After two and a half years of back-and-forth with Long Island’s most famous piano player, the Sag Harbor Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review approved plans for renovations to the Bay Street home of Billy Joel.
During its meeting on Thursday night, September 13, the board voted 4-1 in favor of allowing Mr. Joel to combine the two structures on the property with a two-story addition connecting the buildings. The renovations also call for the structure facing Rector Street to be raised to a height of nearly 30 feet. The house was originally going to be raised to a height of 34 feet, before the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review and the Zoning Board of Appeals disapproved of that element in 2017.
The five members of the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review were each given time to explain why they voted yes or no.
John C. Connor, who voted yes, noted how the renovation’s design team had consistently taken the board’s recommendations into account throughout its multiple visits to board meetings over the years.
“In the most recent presentation I was quite impressed that what was the historic house, which was badly damaged in the early-2000s renovation, was being brought back to its state and shape and design,” Mr. Connor said. “In large part because they discovered a photograph from the early 20th century and were following that to restore the house back. And that, in large part, is why I’m voting yes.”
Bethany Deyermond said she voted yes due to the project adhering to village code and the designers following the suggestions made by the board. Dean Gomolka also voted yes, commending the designers for creating a “harmony” among the structures with the plan to combine the two instead of keeping them separate and juxtaposing each other.
“I think they’ve done a great job in taking all of our suggestions in and making it into something that I think is perfectly modified,” Mr. Gomolka said.
The lone dissenting vote came from Judy Long who, while also commending the changes made by the design team, said that this renovation could set a precedent for other homeowners in the area to also renovate their homes to make larger structures. Ms. Long also cited the need to preserve the “quaint” and “quirky” atmosphere of Sag Harbor that Mr. Joel’s taller home might disrupt.
“I’m not going to be horribly disappointed if it goes ahead, but I think I want to vote no,” Ms. Long said.
Board Chairman Anthony Brandt admitted that he’s been told by “close friends” to vote against the renovation and assumed he would lose some of those friends by voting yes. The chairman made a point of saying that he understood why Mr. Joel was looking to raise his home, given how close the home is to seawater and how sea levels could rise by 20 feet by mid-century if the ice in Antarctica continues to melt at a faster rate due to global warming. Mr. Brandt again thanked the design team for working with the board and commended them for all of the elements of the renovations that they “sacrificed” over the last two years to meet the board’s suggestions.
“I know they gave up a lot and they did it basically because we asked them too,” Mr. Brandt said. “Cooperation is a much better solution to me than conflict.”
Mr. Joel himself was not in attendance, but his attorney, Jon Tarbet, was there to thank the board.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that, no matter what side you’re on, the project now is better than how it started based on your comments,” Mr. Tarbet said.
In an interview on Friday, Mr. Tarbet said that this was the last regulatory board approval that the project required, and now all that’s needed is a building permit issued by Village Building Inspector Thomas Preiato.
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