Wednesday, Jun 19th

State Supreme Court Overrules Village's Decision to Preserve 11 Dolma Road

11DolmaRoadJudge Susan Cacace of the Westchester County Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the homeowners in their appeal to demolish an iconic home at 11 Dolma Road in Scarsdale.

The case was brought by Onedol Rock Holding, on behalf of homeowners Sarah and Steven Binetter, who were represented by Andrew Schriever and Kempshall C. McAndrew from Cuddy and Feder LLP of White Plains.

They were appealing decisions by the Scarsdale Committee for Historic Preservation and the Scarsdale Board of Trustees who both found the house to meet the Village’s criteria for preservation and denied a Certificate of Appropriateness to raze it.

The Village’s determination was based on its conclusions that:

-The home was significant in “American history, architecture, archeology, engineering and culture present in the building as well as the integrity of the location, design, setting, materials and workmanship.”

-Architect Julius Gregory was a master.

-The home embodies the distinctive characteristic of a type, period or method of construction that possess high artistic value.

Perhaps unable to disprove any of the above, the court’s decision in favor of the homeowners pivots on statements from their hired expert from Philadelphia, Dr. Emily Cooperman, who claimed that due to renovations to the home that occurred over its almost 100 year history, “it can no longer be viewed as an excellent example of an English Norman style house.” The court decision says that these “dramatic alterations undermine the Board of Trustees further reliance upon the location and setting of the main house amongst the other houses in the 1920’s on Dolma Road” and they conclude that the main house can no longer be considered a historic building. And furthermore, since it underwent “major alterations,” it could no longer be considered the work of a master.

There was ample evidence in a report written by Adam Lindenbaum, Chair of the Committee for Historic Preservation to support the Village’s decision and refute Cooperman’s conclusions.

Lindenbaum opines on hired expert Cooperman’s claim, saying that she sought to “exaggerate the extent and effect of these renovations.” This was backed up by CHP member and architect Mark Behr who found the renovations “sympathetic” to the original design” and Professor Andrew Dolkart, who headed up a survey of Scarsdale’s historic properties in 2012. Dolkart noted that the renovations were “minor” and “sensitive.” In fact the 1941 renovation was done by noted architect Simon Zelnick and specified that “all new work to match present in every respect.”

The CHP report from the September 29, 2021 meeting also provides ample evidence that architect Julius Gregory was a master noting his “diverse practice in terms of style, scale and price point,” which “lends credence to his work. Dolkart notes that Gregory did not simply copy historic architecture but adapted traditional designs to contemporary life and materials available. The committee’s conclusion was further supported by a lengthy paper outlining Gregory’s work, publications, and contributions to American history written by his niece and current resident Ann Marie Cefola.

ColletBookThe original 1929 home as pictured in a book of builder Walter Collet's work. If ever the Village had a conclusive case to preserve a historic property, 11 Dolma was it. The home clearly met multiple criteria for preservation in the Village code, had been sensitively preserved over time and is emblematic of a time in Scarsdale’s history.

At the hearing of the Scarsdale Board of Trustees on February 4, 2021, Attorney James Staudt who represented the Village said, “If ever credit should be given to the CHP it is in this case. There are 600 pages of documentation. The record demonstrates that both sides were afforded opportunities to supply evidence…. The decision provides clear articulate reasons and thoughtful discussion of how Julius Gregory advanced architecture into the modern age…. it is difficult to fathom a more thorough process.”

When the Binetter’s purchased the home in November 2019, it was listed in a 2012 Reconnaissance Level Cultural Resource Survey of the Village which discussed both the house and Dolma Road. If the Binetter’s were aware of the historical significance of the property, it is puzzling why they would proceed with the purchase and the assumption that they could knock it down.

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 (Figure 7-10-1). Dolma Road was largely a project of Walter J. Collet, the Scarsdale builder who was 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; just why he made this choice remains a mystery.”

About the house and architect Julius Gregory it says, “The talented architect Julius Gregory, whose work can be seen in other areas of Scarsdale (including his own house), designed a huge French farmhouse at No. 11, one of the finest houses of the type in Scarsdale (Figure 7-10-11). The L-shaped brick house has a polygonal corner tower and an entrance set beneath a shed hood, a sophisticated rendition of vernacular rural French design.”

The report says Gregory was a “specialist in suburban homes, and among the most talented architects in the United States, designing this type of house for the upper middle class.”

Since the Binetter’s purchased the historic home and an adjoining property for $7.8 million in November 2019 it has stood empty. They have waged a two year war to demolish it, filing an application to the Committee for Historic Preservation to raze it in June 2020 and appealing that decision to the Scarsdale Board of Trustees and next to the Supreme Court of the State of NY for the County of Westchester.

They appear intent on destroying yet another piece of Scarsdale’s history – a win for this young family and a loss for those who treasure this Village.

What do the experts think and will the Village appeal the decision? We asked We asked Village Manager Rob Cole for a comment and he said, "The Village is reviewing the decision and consulting with legal counsel to formulate our response.”

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