Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day

The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example. ~Benjamin Disraeli

Monday, May 23, 2011

Before & After #4: 32 Henry Street

Here’s another look at a before and after construction project here in Southampton Village. I just love before and afters. Unfortunately I often show you examples at what I consider to be negative results…..I’ll have to post a nice result one of these days! They exist too after all.
So this is 32 Henry Street which used to be an adorable little yellow house on the southeast corner of Henry and Howell Streets. It was owned by a woman who grew up in a gorgeous historic house on Hill Street now named “The Mainstay” after its owner, Elizabeth Main.

So does this ‘before and after’ have a positive outcome or a negative one? I think it falls somewhere in the middle. It’s not a terribly ugly house, nor is it too big necessarily, as there are other houses on Henry Street that are equal in size if not a tad larger. But most of the houses on the street are the size of the former little yellow house, and as Henry Street is a tiny little street, I think the smaller size houses add to the street’s charm and character.

Speaking of character, I think that’s how the new house fails: it has very little character. To me, this house is generic. It has all the staples of contemporary Hamptons architecture: cedar shingles, white trim, divided light patterned windows, and a bluestone porch…….but does it have adorable quaintness or inspiring style…..or is it without soul?

What exactly is wrong with it? The placement of the windows: too far apart in some cases, and without rhyme or reason except perhaps for interior reasons rather than exterior relationships. The outside edge of the porch beam does not align properly with the outside edge of the porch columns, an aesthetic rule which ARB board member Brian Brady normally picks up on, but which many architects must not be attuned to or care about. There is an awkward vent under the shed eave on the front fa├žade, and the proportions of the divided lights don’t coordinate. There is no expressed hierarchical difference between the front and side porches, the roof pitch is too shallow, and the overall house lacks detail or embellishment.

I do like the copper gutters and leaders though, and I love the narrowness of the muntin bars which I understand is something relatively new offered by Andersen windows.

Okay, enough. Next time I will try to show you a positive ‘before and after’ outcome. There may be one on Foster Crossing. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rem Koolhaas vs. Preservation?

Matt Chaban must have really wanted to catch the attention of preservationists lately when he wrote his column for the New York Observer titled, “Rem the Destroyer: Prada Patsy Plans Preservation’s Eviceration.” Well, he did catch my attention, but I was suspicious from the start. As a former practitioner of architecture, I am of course a fan of Rem Koolhaas, but this article wrongly portrays Mr. Koolhaas as an anti-preservationist purely to gain our attention. It was entertaining nonetheless. Here’s the link, judge for yourself. It’s a quick read.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Going Back to Old Codes

Over the last several months I have been contacted by a significant amount of village residents upon their realization of how large of a house can be built on a not so large size property here, and how much of that parcel can also be covered with other “improvements,” such as a pool, pool-house, shed, patio, garage, pool equipment, driveway, parking, etc., leaving very little yard remaining, and very little breathing room between it and adjacent properties. I believe that when the codes were changed in 2006 many people didn’t understand the physical consequences that would result. Now, five years later, that increased density has become much more noticeable. Well, guess what? Now someone wants to do something about it. Actually, it’s more like a group of people want to do something about it. They want to change the codes back to the way they were before 2006.

Of course, I am in agreement and am offering my assistance. Notice the link to a new petition on the top right hand of this blog. The last time I started a petition, for the enactment of illegal demolition consequences, I got over 80 signatures, which means a lot in this small village of ours. If you believe that the zoning codes should be changed, if not exactly as they were prior to 2006, at least so that properties cannot be built-out to within 1/100th of what is allowable, please, sign this petition! It seems too common in this Village to witness the over-development of a lot that would seem to any novice passerby way too small to be built upon in the first place.

Completely related to this issue, the Southampton Association (with over 350 members) recently submitted a letter to the Suffolk County Department of Health endorsing their recommendations upon the logical conclusion, and now documented discovery that “In Southampton Village Lake Agawam and Old Town Pond are suffering from high nutrient levels and poor water quality…..On the basis of these detailed models and studies, the Suffolk County Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan recommends restricting increased unsewered density within the 25 year groundwater contributing areas to surface waters. We applaud this recommendation and urge its adoption…….On the basis of the evaluations of the existing groundwater quality and the groundwater modeling results, the Suffolk County Comprehensive Management Plan recommends Suffolk County Board of Health consider modifying Article 6 to require one acre density for all hydrologic zones unless provision is made for a higher level of treatment than the typical onsite waste disposal system or a TDR [Transfer of Development Rights] is implemented. We support this recommendation and find it essential for the protection and improvement of our surface waters.”

I absolutely cannot predict what the results of this effort will be, I mean, asking for smaller houses and less lot coverage? Is this possible?

When this village’s development originally took off, in the 1870s, people didn’t build out their lots to the maximum extent possible. Actually, there were no “maximum allowable extents;” people set guidelines on their own or with others in the neighborhood about what was appropriate in terms of set backs, etc. Then they built tasteful houses and carriage houses and barns that were in perfect proportion to their property enjoying all the space and openness and ocean air that was between them and their neighbors. I can’t imagine the original settlers, or even the first cottage colony developers, the DeBosts and the Thomas’, or even Samuel L. Parrish ever had the present extent of density in mind.

