Proposed Addition To Historic Home On Stone Alley Remanded By Select Board Back To HDC

Jason Graziadei •

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In a rare rebuke of the Historic District Commission (HDC), the Select Board voted 4-1 on Wednesday that the HDC was arbitrary and capricious in its decision to approve a major addition to an historic home on Stone Alley in downtown Nantucket.

The order to remand the matter back to the HDC for further consideration was based primarily on the Select Board’s conclusion that the HDC had never formally determined whether the structure at 2 Stone Alley was a “contributing structure” or an “individually significant structure” - and deserving of a higher level of protection - in Nantucket’s National Historic Landmark District.

The proposed addition had been pending before the HDC in several iterations for more than four years before it was unanimously approved by commissioners in Nov. 2022.

The house, which was a former stable that dates back to 1870 and was later converted into a cottage, once belonged to Eliza Codd, an MIT graduate who was the first practicing female architect on Nantucket in the 1910s.

Today it is owned by 450 Green Park LLC, a limited liability company registered to John and Marianne Ehinger, of Morristown, NJ. Their plan to add more than 1,000 square feet of living space - more than double the size of the original house - had irked both neighbors and historic preservation advocates on the island.

One of those neighbors - Ginger Andrews, an island resident who owns a home across the alley – appealed the HDC’s decision to the Select Board. Andrews noted that the HDC members themselves had expressed deep concerns about the project over the past four years, and found it hard to understand why it had earned unanimous approval even with some of the concessions made by the homeowners and their architect, Emeritus.

“To give up and just approve it, is really disappointing, “ Andrews said.

Andrews’ attorney, Arthur Reade, added that “a large addition - a very large addition - which dwarfs the size of the existing structure would make the existing Eliza Codd structure unrecognizable.”

The appeal was also notable in that the town’s preservation planner Holly Backus publicly shared her disagreement with the HDC’s vote to approve the addition. Backus stressed the significance of the structure and its connection to Codd, as well as the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s standards for the treatment of historic properties. Those standards state: “Generally, a new addition should be subordinate to the historic building.” As Backus noted, the addition would be double the size of the original structure.

“If constructed, it would not be historic any longer,” Backus said. “That’s why I could not support the HDC in this appeal.”

Backus was joined by Nantucket Preservation Trust executive director Mary Bergman in urging the Select Board to support Andrews’ appeal.

“This house was not really given its due in sitting down considering is it historic? Is it significant? And what should we preserve? And then how does that then carry forward? I would urge you to uphold Ginger’s appeal,” Bergman said.

Historic District Commission member Abby Camp also spoke during Wednesday night’s hearing and defended the commission’s decision. She noted that the project had gone through numerous iterations, and that the architects had been responsive to concerns.

“We were very sensitive to the Codd architecture,” Camp said. “The main mass is pretty much untouched. We thought this is a tough site, but I think we did a really good job and were unanimous in our decision to pass the last one that came before us.”

The HDC’s compliance coordinator, Esmeralda Martinez, told the Select Board that the commission had reviewed the proposal at least nine times, and called the decision “thoroughly considered.”

Both architect Matt MacEachern and attorney Steven Cohen spoke on behalf of the homeowners who are seeking the addition.

“All four corners of the house will (continue to) exist,” MacEachern said. “This notion that the structure is being destroyed or demolished is not accurate at all.”

As the board deliberated, however, it was Select Board member Dawn Hill Holdgate who pointed out that the record did not show that the HDC had determined the appropriate designation for the building. Hill Holdgate, a former member of the HDC herself, said she almost always sides with the architectural review board in similar appeals, but this was a special case considering the rich history associated with the building which was more than 50 years old.

“It seems like the type of addition that would be added to a contributing structure and not an individually significant structure,” Hill Holdgate said. “I don’t see a determination by the HDC, and this is what I find is missing.”

The board voted 4-1, with chair Jason Bridges dissenting, to remand the matter back to the HDC for further discussion and to make a determination on the "contributing" versus "significant" designation.

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