Landmark Program Will Set State Precedent

A plan to designate 24 houses and a windmill as timber-frame landmarks

   A plan to designate 24 houses and a windmill as timber-frame landmarks was the subject of further debate at an East Hampton Village Board meeting last Thursday.
    The proposed legislation was revised to incorporate two changes made in response to comments at a Nov. 16 hearing on the plan. With the revisions in place, the legislation’s adoption seems likely when the board meets again on Friday, Dec. 21.
    The proposed legislation is comprised of three related pieces: one designates the buildings as landmarks, another permits owners to transfer some of the allowable floor area in a primary residence to an accessory dwelling, or guesthouse, and a third provides guidelines for how the village’s design review board would evaluate applications for accessory dwellings on the properties in question.
    One modification allows a larger gross floor area when a historic house or an existing accessory structure becomes the accessory dwelling, Robert Hefner, the village’s director of historic services, told the board. The change was made to accommodate requests from the owners of the Edward Mulford House on Hither Lane and the Miller House on Jones Road. Attorneys for the owners of these properties had suggested modifications of the proposed legislation at the Nov. 16 hearing.
    If the landmark building or an existing accessory structure becomes the accessory dwelling, the gross allowable floor area cannot exceed “40 percent of the maximum permitted gross floor area or 3,700 square feet, whichever is less,” according to the changes. These figures were adjusted from 35 percent or 3,000 square feet, as originally proposed.
    The other revision was made in response to a concern raised by the owner of the former Methodist Episcopal Church, at 10 Spaeth Lane. This revision, Mr. Hefner said, clarifies that when the historic building has significant additions, making it impractical as the guesthouse, it can be further expanded and a new accessory dwelling built.
    The proposed legislation would set a precedent, Mr. Hefner said, “in that the village would become the first New York municipality to offer a special bonus for historic landmark properties.” East Hampton Village, he said, is one of 76 New York municipalities that have the ability to designate historic landmarks and historic districts in order to protect either an individual building or a neighborhood of special character. “In researching the other 75 villages, towns, and cities with the assistance of the State Historic Preservation Office, I learned that not one of them offers a specific benefit program for individual historic landmarks,” he said.
    Mr. Hefner communicated with 20 of the municipalities, which had collectively designated 270 properties as individual historic landmarks. No special bonuses or considerations were given with the designations, he said, and some had been designated despite objections from the properties’ owners. “In establishing the accessory dwelling bonus for timber-frame landmarks, the Village of East Hampton is making a greater effort than any other New York municipality has ever made to be eminently considerate of the owners of the individual landmark properties,” he said. 
    Joan Tulp then urged the board to adopt the proposed legislation. “You may wonder why I am here,” Ms. Tulp, a resident of Amagansett, told the board. “I’m here to talk about the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ syndrome. In Amagansett, we finally got Main Street and Bluff Road designated historic districts. There was one particularly beautiful house on Indian Wells [Highway], the Isaac Barnes house, circa 1800, built by Samuel Schellinger. The owners at that time were excellent stewards of the property, but they sold it. Practically overnight, the house was demolished. We must protect and preserve our unique properties against those who might replace these homes by mega-mansions, or nothing at all,” she said.
    Richard Baxter, who said he was representing Robert Strada, the executive director of Peconic Historic Preservation Inc., then read aloud a letter that Mr. Strada had submitted to the board. “We all understand firsthand what happens to these unique examples of American history when they are preserved. These glorious buildings reflect our past and underscore our present and therefore we must protect them for future generations. Sadly, we also understand when they are not protected,” he read.
    Mr. Baxter cited the Antiquity House in Quogue, built by Deacon Thomas Cooper in 1734. The structure was recognized as the second oldest building in the community’s history, Mr. Baxter said, and retained a wealth of original architectural detailing. “That is, until the Quogue Historical Society funded its deconstruction last July in order to prevent the new owner from completely demolishing it. The irony of the Antiquity story is, had the Village of Quogue adopted the exact code amendment that the Village of East Hampton is considering this very day, the 1734 Deacon Thomas Cooper house would have been preserved intact. Antiquity’s lot size would have easily accommodated the construction of a second dwelling on the property, assuring this historic building’s future for generations to come. But that was not to be, and today the deconstructed components remain in a storage trailer in the Quogue Highway Department yard.”
    Without the timber-frame landmark designation, Mr. Baxter continued, all of the village properties under consideration for landmark designation face an uncertain future. “We urge that the board approve this new historic preservation program that may well serve as a template for our neighboring communities,” he read.
    With no further remarks from board members or attendees, Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. moved to close the hearing; all board members voted in favor.
    The board then turned to two additional items. It unanimously approved the sale by online auction of a Saturn Ion, which the East Hampton Village Police Department had listed as a surplus vehicle.
    Mayor Rickenbach then invited Chief Gerard Larsen of the Village Police Department to address the board before voting on the second item. The Long Beach Police Department, Chief Larsen said, sought used police vehicles to replace the 10 it lost in Hurricane Sandy. The Department of Criminal Justice contacted every police department in the state, “and we were able to donate a used police car to them. They sent out the e-mail one day and the next day they had all the cars. Now they’re asking to keep it.” The donation was approved.
    Mary Ellen McGuire, East Hampton Village ambulance chief, then addressed the board regarding acquisition of a new, climate-controlled ambulance. Based on recommendations from Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton officials, she said, the village should purchase a PL Custom Emergency Vehicle, at a cost of $197,676. The village has allocated money for an ambulance purchase, Mayor Rickenbach said, though not the full amount quoted. Nonetheless, the board agreed on the importance of the acquisition.