Workers move the Point House in North Haven. Michael Heller photo
By Stephen J. Kotz
“That’s my favorite house,” said a woman to North Haven Mayor Jeff Sander after she pulled over to watch as workers with Dawn House Movers slowly rolled the Point House, an 1804 colonial landmark, off its foundation overlooking Sag Harbor and across the lawn and closer to Ferry Road on Monday morning.
Mayor Sander, who was at the scene overlooking the operation, was in a cheery mood and happy to report that the house, built by John Payne Jr., and later lived in by generations of the Fahys family of watchcase factory fame, had been saved from probable demolition, thanks to a deal brokered by village officials and the property’s new owner, Stuart Hersch, the president of Cantor Fitzgerald.
That agreement, pending final approval, will allow Mr. Hersch, who recently bought the 2.6-acre property from the model Christie Brinkley, to build the modern house he wants along the waterfront while maintaining the Point House as a second residence on the property.
Mayor Sander said the alarm was sounded when Mr. Hersch’s architect, Bruce Nagel, went to the village Architectural Review Board in February, to discuss Mr. Hersch’s plans and broached the topic of demolition.
“The whole ARB went crazy and said, ‘This is a historic house. Could we protect it?’” said Mayor Sander.
Although North Haven many years ago began working on a list of historic properties, Carol Phillips, the then owner of the Point House, never completed the necessary paperwork to put her house on that list and the village never established a historic district, the mayor said.
“We really had no legal reason to tell them they had to save the house,” Mr. Sander said.
David Sherwood, the ARB’s chairman, said on Tuesday that Mr. Nagel told his board that Mr. Hersch had tried to give the house away but had found no takers and had been exploring a deal to donate the house to an organization that would disassemble it and sell off the pieces, such as beams and floorboards, and donate the proceeds to charity.
“They were going to take the building apart, and we thought it was important to not have it dissembled and scattered across the country,” Mr. Sherwood said.
He credited board member Susan Edwards for “leading the charge” and pointing out that the house had historic value not only to North Haven but to Sag Harbor as well because of its long connection to the Fahys family.
John Payne Jr., who built the house for his family, was a prosperous merchant. His son, Charles W. Payne, who later lived in the house, was a whaler who was lost at sea in 1838 and whose name is listed on the Broken Mast Monument in Oakland Cemetery.
The Payne family sold the house to Joseph Fahys in 1886, and he had it moved about 300 feet north of its original location to the spot where it remained until Monday.
Mayor Sander said the village considered moving the house to village-owned property but came to the conclusion that would be both costly and impractical.
“I quickly came to the realization that the best place to put this house was on the existing property, next to road,” Mr. Sander said.
The mayor said he ran the idea past Anthony Tohill, the village’s attorney, who agreed that if Mr. Hersch were willing to apply for variances from the village Zoning Board of Appeals, the village, citing the house’s historic value, could allow Mr. Hersch to have two houses on the property.
Mr. Hersch was agreeable to that arrangement, the mayor said, and the only thing remaining is for the ZBA to issue its written determination.
“These are very unique circumstances,” said Mr. Sherwood. “We don’t want to set a precedent so every Tom, Dick and Harry comes in and says ‘I want a second house on my property.’”
Mr. Sander said some people had complained because they will no longer be able to look at the house from Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, but he said he alternative would have been far worse and now the house will be visible from Ferry Road.
“It’s a very happy ending,” said Mr. Sherwood. “There’s no reason why Mr. Hersch couldn’t have demolished it. If he weren’t willing to partner with the village and the village weren’t willing to allow him to have two houses on one lot, a very unique piece of the village’s architectural history could have been lost.”