A plan to nearly double the size of 125-year-old Mocomanto, Ken Fox’s home along the banks of Lake Agawam, won approval from the Southampton Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review on Monday in a split decision.
Chairman Curtis Highsmith, Christine Redding and the board’s newest member, Rob Coburn, voted to approve a certificate of appropriateness to remove a portion of the existing home at 472 First Neck Lane, and reconstruct and increase its size. Board members Susan Stevenson and Jeff Brodlieb voted against it.
The changes to the historic Victorian home include nearly doubling the size of the residence by adding a two-story addition to the north, along with a smaller one-story addition. The home is within the village’s historic district, although the structure itself has no official protection as a historic property.
According to the written decision, approved 3-2 on Monday, the “application may be one of the most contested applications presided upon” by the ARB. From the first hearing in front of the ARB in November 2017 until the close of the hearing on February 26, board members were presented with multiple changes to the plans, as well as opposition from environmentalists, historians and neighbors of the property—including some who say they now will take the fight to court.
“The owner and objectors retained attorneys, architects, historic consultants and engineers to authenticate assertions of fact, historic information, rationale for the designs and criticism of the several proposals and modifications,” the 17-page decision read. “The sum of these efforts during the course of seven hearings resulted in an exemplary display of the administrative process providing the board with a full, detailed and documented record upon which each member could render an informed decision.”
Mr. Fox initially proposed an addition to the historic home that would increase the gross floor area by 52 percent, from 4,717 square feet to 7,190 square feet. The addition would have turned the home into an L-shaped building, and had a modern-looking connector joining the historic home with the addition.
Members of the board gave their first round of input on the project, and all agreed that the connector, which would be used as a kitchen and would be surrounded by glass, needed work. At the time, Mr. Highsmith told the architect and the attorney representing Mr. Fox, that the connector appeared to be a “foreign element.”
In response, Mr. Fox’s team came back with plans that removed the L-shaped addition and instead expanded the home to the north to give it the same look it had in the 1920s.
Although the home would have the look and feel of an older rendition of the home, Ms. Stevenson said in her dissent that going back to the 1920s version instead of the original 1880s version was a failure of historic preservation.
Still, the new plans included a 39-foot-long extension that, according to the decision, was fitting with the 43-foot-high, three-story original residence.
“Although two stories, the height is subservient to the existing building, which has a height of 43.3 [feet], providing an acceptable scale in proportion to the larger existing structure,” the decision read. “The board … finds the mass, volume and size of the extension itself meets or exceeds the criteria and standards of the village code.”
The decision also stated that code allows a dwelling on a 2.3-acre property to have a gross floor area, or GFA, of 13,857 square feet. The proposed GFA for Mocomanto is 6,982 square feet, according to the decision, much less than permitted on the property.
“It may be noted that records submitted indicates the neighbor to the north, who objects to this application, occupies a dwelling of 8,886 square feet,” the decision read, referring to the home owned by attorney Robert Giuffra.
Mr. Giuffra along with his wife, Joyce Giuffra, and neighbor Whitney Stevens, objected to the project from the very beginning of the process. In particular, they were disappointed in the board’s decision to approve the “massive expansion of one of the most historic homes” in Southampton Village, according to Ms. Stevens.
“If Mocomanto’s length on its most visible and important elevation, facing Lake Agawam, can be increased by 98 percent, are there any limits on the expansion of historic homes in our village?” Ms. Stevens said in an email on Tuesday.
Mr. Fox declined to comment on the decision on Tuesday morning.
Mr. Brodlieb and Ms. Stevenson explained their votes in written dissenting opinions on Monday.
“I … object to the content of the written decision and disagree with its conclusion and lodge this dissent to the proposed resolution,” Mr. Brodlieb said in a written dissent on Monday. “It’s worthy to note that over 1,260 residents and visitors signed an online petition and commented against the massive expansion of Mocomanto.”
Ms. Stevenson, who also objected to the application, submitted a dissent as well.
“Mr. Fox is asking for an overly large addition,” she wrote. “His plan also distorts the important verticality of the original design, which is one of the most important, unusual and prominent architectural features of Mocomanto.”
Members of the community also expressed frustration with the ARB’s decision, saying it would set an unwanted precedent going forward.
In an email on Tuesday, Jay Diesing of the Southampton Association said the ruling was “a failure of historic preservation.”
“It ignores the unique architecture of an original Betts cottage, one of the most significant structures in our village,” Mr. Diesing said in the email. “The decision flies in the face of all principles of historic preservation and the Secretary of the Interior’s standards. It sets a dangerous precedent which could threaten the entire historic district.”
He added, “Our small-town, rural charm is what makes Southampton a special (and valuable) place. That charm is fast eroding.”
Mr. Brodlieb and Ms. Stevenson both said in their dissents that Mocomanto could be enlarged and modernized without such a massive addition.
In his letter, Mr. Brodlieb said nobody wanted to deny Mr. Fox the ability to make a reasonable expansion of his own property. “A win/win for the property owner and the community is quite possible and well within reach,” he said.
Not only did Mr. Brodlieb object to the written decision, but he also objected to the process. He said a draft of the written decision was provided to ARB members at noon on Monday—just seven hours before the vote.
He said the short notice was a “disservice to the community,” especially when it states the application “may be one of the most contested applications presided upon by this board.”
In light of the decision, the neighbors said they would continue to fight the plan.
“We have repeatedly asked our neighbor to propose a more modest addition to Mocomanto,” Ms. Stevens said. “If Mr. Fox presses forward with his current plans, we will pursue relief in court. Our village will be lost if the ARB continues to fail in its duty to preserve our most historic homes.”
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