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Proposal to demolish Orient home draws residents to Town Hall

A proposal to demolish a house in Orient’s historic district drew more than a dozen residents to a Southold Historic Preservation Commission meeting on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. Residents filled up the Southold Town Hall annex meeting room, even though the work session and pre-submission hearing were not open to public comment.

The home is located on the corner of Skippers Lane, prominently situated on a parcel abutting Poquatuck Park. According to preliminary plans filed in June by Water Mill-based architect Peter Cook on behalf of the homeowners, the existing 1,827-square-foot structure would be torn down and replaced by a new 3,424-square-foot building.

“It isn’t appropriate for the village,” resident Jane Friesen said after the meeting. “It is very visible from our village green. It does not fit the character.”

A rendering of the proposed home. (Courtesy of Peter Cook)

An e-newsletter sent out by the Orient Association earlier this month telling residents about the meeting sparked so much interest there wasn’t a seat to be had before Mr. Cook and his associate entered the building. The applicants did not attend due to a death in the family, but provided a statement on the proposal and design that Mr. Cook read.

“We have shared the drawings of the project with our immediate neighbors, all of whom liked the appropriate scaling of the house,” the statement read. “…they appreciate our intent to retain the look of the current house.”

Another prospective of the proposed house. (Courtesy: Peter Cook)

When asked by member James Grathwohl if the old home needed to be leveled, Mr. Cook said it was required because of irreparable structural damage. A recent environmental review submitted by the architect showed the house, believed to have been built in the 1920s, was overrun with asbestos, lead paint and black mold.

“I am a person who does not want to tear down something unless it is the only possibility,” Mr. Grathwohl said. “I am a historian and history plays an important role in my evaluation of things, especially in Orient.”

Another rendering of the proposed home. (Courtesy of Peter Cook)

When the village’s historic district was formed in 1976, the home was classified as contributing to the designation, however, Mr. Cook questioned how much of that history was left to save, saying that much of the original trim work and windows had been removed in a past renovation.

“I am a big proponent of saving things in an old house that can be saved,” Mr. Cook said. “There is nothing historic in this existing house. The client has asked us to pay homage to what is there and to be respectful of that corner. [The new build] will honor its spirit.”

The new build would have additional living space and raise the ceilings — and thus the height of the roof. The evaluation was a point of concern among residents who believe the increased height could obscure views from the park and fundamental change the appearance of the historic district.

“The historic district has such a small footprint that every change is significant,” said Orient resident Keith Scott Morton after the meeting. “The architecture is not reflective of the community.”

Some residents and commission members noted that the proposed home is aesthetically pleasing, but ultimately questioned the project because of its location.

Orient residents filled the Town Hall annex meeting room Tuesday. (Cyndi Murray photo)

“If this was being proposed on a different street, none of us would be here,” Ms. Friesen said.

The commission agreed to tour the home prior to the next pre-submission hearing planned for mid-October.

Before Tuesday’s pre-submission hearing, chairman James Garretson explained that comment from the community needed to wait until a public hearing, which would be scheduled after the commission reviews the application, makes recommendations and the applicant files final construction documents outlining the exact specifications of the project.

Residents were encouraged to send written comment to the commission, which would be included in the public hearing when the time comes.

In addition to Historic Preservation Commission approval, the project would also require a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals, as it would exceed maximum lot coverage limits.

Top photo caption: The current house that may be demolished. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)

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