CHATHAM – While the windmill at 66 Briggs Way can't be seen from street, for those passing by on Chatham Harbor, it's a familiar landmark.
“When you sail out of the cut, it's iconic,” historical commission chairman Frank Messina said of the waterfront building, which sits above a high stone revetment at the crest of a wide, green lawn.
The windmill now serves as the center of a long, rambling home, most of which was built in the 1980s and '90s. But the windmill and the structure immediately adjacent to it are much older, built sometime between 1926 and 1938, and therefore subject to the town's demolition delay bylaw.
The new owners of the property tried to find a way to incorporate the windmill into the design of a new home, but were unable to do so, said their attorney, William F. Riley. Last week he asked the commission for approval to relocate the windmill to a corner of the property so the owners can raze the rest of the structure while trying to find a new home for the windmill.
“We're completely dedicated to preserving the windmill,” Riley said. “We're looking for a new home for it.”
Commission members were at first reluctant to separate the windmill from the rest of the structure. Messina argued that because the windmill is more than 75 years old, the entire 5,366-square-foot building should be subject to the demolition delay. Riley, however, called that opposition “overreach” and said the owner, Briggs Way LLC, was willing to go to “significant lengths and expense” to try to save the windmill, but not the rest of the building.
Messina cited a statement by the commission's preservation consultant, Eric Drey, which suggested that the building would be a contributing structure to a potential Shore Road historic district. In the historic inventory form on the building, Drey wrote that the windmill, built as a guest cottage for the adjacent property at 108 Shore Rd., is one of three “whimsical” windmill structures along Shore Road and may be composed of older lumber scavenged to build it. It is also likely that it was never used as a windmill.
The “Windmill Cottage,” as it was known, is in a neighborhood that “contains one of Chatham's finest collections of turn-of-the-century summer houses designed in the Queen Anne, shingle and Colonial revival styles,” Drey wrote.
But the owners, who paid $7.5 million for the property, want to take advantage of the best views on the lot, and those just happen to be where the windmill now sits, said Riley. Boston architect Anthony Frausto said the windmill was considered for use as a poolhouse, but the location where the owner wanted the pool would have meant that the windmill encroached on the neighbor's property. Trying to fit the windmill onto the lot “because this kind of chess game,” he said. “It just wasn't working out.”
The wood in the windmill is also “emaciated,” he added, and any reconstruction to bring it up to current codes would require that the original timber be used as a veneer on newer, stronger lumber to create a simulation of the original.
The 24-foot base of the windmill makes it difficult to move over the roads as well, Riley said, adding that the owner is willing to pay the cost of flaking the building – disassembling it board by board – and moving it elsewhere.
Most members of the commission did not think an 18-month demolition delay on the entire building was justified, but they did agree that the windmill is historically significant and supported up to an 18-month demolition delay on the windmill.
“We want to try to save that iconic structure somewhere in town, or somewhere else,” Messina said. The owners will be required to advertise the availability of the windmill following guidance provided by the commission, and can return to the commission before the delay period expires to request that it be lifted if no takers can be found for the structure.
Riley said the redevelopment of the lot goes before the zoning board of appeals on Oct. 14. Barring any appeals, demolition of the house will begin in December.
Messina was still uncomfortable with declaring just a portion of the building historic and allowing the rest to be razed.
“This is charting new territory,” he said. “I can see this coming back to bite us in the you-know-what.”