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New Rules for Old Homes in Sagaponack

Posted on 13 August 2009

Sagaponack Village is mainly known for its rural landscapes of old shingled houses coupled with acres of farmland. In an effort to protect these historic homes and vistas, the Sagaponack Village Board hopes to enact a law, which would further clarify and cement the powers of the Architectural and Historic Review Board over alterations of historic structures and demolition applications.

“We are trying to prevent the willy-nilly destruction of buildings that are important to defining the character of this community,” remarked village mayor Don Louchheim at a public hearing on the law, held on Monday afternoon. Louchheim added that similar, and much more stringent, regulations already exist in surrounding municipalities, like Sag Harbor Village.

This law would prohibit “inappropriate alterations,” which require a building permit, to any structure deemed historic or significant to the character and aesthetics of the village by the board. Additions to old homes would be permitted as long as the new wing wasn’t overly noticeable from the public roadway.

Village resident Peter Smith, however, pointed out that a list of historic homes in the village doesn’t currently exist and Louchheim said it was unlikely that a list would be compiled in the future. In the law, though, the board would refer to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for rehabilitating historic buildings when determining the cultural and aesthetic value of a structure.

Smith, however, hinted that the law might negatively impact homeowners.

“My house has been cobbled together over the centuries. It might have worked in the 1800s, but it does not work today,” noted Smith. “I am very apprehensive about the board following these guidelines. What can I do about my structure? I cannot add an addition to my house. There may be some unintended consequences [of the law].”

Louchheim maintained that Smith could very well add additional rooms to his home, but it would depend on the appropriateness of the renovations.

Others argued that designating a home as an historic building would hurt the value of their properties because it could require a more thorough review by the board. However, Louchheim further pointed out that if the Architecture and Historic Review Board denies an application, the applicant would then go before the Zoning Board of Appeals to seek a variance.

Similar concerns were raised over the law’s new provision for demolition applications. Under the proposed new law, any demolition application would go before the board for approval. Some members of the public said this provision could create a financial hardship on a homeowner who couldn’t afford to fully restore an historic home. In some cases, added Smith, it is less expensive to build new then it is to rehabilitate an old structure.

“Sagaponack was traditionally a hamlet with farmhouses and homes that were very small. As farms have been subdivided, bigger and bigger houses have been built. As [builders] are running out of new lots, the trend in other villages is for old farm houses to be demolished and then replaced,” explained Louchheim, during a later interview.

If the application is denied, however, the applicant would have an opportunity to plead their case again before the board and explain a lack of feasible alternatives. Among other things, the applicant must prove that they couldn’t find a purchaser willing to preserve the structure and the property couldn’t be adapted into another use.

Some residents of the village, like Tinka Topping, agree with the provisions of the law.

“I think we are beating a dead horse. My house was built in 1811. If you are going to live in harmony you have to apply to what the group is doing,” remarked Topping. “I don’t know what more you can add, except to vote.”

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