Trustees’ Special Meeting Minutes – November 19, 2022

Village of Dering Harbor
Trustees Special Meeting Minutes
9:00 AM

November 19th, 2022 

  • Attendance- Karen Kelsey, mayor; Brad Goldfarb, Ari Benacerraf, Samuel Ashner, Brandon Rose (via Zoom), Wayne Bruyn, Vicki Shields, Donna Ritzmann, Patrick Ahearn, Alfredo Paredes, George Birman, Margarita Benacerraf, Eric Deutsch, Stephanie Deutsch, Patrick Gubert, Stuart and Alice Goldman, John and Betsy Colby, Bridgford Hunt, Patrick Parcells, Mickey and Clare Kostow, Melinda Carroll, James Goldman, Rob Ferris; Zoom attendance: Susan Dempsey (SI reporter), Jaime Neckles, Alex Jackson, Ted Nelson, Devon Cross, Charles and Lisa Modica, Dennis Corcoran, Ken Tropin, Louis Katsos, Brian Carroll, Julie Farris, Coco Thuman (SI Town employee running Zoom technology)
  • Meeting called to order/Opening Remarks at 9:03am

Karen started with opening remarks summarizing where the village is now and how we got to where we are. Brad added that the purpose of this meeting is to have a discussion of the document, not to pass legislation. At no point has a wholesale rewriting of the code been discussed. Also, a broad historic district is also not going to happen. The big question is how we protect what we have. He said that was what he heard in response to the demolition of an historic home last winter. This naturally leads to a conversation about how the ARB functions and that it should be standardized. He thinks it is more fair to applicants to have standards. It would also streamline the process. He then explained how the discussion in the meeting would go. Each person attending would have 3 minutes to share their thoughts and ask questions of the Board, Patrick Ahearn, and committee.

Process Review

  • Village Counsel Overview- Wayne gave a brief background and overview related to the discussion. He cited Section 230-65 of the code (standards for ARB action), in which there are 6 subsections that relate to the criteria the ARB is to consider when reviewing an application. The first 4 specifically address improvements and do not address demolition. Number 5 is supposed to be the criteria which the ARB can deny an application. He has advised the ARB and BOT that this appears to be more of a broad purpose than a more objective criteria or standard. He went on to explain what laws have been passed to empower the ARB to review demolition permits. A 7th criteria was added to that section of the code that explains the ARB’s rationale for approving or denying an application for demolition. The BOT wanted to make sure there was a procedural step to ensure that the ARB would be involved in the review of demolition. The BOT recognized however that the moratorium had been adopted and were in the process of hiring Mr. Ahearn to look at the standards and develop criteria that would further enhance the ability of the ARB to apply the new criteria as well as the prior criteria. Wayne submitted that the debate the ARB has been having on the construction of new structures has demonstrated the need for additional criteria that the ARB can consider
  • Presentation by Historic Preservation Consultant, Patrick Ahearn. Patrick shared his background and about Levittown, where he grew up. There were lessons he absorbed as a kid growing up there. The sense of village has always been a keen interest of his. He helped design many public spaces in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. When he walked our village, he enjoyed getting to know the village better. He stated that the village is not a museum and needs to allow change, including allowing some modern architecture. He stated that he thinks Dering Harbor really is unique in its character. He thinks the architecture of the original homes is significant, and that the landscape and setting are equally important. There are other areas of the village that are not as historic and he thinks that to do justice to the community, new construction should emulate the quality of the materials, character and scale. It doesn’t mean the architecture can’t be different but that the landscape and setting are important. He thinks Dering Harbor deserves better. New construction built outside of the “historic zone” should emulate the character of what the village is based on. He concluded by adding that he has been practicing architecture for 49 years. He has enjoyed this assignment so far and looks forward to helping the community.
  • Village discussion and Q & A

Patrick Parcells read a letter, which he had sent to the board previously and was made part of the record. He added that the specifics of the new rules be tabled for the moment and the case for historic designation be explored and which properties exactly would be affected. By doing that, it would inform the set of rules that need to be put in place for historic designation.

Brad responded that he is unaware of an attempt to rewrite the ARB process. That they want to refine it, make it more efficient and clear.  He has heard from a number of people that it is not working effetively.

George Birman pointed to a section of the draft document – the question related to demolition that asks if the home was built prior to 1945- that might be considered a dividing line in terms of review.

Ari asked Patrick Ahearn if he thinks the village code is deficient and he answered yes. In his estimation, the proposed guidelines are not overreaching. He referenced the “Greater good theory”, which is not just about an individual’s house but also about the streetscape. The guidelines are there to help define a character of a place and they help guide an architect and homeowner.

Karen commented that she thinks that with better guidelines, the village will be able to provide more certainty to residents and architects in terms of what they need to do instead of hearing seemingly arbitrary feedback from a board.

