Steering Committee Wants To Create Two Historic Districts In Quogue

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A group of Quogue residents that includes Mayor Peter Sartorius and members of the village’s Historical Society is banding together to create one or more national historic districts along Quogue Street in the municipality.

The proposal—which does not require approval from the Quogue Village Board—calls for two separate districts comprising more than 200 buildings, 168 of which are considered “contributing,” meaning that they are of historical or architectural significance.

An effort to create a historic district in Quogue was pushed by the Village Board nearly 30 years ago, Peter Rothenberg, co-chair of the Quogue Historical Society, said this week, though no one involved with the current movement participated then. The main obstacle to that effort, and subsequent pushes to establish historic districts in Quogue, has been the reluctance of property owners to sacrifice their rights to alter or modify their homes, as historic districts often include restrictions to preserve the buildings that fall within them.

The major difference between prior pushes and the current incarnation is the role of governing the district. The board-initiated plan would have forced homes in the district to remain preserved, restricting what property owners could do with their land. The current version would place no such limitations on property owners.

Although the proposed districts come with no restrictions on what building owners can and cannot do to their properties, Mr. Rothenberg, a founding member of the Steering Committee for Preservation in Quogue, the group making the push for the districts, said he hopes their creation will inspire residents who enjoy the village’s bucolic nature to not make drastic altercations or modifications to their homes.

“Recently, there has been a good deal of concern about the actual loss of historic buildings in the village,” Mr. Rothenberg said. “The village has a magnificent collection of houses, and it really isn’t appreciated by many in the village or outside it.”

Before the steering committee can list its proposed districts on the National Register of Historic Places, it must first secure a recommendation from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Mr. Rothenberg explained.

The steering committee, which has been quietly working toward this project for the past few months, recently announced the proposed districts publicly, distributing an informational letter to homes within the boundaries of the proposed districts that included a map and information about the effort. A selling point of the proposal, Mr. Rothenberg said, is that he expects such designation to raise the values of the properties within the districts.

But in order to get state approval—something that almost guarantees a spot on the National Registry, Mr. Rothenberg said, citing the state’s thorough vetting process—the steering committee must demonstrate that the village has not only a substantial number of historical buildings, but also that those buildings are from a variety of eras. Daniel McEneny, a historical preservation program analyst with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said the applicant must tell the narrative of an area’s history through architecture in order to be recognized.

Mr. McEneny, who evaluates historical site applications from Long Island and all five boroughs of New York City, said the entire process, from recording and surveying properties to presenting the request in front of the state’s Board for Historic Preservation, generally takes between nine months and a year.

The Steering Committee for Preservation in Quogue got the ball rolling this summer with the help of Caroline Liegey, a recent graduate of Dartmouth University who interned with the Historical Society during the summer. Using binders full of documents stored at the Historical Society building on Jessup Avenue, Ms. Liegey compiled into digital files historical information about hundreds of homes in Quogue.

Ms. Liegey, who hails from Maryland but now lives in New York City, also drove around the village with Southampton Town Historian Zach Studenroth to identify and catalog historically relevant architectural elements.

“Quogue has houses from so many different time periods,” she said, “It’s cool how the fabric of the village is made up from buildings from all these different eras.”

The two proposed districts zig and zag their way through the eastern and western portions of Quogue, south of Montauk Highway. The first cluster of buildings is from Montauk Highway down Quogue Street and past Beach Lane, with offshoots on Jessup Avenue, Quantuck Lane, Beach Lane and other streets. The second district begins on Quogue Street, just west of Post Lane, and makes its way back north to Montauk Highway, picking up large swaths of the village between Montauk and Niamogue Lane, with a substantial leg running along Shinnecock Road.

Only a few hundred feet separates the two districts at their closest borders as currently drawn. The reason the committee carved out two districts, Mr. Rothenberg explained, was to keep the percent of contributing houses as high as possible. As it stands, about 78 percent of the houses are historic—at least 75 years old—whereas if the two districts were joined, that rate would drop to around 70 percent or lower, Mr. Rothenberg said. The districts’ borders are jagged to avoid having too many consecutive non-historic houses in the district, he added.

Some, including Mr. Sartorius, would like to see the proposed districts combined into one to make it simpler and easier for people to understand. The mayor added that he’d like to see the Quogue Cemetery—which is situated in between the two areas and already has been granted historic recognition by the state—act as a connector between the two, assuming the contributing districts wouldn’t get too watered down during the vetting process.

“It brings the village recognition, some of the history and some of the architecture in the village,” Mr. Sartorius said of the proposed historic districts. “I think it will raise a consciousness of the people who live here, particularly in the historic districts.”

Property owners within the districts do not have to give their consent to be included in them. Still, Mr. McEneny said if a significant number of residents within them object to their creation, he and other members of the steering committee would rethink their proposal. “It is always preferable to have a majority consent,” he said. “If we felt there was an absolute resistance to it, we would not move forward.”

According to village records, several members of the steering committee own homes that would fall within one the proposed districts. They include Chester Murray, Paul Dietche, Nancy Mullan, Robert Murray, Bruce Peiffer and Donna Sessa.

Homes included within the districts would qualify for a preservation façade easement from the federal government that would both shield the property from state and federal projects that could otherwise compromise it, and provide a tax credit in exchange for agreeing not to alter the outside of the structures. The recognition also would “make it easier for homeowners to get a landmark [designation], because we have all the research done for them already,” said Ms. Mullan, a member of the steering committee.

The state’s Board for Historic Preservation meets quarterly and the locations under consideration for the December meeting have already been set, Mr. McEneny said, meaning the soonest Quogue could present its proposed districts would be March of next year. But Mr. Rothenberg said the committee still is six months to a year away from being ready for to submit its proposals for review as additional research still needs to be done on the properties.

Although the application is free, the committee still needs to raise about $20,000 to cover the costs of consultant fees and research costs. About one-third of that cost has been donated by steering committee members, but the group is open to receiving more contributions through the Historical Society.

The steering committee will hold an informational meeting at 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 12, at Quogue Village Hall on Jessup Avenue to explain the proposed districts to interested community members with the help of Mr. Studenroth, who is assisting them with the application. All are welcome to attend.

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