Stop-Work Order Upheld, But Sag Harbor Officials Say Damage Done

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Sag Harbor officials say the owner of this house at 24 Rysam Street exceeded approvals granted by village boards by demolishing most of its historic features. STEPHEN J. KOTZ

Sag Harbor Village this week obtained a temporary restraining order, allowing it to enforce a stop-work order on the renovation of a house at 24 Rysam Street that village officials say resulted in the destruction of an historic building.

Chief Building Inspector Thomas Preiato issued the order on June 3, charging that contractors for Jack Morris of New Jersey, who owns the property through Rysam Properties, LLC, had exceeded approvals granted by the village Zoning Board of Appeals and the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review.

In an affidavit submitted with the village’s effort to obtain the restraining order, Mr. Preiato stated that workers with Lyle Pike Construction had torn down and replaced most of what was an historic house that had been built between 1880 and 1900 and was on the National Register of Historic Places and listed as a contributing structure to the village’s historic district.

The builders “essentially razed and reconstructed the entire residence, destroying historic portions of the structure that were required to be preserved,” according to Mr. Prieato’s statement.

The village had signed off on a proposal to renovate 442 square feet on the first and second floors and add a 522-square-foot first floor addition that would be slightly smaller on the second floor, as well as other changes including a covered porch, deck, and pool. Although those approvals were issued late last year, the coronavirus pandemic delayed the issuing of a building permit until May.

Alex Kriegsman, the Sag Harbor attorney representing 24 Rysam Properties, had challenged the stop-worker order so work continued apace at the site until State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Farnetti ruled in the village’s favor on Monday.

Denise Schoen, the village’s attorney, on Tuesday said the village was well within its rights of stopping work on the project. “They were supposed to put an addition on an historic structure, not tear an historic structure down,” she said. “Virtually overnight, the house was gone, and it was all new framing.”

Despite the setback, Mr. Kriegsman said “it’s still the first inning” of what he projected would be a long legal battle between his client and the village.

Mr. Kriegsman said his client did what many, many other property owners do when they renovate an historic house in the village: They save what they can and replace the rest with similar materials. The difference, he said, was that his client was honest about it, doing the work openly and not trying to hide it.

“You look at any renovated house, and I’d challenge you to find an original piece of the structure,” he said. “The village is engaged in a charade, and it is about to be exposed.”
He pointed to the nearby house owned by Billy Joel on Bay Street as an example of new construction replacing old. “For some reason, although everybody else gets the seal of approval, they came after my client,” he said.

Under the terms of the restraining order, no work can take place until the village ZBA has an opportunity to conduct a hearing on Mr. Kriegsman’s appeal of the stop-work order. In the meantime, the judge set a July 16 court date.

Ms. Schoen said even if the village does prevail, its victory would be hollow. “What’s the remedy for restoring an historic structure?” she asked. “You can’t get the past back.”

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