Sag Harbor Residents Concerned About Demolitions Of Historic Houses

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Sag Harbor Village residents have raised concerns about the unauthorized demolition of historic homes and other structures—and they have the support of at least one village official.

At Monday evening’s meeting of the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review, members of Save Sag Harbor spoke out about the issue during discussion of an application for a retroactive certificate of appropriateness for the demolition of a house on Palmer Terrace, part of the village’s historic district, that has already taken place. The ARB had granted a renovation and restoration permit to an architect representing the house in the spring, but the house was demolished instead.

A few months ago, a house on Division Street was stripped of everything but its foundation without an authorized permit as well.

Jayne Young, a member of the resident-run organization Save Sag Harbor, read a letter to the ARB voicing the group’s displeasure with what it believes has become an increasing and alarming trend over the past two years. The letter reminded the ARB of its duty, which is to advocate for the preservation of the village’s historical houses.

“The trend we have witnessed is for the owners of the houses in the historic district—or their representatives—to seek permission to restore or remodel the structure,” Ms. Young read. “At a later date, the representative returns to the ARB and requests much more substantial removal of original building material, or, worse yet, complete demolition.

“It is certainly not the board’s role to make it easier ­­or less expensive­­ for the builders or owners to tear down and reconstruct these historic houses,” she continued. “Preserving historic houses in Sag Harbor is an important and vital trust given to your board.”

ARB Chairman Cee Scott Brown agreed. Mr. Brown said that the board has also noticed the trend and has voiced its concerns about it. He added that he would like to see the ARB have more authority in establishing consequences, in the form of fines, to anyone who skirts the permit process.

He suggested setting fines based on the assessed value of the homes. “We’re seeing a rash of this happening,” he said. “It was a restoration renovation, and one day it was gone. A month or two later, it’s been [demolished]—and that’s not what we approved.

“People need to understand that there are costs associated with living in a historic district,” he added. “There’s no teeth in our body here to say, ‘You know what? This is a $10,000 fine.’”

In the case of the Palmer Terrace house, property owner Teresa Romanelli was asked to come before the ARB after receiving a stop work order from the village building inspector. Ms. Romanelli told the board on Monday that she and her architect, Anthony Vermandois, may have miscommunicated with the contractor she hired. She said he was confused at the state the house was in, and assumed it was to be demolished.

“No one knew that it wasn’t supposed to go down,” she said. “I was trying to avoid situations like this.”

Mr. Brown and the rest of the ARB unanimously tabled the ruling on the Palmer Terrace application until the board’s September 11 meeting, saying they would like Mr. Vermandois to be present for a discussion.

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