ZBA Approval Paves Way For Loss Of Another Stage Harbor Road House

By: Tim Wood

The zoning board of appeals approved the demolition of this 100-year-old home and its replacement with a new house at 356 Stage Harbor Rd. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM – A third historic home on Stage Harbor Road appears headed for the wrecking ball.

Despite pleas from Historical Commission Chairman Frank Messina, the zoning board of appeals last week approved a special permit allowing the demolition of a nearly 160-year-old house at 356 Stage Harbor Rd. so that a new dwelling can be built.

“We're down two strikes on Stage Harbor Road,” Messina told zoning board members, referring to the razing last month of a 150-year-old house at 271 Stage Harbor Rd. and the anticipated demolition of a century-old house at 391 Stage Harbor Rd. in February. “We continue to lose historically significant structures on one of the most historic streets in Chatham at an alarming rate.”

In June the commission imposed an 18-month demolition delay on the 356 Stage Harbor Rd. home which will expire in December. Attorney Andrew Singer, representing owner Ocinneide Properties 2 LLC of Lewes, Del., said discussions were held about moving the house to a neighboring property, but that turned out to not be feasible.

It was also not feasible to incorporate the old house into a new design, he added. Orleans Architect Peter Haig said very little of the original historic three-quarter Cape, built between 1864 and 1880, remains; the exterior was remodeled, the windows replaced and even the chimney rebuilt. The structure is also in poor condition.

“Very little of the existing historic core is left,” he said.

“The owner is still open to the possibility (of moving the house), but we are seeking the necessary permits in case it is not a feasible option at the end of the delay period,” Singer said.

The proposed new home, with a traditional Greek Revival design, will be compatible with the neighborhood's visual character, Singer said. It will also eliminate one nonconformity and reduce another, he added.

Being compatible with the neighborhood means more than just meeting setback and height requirements, Messina said, asserting the proposed design will change the historic streetscape. The Massachusetts Historical Commission agreed that Stage Harbor Road is eligible to be designated a National Register Historic District, and 356 Stage Harbor Rd. was considered a contributing structure, he added. The local commission did not pursue the designation after a majority of Stage Harbor Road property owners failed to support the move.

However, because the Stage Harbor Road neighborhood has been deemed eligible to be nominated as a National Register District, the local commission could ask the building commissioner to refer the demolition request to the Cape Cod Commission as a development of regional impact, Messina said. The commission has not yet made that decision.

The historical commission can delay demolitions but can't stop them on its own, he said.

“We need help. We need help from the community and we need help from you guys,” he told the zoning board, which has the authority to deny a special permit like the one that was being requested.

His argument didn't sway zoning board members. Dennis Sullivan said he liked the design of the proposed home. “It looks like a house that would have been built 100 years ago,” he said. Paul Semple said the new design incorporated elements seen in other homes along the road.

“I certainly don't think it's more detrimental to the neighborhood,” he said. David Thomson noted that he the owners tried to find a new place to move the home, and Singer added that they would continue to do so until the demolition delay expires.

But when Thomson asked if the historical commission would be willing to lift the demolition delay, Messina said he didn't think the owner had tried hard enough to either move the house or incorporate it into a new design.

“This is strike three for Stage Harbor Road,” Messina said. “When's it going to stop?”

Not with the board of appeals, which approved the special permit unanimously.