A Preservation Battle in "The Woods"
- Thursday, 08 February 2024 12:15
- Last Updated: Thursday, 08 February 2024 20:37
- Published: Thursday, 08 February 2024 12:15
- Joanne Wallenstein
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A renewed attempt to win approval to take down a treasured home at 27 Woods Lane in Scarsdale was met with a concerted effort by neighbors to save it at an appeals hearing of the Village Board on Tuesday February 6, 2024.
The home was built between 1924 and 1926 and was one of the first in the development called “The Woods,” that featured larger lots than the earlier subdivisions in Edgewood. The home is a centerpiece of the neighborhood of 66 homes and is graciously set back on a .69 acre lot on a curve on the lane, backed by large canopy trees.
The applicants hired attorneys from Cuddy and Feder to appeal to the Scarsdale Village Board to overturn a unanimous decision by the Committee for Historic Preservation to spare the house. The rationale for the decision by the CHP was outlined in a five page memo written by Adam Lindenbaum, Chair of the Committee for Historic Preservation (CHP).
The CHP found that the home meets conditions outlined in the preamble to the Village’s preservation code in that it “contributes to the most important issue in the history and development of Scarsdale, the major suburbanization of the village which large occurred in the second and third decades of the twentieth century.”
In addition, the home maintains integrity of its location, design and setting in a neighborhood where none of the original homes have been razed. A memo from Andrew Dolkart, an architectural historian who spoke at the appeal hearing said, “The original land plat of The Woods was used to define a cohesive neighborhood of architectural significance with distinct boundaries.”
The memo further states that the home “embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction that possess high artistic value and that it is “associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the board patterns of Village history.”
The memo refutes the notion that only grand or expensive homes warrant preservation saying, “different types of properties can offer diverse historical narratives. Modest homes for instance can provide valuable insights into the lives of ordinary people, working class family and marginalized communities, contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of history.”
In testimony to the Village Board, attorney Maximillian Mahalek questioned many of the assumptions underlying the CHP decision.
Specifically he noted:
-The house is not listed on a national, state or county registry of historic properties
- The CHP voted without deliberating.
-The decision to deny the application severely denies the property owner’s rights and there must be substantial evidence to support the decision. He said, “Any ambiguity in Village code must be supported by significant probative evidence and must be construed in the applicant’s favor. He cited a ruling by the trustees concerning the demolition of 53 Carman Road as precedent.
-He stated that the historic importance of the home is overly broad and vague.
-He argued that the house did not embody broad patterns of history or have high artistic value.
Dr. Emily Cooperman, who was retained by the applicants backed up Mahalek’s claims.
Speaking via Zoom she said, “Does it have high artistic value? Is it a really good design by a craftsman or a known architect OR crafted o exceptionally fine materials? High has to be exceptionally high? It certainly manifests period characteristics. It started out as a modest vernacular cottage but none of it rises to the level of high artistic values. It is relatively modest.” About the two additions on either side she said the building had acquired “accretions.”
She then turned to a discussion of the two small windows above the portico and explained that they are asymmetrical because were moved to accommodate two bathrooms. She then compared the house to 50 Woods Lane saying, “It’s a more intentional design with a careful choice of materials, stone – front and slate roof.”
She also added another criteria, saying, “It must be unique and stand out.” However Dolkart later explained that uniqueness was not in the Village code.
The appellants questioned the claim that the home reflected a pattern of suburbanization saying that suburbanization continues today… and that “historic preservation should not be simply because something is of an era.”
Professor Dolkart, who is an architectural historian retained by the Village of Scarsdale, also attended via Zoom. He was the primary author of the Cultural Reconnaissance Survey of Scarsdale and answered some of Cooperman’s statements.
-Whether or not a building is in the survey is irrelevant.
-There is nothing in the criteria that says a building has to be unique.
-We need to separate the suburbanization of Scarsdale from the general term suburbanization.
He then explained, “The preamble to our law asks you to consider things – not rate or judge. It is a series of things to consider including integrity of design, workmanship and location.
About the preservation of 27 Woods Lane he said, “Criteria 1 is most significant here – it is the broad pattern of history that I think is the most important. This is one of the first 4 houses in the Woods. It was built by the family that developed that developed the Woods and it sets the pattern for this subdivision that reflects these broad patterns of history. It is a Colonial Revival home, setback behind a deep lawn. It is significant within the pattern that created the Woods in Scarsdale.”
Dolkart added, “High artistic value does not mean it has to be sophisticated. It can be an interesting vernacular work of architecture.”
Quite a few residents of the Woods attended the hearing. Among them were Jim Detmer from 29 Woods Lane, his son Michael and his wife Heather Detmer from 2 Woods Lane and Detmer’s sister-in-law and her husband Eileen and Russel Lynch from Eastwoods Lane. All long time residents of the Woods, they are the modern day equivalent of the White family who built the Woods in the 1920’s. Jim Detmer and the neighbors expressed deep pride in their enclave.
