Mocomanto Application Heads To Southampton Village Architectural Review Board


An application to nearly double the size of Mocomanto—a century-old Victorian home on Lake Agawam—was met with strong opposition by neighbors on Monday, November 13, as members of the Southampton Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review took their first look at the proposal.

Ken Fox, the owner of the home at 472 First Neck Lane and a managing partner at the Stripes Group, who has been instrumental in financing companies like Blue Apron, GoFundMe and Grubhub, is proposing an addition to the historic home that would increase its gross floor area by 52 percent, from 4,717 square feet to 7,190 square feet.

But Joyce Giuffra, who is a neighbor of Mr. Fox to the north, said the expansion was too big, calling it “the Great Wall of Lake Agawam.”

Ms. Giuffra told the board—which was handicapped because of Chairman Curtis Highsmith’s absence, and board member Brian Brady’s resignation on November 6—that she wished they would put themselves in her shoes and consider how they would feel if their neighbor wanted to increase the footprint of his home by 175 percent.

Whitney Stevens, the neighbor who lives to the southeast of Mr. Fox, also opposed the addition, saying that the size overpowers the historic home.

“We’re not looking at one home, we’re looking at two homes” Ms. Stevens said.

She went on to say the changes Mr. Fox wants to make are not consistent with the nature of the neighborhood. “We are open to a reasonable, carefully planned expansion,” she added.

This was the first meeting on the application in front of the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review. For months, Mr. Fox and his team had an application in front of the Village Zoning Board of Appeals to obtain a wetlands permit that would allow for a portion of the addition to be built within the wetland setback.

The existing home sits completely in the regulated wetlands setback area. The homeowner is proposing an L-shaped addition, of which only 592 square feet of the footprint would fall within the regulated wetlands setback. A special exception permit authorizing building on the regulated wetlands area was required to construct the connector to the addition, and was granted late last month.

With the wetlands permit in their hands, Mr. Fox and his team can now focus on the rest of the addition.

John Bennett, the attorney representing Mr. Fox, told board members at the beginning of his presentation that their role was to follow the law, and to not be swayed by personal feelings of the neighbors.

Mr. Bennett and his team displayed plans showing that the proposed addition is not as tall as the existing parts of the residence, which is best viewed from the southeast corner of Lake Agawam. Most photographs of the property since the 1800s show the home from that angle.

Architectural renderings of the project include trees, which obscure the view of the proposed addition. Representatives for the Southampton Association, a civic group in the village, and others who oppose the project have requested that Mr. Fox’s team present renderings showing the addition without trees on the property.

“This board should not be judging any proposed addition if it is hidden behind trees,” said Siamak Samii, a local architect who was hired by opponents of the project. He noted that a storm could come through at any time and take out the trees. “If that were to be the case, then we would use screening as a basis for preserving the historical integrity of the house.

“Then basically, you can plant some more trees and do whatever behind it, which we do not suggest,” he added.

Madeline VenJohn, an attorney for the Southampton Association, told board members that the Southampton Association agrees with many of the arguments that were brought forth by neighbors, specifically noting that renderings should be submitted without trees.

“Landscape trees can’t be used to hide incompatible architecture,” she said.

Patrick Fife, an attorney representing neighboring homeowners, described the board members’ role differently than Mr. Bennett had.

“This board is a historic preservation and architectural review board,” Mr. Fife said, laying an emphasis on historic preservation. “This is the monument to the summer colony.”

Mr. Fife recommended the board utilize a set of guidelines put together by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, which he called an unbiased approach.

Still, board members were in no position to move on the application, and it is expected to be kicked around for some time. The next Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review meeting will take place at Southampton Village Hall on Monday, November 27, at 7 p.m.

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