- Three new buildings designed to be reminiscent of barns under construction on Montauk Highway in Water Mill are turning heads in the architectural world where they have already been selected for an award by the Peconic Chapter of the (AIA) American Architectural Institute.
The buildings, known as The Ateliers designed by Sag Harbor architect James Merrell, call to mind the South Fork's rural agrarian heritage, take advantage of the surrounding farm views and available light while leading the way as cutting edge examples of "green buildings" designed to save energy and tread softly on the environment.
Occupants of the eco-friendly office space will spend the day working with
natural lighting streaming in the windows in keeping with the
environmentally friendly design.
The project is being undertaken by Meisel Development, a company presided over by Sagaponack resident and prominent New York City
art gallery owner Louis Meisel, working in conjunction with his brother Elliott, a New York City attorney. Louis's son Ari Meisel, a real estate developer, is also involved in the project which has emerged as a family business enterprise of sorts. Even Lou's wife Susan, a Manhattan based real estate broker and author got involved with a project out East dubbed "Susan's House." The state of the art, eco-friendly home sold quickly.
"My brother Elliott has always been enthusiastic about Green buildings, and so has my son," Louis said. "So I told them to go do it, find the land, put up the buildings and I'll provide the financial backing. All I wanted was to make sure we won an architectural award."
The Meisels all own homes in Sagaponack and were motivated by a sense of preservation and a desire to give back to the community by respecting the environment as well as understanding the local economy.
"My brother Elliott graduated at the top of his class at Yale
. He's a socially conscious, left-wing Democrat
," Lou said with pride. "My son Ari wants to bring real estate development into the 21st century." The Atelier derives its name from the French word meaning "workshop" and was so named as a tribute to Ari's wife Anna Meisel, who is French.
Elliott has been active in Sagaponack Village politics for some time - declining to run for Mayor contending the job is too time consuming for a village resident who is in the city most of the time but agreed to serve on the Zoning Board of Appeals where his expertise will be useful to the village.
Ari, a graduate of the Wharton School of Finance, began his
career as a real estate developer in Binghamton, NY where he
embarked on his first green building project.
The three building complex totaling 8,000 square feet will include six affordable housing units located on the second floor that the Meisels voluntarily agreed to provide when they submitted their plans to Southampton Town. The buildings will offer state of the art, energy efficient space to qualified tenants. The office spaces will range in size from 1,000 to 1,500 to 2,000 and 3,000 square feet and will offer tenants an eco-friendly work environment.
The affordable housing units, located above the stores are limited to 600 square feet according to requirements set forth by the Southampton Town Building Department seeking to limit occupancy in each unit to no more than two people.
Like other affordable units in town, the one bedroom apartments will be offered to income qualified applicants with first preference given to volunteer fireman, policeman, hospital workers and teachers.
The units are designed to feature views of the farm fields to the southeast from every window, while commercial users will also work in light filled office space most of the day thanks to the strategic design and positioning of the buildings on the lot. Exterior lighting fixtures will all beam down to the ground to preserve a dark sky environment and reduce or eliminate any light trespass on the site. The hardwood floors will be made out of bamboo rather than oak since the reed grows much faster than an oak tree. "It takes 60 years to replace an oak tree once you cut it down," Lou said. "The bamboo grows in six years and is a harder, more durable surface."
The site will also incorporate a state-of-the-art drainage system designed to minimize storm water run-off and eliminate one of the most pervasive sources of ground water pollution. Natural landscaping planned for the site will aid drainage efforts, eliminating the need for an in-ground sprinkler system and resulting in a savings of 100,000 gallons of water annually.
Pushing The Creative Envelope
Lou and Sue Meisel, real estate developers and well known art dealers, are the
dynamic duo behind the family's visionary endeavors. Photo by Eileen Casey
Lou Meisel is used to being on the creative cutting edge. "I don't look to squeeze every penny out of these projects," Meisel said. When Lou decided to take on a project in Bridgehampton a few years ago, he sent out letters to 20 architectural firms looking for an architect to design a building that would be located on Montauk Highway. The successful architect was permitted to design any kind of building they wanted as long as it met Lou's criteria. "I said do what you want, you get to build this any way you like just make sure I get an architectural award."
Meisel selected Merrell for the project. The project did in fact win an architectural award and is now home to Urban Archeology. The award winning 4,000 square foot building built by Glenn Heidtmann and Sons resembles an old barn and is filled with natural light.
