Sunday, Aug 07th

Committee for Historic Preservation Weighs Next Steps Following An Illegal Demolition

41HamptonTractorWork continues at 41 Hampton Road after a developer razed half of an historic home.After developer Eilon Amidor all but destroyed a historic home at 41 Hampton Road in Fox Meadow, what is to become of the remaining ruins of the property? Should the battered portion of the home be preserved and incorporated into a new home or should the developer’s application to raze the remaining portion be approved?

That was the subject of a hearing of the Scarsdale Committee for Historic Preservation (CHP) at their November 30, 2021 meeting via Zoom.

To open the discussion Committee Chair Adam Lindenbaum gave a recap of how the historic 1920’s Tudor designed by noted architect W. Stanwood Phillips had been bulldozed without the permission of the committee, while an application to raze it was pending on the committee’s agenda.

According to Lindenbaum, in June 2021, Developer Eilon Amidor filed an application to take down the entire house. At the time the home was owned by Stewart Hung, and Amidor was the contract vendee. Amidor’s application to the CHP did not disclose the name of the architect, W. Stanwood Phillips, though it is the responsibility of the applicant to investigate the history of the home.

The Committee did some research and determined that the home was the work of a master architect, which is a criteria for preservation, and therefore adjourned their decision on the application to give Architectural Historian Professor Andrew Dolkart time to make a determination on whether the home warranted preservation. In July, the committee reconvened with only five members present.

Dolkart’s memo was reviewed and he found that the home warranted preservation on the following criteria:

1. The home is the work of a master as it was designed by architect by W. Stanwood Phillips, a noted architect who was “closely involved with creating the character of the Village.

2. The home is the “quintessential Scarsdale home,” and part of the “broad pattern of Scarsdale history.

3. The home embodies the “distinctive characteristics of an English Tudor Revival style house and uses the style “in an extremely creative manner to create a fine example of the middle-class suburban architecture that distinguishes Scarsdale.

At the time, it looked like the committee would vote to preserve the home on the basis of Dolkart’s opinion. However, the committee adjourned the decision to their next meeting so that the applicant would have the benefit of a decision by the full committee. Lindenbaum said, “But before we could vote, Amidor announced he would go to the Board of Architectural Review and apply to build a home in front of the existing structure. Amidor said he wanted to be upfront and did not want to use the “salami” method. He said if the CHP denied him, he would go to the trustees.”

In August, the owner of the home, Stewart Hung, filed an application with the Board of Architectural Review to demolish a portion of the home (Amidor claims it was 41%) and build a 9,000 square foot home that incorporated a portion of the original home. In his demolition plan he states he will remove the “exterior stucco, beaming and brick.” The BAR approved his application, though the application to demolish the house was still pending before another board, the Committee for Historic Preservation.

A provision of the Scarsdale code prevents the demolition of a home while an application is pending before the Committee for Historic Preservation, and also dictates that a ruling from the CHP supersedes any other building permit.

It reads, “Notwithstanding any inconsistent provisions of the Code or of any rule or regulation concerning the issuance of building or other permits, no person shall carry out any demolition of a structure which the Building Inspector has referred to the Committee as a potential historic building without first obtaining a certificate from the Committee or Board of Trustees as provided in §§ 182-7 and 182-11 or a written statement from the Committee that the structure does not meet the criteria set forth in § 182-5 and is not an historic building. The certificate required by this section shall be in addition to and not in lieu of any building or other permit that may be required by the Code or any state law or regulation.

Amidor claims to have had no knowledge of this provision. He defended his actions by claiming that after the second meeting of the CHP he went back to the drawing board to design a home that integrated the remaining portion. However he now claims that the building is structurally unsound, the foundation is rotten and it poses a safety hazard.

Lindenbaum asked the developer, “Why didn’t you come to us before you demolished it? Why did you go forward with it without coming to the committee?” To which Amidor replied, “I did everything that the code allowed me to do. I did not think that I would have to demolish it. I did want to preserve this.”

Turning to the committee Lindenbaum said, “This is a new application at this point. Do we look at what sits or do we look at what was two months ago?”

Jonathan Lerner suggested that the Village needed to re-examine their preservation laws and perhaps require a higher percentage of a historic home to be preserved. He noted the lack of communication between the Committee for Historic Preservation and the Board of Architectural Review.

About the process, Kevin Reed said, “This was a deliberate circumvention of the committee. I think he knew he would not have the votes to demolish the home -- if he got a denial he would have to present this to the BAR.” About the site he said, “They have knocked down all the trim and any attractive elements of the house. This was designed to create a fait accompli. I don’t believe the code should allow that kind of circumvention. The spirit of the code is not served.”

Responding to Lerner’s point that the code needed amending, Reed said, “It is not necessary to amend the code. It was designed to prevent this. You give people license to do what was done here.”

Thomas Schroeter said to Amidor, “You wanted to tear it down because you said it sat too high on the property. The new plan is exactly the same?” Architect Sostre responded, “We took it four feet forward.” To which Schroeter said, “ You said, we are going to do what we want.”

Mark Behr said, “There is no preservation – you are building something in front of it. We didn’t take a vote and they did exactly what they said they were going to.”

Lerner asked if work was ongoing at the property to which the developer replied, “we are laying the footings for the new portions.”

Several speakers from the community spoke. Lisa Beck of Chesterfield Road who lives in another Tudor designed by W. Stanwood Phillips questioned Amidor’s application, the ownerships of the home at the time of the multiple applications and the process which subverted the CHP.

Joanne Wallenstein said, “The main point is that there is a law in writing that prevents this, and the developer violated the law and the spirit of our preservation laws. This is not the first time this developer has deceived the Village and the residents of Scarsdale. He did an end run around the process.

Take a look at the proposed design The house that is approved by the BAR bears no resemblance to the existing structure – it is not a renovation or update on a historic home – it is another McMansion. Almost 10,000 square feet replacing a home less than half that size. Why did he also destroy the gates, the entry and the circular drive? The dramatic entry was integral to what made it historic.

Why should he be permitted to make a handsome profit on his misdeeds.
The only remedy is for him to reconstruct the house as it was. Otherwise you are sending a signal to Amidor and others of his ilk that they can do what they like to maximize their profits.

Chair Adam Lindenbaum suggested that the committee gather more information and adjourn the decision until their next meeting on December 14, 2021.

In the interim he asked Amidor to update his application to include the name of the architect of the original property.

About the developers claims that the remaining structure was unsound and unsafe, he asked Frank Diodati from the Building Department who should do an assessment. Diodati said that the applicant was required to retain a licensed engineer to do the inspection and that the Building Department would verify their findings.

Last, Lindenbaum suggested that the Committee request another opinion from Professor Dolkart on next steps, given the destruction of the original house. Should it be saved or should the committee set conditions for the construction? Should the committee apply the criteria for historic preservation to the remaining portion of the house?

Commenting on the bizarre circumstances, Lindenbaum said, “This is about as far from the normal course as anything in my time here.”

The committee voted six to one to adjourn the decision until their next meeting.

Visibly angered, Amidor said, “I am preserving my right to claim hardship – and I will have a claim against the Village too. I have two clients who want to buy it provided I can demolish the whole house.”


Sales

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