Jordan Copeland and Lisa Copeland who live at 45 Woods Lane said the following:
“I urge the board to deny the appeal and reject the demolition permit under Village Code 182(5)(A)(1) and the preamble that 27 Woods Lane is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to broad patterns of Village history – specifically, Scarsdale’s major suburbanization of the 1920s and 30s.
First, it’s evident from all of the written histories of the village that this suburbanization is what made Scarsdale, Scarsdale. Now you’ve heard the argument tonight that it’s too broad, in that every house built in that era could be seen as associated with suburbanization? That is not correct — 27 Woods Lane is especially intertwined with and played a meaningful role in those events, and here’s how:
27 Woods Lane was built and resided in by the developer’s adult son, Clarence Smith Jr. Per village records, it was one of the very first homes built in the Woods development, maybe third or fourth, in 1924 or ‘25, and Smith chose a prominent double lot in the middle of the development and built a charming home. This showcased 27 Woods Lane as the featured centerpiece of the Woods. He did what a smart developer would do if you wanted to attract residents to the neighborhood and show builders how their homes should look and the quality they should strive for.
And that’s how 27 Woods Lane initiated what has remained an extraordinarily original neighborhood. If you look up the four streets of the Woods in the village’s online property records, you’ll find 66 homes. 59 of them were built between 1923 and 1937. 59 of 66 in the first 14 years. Just two more were built in 1941, two in the fifties, and three in the early 60s. The newest house in the Woods is now 60 years old.
It appears that no original home has ever been torn down and replaced. So what the Smith family developers did worked. 27 Woods Lane can be seen as the lynchpin to creating a neighborhood with an architectural cohesiveness, and it lasted, a unique time capsule of the important early suburban era.
But 27 Woods Lane can also be seen as representing an inflection point in the type of suburban homes built in Edgewood. The Woods was the last significant part of what is now Edgewood to be developed. You can see from the map on page 27 of the appeal materials that the lots in the Woods were planned larger than in the rest of Edgewood. This gave families in Edgewood who wanted a more spacious home but didn’t want to leave the elementary school a way to remain, thereby promoting community cohesiveness in Scarsdale. And as one of the very first homes in the Woods, 27 Woods Lane modeled this transition in Edgewood from smaller, more humble homes to a more aspirational suburb – which is exactly what Scarsdale soon became.
In historic preservation, we can focus narrowly on the architectural design of a home in isolation - who designed it and how it looks. But under the village code, we can also analyze the historic role that a house played and continues to play in the culture of Scarsdale. Because 27 Woods Lane was early, central and conspicuous in the Woods, it has affected far more people who have seen it every day for the last hundred years than a master-built mansion hidden away on an isolated piece of property.
So I urge you to uphold the CHP’s denial of the demolition permit. As you know, Edgewood is a more modest neighborhood than others in Scarsdale, and as such, is less likely to have homes designed by master architects and resided in by famous people. That said, the neighborhood is no less historic than any other, and under the code deserves the same historic protection when special homes like 27 Woods Lane merit it.”
Linda Killian of 1 Forest Lane said, “Scarsdale’s Village Code is focused on preserving historic elements of the Village, including neighborhoods representing accomplishments of our past.
Because of Scarsdale’s mostly agrarian nature until the late 19th century, much of Scarsdale history is as one of the planned suburban railroad developments that cluster around railroad stations throughout metropolitan New York and in a number of communities in the Midwest.
Scarsdale is an exemplar of this type of historic early 20th century development that enabled affluent families to escape the unhealthy environment of cities and bring up children in wholesome residential areas with single-family homes and directly shape their children’s public education.
Any student of American zoning is aware of the importance of these railroad suburbs in our past.”
She added, “What is historical? It does not have to be Monticello to be significant.”
Maura Lee of 19 Woods Lane said she has lived here since 2007 and grew up in Scarsdale. She said, “I believe that the CHP’s unanimous decision was correct. I disagree with the attorney’s readings of the statute and reconstructing it. In the Milstein case the judge found that the statute was NOT unconstitutionally vague. Just because we disagree it does not mean it was vague. The decision was not arbitrary or capricious. It was a well-informed decision.
James Detmer of 29 Woods Lane said, “There is a preponderance of reliable evidence to support the preservation of 27 woods lane. According to Dr. Andrew Dolkart, someone who is without peer, “The house retains integrity, location, design, setting and workmanship – the exact criteria for the Scarsdale code. Dolkart concludes 27 Woods Lane should NOT be demolished.”
Ann Marie Nee said she is a teacher of history at Scarsdale High School who lives in The Woods. She said a study of the area was one of the student’s favorite case studies on suburbanization the 1920’s and that the homes contribute collectively to the history of the area. She said, “I urge you to uphold the decision of the CHP.”
Mayor Justin Arest said the Board of Trustees would issue a decision by February 27, 2024.