No expense was spared in its construction. "We didn't do it the cheapest, fastest way," Lou said, noting the additional expense incurred in adhering to a design with vaulted ceilings, custom windows and other distinctive touches that set the building apart.
"I spent $900,000 and ended up with a 15 percent rate of return instead of 18 percent. So big deal," Lou added, "I'm very happy with the building." Lou is also pleased with the new project taking shape in Water Mill and once again finds himself involved in a creative collaborative effort with Merrell and Heidtmann.
Merrell proceeded with a clear mandate understanding and respecting the client's wishes. "Most developers just want to put these buildings up the cheapest and fastest way. This project is not like that. We wanted to do something that would fit in with the landscape, respect the area's heritage, fill a need and pay its way eventually," Merrell said from his office in Sag Harbor. "It takes a lot of guts to tie up your money and do something like this," Merrell noted as he described his forward looking clients.
Merrell was happy to have a chance to participate in the revival of a vanishing American concept of living above the store once a feature of Main Streets across America.
Sag Harbor architect James Merrell derived his inspiration from the iconic
barns that one time punctuated the roadside as he designed the project.
While the tenants renting the state of the art commercial space in the complex won't actually be living in the six affordable units located in two of the three buildings, the idea still resonates with Merrell. "It's a great idea. I think it sets this project apart and it was done voluntarily by the developers."
The Meisels hope to set the standard
for commercial and residential development on other properties they own along Montauk Highway as they eventually move forward with additional projects.
The Atelier at 903 Montauk Highway is being built as a LEEDS project (Leadership In Energy and Environmental Design) - the only one of its kind east of the Shinnecock Canal. The project will also be one of only two projects of its kind in the state when it is completed according to Ari who is emerging as an expert in green construction. The Meisels hope to complete the project to the highest LEEDS standards achieving a platinum rating.
Ari, a graduate of the Wharton School of Finance, began his career as a real estate developer in Binghamton, NY where he embarked on his first green building project. "I love construction," Ari said, as he described his involvement in his first project. "I was probably the only guy in history to graduate from one of the top business schools in the country and go out looking for work as a carpenter."
Ari, with the help and inspiration of his father and his uncle Elliott, jumped feet first into the project shortly after he graduated from college and went on a trip to Binghamton to visit one of his father's artists. "I saw these great warehouses that I knew I could turn into residential lofts. I made an offer right away," Ari said. The rest, as they say, is history. That day Ari began his career as an eco-friendly real estate developer.
The award winning project nears completion along David's Lane and Montauk Highway in Water Mill.
"I hired all the contractors with the stipulation that they teach me their trade while they worked for me. Now I have great first-hand knowledge of what it takes to do these projects," Ari recounted. The award winning Water Mill project is also a learning laboratory of sorts for Ari and Meisel Development. "People have to catch up with this," Ari said. "It doesn't cost any more money in the long run to build LEEDS projects if you know what you are doing. You may have to spend more money on one aspect of the project but you also have the opportunity to save money on other things."
In the Atelier project, the existing on site buildings were demolished and the debris, comprised of discarded building materials, was recycled as construction workers sorted materials in dumpsters set aside for wood, metal and concrete before being carted away to other locations where they would be reused. The wood from the site was chopped
up and made into wood chips, metal will be melted down and reused as well. Ceramic tiles and other floor coverings can also be broken down and used again.
The Atelier will be one of only two building projects to achieve the highest
ratings for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design in state.
"Nothing has to go to waste," Ari noted. The asphalt parking lot that paved the site before the Atelier project got underway was chopped up and saved to be used as the underlay for the new parking lot which will be covered with white crushed pea stone pebbles. This porous new surface will provide improved drainage while it also deflects heat and reflects light.
"We saved $41,000 by doing that," Ari said describing the surface. "It would have cost us about $42,000 to put in another asphalt parking lot. We are spending about $1,000 this way."
The Meisels pointed to the savings on the parking lot, noting the additional expenses incurred on the project as a result of mandated compliance with a town building code requiring the installation of 27 dry wells on the site, despite the superior drainage achieved on the property as a result of its green design. "If we use two of them, it will be a lot," Ari said. "But we had to do it the town's way."
According to the Meisels, LEEDS projects ultimately sell for $171 more per square foot than conventional buildings. They also rent for more money per square foot and enjoy a higher occupancy rate than more conventional buildings.
"The first cost debate is pretty much ridiculous at this point," Lou said, clearly pleased with his second architectural award and his latest project. "It's not just about the money. We are superstars and I like that even more. Did you have fun
talking about this?" Lou asked engagingly as he headed into the city.