Historic panel blasted

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04/15/2010 12:00 AM |

The design for the new Ramone home on Village Lane in Orient. The structure cannot rise unless the town’s Historic Preservation Commission first authorizes the demolition of the existing house.

The debate over the fate of a 19th-century Orient home is creating history on its own.

Never before has the owner of a house within a designated historic district asked for permission to tear it down. And never before has an owner in that position accused the town’s Historic Preservation Commission of being a rogue group operating far beyond its authority,

A week after the commission’s chairman requested, and received, town approval for an engineering review of the house at 130 Village Lane to determine its historic significance, one of the owners blasted the group, saying it gave verbal approvals throughout the review of plans to replace the one-story building with a new two-story home. But the commission, she said, has now given them “a knife in the back at the eleventh hour.”

Claudia King Ramone, whose family has been in Orient for centuries, said the review process “has snowballed into something surreal for us at this point.” She said she and husband Julien, both currently employed in Manhattan, have worked with the commission for the past three years “to develop a design for our home that would fit in with the character of the village.” It’s their goal, she said, to make the home their primary residence and raise their two young daughters there.

But the historic commission has become “completely unreasonable and is overstepping its bounds,” said Ms. Ramone, a Greenport High School graduate.

Her comments come a week after commission chairman James Grathwohl asked the Town Board to authorize hiring an engineer to inspect the home, built in the mid to late 1800s, to determine its historic value. Should the commission deny the demolition request, the Ramones can make an appeal to the Town Board. The engineering report, said Mr. Grathwohl, “makes sure we covered all the bases … I just want to make sure our decision is on solid ground.”

The chairman said the Ramones first sought permission to alter the building and later the panel’s OK to tear it down and replace it.

Ms. Ramone said she was offended by Mr. Grathwohl’s statement to the board last week. The chairman said, “Just because they want it and it’s theirs doesn’t mean they can put a McMansion on it.”

She said, “The fact that Mr. Grathwohl refers to the design as a ‘McMansion’ is truly a knife in the back at the eleventh hour in a very long process during which we have maintained full engagement with the commission and carried out all recommendations that they have given to us.”

The process began in 2007 when, at several of the commissioners’ recommendations, she and her husband hired a local designer. After receiving verbal approval for the concept, they engaged an architect, also commission-recommended, said Ms. Ramone.

“Since 2008 we have met with the commission at least five times and presented the designs and plans and continued to make modifications and alterations that they suggested,” she said. “We continued to receive verbal encouragement that the design fit right in with the character of the village and would be a welcome change compared to the structure in its existing state.”

The house must go because the existing foundation does not reach down below the frost line, said Ms. Ramone, and as a result “we’ve got bugs coming in all the time.”

During his Town Board appearance last week, Mr. Grathwohl called the existing house “very nondescript” and “lackluster,” adding that the commission is divided over its fate. The commission will hold a public hearing on the application next Tuesday, April 20, at 4 p.m. in Town Hall.

The proposed home fits within the existing structure’s footprint, except that the back porch would be converted into living space.

“Coming from Orient, I would never do something if it wasn’t welcomed,” said Ms. Ramone. “We don’t want to be here if people don’t like what we’re doing.”

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