Friday, March 9, 2012

"Renovation" (Demolition)

Last December, the Town of Southampton amended their building codes to include several new definitions related to renovation. These include actually defining the words definition, renovation, restoration, rehabilitation, and so on. This was a much needed change and now provides real clarity to all construction projects, because as we have seen, "renovation" can be fatal to a historic structure.
Here in Southampton Village, we should also encourage the adoption of these definitions. I know I have spoken about it before, but now the Village can see that the problem of dismantling a building down to one wall is widespread, and others have now actually done something about it.

Here are several examples of historic buildings that have been renovated to such an extent that they can now no longer be considered as contributing resources and which pictorially demonstrate the need for these definitions in the village:
98 Lewis Street, Southampton Village, Before Renovation

98 Lewis Street, Southampton Village, During Renovation

67 Layton Avenue, Southampton Village, Before Renovation

67 Layton Avenue, Southampton Village, During Renovation

475 Flying Point Road Before Renovation

475 Flying Point Road, Water Mill, During Renovation

Here are the specific definitions adopted by Southampton Town:

DEMOLITION- to dismantle, raze or remove of all or part of an existing improvement or structure at once or in stages, including deconstruction as defined herein. 

Demolition by Neglect-the consistent failure to maintain a structure that causes, or is a substantial contributing factor of, the deterioration of building materials to such an extent that the structure is no longer safe or restoration is no longer feasible, and ultimately leads to the need for physical demolition. 

DECONSTRUCTION-the disassembly of all or part of an improvement or structure for the purpose of reusing its components and building materials.

Historic Property- a district, site, building, structure or object significant in American history, architecture, engineering, archeology or culture at the national, State, or local level.

Integrity- the authenticity of a property's historic identity, evidenced by the survival of physical characteristics that existed during the property's historic or prehistoric period.

Preservation- the act or process of applying measures necessary to sustain the existing form, integrity, and materials of an historic property. Work, including preliminary measures to protect and stabilize the property, generally focuses upon the ongoing maintenance and repair of historic materials and features rather than extensive replacement and new construction. New exterior additions are not within the scope of this treatment; however, the limited and sensitive upgrading of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems and other code-required work to make properties functional is appropriate within a preservation project.

Reconstruction- the act or process of depicting, by means of new construction, the form, features, and detailing of a non-surviving site, landscape, building, structure, or object for the purpose of replicating its appearance at a specific period of time and in its historic location.

Rehabilitation- the act or process of making possible a compatible use through repair, alterations, and additions while preserving those portions or features which convey its historical, cultural, or architectural values.

RELOCATION-the act of moving a building or structure from one location to another location either on the same parcel or to a different parcel.

RENOVATION- any change, addition or modification in construction or occupancy or structural repair or change in primary function to an existing structure that affects or could affect the usability of the building or facility or part thereof. Renovations include, but are not limited to, rehabilitation, reconstruction, historic restoration, changes or rearrangement of the structural parts or elements, and changes or rearrangement in the plan configuration of walls and full-height partitions.

Restoration (HISTORIC)- the act or process of accurately depicting the form, features, and character of a property as it appeared at a particular period of time by means of the removal of features from other periods in its history and reconstruction of missing features from the restoration period. The limited and sensitive upgrading of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems and other code-required work to make properties functional is appropriate within a restoration project.

SUBSTANTIAL DAMAGE- Damage of any origin sustained by a structure whereby the cost of restoring the structure to its before-damaged condition would equal or exceed 50 percent of the market value of the structure before the damage occurred.

SUBSTANTIAL IMPROVEMENT- any repair, renovation, reconstruction, rehabilitation, addition or improvement of a building or structure, the cost of which equals or exceeds 50 percent of the market value of the structure before the improvement or repair is started. If the structure has sustained substantial damage, any repairs are considered substantial improvement regardless of the actual repair work performed. The term does not, however, include either:

1. Any project for improvement of a building required to correct existing health, sanitary or safety code violations identified by the code enforcement official and that are the minimum necessary to assure safe living conditions.

2. Any alteration of a historic structure provided that the proposed alteration will not preclude the structure's potential or continued historic designation, as determined by the Landmarks and Historic Districts Board.

Some of you might be wondering, why is the replacement of original architecture with similar new architecture a problem? Because Southampton did not become popular as a town filled with copy-cat buildings. The slow disintegration of historic structures and the constant watering down of authentic historic architecture diffuses our village and town of the character which makes it so valuable and so beloved. And besides, "there's nothing greener than an existing building."

The way I see it, just as a project is considered new construction when it is improved by more than 50%, it should be considered a demolition when 50 or more percent is removed.  Let's encourage our village trustees to adopt these definitions in order to prevent continued losses of historic buildings under the guise of "renovation."

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