Categorized | Express Editorials

Sustaining the Old, Conscientiously 6/21/12

Posted on 22 June 2012

Here’s what could be the technological advance architects and owners of historic homes have been waiting for. And Sag Harbor stands positioned to show how the old can be sustained by the new.

We learned this week that Elizabeth Dow, owner of the former Sag Harbor Methodist Church, has applied for and received preliminary approval for the installation of photovoltaic shingles on the roof of that historic edifice. Dow, who is in the throes of a costly renovation of the church, plans to operate her textile design studio out of the building.

While the village and its residents have long harbored a desire to be environmentally conscious, resolving the pairing of high technology and historic buildings has, for decades, been a problem. On a case by case basis, the village’s board of historic preservation and architectural review has allowed certain improvements to 18th and 19th century homes to bring their efficiencies up to — if not the 21st century — the 20th century. But applicants who have proposed everything from windmills to solar panels have regularly been told no, unless the installation is on a part of the house not visible from the street. And rightfully so; our stock in trade in this village is the collection of authentically restored historic homes we enjoy — arguably among the greatest in the country. The exception to this has been the solar panels permitted for the former Stella Maris Catholic School, which is not a contributing structure in the historic district. Locating solar panels where no one can see them has been the compromise the village has had to offer; but, hopefully, that may change.

In many cases, we believe the introduction of these specially designed shingles, which help power a house with considerably reduced reliance on electricity from the grid, can satisfy the aesthetic concerns of the village’s board, and take a giant step — all right, a decent-sized step — to reducing our carbon footprint. But we acknowledge the board should review this on a case-by-case basis. It may be, for example, inappropriate to replace a roof of wood or slate shingles — two “period” materials — with these new photovoltaic shingles. But, at first glance, we see an opportunity to replace asphalt or fiberglass shingles without threatening the historic integrity of a neighborhood.

The first thing we want to do is continue to preserve that historic integrity throughout the village; but, at the same time, we need to seek out those advances that make us good neighbors in the 21st Century.

Four years ago the chairman of the Sag Harbor Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review expressed hope that new technology would meet the demands of an old historic community — as ironic as that might sound. With the introduction of these shingles by Ms. Dow we have hope that we’re narrowing the gap between new and old, and they may help us to meet our responsibilities as a modern community with an ancient history.

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