Design Review Board Receives National Recognition For Timber-Frame Preservation Project In East Hampton Village

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In keeping with its mission to maintain East Hampton Village’s title of “America’s Most Beautiful Village,” the Design Review Board was recently recognized for its work to preserve timber-framed houses located outside historical districts.

The DRB was awarded the 2014 Commission Excellence Award from the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions in the category of best practices, for its effort to preserve 23 timber-frame houses built between 1700 and 1850, said East Hampton Ladies Village Improvement Society president Janet Dayton during a Village Board meeting on Friday.

The award, according to a release from the National Alliance of Preservation, is the only such form of national recognition for preservation.

“It was a very rather innovative idea that Bob Hefner, the village historic consultant, came up with,” said DRB co-chair Carolyn D. Preische in a phone interview. “So the LVIS thought it would be good to give that some national recognition and see if they chose our project, which they did. It was very exciting.”

Ms. Dayton said after the LVIS heard about the program from Mr. Hefner, it decided to submit an application to the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions for consideration.

“It’s a very unique program,” she said of the village’s Timber-Frame Landmarks program, which was adopted in 2013. “I guess they felt it was something that’s never been done before and we should be recognized for that.”

The Timber-Frame Landmark program offers a “zoning bonus” to the owners of designated timber-frame landmarks. Dating to between 1700 and 1850, they are mostly farmhouses, ranging from saltboxes and Cape Cod cottages to houses with Federal, Greek Revival and Italianate features, but they also include the Hayground windmill, the 1848 Methodist Church, and the Dominy woodworking shop and clock shop. The buildings are in separate neighborhoods that have not been designated as historic districts, but all are alike in having timber frames. Timber-frame construction was a craft brought from England by East Hampton’s first settlers, Mr. Hefner had explained at the time of the program’s adoption.

Owners of buildings designated as landmarks have to get a “certificate of appropriateness” from the DRB before they could make changes to the building.

The Commission Excellence Award is given out only every two years, Ms. Dayton said, which adds to its prestige. She said she was not sure how many other applications were submitted nationwide.

Mr. Hefner was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

The Timer-Frame Landmarks program works with homeowners to preserve timber-framed buildings on their property if the land lies outside the village’s historical districts. Buildings outside historical districts in the village, said the East Hampton Historical Society’s executive director, Richard Barons, are subject to different, less strict rules, and thus more likely to be torn down.

“Property values have gone up,” Mr. Barons said, explaining that for that reason homeowners are often inclined to knock down a small, timber-framed structure to put up a larger, more expensive home. “So therefore the majority of these late 17th and 18th-century structures, all constructed using the timber-frame technique, all of those are susceptible to being torn down because they’re small.”

As an incentive to join the project, Mr. Barons said homeowners were given an exception from the village zoning code.

“In general, the village code is that there’s one residence on a property,” said Ms. Preische. “Most of these buildings are relatively small on large lots because they were part of a farm, or something to that effect, so there’s plenty of room as far as the zoning was concerned for the maximum size.

“This lets people build a big house … and they’re still within the restrictions of total coverage.” she said of the Timber-Frame Landmarks program. “It gives them a bonus by being able to keep the older building and still have their new house.”

The creation of the project, said Mr. Barons, while it is “fabulous” for the village, has also been a catalyst for other municipalities throughout the state in allowing for “spot zoning” in particular cases.

Spot zoning—zoning to a specific parcel of land in a way that is not in keeping with the zoning for the larger area—is not usually viewed favorably, said Mr. Barons, but in this case, it’s been nothing but helpful for the sake of preservation.

“This really was a game-changer and I’m not sure how many people in the village realize that this was a game changer,” he said. “Spot zoning is viewed as one of the most evil things in a community, but now we can see that if you can in fact find enough of them [the timber-frame houses] that are loved by the people who live in them now, and are willing to in fact join into the timber-frame structure program, that we have probably helped preserve buildings that would have otherwise been torn down.”

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