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Jul 16, 2014 9:39 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

In Southampton Village, Meadow Lane Proposal Draws Fire From Neighbors

Jul 20, 2014 10:16 AM

A plan to replace a 120-year-old, classic shingle-style house with one that is modern and has lots of glass at 40 Meadow Lane in a Southampton Village historic district has drawn criticism from neighbors calling for a public hearing to be reopened by the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review.

“What happened to the principles of historic preservation that were so strictly enforced?” asked Justine Cushing of 53 Meadow Lane at an ARB meeting on July 14. “I feel strongly this house should reflect the style of the iconic Meadow Club, and the style of the shingled neighbors; otherwise it will be a blight and an eyesore.”

She continued: “But working together we can find a solution that is much better than the present proposal.”

A permit has already been granted to tear down the old three-story house on the ocean. Historically known as A-wheel-y Moor, it was built before the turn of the last century, probably in the 1880s and most likely by Frederick Henry Betts, whose widow was still listed as owning it in the early 1900s. The Betts family built 12 of Southampton’s original summer colony homes, according to Mary Cummings of the Southampton Historical Society,

In the 1930s, the home changed hands, with the Fulton-Cutting family owning it until 2013, when the current homeowners bought the property. The application before the ARB, filed by EAM 40 Meadow Lane, LLC. is to build a single-family, two-story home on the roughly 1.5-acre property,

According to the owners’ attorney, John Bennett, the new house would be taller than the current one, but would have less living space. The old house is 6,946 square feet, while the proposed one would be 6,677 square feet. It is unclear when the applicants intend to demolish the current structure.

Another neighbor, Phillip Howard, said key facts were left out of the June 11 public hearing, which many residents did not attend because, they said, they were under the impression that the application had not changed from a presentation in October 2013 when a certificate of appropriateness was granted for demolition. The new house proposed at that time, Mr. Howard said, was consistent with the surrounding historical houses—traditional brown shingle and the like—and would have been “lovely,” he said.

After the hearing, however, Mr. Howard said he learned that the owners had subsequently submitted an application for a vastly different, modern house composed mostly of glass and stone that is larger than surrounding houses and will change the way the neighborhood’s landscape looks. Furthermore, current Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations as to the height of a structure will make the house difficult to hide behind shrubbery and trees, making the planned high windows visible to everyone driving by.

Ms. Cushing said that the home proposed for 40 Meadow Lane did not undergo the same detailed scrutiny as neighboring homes that have been remodeled or whose owners wanted to rebuild in the past several years. She said she had been subject to a vastly different process when renovations were proposed at her house over the past decade, and that several other homeowners on Meadow Lane had to go through a strict review process and in many cases were required to restore the historic facades of their homes at great expense.

The property at 40 Meadow Lane sits across the street from the Meadow Club, one of the premier grass tennis clubs in the United States. In the past, the club, which is a private, members-only facility, has served as a historical marker for surrounding homes, providing a prime example of a classic, shingle-style Hamptons structure.

But Mr. Bennett said the house shown at that time was merely a silhouette used to show what was possible. He said his clients had followed all proper procedures in filing with the ARB, noting that the application for construction—a separate application from the demolition permit—has not changed since it was filed.

At the ARB meeting on July 14, Board Chairman Curtis Highsmith announced that, after consulting with village attorney Beau Robinson, the board would hear arguments from the community as to why the hearing should be reopened. However, he made it clear that the public hearing remained closed for the time being at least, and that any comments made that night, while taken under advisement, would not be included in the public record.

Mr. Bennett vehemently opposed allowing the public to speak on July 14. He said he had receipts for certified mailings sent to all of the immediate neighbors of 40 Meadow Lane house notifying them of the hearing in June.

He said all comments made on July 14 could have been made at the June hearing, and that all information now being requested by the public had been made available on June 11, although no one in attendance had requested it.

“If you cannot rely on the process, then you cannot make decisions,” Mr. Bennett said. “There is a rule of law, and by reopening this hearing you would be undermining every ruling of this board and that will be a horrible precedent to set,” he said. “You can bend the rules for the laws of society, but you do not bend them for convenience—if you have been given notice, then you have a responsibility to attend a public hearing or send a representative, you cannot complain when you are not responsible and you must live with the consequences of that decision.”

Alexandra Cushing Howard, a resident at 63 Meadow Lane, is another of the neighbors pushing for the hearing to be reopened. She used renderings of the new house—renderings she says are dated June 17, one week after the public hearing—to create a mock-up showing the scale of the house in relation to neighboring homes. The picture, she said, shows how out of place the new home will be.

Ms. Howard said that, so far, the only voice that had been heard was Mr. Bennett’s. She added that the hearing on June 11 lasted only approximately 10 minutes, and that the board asked only one question.

“The board has worked very successfully in the past, and the surrounding buildings are all beautiful,” Ms. Howard said. “But suddenly a different standard is being applied and the code is not being followed. We all care very much about the beauty of Southampton, and what I would like most is to influence the process such that the architect will build a house for Southampton that all of us can be proud of for the next 120 years.”

At the end of the discussion at the ARB meeting, Mr. Highsmith said the board would meet to determine if the June public hearing was properly noticed, or if any new information was made available after the hearing, rendering it necessary to reopen the hearing. On July 28, the board will vote either to reopen the hearing or to approve the application to build the house.

“The question is whether you are asking us to work on the application because of the process, or because you don’t like the style, materials or the house,” Mr. Highsmith said. “This board will take into consideration everything that has been said and has been heard, and we will render a decision on whether to a), reopen the application, or b), whether we will just vote on the application as it has been presented.”

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