Plans For New Main House At Four Fountains Estate Rejected - 27 East

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Plans For New Main House At Four Fountains Estate Rejected

Brendan J. O’Reilly on Aug 31, 2021

The Southampton Village Board of Architectural Review & Historic Preservation rejected, 3-2, an application to build a “grand house” at 660 Halsey Neck Lane, the site of the famed estate Four Fountains.

After multiple hearing dates where neighbors expressed their concerns with the size and height of the proposed residence, a board majority voted August 23 against the plan.

Chairman Jeffrey Brodlieb and member Mark McIntire were in favor of the application, while Peter DeWitt, John Gregory and Sarah Latham voted against it.

The applicants are Jessie Ding and Ning Jin, a couple who purchased the 7.5 acre compound for $22 million in December 2019. The existing main house there — a playhouse-turned-summer home — was demolished that month. Board members also shared concerns during the August 23 meeting that garages, which had not been part of that demolition application from 2019, have since been removed.

Before the vote, Mr. Jin told the board that they sought a classic but family-friendly design, and he noted that they hired landscape architect Edmund Hollander to be sensitive to the wetlands.

As far as the size of the house, he argued that “the house is largely invisible from sight,” and pointed out that the proposed pool terrace was lowered 18 inches to reduce the visibility and additional screening was added.

“The finished height is actually only very marginally above the average house which has been built in the area in the past 15 years, and actually lower than many other houses in the area,” Mr. Jin said.

He refuted assertions that the house would tower over others and block the sunlight in the community.

The house is in a flood zone, and to that point, Mr. Jin said that by code the front entrance needs to be 10 feet above grade.

Ms. Ding said they wanted a house that would be beautiful, graceful and consistent with the neighborhood.

To demonstrate the height of the proposed house, bucket trucks were raised on the property.

“The buckets were above most of the trees,” neighbor Kathy Ferguson told the board. She said that is the case both from her house, one block south of 660 Halsey Neck Lane, and also from Coopers Beach.

The main house that formerly stood on the property was designed by the architectural firm of Peabody, Wilson and Brown for Ethel and Lucian Tyng in 1928 as a playhouse/arts center, according to architecture critic and Express News Group columnist Anne Surchin. The Tyngs sold Four Fountains in 1942 to Archibald Brown, the estate’s original architect, and his wife, Eleanor, the president of the interior design firm McMillen Inc, who converted the playhouse into a summer home.

Ms. Surchin noted in a January 2020 column that the property was flooded in both Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy. At the time, she wrote that the plan was for the new owners to replicate the facade of the demolished house and build a home behind it that could accommodate a family.

Mr. DeWitt told the applicants that no one expected them to keep the former house and he does not think demolishing it was a mistake. However, he said the garages were “foolishly demolished” and said the courtyard was also destroyed.

He also questioned why the massing of the house was pushed toward the east, toward the neighbors.

Mr. Gregory said height is not an issue to him but the presence of the design on the surroundings is. “It has a different presence than houses nearby,” he said.

Mr. McIntyre wondered if the board members were unfairly comparing the proposal to the residence that stood there before: “I think we all long for what used to be there, and I think in our longing for what used to be there, we may not be being as generous to the consideration of this house. … I don’t think that’s being 100 percent fair to the application.”

Mr. Brodlieb noted that height is a matter of village code and under the purview of the Building Department, while mass is one for the architectural review board. “It’s a grand house, no doubt about it, but it is not so massive in the context of the environs that it would qualify to be disapproved,” he said.

Though two members of the board believed the design passed muster, the applicants could not convince the majority.

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