Brad added that he doesn’t recall that a discussion of a materials list last year went any further than the initiation stage. Speaking as a resident, he feels the village needs better guidelines, to be fair to applicants and is beneficial to the village. He asked Mr. Ahearn to speak briefly about real estate value. Mr. Ahearn’s experience has been that if you have architectural guidelines in place that preserve the intent and character of a community, they will protect property values. He gave an example of when unclear guidelines negatively impacted someone’s property value.

Charles Modica stated that he and Lisa are supportive of everyone’s work on this endeavor. However, Charles has little faith in the village’s ability to enforce the regulations that are being proposed.  He does not approve of how the last demolition permit was issued. He and Lisa also noticed very large trees being taken down recently, they sent an email to the village, and did not think the village’s response was adequate.  To his knowledge, nothing was done about it. He has a problem with the board’s ability to enforce anything. If the village is going to do anything with guidelines, he thinks they should be applied to all residences, not just pre-1945. Ultimately, he has a lot of concerns about what is being done.

Karen responded that the demolition permit did go through the proper channels as they were set at the time, but proper notice was not given to the neighbors per village code. She also explained the village’s response to the cutting of trees that the Modica’s reported. She went on to clarify that the guidelines don’t just apply to pre-1945 structures but to renovations proposed for any house, as well as new construction.

Brad added that the village is not aiming to regulate doorknobs and that possible difficulty enforcing  regulations should not deter the village from putting protections in place.

Jaime Neckles spoke as a new landowner in Zone A. She said she and her husband are generally in favor of guidelines that promote high quality design and construction materials appropriate to the landscape and surrounding community. Two main concerns: first related to the rich mix of architectural styles (9 total) in Zone B listed in the draft guidelines. They don’t clearly state if all of these styles would also be permitted in Zone A and instead focus on color, siding, window details, etc. However, her observation is that none of the current homes in Zone A adhere to the guidelines proposed. It seems incongruous to promote consistent siding and trim colors in new construction while acknowledging that existing homes vary widely in styles. She and her husband  recommend the guidelines focus more on general style and quality and less on color and narrow specifications. Second, the draft guidelines seem to assume that historic and natural materials are the highest quality materials, which in her experience is not always the case. She does not think there is a good reason to negate the benefits of modern construction materials while preserving a traditional look. She added that she had other, smaller points to share, which she would send in writing.

Karen thanked Jaime for her constructive comments.

Alex Jackson commented that he thinks the village has gotten great results with the process as it currently exists, that residents have successfully gone through the process, and sees no reason to discuss changing it. He mentioned a letter that was sent to the Trustees, signed by many village residents, which it seems to him has been ignored. He is annoyed that the village has set down this path and does not think it is going to result in anything constructive. In his view, it is not the village’s problem if a landowner or architect cannot design something that is acceptable in the village. People can hire a new architect if needed.

James Goldman commented that he agrees with Alex Jackson. He generalized that the people who signed the letter that Alex Jackson referenced is that they don’t like what the guidelines add up to. He feels that letter is an overwhelming objection to the idea of another layer of regulations. He acknowledged that he admires Patrick Ahearn’s work but said that he sees no parallel between the communities he’s previously advised and Dering Harbor. In his estimation, the ARB controls everything that goes up, is very restrictive, and it works. He also thinks the section in the draft on demolition is superfluous and unnecessary. He does not think that the village should be discussing the details of the draft, but more about the big picture and the fact that much of the village is rejecting the concept of the commission and how the draft guidelines were written up. He thinks it’s completely unnecessary for 5 streets and a waste of time.

Patrick Ahearn responded that because the village is so small, the changes that could occur without proper guidelines could be even more significant than in other, larger communities. Losing one or two houses out of 40 would change the character significantly and forever.

Karen asked Jim Goldman if he thinks there should be an ARB. He said the ARB serves its purpose and that a majority of the village thinks it’s a viable component of the community. Karen countered that a number of people who have gone before the ARB would say it was confusing, complex and sometimes arbitrary.

Brandon Rose commented as a trustee that he doesn’t think the BOT is listening to its constituents as homeowners. He questioned why the letter, signed by 35 residents, hasn’t been circulated to the entire village. He thinks the BOT is relying too heavily on the expertise of an architect to respond to the concerns of many village constituents. He thinks the code, while not perfect, works. He thinks what has recently been passed regarding ARB review of applications for demolition does enough to protect the village and thinks they have gotten caught up in an argument of whether the ARB code works as it is currently written. He thinks it does work and that when a village as diverse as this tries to adopt a document like the draft guidelines, it runs the risk of creating more problems. It seems to him that a majority of the community does not want the BOT to continue this discussion.

