Southampton Town Considers Legislation To Encourage Preservation Of Historic Homes

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The Southampton Town Board is considering legislation that is intended to encourage the owners of older homes to designate them as historic landmarks, namely by allowing them to bypass the normal process if they want to build a second dwelling on their properties.

Specifically, the legislation, if adopted, would allow the owners of those homes to build a guest house or carriage house on their lots without first having to purchase and transfer the development rights on another property, as is normally required, and typically costs tens of thousands of dollars.

Sally Spanburgh, the chair of the town’s Landmarks and Historic Districts Board, explained that the intent of the proposed law is to preserve structures that are deeply rooted in the town’s history, either because of their architecture, the prominence of those who lived in them, or events that occurred at those sites. Kyle Collins, the town’s planning and development administrator, estimated that there are about 115 homes that could be eligible for the program if it is enacted.

Currently, under the town code, property owners who wish to construct a carriage house or guest house on their land are permitted to do so if they purchase development rights from properties that are targeted for preservation elsewhere in the town. The lots must also meet the town code’s lot size, setback and lot coverage requirements.

Under the proposal, the town would allow the property owners to either convert their homes to a carriage house and build a new primary dwelling on the lot, or tag the existing building as their primary house and build a new carriage house on the same lot. In either scenario, they would be able to forgo purchasing development rights to other land, which cost thousands of dollars, in exchange for agreeing to label their structures as landmarks. Landmark status is granted only when it is sought by the owner.

The catch is that once a structure is designated as a landmark, it cannot be altered, moved or renovated in any way without first securing permission from the Landmarks and Historic Districts Board. The new structure would need to conform to the town code requirements, though the town would waive the accessory structure setback requirements.

“We want an existing landmark-eligible structure to be able to stay on its property,” Ms. Spanburgh said, explaining that structures lose their integrity once they are moved.

She added that the Landmarks Board will assemble a landmark application, which includes a thorough documentation of a structure or property’s history, at no cost to the property owners.

Southampton Town Councilwoman Christine Scalera expressed some concern with the increase in density that would result if a high number of property owners were to take advantage of the program during last Thursday’s work session. Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst suggested the possibility of limiting the number of property owners who could build second structures on their properties as a way to curb the increased density.

Board members were set to open the public hearing on the legislation at their next meeting on Tuesday, September 24, but expect to delay that process to allow for more discussion on the proposal.

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