October 25, 2014

Little Fenwick’s Historic Commission Orders Big Time Developer to Lower Posts

This story involves a dispute between the Borough of Fenwick Historic Distrcit Commission and a very large, New York City developer, Frank J. Sciame, Jr. In the end the Historic Commission won the case, and developer Sciame lost.

In the Fenwick Historic Commission’s review of Sciame’s massive reconstruction of Katherine Hepburn’s former estate, the Historic Commission had one quibble. That was that the two, new granite posts at the entrance to the estate, were simply too high.

Former Katherine Hepburn estate now owned by Frank Sciame

Therefore, the Historic Commission ordered the developer to lower the height of both of the two posts from their  height of 60 inches to a lower height of 48 inches.  Sciame duly responded to the Commission’s request — but not exactly in the way that the Commission intended.

How Not to Measure the True Height of Posts

Rather than simply slicing 12 inches off the tops of both posts, Sciame built around the base of the posts, two flower beds, each of which were 12 inches high. Sciame then advised the Historic Commission that he had complied with its order, because if you measured the posts from the top of the flower beds to the top of the posts, the height of both posts was 48 inches.

Furthermore, Sciame told the Historic Commission, if it did not like this way of doing things, it should take him to court. The Fenwick Historic Commission did just that, and the result was a ruling by State Superior Court Judge Robert L. Holzberg that was a “win, win” for the Fenwick Historic Commission.

The Judge in his opinion held, “[T]he most reasonable interpretation of the [Fenwick Historic Commission’s] order [to lower the height of the posts] is that the pillars must be reduced in height such that from the roadbed or whatever location that they are anchored into the ground, the height of the top of the pillar is forty eight inches.” In short, Sciame’s attempt to measure the height of the posts from the top of the flower beds was rejected by the court.

No Fines Imposed Because of Developer’s “Good Faith”

Nevertheless, the Court held at the end of its seven page decision, that, “Because of the good faith dispute over the appropriate interpretation of the [Fenwick Historic Commission’s] order, the court declines to impose fines for non-compliance with the [Fenwick Historic Commission’s] order.”

The Court also ordered compliance with its order, “within 45 days of this judgment.” Since the court’s decision was rendered on August 2, “within 45 days” would mean that the posts should have been shortened by September 16.

Although the developer may have missed the court’s deadline by several days, an inspection on October 6 revealed that both of the posts at the entrance to the estate have been neatly sliced off from the top, and the height of both posts are now 48 inches, from the ground up.

Both gate posts now shortened to 48 inches high