By Kathryn G. Menu
Last week, a Sag Harbor developer and his architect approached the Village of Sag Harbor Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board to test the waters on if that board would approve demolition and reconstruction, in kind, of a historic Main Street, Sag Harbor building dating back to the 1750s.
It has been about a year since local developer James Giorgio received approval by the Village of Sag Harbor to raise his commercial building at 125 Main Street, next to The Latham House. That approval was seen as a part of a restoration project designed to shore-up the building through a new foundation, but also add a new commercial space on the street level in what is now a crawl space.
However, according to Giorgio and his architect, Charles Thomas, once contractors began taking a closer look at the actual structure, they quickly realized that following through with their plans, and bringing the building up to building code and meet safety requirements, was far from possible.
“I am here to see to what level we could basically, I don’t want to say demolish, but remove the building and reconstruct it in the same proportions using materials we would present to you,” said Thomas at a Sag Harbor ARB meeting last Thursday. “But before we got into that I felt we needed to have this conversation.”
“At the end of the day, it will be the same building,” he added.
“You are talking about taking the entire building down,” asked ARB chairman Cee Scott Brown.
“We are talking about taking the entire building down,” confirmed Thomas.
According to Giorgio, one of the biggest problems his team has encountered is that the structure itself is simply in bad shape. From the ceiling separating the first and second floors, part of which is held together by tree limbs still clad in bark, but not in good shape, said Giorgio, to “a tremendous amount of rot in the walls,” Giorgio said the best bet would be to deconstruct the building and attempt to salvage as many materials as possible for the reconstruction.
The east wall of the building, added Thomas, is completely rotted out with decay, added Thomas.
“The building will look the same, but we don’t think we can salvage all of what is there,” he said. “We are trying to make this code compliant and safe for the public and it is almost impossible. I am actually not going to say ‘almost,’ it is impossible and the building is so deteriorated we don’t know where to go with anything.”
“We can start making temporary repairs to the building,” he added. “But that is all we can do at this point.”
For Giorgio, whose personal hobby is to rebuild antique motorcycles, it is not in his nature to tear something down only to replace it with something new, he noted.
“I will spend years looking for a part before I replace it,” he said, noting he believes this is the best way to salvage some of the characteristics of the building and keep the historic aesthetic of the house intact.
Brown wondered what options Giorgio and Thomas would have if the Sag Harbor ARB flatly rejected the concept.
“Are you telling me the building is in such bad shape that safety wise and even structurally it is a precarious situation,” he asked.
“I don’t know if it would withstand the renovations without a high level of risk while we are taking it apart,” said Giorgio, later adding that once certain portions of the house were removed for reconstruction, he believes the house “would fall down.”
Giorgio said if he was allowed to move forward with this plan, which would still need formal approval from the village’s ARB and planning boards, instead of raising the building and adding the commercial space in the crawl space, he would try and lower the building by 18-inches to make stairways to the existing two retail spaces on the first floor a little more accessible.
“I would not want this building to end up with all new windows, all new everything where it looks like a new building done a la 1700,” said Brown, stressing that if the ARB ultimately agreed to the plan he would like to see as much of the original building used to preserve the historic feel of the structure.
Board members Tom Horn, Sr. and Diane Schiavoni asked Giorgio and Thomas to come back to the board with formal plans for the project at the board’s next meeting, on May 23 at 5 p.m.
“It’s a big decision,” said Schiavoni. “I want to see more.”
In other ARB news, Pia Ferraris was approved for an addition at her 67 Suffolk Street home, Far Away Peace LLC at 186 Main Street was given permission to remove one spruce tree from its property, add plantings to the property and repair a driveway and fence in kind. Gail Schoentag Street was approved for a new sign announcing the “Josef Schoeffmann Gallery” at 112 Hampton Street and Thomas Iorio was approved for a new sign, “Tommy’s GLC Barber Shop” at 66 Main Street.
The next meeting of the Sag Harbor ARB is on Monday, May 23 at 5 p.m.