Brad responded that he believes everyone has seen the letter that was sent which seems to be an outright rejection of the process. However, the process they are engaged in is as a result of the moratorium they passed, which requires them to evaluate the standards and address them more completely. Brandon countered that the moratorium only required the BOT to examine, not modify, and Brad said that is what they are doing.

Ari’s responded to Brandon that they hear him loud and clear and that they here investigating and presenting what was set up to present.

Ken Tropin commented about his neighboring property, the Catsoulis house (which he purchased last year), and his reasoning behind demolishing it. As their neighbor for 14 years, the property was not well-maintained, it was an eyesore, and the house itself was beyond repair. He feels that he has improved the streetscape of the village by taking down a home that was not being maintained.  He went on to add that when he bought Mosely Hall and went through the process of getting ARB approval, he was able to renovate it successfully. In terms of the 18-page document, it doesn’t make sense for a village with such eclectic architecture to try and become more homogenous. He gave the example of Jim Goldman’s property, in terms of something that couldn’t be built today, but also couldn’t be demolished. Also in terms of the rights of homeowners. If someone’s land is more valuable without the house on it, how does the village have the right to say that that house must stand.

Brad quickly responded that there is no effort to prohibit demolition. The sole effort is to require that there be a productive conversation about demolition. He clarified that the moratorium on demolition is temporary.

Brandon commented that the code has since been amended to include ARB review of applications of demolitions, which wasn’t in place before, and now protects the village. In his estimation, the system is not broken and the pieces are already in place to protect the village.

Karen commented that she thinks there are some people who think the ARB works the way it is and others don’t. LL 3 0f 2022 (the law Brandon referenced) was passed to protect the village in the interim while the Trustees examined how they can make the process clearer and the standards more understandable and specific. What comes out of this process is yet to be seen.

Brad recollected that when the Trustees passed the addendum to the demolition law requiring ARB approval, that they needed to address standards as well, in order for the law to function effectively. He asked Wayne for clarification. Wayne explained that the approval or denial by the ARB of an application for demolition is based on criteria. He believes the debate that has been occurring within the ARB, at least with new construction, is what is necessary to preserve and enhance the character, history, or historical interest, beauty, general welfare, and property values of the village. The Design Principles that were developed and adopted apply to new construction and alterations and do not include criteria for demolition. He noted that the criteria Brandon has mentioned in the demolition moratorium are typical criteria that are found in many historic preservation regulations. The BOT had engaged in a process that normally would be set forth in the future if there were such regulations. The criteria Mr. Ahearn has proposed are similar to what is in the moratorium. The BOT has indicated that this examination is to determine whether or not the village would develop more detailed standards and/or criteria that would assist and guide the ARB in making those decisions.

John Colby commented that he thinks it’s great that everyone is here to talk about architecture on a Saturday morning and indicates how much residents care about the architecture of the village. He recalled when he built his house and the meticulous process he went through. Based on his research, the architectural history of the village reflects the historical character of Long Island architecture from the late 1880’s. He doesn’t think it’s fair for newer residents like him, who built his house in 2000, to dictate to an owner of an historical home what the standards should be. He feels the only thing to do is educate and discuss what he thinks the character of the village is. He doesn’t want a modern house going up next to him. They moved into the village because of its architectural character. When building their home, they followed the ARB rules very closely and got through the ARB process easily. In terms of the current discussion, he thinks there are a lot of mixed goals, a convolution of ideas (demolition, new construction, preservation, conservation) and it’s a lot. In his opinion, it’s hard for him to unpack the recommendations presented because the village hasn’t resolved certain key issues. He thinks the moratorium needs to be solved first because of the time limit and does not think the BOT should be trying to tackle the whole thing right now. But he does agree with the long term goal of preservation and understanding the historical character of the village.

Bridg Hunt commented, as someone whose family has been in the village for 4 generations and counting, that he thinks the historic concept of the village is important. Architecturally, it is quite eclectic and has allowed for growth. He is concerned that an attempt to standardize, in any way, the review of an application or a building could be, in the long run, very constraining and destructive to the evolution of the village. His second point was related to the environment. He feels it’s very important to be good shepherds of the planet  and that in addition to the criteria being discussed, plans should also require environmental review and discussion. The emphasis on the use of natural materials often comes at the cost of our environmental future.

Mickey Kostow commented that he has been on the ARB since he moved to the village more than 25 years ago. He has long been against any prescriptive guidelines in the village. Creates a low bar and least common denominator. People should be able to build what they want to build and the ARB’s role is to make sure it doesn’t go off the rails. He is afraid that if the village has something more prescriptive, it will become like a hammer that neighbors can use for their own gain. He thinks the process as it stands works. If the village does go toward more prescriptive standards, sustainability should be a part of that. Brad asked Patrick Ahearn to talk to his point about allowing room for modern architecture in the village. He explained that what people think of as a modern house varies. Having successfully designed two modern houses in historic districts recently, he thinks he’s demonstrated a way in which you can do good architecture that is modern and at the same time, sensitive to place.

