Attorney Argues ARB's Time To Review Demo Request For Jaffe House Is Up - 27 East

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Attorney Argues ARB’s Time To Review Demo Request For Jaffe House Is Up

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The residence at 88 Meadow Lane in Southampton Village was originally designed by Norman Jaffe. It was later renovated and added onto by Barnes Coy Architects.

The residence at 88 Meadow Lane in Southampton Village was originally designed by Norman Jaffe. It was later renovated and added onto by Barnes Coy Architects.

Brendan J. O’Reilly on Sep 1, 2021

The attorney for a homeowner seeking a demolition permit for his Meadow Lane residence, which was originally designed by renowned architect Norman Jaffe, told the Southampton Village Board of Architectural Review & Historic Preservation that the 60-day review window has expired — and the board has no choice but to render a decision immediately.

The board chairman did not agree and indicated that the ARB will withhold judgment until a report the board ordered from a historic consultant is complete.

Though the residence was built in the late 1970s — it has since been renovated and expanded — its demolition is subject to ARB approval because it is located in a historic district.

“I don’t think you have any option but to make a decision this evening,” said John Bennett of Southampton law firm Bennett & Read during the board’s August 23 meeting. He quoted the section of the village code that says the ARB must approve or deny an application within 60 days of receiving a completed application.

“That’s a mandatory time period,” he said. “You don’t have the authority or ability, for whatever reason, to extend it.”

Mr. Bennett noted that at the time the house was built, the ARB required that his client, Orest Bliss, maintain a landscape plan to shield the house from view. “This board only permitted construction of the home provided no one can see it,” he said. “Now, the fact that your board composition may have changed is irrelevant. You are bound by the prior determinations of your board.”

He also argued that, at 43 years old, the house is not eligible for historic preservation. He said that state and federal statutes will not consider properties that are less than 50 years old — a point that preservationists who wish to save the house have challenged.

Mr. Bennett further argued that the house has not been an “organic Jaffe home” for more than 20 years. The facade of the house was extended, he said: “It’s twice the length it was, and it was not a Jaffe design, it was a Barnes Coy design.”

He also pointed to the board’s recent approval of a demolition permit, in 2019, of a Jaffe-designed house at 210 Meadow Lane.

“Any action contrary to those prior determinations would be deemed arbitrary and capricious,” Mr. Bennett said, offering case law to support his argument and adding that the ARB’s history of decisions regarding this house and other Jaffe houses effectively “handcuffs” the board.

“You may not like what was done in the past, but that’s — unfortunately, under the law — too bad.”

ARB Chairman Jeffrey Brodlieb told Mr. Bennett that the board notes his objections but has met with legal counsel and is acting within its rights. He cited the past adjournments of the matter, called the application incomplete, and said the board has a right to bring in a consultant.

“If you’re telling me you have counsel as to why you have that power, you have to put that on the record,” Mr. Bennett said.

ARB counsel Alice Cooley said simply, “The file is incomplete.”

That did not sit well with Mr. Bennett.

“That is absurd,” he said. “It met all the filing requirements. You cannot create your own incompleteness by the fact you haven’t taken action within the required 60 days.”

Mr. Brodlieb offered to make the historic consultant’s report available once it is done, and he said the board members would like to view the property to assess the claims Mr. Bennett has made.

“I’m not giving you any access to a property where your time to act has passed,” Mr. Bennett countered.

The application was adjourned, over Mr. Bennett’s objections.

550 Hill Street

Mr. Bennett also represented the owner of 550 Hill Street, which was also before the ARB to be considered for a certificate of appropriateness to allow its demolition.

Mr. Bennett noted that the house is located in a historic district, but in three different assessments of the district was never found to be a contributing structure. He pointed out that the ARB’s former historic consultant, Zach Studenroth, had prepared a report that found that it is not contributing. Mr. Bennett said he enlisted historic preservation consultant Steve Bedford for a report as well, and Mr. Bedford agreed the house is nonhistoric.

Jeffrey Bragman, an attorney based in East Hampton, spoke on behalf of the neighbors to the south and west of 550 Hill Street. He said they would like to examine the house and have their own historic assessment done to submit to the board.

“I dispute the idea that the house is not a contributing property in the historic district,” Mr. Bragman said. He requested that the board adjourn the application rather than make a “snap decision.” He told the board that he understands the concerns over time limits, but added: “To my knowledge, there is no default approval that can happen here. That’s my understanding of the law.”

He noted that he often represents neighbors in cases like this. “We get kind of short shrift because we’re just the neighbors, but we have an equal economic interest and an equal interest in the preservation of the entire fabric of the historic district, and I think that there’s more that you need to hear here,” he said.

Mr. Bennett objected to adjourning the application, but Mr. Brodleib said the board needs more information — namely, the historic consultant report that the neighbors’ attorney offered — and the application is incomplete.

554 Hill Street

Mr. Bennett represented the applicant in yet another request for a certificate of appropriateness for demolition in the historic district. This application, for 554 Hill Street, concerns both a single-family house and a warehouse.

He read from a 2015 report by Mr. Studenroth, who found the house was built in the 1930s or 1940s with a wing and dormers added later and the windows replaced. Neither the house nor the warehouse are listed as contributing structures, he said.

“This is almost sort of res ipsa loquitur — ‘the thing speaks for itself.’ There’s nothing of any sort of historic value at this property,” Mr. Bennett said, noting that Mr. Bedford concurred with Mr. Studenroth.

With no comments from the public, the hearing was concluded pending a written decision.

Together, 550 and 554 Hill Street are offered for sale as a three-lot estate subdivision or compound on 2.9 acres for $12.5 million.

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