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Sagaponack’s New ’No Demo’ Law Makes Restoration A Village Priority

Originally Posted: August 18, 2009

Andrea Aurichio

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Long considered the center of Sagaponack village life, residents gather mail and provisions at the only commercial structure on the village green. Photos by Christine Bellini and Andrea Aurichio

Sagaponack - There is something heartbreaking about seeing an old house torn down, its barn and outbuildings leveled as the last vestiges of the old East End disappear to be replaced by McMansions with pool houses and tennis courts in the heart of the South Fork's farmlands. And there is something altogether heartwarming in the sight of an old farmhouse immaculately maintained over a century or more with its barn in tact and its gardens in bloom along the edge of a field that stretches to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean where Sagaponack's sandy loam turns into beach sand.

The last vestiges of the old East End disappear each time the old farm houses are replaced by McMansions with pool houses and tennis courts in the places where potatoes once grew and horses roamed.

In Sagaponack there are stretches of the road where you can still see across the fields all the way to the ocean. Farm houses remain along the roadsides that wind to the ocean nestled between luxury vacation homes, most of which are dark in the winter as twilight sets in. Village officials and many residents want to retain the rural character of this village that boasts a general store and post office that do business side by side under one roof on Sagg Main Street.

In an attempt to strike a balance between the past and present, the Sagaponack Village Board voted 5-0 to pass a law protecting vintage buildings from demolition. The law addresses alterations on buildings of historic significance within the Village boundaries as well. The board voted its unanimous approval on Monday, Aug. 17 after holding a public hearing a week earlier that attracted a good deal of attention in the usually sedate Village where board meetings are usually attended by Village Trustees and a handful of news reporters.

Mayor Louchheim takes a light-hearted moment during the proceedings to address the board.

Thanks to the newly enacted law, the Sagg General Store, often painted and photographed, will most likely remain pretty much as it has for many years, or at least until another Village Board ammends the local law to keep pace with the changing times.

"It was nice to see people turn out," Village Trustee Lisa Duryea Thayer said.

Sagaponack Village Building Inspector John Woudsma will be overseeing the review process involved when property owners either decide to renovate or demolish and replicate. "We get about five or six requests for demolitions each year," Woudsma said. He has been in his job since the Village was incorporated in 2005. "It's a process," sometimes it's just too expensive to renovate an older house."

However nostalgia runs deep in this community where a drive is a pleasure that takes you back to the days when the farmers built their sturdy houses away from the harsh winter winds down on the beach. The summer folk who came later preferred to encamp on the coastline, oblivious to the winter weather when they were not here.

The small village has great architectural diversity. Turn of the century seaside cottages populate the shoreline while colonial homes built by the first settlers in the 1600s still stand lovingly maintained by their current owners who boast of their wide plank floorboards and four over four windows. There are Victorians of distinction and farmhouses that dazzle with their simplicity and wide front porches.

The law will protect these architectural gems as applicants come to the Village Hall seeking demolition permits or requesting building permits to make alterations. The Village Architectural Review Board (ARB), a formidable group, are charged with reviewing the applications and buildings will come under their scrutiny if they have "historic" significance. In Sagaponack, these buildings do not have to be located within the boundaries of an historic district to fall within the purview of the ARB.

Village officials will be guided by the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings. Any major changes to the exterior appearance of an historic building is to be reviewed by the ARB. The definition of "historic" is crucial to the law.

Village Trustees conducting business as usual in this small
village where important legislation concerning dark skies and vintage buildings are on the books.

A building will be considered "historic" if it possesses a special character or historical interest. Under the guidelines, if a famous person lived there and played an important role in local, state or national history, the building will be classified as an historic structure. If the building was built by a well known builder or designed by an architect of distinction, chances are it will be saved from the wrecking ball, unless it is too far gone to be renovated. Buildings with distinctive architectural features will also come under review.

If a building has a unique location, like the Sagaponack General Store and post office, and represents an "established and familiar visual or aesthetic feature of the neighborhood" it will be deemed historic according to the new law.

All applications for demolition permits will be sent over to the ARB by the Building Inspector for review before approval or denial is granted after a hearing before the full board. Decisions may be appealed. If the applicant can demonstrate hardship or prove a restoration is economically unavailing, a demolition permit may be granted.

Residents favored the law for the most part, however there were objections. Those opposed pointed to the possible devaluation of their property as a result of the constraints involved in renovation and demolition which might be a deterrent for future owners who would not want to buy a property they could not use freely to build a home of their own design rather than be locked into preserving the past. Interior renovations, however, are not addressed, making it possible for residents to gut houses and create more contemporary interiors.

Woudsma noted many newcomers to Sagaponack prefer to build homes that look old and capture the spirit of the East End. According to the new law, ranches built in the 1950s would probably not be considered historic unless, of course, someone famous lived there or something really important happened on the property.

As the Village moves forward once again implementing laws aimed at preserving their environment and heritage one wonders, is Village Trustee Lee Foster's house considered historic since so many meetings took place in her kitchen as the Village government was formed five years ago. That was a really important event.

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Guest (Robin Morgenweck) from Babylon Village says::
Can you please share information on what you did to form your Architectural Review Board? We have several buildings in jeapardy right now and not many of us know what to do.
Jul 25, 2017 12:34 pm


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