Last week a majority of the members of the Scarsdale Committee on Historic Preservation (CHP) failed to find that a house at 140 Saxon Woods Road had historical significance. Neighbor Toril Hanna along with Scarsdale Middle School Librarian Elizabeth Waltzman and descendents of runaway slave Robert Purdy contended that the home should be spared as it was part of a community of ex-slaves in Scarsdale, dating back to the 1860’s. At a meeting on June 23, they presented CHP members with census documents, land deeds and maps to demonstrate the historic merit of the home that is among the last of the original structures on the 5-acre tract purchased by Purdy from George A. Willets.
Despite considerable evidence and testimony, and a vote of 3-2 vote in favor of deeming the home historically significant the house now stands to be demolished. Why? According to Village Attorney Wayne Esannason, the committee has seven members, five of whom attended the July 19th meeting. The meeting requires a quorum of four to vote. Since a quorum of five members attended and the applicant has a right to a decision within 30 days, the committee met, deliberated and voted. In order to deem the house historically significant, four favorable votes, or a majority of the seven possible votes were required, and since only three voted in favor of preservation, the home will go down. Esannason said that all committee members should do their best to attend all meetings so that each decision is given consideration by the complete seven member panel.
In this case, the applicant is the Parma Construction Company who bought the .19 acre lot for $320,000 and has applied to demolish the home to build a new house. Parma could have asked the Committee to hold over the decision until a later meeting when more members could be present. However, the representative from Parma wished to move forward so the committee voted.
Contacted in Norway, Toril Hanna expressed her disappointment and the following letter to Scarsdale10583.com. She had hoped that the committee would vote in favor of preservation, moving the fate of the house to the Board of Architectural Review. Now that it appears that the home will be torn down, Hanna will need to consider the impact that the new home will have on her property. The Board of Architectural Review is scheduled to meet in early August to review plans for the new house at 140 Saxon Woods Road.
Here are Hanna’s comments on the Committee’s voting procedure and decision:
It has been confirmed to me that "an affirmative vote of the majority of the constituted board is required for the property to be upheld as historic. The CHP consist of seven voting members. Therefore, at least four (4) votes are required for the property to be declared historic under chapter 182 of the Village Code." With all due respect I acknowledge the veracity of the laws that rule the Committee for Historic Preservation (CHP).
However I find it hard to believe and understand how a favorable majority vote of 3 to 2 which clearly acknowledged the 140 Saxon Woods Rd as having historic significance, did not constitute a majority due to a technicality. There are 7 CHP voting members, a quorum is a majority which is 4, and 5 were present. How does a 3 to 2 vote in favor to pass the motion put forward not constitute a democratic majority? If that is not the case it seems the by-laws should at least be reconsidered with a view towards representing a more democratic process, and in particular when considering the significant history which has been put into evidence.
It seems irresponsible to reject the historically significant findings without having fully considered any outstanding questions as well as how to deal with the facts and the possible preservation of the home. Once the home is torn down, it is gone forever. I think that in retrospect society will regret not having fully pursued options for the home's preservation.
I also wonder about the legal voting procedure of the CHP. What do the missing voting members have to say? I believe that the case should have had a hearing at the Board of Architectural Review, who, according to the Scarsdale Village Code, have far greater capacity and scope to deal with determining a viable decision regarding an historically significant structure.
Toril U. Hanna