Argh! They’ve done it again. On November 10, the Southampton Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review unanimously approved an extremely contemporary/modern design for a new house at 160 Elm Street. Elm Street! One of the hearts of our village, where our children trick or treat. One of our most visible streets due to its proximity to the shopping area, Town Hall and the railroad station.
I attended the meeting and gave comments against it without effect. John Bennett, who presented the application, said that because I lived on Moses Lane I would be unaffected by this house, and that because I am upset about the design of the house in front of me, my opinions shouldn’t matter.
John was just doing his job, and he’s good at it. However, he’s dead wrong, because, in addition to living and working in the village, my academic and professional background in architecture make me more qualified to speak about the aesthetics of houses than anyone on the ARB.
The impact a contemporary structure will have on this street will affect everyone in the village—residents and visitors alike—and disrupt the harmonious character of Elm Street for God knows how long, if not forever. This is not a good example of how to introduce clever contemporary work within a traditional context, and Elm Street is not the street on which to invite such experimentation.
Since last January, when the ARB approved the kooky “Caribbean” house in front of me, I began noticing more and more houses that should never have been approved, or could have used some heavy tweaking before they were approved. I started to ask village officials how I might start to change things—ARB member qualifications, ARB application process and requirements, etc.—and kept being told there was nothing I could do. Huh? I thought “change” was the theme of the moment.
Anyway, the only thing I’ve managed to do so far is start a blog. It’s about good and bad design throughout the village, and the accountability of the ARB. The goal of the blog is to point out the inadequacies of the ARB, advocate for more qualified people to sit on that board, advocate for better ARB processes and resident participation, to show you each awful house they allow to be built, and to try to prevent any more bad design from occurring in the village as much as possible.
Back to Elm Street. I cannot show you a drawing or rendering of the proposed house without consent from the architects, and, seeing that I’m totally against it, I doubt they’d agree. So I urge anyone and everyone interested to go look at the drawings themselves at the Village Building Department. It may be too late to stop the construction of the house, but it is never too late to tell the ARB what a terrible job they’re doing, and to try to improve on their actions in the future.