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Appeal to Demolish 12 Dolma Road Tests Scarsdale's Preservation Law

12DolmaRoadA test case of Scarsdale's Historical Preservation laws regarding an English Cottage style home at 12 Dolma Road has been going on for months at Village Hall. The Committee For Historic Preservation (CHP) denied the owner's application to demolish it in November and they then filed an appeal which was heard by the Scarsdale Village Board of Trustees on December 13, 2016.

At the opening of the meeting, when local architect Bana Choura was present to offer testimony on behalf of the homeowner's application to demolish the house, Trustee Carl Finger recused himself, saying that Choura had recently done work on his own house and therefore his participation at the meeting could be a conflict of interest.

The CHP came to their decision to deny the application on the grounds that the home was associated with events that have made a significant contribution to broad patterns of Village, regional, state or national history and that the building is the work of a master and embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction that possess high artistic values.

Homeowner Dr. Ed Crane, who wishes to demolish the house, retained Joshua Grauer of Cuddy and Feder who argued vehemently against the CHP's reason's for denying the application and questioned the definitions of the wording in the historic preservation law, claiming that since a "master" could not be defined, it should be thrown out as a criteria for preservation.

Grauer quoted emails between the Chair of the CHP and Architectural Historian Andrew Dolkhart that discussed what the term a "master" might be. He said the meaning of the term "master" is not evident. Furthermore he said no significant event had occurred at the house and also argued that renovations had substantially obliterated its historic design. He said there was nothing artistic about the design or the stucco façade.

He called the CHP decision "arbitrary and capricious," and said the home did not meet the criteria for high artistic value or rise above other homes of this period. He called the decision a "taking" of private property rights. Local architect Bana Choura, a former member of the Committee for Historic Preservation, also presented her opinion that the house was not the work of a master and did not display "high artistic value." She said there were no designated historic districts in Scarsdale and that the house made no more of a contribution to history than any other home in Scarsdale. She also said that the home was badly cited on the rear of the property – though that is not a factor in a preservation decision.

Terry Rice, an attorney retained by the Village to represent the position of the CHP said that Grauer's comments denigrated the work of the committee who he said "Operated in good faith to interpret a difficult law." He said that just because "master" was not defined in the code, it did not mean it should be thrown out as a criteria. He cited several other definitions of master as well. He also argued that even if there waalone should not be a res precedent to permit a demolition, precedents could be overturned and were not a reason to approve the application.

Professor Andrew Dolkhart from Columbia University was invited to speak on behalf of the committee's decision. He wrote Scarsdale's Cultural Resources Survey in 2012 which identified potential homes for landmark status and areas to be designated as historic districts. The report found that 12 Dolma Road was inside a potential study area for historic preservation and was therefore was not called out individually in that report. In fact, the home is pictured in the report twice, in the section recommending that Dolma Road receive further study.

About Dolma Road, the report says, "Dolma Road, running from Murray Hill Road to Birchall Road, is a short street lined with exclusive houses on large lots, most erected between 1926 and 1929 (one dates from 1935), primarily for wealthy businessmen and their families. Dolma Road was largely a project of Walter J. Collet, the Scarsdale builder who w as responsible for the construction of many substantial houses in the village. Collet claimed that he chose the name Dolma in reference to a mountain range in Bengal, India, but just why he made this choice remains a mystery. Along Dolma Road, Collet appears to have been not only the builder, but also the developer. Collet worked closely with the architect Eugene J. Lang who designed nine of the fifteen houses in the study area. Collet remained the builder of the houses designed by other architects. The Dolma Road houses are large buildings in the American, English, French, and Spanish styles so popular throughout Scarsdale in the 1920s. "

It concludes, "Considering the size and scale of the houses along Dolma Road, it is remarkable that they survive with such integrity. A few entrances have been altered and additions have been sensitively made, but the street retains the ambiance of a prime suburban locale of the early twentieth century."

At the meeting, Dolkhart said that home is associated with events that have been associated with broad patterns of Village history, calling it an excellent example of the development of Scarsdale as an upper middle class community in the 1920-1930's. The house was part of that pattern and it was commissioned by Lewis Bowman, a key player in development at that time.

While Grauer and Choura argued that the home was not an excellent example of a Tudor home, Dolkhart pointed out that it was English Cottage style, not a Tudor, with an English Cottage stucco façade and a Tudor revival back. He cited large massing, leaded windows, simplicity of line, illusion of an aged or antique dwelling, the stucco and the pegged half timbers.

Dolkhart read several definitions of a master, including one from the National Register of Historic Preservation that defined a master as "one who had attained great skill." He said Lewis Bowman had a successful career as an architect and found 30 examples of Bowman's work in architectural journals of the day. He said he was "well respected" and called him a regional master.

Refuting Grauer's claim that the home had been bastardized over time, Dolkhart said that it "Maintains its integrity to a high degree," including the stucco façade, tile roof, and massing." He said that only a small addition with an enclosed porch was out of keeping with the home.

The Board of Trustees did not have enough time to deliberate on December 13 and will meet again in executive session on January 10 at 6:15 pm in executive session to consider the appeal.

The trustees had intended to address Scarsdale's preservation laws this year but were unable to do so due to the conflict about the revaluation. The outcome of this case will be significant for both the owners of 12 Dolma Road and the Village of Scarsdale, which is clearly struggling to preserve its history.

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