R.I.P. “Moorlands/Windswept.” The beautiful and architecturally significant historic house at 477 Halsey Neck Lane, at Boyesen Lane, which was built for the noted author Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen circa 1893 and was briefly being considered to be designated a landmark not long ago, is gone forever (see circa 1957 photo below). This is not really the fault of Southampton Village’s Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review (aka the ARB) either. In June of 2009 that board voted 3 to 2 approving the house to be restored, added onto, and relocated to the center of the property after four months of public hearings. The original proposal for this house was a total transformation leaving it unrecognizable, so the end result was a nice compromise, right? Guess not. Over the winter the house was boarded-up and moved onto its new foundation, but as of May 6th it’s gone. Only the first story remains, and much of it looks new. The original architecture, materials, and details now only remain in our photos and memories.
I can’t help but wonder if the owners, architect, and builder weren’t just “gaming the system?” We’ve seen this before on Wooley Street, on Culver Hill, on Lewis Street, and other places. But there don’t seem to be any consequences, and that’s a big problem. Even on Lewis Street, where the project was delayed and the owners ultimately had to pay a $15,000 fine, so what? Big deal. That’s not enough to hurt and evidently it’s not nearly enough to discourage these actions.
What’s done is done. The house is gone. We can’t bring it back and replicating it is not the answer. Now it’s about the penalty. In order to set a precedent that these unethical demolitions will no longer be tolerated, the owners, the architect, and the builder should all pay a price. Fines seem to hurt the most but they need to be much much larger and maybe a probationary period for the architect and builder where they can’t directly or indirectly participate on projects inside the village boundaries for awhile would also be appropriate. Maybe there can be a sort-of "no fly" list for the architects and builders, and maybe the builder's insurance certificate can be effected. There have to be penalties and consequences.
Why do we have we have zoning regulations and a building department if you can pay a fine, endure a delay, and ultimately circumvent the whole process? If you feel compassionate at all about historic preservation in the Village of Southampton, please write the Village Trustees respectfully demanding the implementation of tough penalties for illegal demolitions of historic structures.