Proposed law would protect historic properties

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The Southampton Village Board is considering a new law to protect historic buildings that are not in the Historic District.?The proposed law would add provisions to the village code to designate homes outside of the district as ?landmarks. If the law is passed, the village’s building inspector could not issue a demolition permit until the homeowner of a designated landmark obtains a certificate of appropriateness and permission from the Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation.?The motivation behind the legislation goes back to 2006, when a demolition permit was issued for an 18th-century house on Little Plains Road—outside the historic district. Preservationists rallied to save the house, and eventually, the house was taken apart and moved to another site.?The incident left the Village Board concerned that other houses could be lost.?”There’s nothing in our code to prevent those houses from being demolished,” Village Mayor Mark Epley said.?He described the proposed law as another tool for the village building inspector to use.?The legislation, drafted by Village Attorney Richard DePetris, would instruct the building inspector to refer homes he identifies as possibly historical to the ARB. The board would have the authority to consider the homes for landmark designation.?In drafting the law, Mr. DePetris left some details blank, so the trustees could decide what was appropriate.?The trustees reached a compromise that homes built after January 1, 1920 would not be targeted by the law.?Mr. Epley pointed out that the date could always be revisited and changed, possibly after the village completes a project currently underway to update archives of documents and photographs of properties in the historic district.?Trustee Paul Robinson took a pragmatic approach to the law, pointing out that old houses may be fire hazards and are not necessarily energy efficient or hurricane resistant.?”If there is another house from the 1600s or 1700s, we want to preserve that,” he said, but houses built since then shouldn’t always be preserved, he suggested.?If there were so many more historic houses, the Historic District would have been larger, he said.?Trustee Bill Bates took issue with some provisions of the proposal, saying at Tuesday’s work session that there are too many opportunities for historic houses to be weeded out before being designated as landmarks.?”I think what started out as a good idea has been watered down,” he said.?He compared the law to a college basketball bracket, in which a field of many teams is whittled down to just a few finalists. “We need to look at more than the Final Four,” Mr. Bates said.?Some historic houses could be missed, he said, because the building inspector is given discretion under the law to choose not to send all pre-1920 properties to the ARB.?Mr. Epley said Mr. Bates’s fears were unwarranted. “We have a building inspector who is qualified and can make that decision,” he said.?The mayor also pointed out that the ARB already has a heavy load of applications, and said it would be too much of a burden to expect it to review nearly every house up for demolition.?Trustee Bonnie Cannon pointed out how subjective historic preservation can be: “How do you define what is historic and what is not historic?” she asked.?”Talk to some people, and they’ll tell you that any house 50 years old is historic,” Mr. Epley said, questioning when it is fair to restrict what homeowners can do with their own property.?”You want to preserve some of the historic aspects, but not tie the owner’s hands,” he said.?He estimated that there are only between half a dozen and a dozen houses outside of the Historic District that the proposed law is designed to save.?The board scheduled a hearing of the law for April 22 at Village Hall during a Village Board work session.?Mr. Epley said he was confidant the law would eventually pass.

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