And this is a perfect time for this issue, and other preservation/aesthetic issues, to be raised as there is an election coming up June 17; the Mayor’s position and two Trustee positions are being contested. Elections provide excellent opportunities to ask candidates - new or existing - direct questions about their views on what we, the residents and visitors, believe is important and valuable to the community. And to the group of people interested in taking this on: Thanks for Getting Involved, and Go Get Em!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Summary, Village ARB Meeting, May 9, 2011

As usual, you can follow the activities of the Southampton Village ARB via Patch. Here's a recap of their most recent public hearing: A summary of new applications will follow shortly.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Loss of a Quimby Compound House

Again, I find myself the bearer of bad news. One of the original eight Quimby compound homes in Bridgehampton will be May's "Demolition of the Month." So sad. Read about it on Patch here:

Image of the Charles Wiley House courtesy the Bridgehampton Historical Society.

Friday, May 6, 2011

New Applications: Village ARB Public Hearing, Monday, May 9th, 7pm

I still follow the applications in front of the Village ARB every other week. Here is a summary of what's on the agenda this Monday. The one on Little Plains is of particular interest to me. Read about it here on Patch:

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Census Data

I thought Michael Wright’s article in the Southampton Press on April 14th, analyzing recent census data, was really interesting and completely related to our built environment, which is obviously a main interest of mine.

I did think the title of the article was crumby though (“Census Confirms Building Boom”) but that wasn’t necessarily Mike’s fault. Editors often change titles, and anything to do with getting people to think – right or wrong – that the real estate market is on the upswing, may catch the attention of many, making it a predictable editor move.

But this article was not just about the building boom, or current lack thereof, or vice versa. To me, this article highlighted the fact that less and less people live here year round, and more and more houses are considered vacant. Michael explained that “vacant homes can be seasonal residences, those on the market and currently unoccupied, or rental properties without tenants.” Apparently, in Southampton,
it’s about 50/50, which is a 10% drop from 10 years ago, and especially evident
within the incorporated villages. “In Southampton Village a 23% drop in the number of occupied homes left more than 61% of the village’s 3,300 homes vacant or seasonal, compared to just 43 percent during the 2,000 Census.”

To me this all points to it just being plain too expensive for a middle class to exist here. It means that the trouble in finding people to serve in local government and as firefighters, etc. will become even more difficult. Already many government and not-for-profit board positions are being held by part-timers. It also means that there are less children depriving irreplaceable vitality from communities and that many businesses will start becoming seasonal as well.

But the article did touch on how many houses were built in the last 10 years: 5,923 in Southampton, almost 1,000 of which were built in Bridgehampton alone! “Indeed, many residents lamented the rapid loss of community character…” Exactly! This is yet another huge indicator that the creation of historic districts protecting what’s left of Southampton’s architectural heritage couldn’t be a more critically urgent need.

In East Hampton the increases in homes built and ‘vacant’ homes were much more modest leading me to wonder what that says about Southampton and whether or not it’s being driven in a healthy direction. I know it sounds like I’m suddenly catastrophizing everything, when honestly I’m normally a “glass half full” kind of person, but it’s pretty hard to choose the “ignorance is bliss” approach, as the writing seems loudly and legibly on the billboard into town.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Dimon Estate

While taking a short cut not too long ago, I discovered another gorgeous old farmhouse, and this hidden gen is for sale! Read about it on Patch here:

Monday, May 2, 2011

143 Years Ago, Part VI

Continuing along with this historic series, here are excerpts from the sixth article published by The Southampton Press titled “Southampton Sixty Years Ago,” beginning in December of 1927 and written by Benjamin C. Palmer. (In other words, the series, written in 1927, was describing life in this village circa 1867.) This one focuses on youth amusements.

“A little further back say about 70 years ago, some of the young bloods wanted to dance but there was no place provided for in this straight-laced village….An old lady who owned and lived in Hollyhocks, who had evoluted from the narrowness of the times into times yet to come in a few years, had her kindly heart quickened into a sympathetic response, opened her home and invited the young people there. Then there was trouble. One was a member of the then all powerful Presbyterian Church. The dignified old elders were shocked. She was called before the session accused, refused to repent and was turned out of the church…….Games were the order of the evening…..

We recall two that were popular, “Ring Around,: when all hands formed a circle, if the size of the room permitted, alternating a girl then a boy, till the circle was completed, no wall flowers in those days, everybody took part clasping hands. Then one spare member took the center inside the circle, if the center gamester was a girl, she must slap the hand of some boy, then make a rush to break through the circle, with the boy chasing her with a strong determination to catch her. The clasped hands of the circle often formed too strong a barrier to break through. If she got through she was safe, but if the fellow caught her, oh my, what a fight some of the girls would put up to keep from being kissed, yet we know if they were caught and not soundly kissed (and some of the boys were past masters in the art) why they would have gone home mad, yes mad, all the way through. Then there was another game, “Button, Who’s got the Button,” whose business it was to find out. If they started in on the wrong side of the room, the master cried out “cold,” and as the hunt drew the hunter closer to the one who had the button, the cry was changed to “hot” and so it continued till the button was found hidden away in a shoe or pocket, a belt or any old place where it could be tucked in out of sight. The finder if a boy was permitted to kiss the girl as his reward. Silly – wasn’t it, yes but oh my, the young folks got lots of fun out of these games. There were other games too but these were the most popular, and germs were unheard of in these good old days……

There were no regular outside amusements in those days, but a temperance society was formed with held meetings Thursday evenings in the basement of the old Methodist Church, where the major portion of the young people used to gather more for the companionship than business and they had fun, lots of it.

But the best fun came after the meeting was over, the young fellows lined up outside the door, some of the girls had steady company, they got through the gauntlet safely, but any girl who happened to be along was soon greeted by one or more of the boys with “see you ter hum ter night.” Sometimes the fellows got the mitten, that meant the girl refused to have anyone of them see her “ter hum” themselves…."

I love these accounts and hope you do too. The next, part VII will end the series.