Southampton Village ARB Must Abide by Appellate Division Decision on Bliss House Demolition - 27 East

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Southampton Village ARB Must Abide by Appellate Division Decision on Bliss House Demolition

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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 May 28, 2024

The Village of Southampton Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation has agreed to halt its landmarking proceedings for a Meadow Lane house by modernist architect Norman Jaffe and abide by whatever ruling an appellate court hands down in a case regarding a demolition permit for the oceanfront residence.

The board, known as the ARB, had decided unanimously in December 2021 to deny homeowner Orest Bliss a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the house, but then Bliss successfully sued in Suffolk County Supreme Court to have the denial overturned. In March 2023, Justice Christopher Modelewski ordered the ARB to issue Bliss a certificate of appropriateness within 10 days. The village immediately appealed that decision, and more than a year later, the outcome is still pending.

This spring, the ARB began public hearings on landmarking four modern houses and one postmodern house that are — according to a consultant the ARB hired for $2,999 — worthy of preservation, the Bliss House among them.

Granting the houses landmark status would prohibit their demolition.

At the board’s March 11 meeting, ARB Chairman Mark McIntire said that “they’re important architectural statements that represent the Village of Southampton.”

Village Planner Alex Wallach added that the board approved the study of modernist architecture in August 2023. “The board had recognized that this was a style of architecture that had previously not been studied in any kind of comprehensive way in the village,” he said.

The village provided the consultant, architectural historian Kate Reggev of Columbia University, with a long list of houses to identify examples of modernist architecture and then to narrow it down to the five “most exceptional, best examples” from that group, Wallach explained.

In January, Reggev submitted her report, which recommended for landmarking one house by Ward Bennett, at 1360 Meadow Lane; one by Myron Goldfinger, at 1820 Meadow Lane; and three by Norman Jaffe. In addition to the Bliss House at 88 Meadow Lane, the Jaffe houses are 380 Barons Lane and 1880 Meadow Lane.

Reggev wrote that four out of the five homes included in the study do not meet the village code’s age requirement of 50 years for landmarking, but do fall under the code’s exception, “which states that they must be of ‘exceptional importance’ to be designated.”

Attorney John Bennett, who represents Bliss, asked Modelewski to hold the village in contempt for pursuing landmarking of the Bliss House after losing in court once and while the matter is still on appeal.

“If you lose, you have to appeal. You can’t just start all over again,” he said. He accused the village of continuing to “target” Bliss rather than waiting for the outcome of the appeal.

Bennett and the attorney representing the ARB, Brian Matthews, appeared in Modelewski’s courtroom on May 22.

“The village’s position was that their landmarking proceeding was entirely different from their refusal to allow a demolition permit, and the judge said, ‘Well, that’s really form over substance,’” Bennett said during an interview later that day.

The two came to an agreement, and Bennett withdrew the contempt motion.

“I said if the village will withdraw this application, agree to be enjoined and stayed from bringing any other applications, and live and die by the appellate division order, I think we can all settle on this basis, and the judge said, ‘That’s what I was thinking,’” Bennett said.

Had the village been held in contempt, it could have been subject to paying legal fees plus fines for every day the ARB continued to process the application, according to Bennett.

McIntire said on Tuesday that the ARB considers the contempt motion frivolous and a waste of village resources to defend.

“The board had already agreed to table discussion of 88 Meadow until such as time as the appellate division reached a decision on our appeal,” he said, noting that Bennett knew that more than a month ago. “We ended up right back where we already were,” he said.

He refuted Bennett’s characterization that Bliss is being targeted.

“Our actions on landmarking are based on recommendations from an independent survey conducted by the village,“ McIntire said. “It’s an important house that’s going to come up any time we talk about important modernist houses in the village — and it did — but the board does not target people.”

On Tuesday morning, Bennett said McIntire was spinning what happened in court. “They lost big time in court,” Bennett said.

The ARB had already agreed to pause its landmarking proceeding until the appeal’s outcome, Bennett agreed, but he explained that what the ARB’s counsel agreed to in Modelewski’s courtroom last week went further: The village agreed to be enjoined permanently from pursuing landmarking of the Bliss House if the appellate division decides to uphold the Supreme Court ruling that the ARB must issue Bliss a certificate of appropriateness for demolition. The ARB cannot lose at the appellate division but then try to stop the demolition anyway.

“They don’t get to take a second bite at the apple, which they were holding in reserve after the appellate division decision,” Bennett said.

In its 2021 decision, the ARB had concluded that the Bliss House “makes a significant contribution to the Historic District” and is “the work of a notable and world-renowned architect whose connections and work in the East End of Long Island make his work of particular local importance to the Village of Southampton and to the Historic District.” It also found that a 2000 addition is subservient to the Jaffe design and does not diminish its integrity.

Bennett had countered that the house, which was completed in 1979, was too new to contribute to the historic district and was totally redone in 2000 by a successor architect. “It’s not a Jaffe anymore,” he said.

In deciding in favor of Bliss in March 2023, Modelewski wrote that the ARB’s decision had been “arbitrary, wholly without regard to the facts, and made in derogation of the law.”

“They should have taken their lumps and graciously allowed Mr. Bliss to go forward,” Bennett said last week. “But they didn’t.”

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