Would two houses that fit into the neighborhood and stand on separate lots be a better fit historically and aesthetically than building an imposing addition on a modest house in the Sag Harbor Historic District?
That was the question that seemed to intrigue board members after it popped up during a discussion between property owner Ralph Riciti and Sag Harbor’s Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board (HPARB) in an October 28 Zoom session.
In response to previous comments from the panel, Riciti presented a scaled-down version of the addition he wants to build on the 19th-century, two-story clapboard house that sits at one end of a long, narrow corner lot at Liberty Street’s intersection with Hempstead Street.
Despite having lowered the proposed addition’s roofline 18 inches to match the existing house, reduced its length by nearly 11 feet, shrinking the “connector” element between the house and the wing, as well as making other changes, Riciti still faced resistance from the board, as he had when he met with the panel two weeks before and in August.
Board Chairwoman Jeanne Kane said the panel’s members appreciated his and architect Eric Peterson’s efforts to address their concerns, but there was still “one compelling point: the size of the existing house versus the size of the addition … Its mass is still very large.”
Commenting that “the heart of the matter is this is an odd duck” because of its narrow shape and relatively large size for the village, Raciti went through the twists, turns and problems he has faced trying to plan a renovation and expansion of the house to the allowable gross floor area of 3,395 square feet, one that would require no variances and violate none of the rules protecting an historic house, such as relocating it on the lot.
“Don’t fear zoning here,” board member Steve Williams told him, referring to setback and pyramid-law variances that might be required for a lower profile but wider addition that would yield the gross floor area and living space that the lot size allows for.
“It’s a great objective” to avoid a need for variances, Williams said, “but Sag Harbor is a village of pre-existing, non-conforming” properties that don’t comply with current zoning.
Riciti explained that he had tried that route with a different plan, one that he had discussed informally with the HPARB in 2018. It called for treating the existing house as an accessory structure to allow for an entirely new house to be built as the principal structure on the north end facing Hempstead Street.
But in July, applying to the Zoning Board for the variances that plan would have required, he was told to go back to the HPARB with a “variance-free application” for a renovation and addition.
“That’s what our marching orders are,” Riciti told Williams.
The new version of that plan is not quite variance-free anymore: it requires a 6-foot pyramid-law height variance to accommodate a gable.
The property in the mid-19th century was two separate lots that over the years had merged, Raciti told the board. The existing house back then “was exactly where it should be” on the southern parcel; the northern quarter-acre meanwhile has never been developed.
When the HPARB first looked at the property in 2018, its then-chairman, Anthony Brandt, “said ‘Gee, have you thought about a subdivision?’” Riciti said in a phone interview after the Zoom session last week.
At the meeting, he told the HPARB that he applied to the Planning Board for a minor subdivision into two lots. “I think that’s what everybody really wants,” Riciti said, but zoning requires a minimum lot size of 20,000 square feet and the planners “were not willing to go down the path of a subdivision,” he said, prompting him to withdraw the application.
“Wow! Wow!” exclaimed Williams, adding that the neighbors would favor the subdivision alternative, which HPARB member Judith Long called the “obvious answer to the problem.”
Riciti quipped that, if he tried again to pursue that option, he feared “being in the cauldron — with the Planning Board lighting the torch.” He added that he has owned the property for three years and he was “really hopeful” there won’t be a fourth year.
“I’m not saying I know what the exact answer is but we do want to help you find a solution that works best,” said Kane, who called for board members to see if they and other village officials “could gather here” to “work on our end” and “figure out what are all the potential options rather than just dictating one.”
Their next public conversation will be at the board’s November 18 Zoom session.
27 John Street Approved
Another case that prompted resistance earlier in the month sailed to formal approval on October 28 with little discussion except for expressions of appreciation for the changes that architect Ted Porter had made in response to the critique of board members and Zachary Studenroth, the board’s historic preservation consultant.
Representing David Bolger in his application for a certificate of appropriateness to renovate and enlarge an historic Italianate house at 27 John Street, Porter said he had reduced the height and size of a proposed addition; moved it farther away from John Street; and removed features that Studenroth said were inappropriate including a clipped gable and a pair of rounded windows. He also designed a free-standing one-car garage instead of a garage built into the house.
“After the last meeting,” Porter said, “I presented all your comments and recommendations to David. He insisted that we accommodate the board while making it a comfortable home.”
Among other decisions, the HPARB granted certificates of appropriateness for new windows at the American Hotel that will match the existing windows; a renovation and in-ground pool at 37 Union Street; a one-story addition at 11 Montauk Avenue; and a new front door and driveway at 11 Harrison Street.
The board also discussed the plans of Frederick Richards Jr. and Terry Richards to demolish a decaying waterfront house at 63 Terry Drive and replace it with a modular structure that is being constructed in Pennsylvania, according to their attorney, Dennis Downes, who said the Richardses are “the oldest family in that subdivision,” Azurest.
Kane, the board chairwoman, told Downes that there would be no demolition permit until the legal status of the end of Terry Drive as having been abandoned is established in the record; and that the Harbor Committee and Zoning Board, if plans for the new structure require variances, would have to review the plan first “then we look at the aesthetics and appearance.”