Commission Unhappy With Dormers Proposed For Renovated Historic Home

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Historic preservation

This schematic shows the proposed design of the east elevation – overlooking Shore Road – for the iconic home at 233 Seaview St. The main change to the central, historic section of the house is the addition of larger dormers, which were a concern for historical commission members. POLHEMUS SAVERY DASILVA DESIGN VIA CHATHAM HISTORICAL COMMISSION

CHATHAM – The owners of the iconic house at 233 Seaview St., which overlooks Shore Road and Chatham Harbor, last week asked the historical commission to lift an 18-month demolition delay imposed last April.

Owners Ronald and Ann Cami have agreed to retain the central core of the structure, built in 1927, but at a hearing Dec. 4 the commission asked to see revised plans before it formally lifts the demolition delay.

Commissioners indicated they are likely to lift the demolition delay but they had questions about changes in the roof line as shown in renovation plans presented by Aaron Polhemus of Polhemus Savery DaSilva Builders Architects. Specifically, commissioners were unhappy with larger dormers that masked the structure's unusual bow roof.

“It's still there but hard to see,” said commissioner Jane Moffett.

Although it has a Seaview Street address, the house fronts on rise overlooking Shore Road and is one of that street's iconic structures. Original owner S. Herbert Jenks built the Colonial Revival summer cottage on a 1.5-acre parcel he purchased from Chatham Bars Inn. The seven-bedroom, 3,662-square-foot house is considered an excellent example of its style, according to the Massachusetts Historical Commission's historical inventory form.

Between 1994 and 2012, the house was owned by noted geographer and author Harm de Blij.

The Camis initially proposed full demolition of the house because they had not firmed up plans for the property and wanted to keep their options open. Plans presented to the commission last week show reconstruction of the wings to either side of the main central home as well as more prominent dormers along the front.

“This will be a partial demolition-renovation to the existing structure on Seaview Street,” Polhemus said. The elevation facing Shore Road “largely remains with some dormer additions.”

Several commissioners were not happy with the more prominent dormers, which Sandi Porter called “overwhelming.” Commissioner Don Aikman said the dormers and additions “envelop and kind of bury” the main house.

Moffett said the dormers are out of proportion and hide the bow roof. “I'm concerned about the loss of the roof,” she said, adding that the dormers and other changes are unnecessarily complicated.

“Somehow or other the simple elegance of the original structure seems to be lost with these curves, these multiple curves,” she said. Commissioner Tim Smith also noted that while the main house wasn't being demolished “there's a lot of demolition still going on with the project” via the loss of the existing wings.

The larger dormers serve two functions, Polhemus said. They create more livable space on the second floor of the house and eliminate a structural issue; the existing dormers are sunken into the roof resulting in water damage. The only way to solve those problems is to lift the dormers, which will make them larger and more prominent, he said.

“They're going to look bigger, no matter what's proposed, frankly,” he said.

Chairman Frank Messina said the dormer issue was a concern but not a “showstopper.”

“We really appreciate the work that you've done” to save the historic structure, he said, but asked Polhemus to consult with the owners to determine if the plans could be revised to address the commission's concerns.

The owners worked hard to come up with an acceptable alternative to demolition, Polhemus said, and were hoping that commission would lift the delay at last week's hearing. He agreed to take another look at the plans with them and return to the commission's Dec. 18 meeting.

The main objective, said commissioner Robert Oliver, was to maintain the appearance from the road, and the new design largely does that. The house is 91 years old, and if the owners wanted to, they could wait another 11 months until the demolition delay expired and then “do what they want to do anyway,” and the commission would have no further say.

“There are degrees of compromise here,” Oliver said, one of which may be larger dormers.