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Concerns Raised over Sag Harbor Teardowns

Posted on 28 August 2014


2014-08-26 14.38.31

After being moved, the “bottle house” on Madison Street has been extensively renovated, leaving little of the original structure intact.


By Stephen J. Kotz

Teresa Romanelli stood before the Sag Harbor Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review on Monday, trying  to explain that the house she owned at 51 Palmer Terrace had had been demolished because of a miscommunication between her architect and contractor.

“We’re kind of seeing a rash of this happening in the village,” said Cee Scott Brown, the board’s chairman. “People come in to discuss a renovation and lo and behold, a month or two later we drive by and it’s been demolished.”

“We’re using you as an example,” Mr. Brown said to Ms. Romanelli, “because it’s the umpteenth time it has happened.”

The discussion dovetailed perfectly with a request from members of Save Sag Harbor, addressed later in the meeting, for the ARB to take a stronger stand against teardowns.

Jayne Young, a member of Save Sag Harbor’s board, read a letter to the board that said her organization was becoming “increasingly alarmed at the number and frequency of historic houses being demolished in the village over the past two years.” The ARB, she continued, “is the advocate for the preservation of these important village houses. It is certainly not the board’s role to make it easier—or less expensive—for the builders or owners to tear down and reconstruct these historic houses.”

Two examples were cited, the Sleightte House on Division Street, across the from the Watchase condominium development, which was essentially replaced piece by piece this summer, and the former Abelman residence on Madison Street, which is known as the “bottle house” for its display of colorful bottles in its front windows. The ARB gave permission for that house to be moved across the lot, but after an extensive renovation project, little remains of the original structure.

Mr. Brown said Save Sag Harbor was essentially preaching to the choir and said the board recognizes “there are costs involved in living in a historic district in Sag Harbor that won’t be incurred living in a potato field in Bridgehampton.”

Save Sag Harbor urged the ARB to make more frequent use of historic preservation consultants, whose services would be billed to the applicant, a practice that is already allowed by the code and suggested the board would be better served if an architect with knowledge of local buildings were a member.

Mr. Brown urged the Save Sag Harbor to recommend architects who might be willing to serve and agreed that compiling a list of historic preservation consultants the board could tap for difficult applications had merit. He added that the board has relied on outside consultants from time to time.

But most agreed that fines need to be increased and applicants who illegally demolish a house should be required to wait a period of up to two years before they are allowed to proceed with a project.

“Otherwise you get your hand slapped and you go back before the board,” said Mr. Brown, who said Save Sag Harbor would be doing the village a service if worked “toward the goal of increasing the amount of the penalty” for someone who blatantly ignores the law.

“If they know it is only $2,500 or $10,000, that is going to be built into the cost of the house,” offered Bob Weinstein, a resident of Jefferson Street.  ”I’m wondering if there is not something preemptive, so that anyone who comes into the village knows there are dire consequences: If you tear down an historic house without the proper permits, you will be punished.”

“I’d like to see their fine be the assessed valuation of the house,” said longtime board member Tom Horn.

“If you increase the penalty, but don’t increase the power of enforcement, you’ve got half the equation,” said Mr. Brown.

In the case of Ms. Roman Elli’s house, the board said it would not proceed until her architect, Anthony Vermandois, appeared before it to address the situation.

Now that the house is gone—with only an excavated pit remaining where it once stood,  Mr. Brown lamented that an Arts and Crafts portion of the building could not be preserved. “The soul of the house is gone,” he said.

Ms. Romanelli, who was seeking retroactive approval for the demolition, said she did not know how it had happened, adding that she assumed Mr. Vermandois had given instructions to the contractor to not tear down the entire house.

“That’s why I hired him,” she said. “I’m the one suffering here.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Vermandois, who was unable to attend the meeting, acknowledged that a mistake had been made when the contractor demolished the entire house, for which Ms. Romanelli had received permission to undertake a substantial renovation.

But, he insisted, the house had absolutely no historic value. “It was originally a little cottage that was built in the 1920s,” he said. “It was heavily renovated in the 1960s. That’s when the bulk of the structure dated from. There was basically nothing original to the ‘20s building that was preserved.”



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10 Responses to “Concerns Raised over Sag Harbor Teardowns”

  1. E.M. Maxx says:

    All the ” original people” of Sag Harbor had to leave because Sag Harbor is now full of wealthy non locals . So why does it matter if the houses look different ….?

  2. Carol Williams says:

    The remarks that “Oops I didn’t know” are surely disingenuous.
    Why do so many of the tear-downs and near tear-downs of houses–historic and not-so historic-result in the construction of houses that are so much bigger? They loom over their lots and the streetscape.
    The effect on all of us of the loss of Sag Harbor’s intimate and unpretentious scale is truly saddening.
    What we have seen with the new psuedo-old Bulova houses is now happening all over the village.
    ARB, ZBA what are you allowing? WHY?

  3. E.M. Maxx says:

    With all due respect I think my post explained it all…. Sag Harbor is no longer quaint and charming. None of the people buying and “remodeling” these homes care about Sag Harbor or the YEAR ROUND community that lives here. Where there was the Paradise, Hildies Tea Shop, Metaphysical Book Shop, and countless other ” normal shops” , in a NORMAL COMMUNITY, has been replaced with high end clothing stores or real estate shops. It’s now a “community” where people are more upset about guardrails and could care less about the homeless …. Bottom line the ARB and all the other people making big $$$$$ out here don’t really care about Sag Harbor again it’s all about the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

  4. E.M. Maxx says:

    Sorry about the double post folks !

  5. Jeff peters says:

    So sad! I believe we should hire some help for the building department to follow up on all these problems. One man can’t do it all. Also raise the fines and make these people who tore done these home donate money back to the village or historical society. Time to wake up village leaders or our little village will be ruined.

  6. Dan Mitchell says:

    its too late jeff

  7. Nav1 says:

    One of the problems I see are several houses being torn down in the village and mini mansions going up in their place. Way out of place with other homes. Every available inch of legal space on the lot are being used to build homes as large as possible and is totally out of character.

  8. john seymore says:

    Simply triple their taxes and fine them big money. If they think money is no object take it from them.

  9. E.M. Maxx says:

    Again with all due respect to some other posters : we KNOW what the problem is ! Now J seymore on the other hand, is on to something !

  10. It is disheartening to see the destruction of so many historic buildings in Sag Harbor… once they’ve gone, they’ve gone. The built historic environment is a finite resource which contributes so much to local identity and heritage. In the UK we’ve a system which identifies places of special historic character and interest, and identified buildings are given designated legal protection from inappropriate development. Much consultation is needed with local planning authorities, civic amenity societies and communities prior to issuing building consents. This is then given usually with conditions. This helps to control development and help preserve the special character of a place or a building. It’s a shame that Sag Harbor or the Bottle House has not been afforded the same protection.

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