Is the old house at 40 Ocean Avenue in Larchmont actually historic, as some suggest, or is it just old? The three year fight over the stately late 19th Century home seems to be coming to head as owner Bobby Ben-Simon formally applies for a demolition permit in preparation for the construction of four multi-million dollars homes on the 1.6 acre lot.
Tuesday evening the Village Planning Board kicked the can down the road just a bit further, scheduling a work session for next month to set their position on the matter even as several members expressed skepticism about the building’s historic credentials; no one famous ever lived there, and the architect, Frank Moore, is not mentioned on any list of nationally significant building designers. Chairman John Parkinson held out the possibility that the house might be deemed significant for its “context in the character of the community” more than its historic significance.
Frank Moore designed the private home, built in 1896, while living across the street at the Larchmont Yacht Club. 40 Ocean is situated at the top of a hill with sweeping views of the nearby harbor. Board member Joseph Shein conceded it’s “a wonderful building,” but didn’t seem convinced it has the pedigree to warrant preservation. He seemed more inclined to keep the developer on a short leash over what might replace it. The demolition plan calls for taking down a number of large trees. “It would be criminal to destroy the site, “ Shein complained.
Neighbors have been trying to stop the demolition for three years saying Moore is an architect of local significance and his work should be preserved. Board member Alexa Sewell seemed willing to agree on that but warned of a possible “domino effect.” It turns out, Moore designed 16 other private homes locally and those owners could face use and design restrictions if a precedent is created by preserving 40 Ocean Avenue.
Stacey Caffrey, a founder of the group “Preserve Larchmont,” said Tuesday night her group is desperate to save the old home. “They just don’t build them like that anymore,” she said, “whatever replaces it will not be as grand, or as durable.” She even raised the possibility that the developer could put two new homes on the large lot without taking the main building down. The property owner, though, is having none of that kind of talk. “She forgets,” Ben-Simon told us, “it’s my property, if I can come into her home and re-arrange the furniture, perhaps then we can talk.” He says he’s considering his legal options.
The Village Planning Board has set a work session on the property for April 17th.
Correction: A previous version of this story said the Village Board of Trustees has the final say. That is incorrect. The Village Board of Trustees sets Zoning regulations and policy. It is the sole responsibility of the Planning Board to interpret those regulations.