A fine gift


Last week’s demolition of the historic 1870s John Sayre-Elaine Benson House on Montauk Highway [“Benson Gallery Demolished,” December 25] is, at the least, the sixth such event in Bridgehampton since 2005. With a skilled restoration/renovation (and allowable additions), this house, like the circa 1825 Captain Ludlow House on Ocean Road (demolished 2005), would have continued to benefit the community. They fostered feelings of heritage, experiences of aesthetic delight, and inspired residents in this 350-plus-year-old hamlet toward a creative future.

This fall’s teardown of the circa 1870 Captain Huntting House on Ocean Road and the upcoming demolition of the 1907 James A. Sandford House on Main Street, the first stucco house in the hamlet, are, arguably, minor losses to the community. Nevertheless, the approval requirements for the loss of the prominent whaling captain’s house should have been met. A fifth demolition raises the issue of notification to interested parties. The teardown of the Captain Caleb Howell House on Montauk Highway in 2006 meant the loss of its beehive oven, the last one in colonial Bridgehampton. When a concerned neighbor investigated, she was ushered to a pile of rubble, the ballast stones from whaling ships. The Historical Society had never been informed.

Now the circa 1950 Williamson House on the corner of Montauk Highway and Lumber Lane is slated for demolition. Could that be moved and used for affordable housing?

As these events imply, Southampton Town must implement more effective tools for historic preservation. Such tools would help slow the rate of change, giving time for better planning. A few years ago the town actually had a historic district law but repealed it. Moreover, variances to the zoning code seem to be relatively easy to obtain. In this, the public good is being short-changed.

There are positive notes. Some developers have modified their plans when community concerns have been raised and a demolition notification to the town’s Landmarks Board is now an administrative requirement within the Building Department. I can only be hopeful.

Wouldn’t it be a fine gift to future generations from the Southampton Town Board if it reenacted its historic district law?


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