Alter the house or tear it down?

The town’s Historic Review Commission must decide whether this ‘nondescript’ home on Village Lane in Orient can be razed to make room for a new structure or must be preserved due to its historic significance.

Tearing down an old house and building a new one is common in Southold, but an Orient couple’s bid to do just that is something quite rare.

Never before has anyone asked the town’s Historic Preservation Commission to raze a house in a historic district. And for that reason, the town is taking the unusual step of hiring an engineer to closely examine the small Cape at 130 Village Lane in Orient for structural soundness and potential historic significance.

Commission chairman Jim Grathwohl described the house as “very nondescript” and “lackluster,” but added that his group’s charge is to maintain the area’s historic significance. Village Lane lies within two historic districts, the town’s and another at the federal level.

“This is a tough predicament,” Mr. Grathwohl said during the Town Board’s Tuesday morning session. “You can fix anything; it’s just a matter of cost. Where do you draw the line on the cost?”

The owners, Julien and Claudia Ramone, originally sought the commission’s blessing — called a “certificate of appropriateness” — for alterations and an addition. They subsequently said the structure, built in the mid to late 1800s, is not worth altering, Mr. Grathwohl said. The home they hope to build would have “more space than the lot would provide,” he added.

“Just because they want it and it’s theirs doesn’t mean they can put this McMansion on it,” Mr. Grathwohl told the board.

He also said the historic preservation panel is split on the application.

Should the commission reject the demolition, the owners can appeal to the Town Board.

The engineering report “makes sure we covered all the bases if it comes to an appeal,” the chairman said. “I just want to make sure that our decision is on solid ground.”

“If it comes to us, we’re going to make one group of people very unhappy either way,” said Supervisor Scott Russell.

The owners’ architect maintains that the foundation and some of the structural beams are beyond repair, said Mr. Grathwohl.

Later on Tuesday, the Town Board agreed to hire Southold engineer Joseph Fischetti to examine the house at a cost not to exceed $1,000.

The Historic Preservation Commission will hold a public hearing on the Ramone application at Town Hall at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 20.

[email protected]