Devon Cross commented that she agrees that the village needs clarity on these topics and this is an effort to reach that clarity. People moved to Dering Harbor for a reason, because of its unique nature and rhythm that doesn’t appear anywhere else. The development codes should reflect that. If someone plans to demolish, the reasons for demolition should be widely circulated.

Melinda Carrol commented as the new owner of a house that is very unique in the village. They bought the house because they love the idea of being in the village and they care deeply about historical preservation.  In their case, the process worked. It feels to her that there are two things happening. She respects the effort being put into trying to standardize a process but wanted to share how the plans for her project evolved and the process worked. The proposals put forth, while thoughtful about what makes something special, are also prohibitive and not always in keeping with what already exists in the village. She thinks residents need to be given flexibility to use their best judgment.

Sam Ashner commented as a resident. In terms of cost, it’s expensive to maintain homes in a village like Dering Harbor and people should know that’s something they are getting into by owning a home here. In his opinion, unless a home is in imminent risk of collapse, it should be saved. In terms of the ARB process, some recent applications have gone smoothly and some have not. He thinks it’s important to consider those examples in this process and try to address them and incorporate them in the document. It could be significantly shorter, but he wants to see things move along for all homeowners, so they know what they’re getting in to when they buy here.

George Birman spoke to how the ARB process is working (with slides) and gave specific recent examples of how things have been working or not working. Some applicants have come to the ARB with amazing architects and have put a lot of thought and care into proposing a house that will fit into the village. It may be a different style or it doesn’t necessarily look like their neighbor’s house and that’s ok. They’ve been approved. But other applications have come before the ARB that have been difficult, non-starters, and included more than a year of debate among members. The members of the ARB have very different opinions about what should and shouldn’t be allowed in the village. The makeup of the ARB at any given time will ultimately decide what gets approved and disapproved. As the code stands now, the criteria is broad which, in his opinion, puts the village in a position of weakness. If the village is ok with the process being subjective, then it doesn’t need to change.  But he thinks it’s important for people to be aware that this is how the process currently works. The ARB today is very subjective and dependent on opinions of the people who serve on it. His and other people’s concerns is that the makeup of the ARB will change and that could completely change the landscape of the village. It only takes one house in a village as small as Dering Harbor.

Jim Goldman further commented that he hopes the BOT comes up with some real management decisions. Time is valuable. He thinks Historic Preservation should be taken off the table. Fixing the ARB and fixing the rules of demolition should be dealt with as separate issues.

Mickey Kostow further commented in response to George Birman’s statement that the beauty of the ARB right now is that it’s a democratic process. That process goes out the window once restrictions are put in place. It becomes a checklist and everything will start to look the same. There are only about 7 more buildable lots in the village that will need this kind of attention.

Bridg Hunt further commented that if you miss enough checked boxes, you don’t get reappointed to the ARB.

Patrick Parcells further commented that he agrees with John Colby. He submitted that the ARB, while bumpy at times, works well. He read the first sentence of Chapter 230- the ARB code. Maybe it can be tweaked a little bit, but it works. He also spoke more to the history of how the Tropin demolition happened. People may not have liked it but not liking it doesn’t mean the village should be taking people’s property rights away.

He added that the draft is still not clear about what can and cannot be built. ANd if the village wants to create an historic district or have any sort of historic designation, it needs to do the work and make the case for the need for it. That there is a consensus from the community that they want it. And he doesn’t think that has happened.

Stephanie Deustch commented that she is in favor of demolition but believes that the ARB needs standards it can follow. Speaking as an ARB member, in terms of the ARB process, if the quality of the applications were of the same quality as Carrolls, Tropin, and Jackson, the process would go smoothly. But that’s not always the case and even a recent applicant to the ARB asked for more clear guidelines to help with the process. She feels right now the ARB process is too arbitrary.

Charles Modica further commented that he is grateful for the discussion. He wanted to confirm what Ken Tropin said about the state of the Catsoulis residence. It was beyond repair and thinks Mr. Tropin did the responsible thing. Secondly, he emphasized that the village cannot bifurcate pre-1945 from post-1945 and say it needs to be consistent with the nature of the streetscape. He doesn’t think it makes sense, it’s not fair. If this is not addressed, there will be a permanent flaw in any of the regulations that are proposed.

  • Next Steps- Brad commented that this was very productive and thanked everyone for their participation and input. He said they will take everything they heard into consideration.
  • A motion to Adjourn at 11:12am was moved by Sam and seconded by Brad. All Board members voted in favor.