master bedroom, draft plans show.
Noting his own residence occupies some 1,200 square feet, Mr. Pickens said, “Your garage will be bigger than my home.”
Mr. Cook said that wasn’t accurate, and in fact, preliminary plans indicate a garage-storage area of 644 square feet.
But as small-scale, half-century-old, ranch homes on modest parcels increasingly give way to bulkier, taller houses on combined lots, there has been growing unrest in Sag Harbor Hills, Ninevah and Azurest, which was founded in 1947 and is the oldest of the village’s three side-by-side, traditional black communities.
“This is not historic preservation, it’s historic elimination,” Mr. Pickens said. Added Mr. Hankin, “It’s over-size, out of scale and totally out of character for the community.”
The unease is focused on the assemblage along Hillside Drive East — which dead-ends at the water, a mile east of the breakwater — and the preliminary plans for its future, which were presented to the ARB by Mr. Cook as a discussion item and has been identified in sketches only as the “Kapito Residence.”
The applicant was 55 Lincoln Holdings and Mile High Partners LLC, according to a disclosure affidavit filed with the village on March 22 and obtained under state Freedom of Information Law.
In the document, the “shareholders, partners, or members of the applicant corporation, partnership or limited company” are identified as a Robert Kapito and Ellen Kapito.
The president of BlackRock, the world’s largest investment management firm, with $4.6 trillion in assets under management, is Robert Kapito, whose wife is named Ellen. Mr. Kapito, who is also a BlackRock director, made $18.5 million in 2014 and $17.7 million in 2013, according to Wall Street Journal stories.
Mr. Kapito couldn’t be reached by deadline on Wednesday, said BlackRock spokesman Brian Beades.
Attorney Bruce Bronster, at the law firm Windels Marx, who represents 55 Lincoln Holdings, and Kieran Pape Murphree, of Southampton’s Burke and Sullivan, another lawyer for the owner, didn’t return calls.
Mr. Cook said his client was a “private person and would rather not advertise his project.” But in an interview, he talked at length about the house, saying the lot size would have permitted the construction of two residences, but his client is only building one.
“We’ll have one house on two lots, instead of two houses on two buildable lots, so there will only be one septic system and not two,” Mr. Cook said. “We’re not asking for any variances, and the house conforms to height, conforms to pyramid law, conforms to lot coverage and conforms to the new gross floor area zoning.”
He said the Hillside lots comprise 34,365 square feet and the Lincoln lot is 22,501 square feet, which means they could be built out as stand-alone homes at 4,750 square feet and 3,800 square feet respectively.
In other words, if the lots were kept separate, he could construct two houses totaling 8,550 square feet of floor area. By merging them, he’s capped out at 6,549 square feet.
“It’s over the top,” said Ed Dudley, an attorney whose late father, Edward R. Dudley, was ambassador to Liberia and a Manhattan borough president. “The concern is that a way of life is being threatened.
Added Bernice Giscombe, a former bank vice president, “This is where we come to relax and be free, and it shouldn’t be at risk.”
ARB Chairman Anthony Brandt said his board has less power and control over construction, alteration and demolition outside the historic district: “There’s only so much we can do,” he said.