Jermain Avenue is one of the many tiny, tight-knit neighborhoods in Sag Harbor with residential houses resting close together. But one house on that road has a little more breathing room: 136 Jermain Avenue, also known as a “half house.”
The two-story, three-bay frame house was originally built in 1854 and was 1,606 square feet, with a recent addition bringing it up to a current total of 2,195 square feet. When current owner Julian Ellison purchased the property in March 2015, his intent was to renovate the house by adding a new driveway, new windows, new foundations, retaining walls and a swimming pool, along with replacing the addition that was not part of the historical footprint. He also had the intention of retaining some of the original elements of the property, including the clapboard sidings, side-gabled roof, six-over-six wooden sash windows, molded door surround, and the entrance hood where the date 1854 is branded.
“He just wants to have a house that a family can grow in,” said Alex Kriegsman, Mr. Ellison’s attorney, who was hired after Mr. Ellison ran into some roadblocks with the Sag Harbor Board of Historic Preservation & Architectural Review, referred to as the ARB.
According to legal documents filed in State Supreme Court on November 30, Mr. Ellison’s plans were first presented to the board on April 28 of last year after he submitted a certificate of appropriateness—as required by village law—16 days before. Represented by architect Anne Sherry, Mr. Ellison’s plans were criticized for being too large of an addition to the property, including doubling the size of the house’s second floor, despite Ms. Sherry saying it was within the limits of the village zoning code.
When Ms. Sherry returned to the board on May 12 with a 3D model of what the property would look like after the renovations were added, as requested by the board, the board reiterated that the renovations were too large for the aesthetic of the neighborhood. This claim was repeated again when Mr. Ellison, Ms. Sherry, and Mr. Kriegsman appeared in front of the board again on June 9, this time asking for specific problems with the plans and being given little explanation.
Ms. Sherry and Mr. Kriegsman approached the board three more times with new plans for the renovations each time—on June 23, July 28, and September 8. On all three occasions, little leeway was gained.
“We asked the board to articulate what they didn’t like about it—they refused. Their village attorney [David J. Gilmartin Jr.] advised them to do so, they refused,” Mr. Kriegsman said. “The board members made the same disparaging remarks as we tried to resolve this.”
Anthony Brandt, the ARB chairman, said he could not comment on the application because it is the subject of a lawsuit. Mr. Gilmartin could not be reached for comment.
According to the State Supreme Court filings, the ARB had many issues in their dispute. For example, at the June 9 meeting, board members used both the preamble to the village zoning code and the standards of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to reinstate the problems with the renovations, but could not point out specific points of both examples that negate the proposal.
At the July 28 meeting, the board compared the proposal to the original historical building despite village code requiring them to compare it with the current structure that had the non-historical addition on it.
On December 1, State Supreme Court Justice Joseph C. Pastoressa issued an Order to Show Just Cause to the Village Board and the ARB. This order aned the board’s denial of Mr. Ellison’s application for a certificate of appropriateness on both July 28 and September 8, approving the applications from both dates, and declared a recent law regarding gross floor area, determining the size of a house based on the lot of property it’s on, to be “invalid, and void.”
Village Mayor Sandra Schroeder had no comment on this order.
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