Lawsuit dropped after revision to Southport house plans
Updated 4:26 pm, Friday, March 16, 2012
A Fairfield couple plans to drop their lawsuit against the town's Historic District Commission after winning approval to make major renovations to their historic, waterfront Southport home.
Alex and Judith Urquhart, who currently live on Hulls Farm Road, had sought approval from the commission a year ago to raze the house at 935 Harbor Road and construct a larger home in its place. The commission denied the Urquhart's demolition application in a unanimous vote last March, but gave unanimous approval Thursday to the couple's new plan, which leaves the Cameron Clark colonial revival house, built in 1937, virtually intact.
Clark was a prominent Fairfield architect from the 1930 through the 1950s.
John Fallon, the Urquharts' lawyer, said after Thursday's special meeting and public hearing that the lawsuit will be withdrawn after the typical 15-day appeal period. Fallon said at the opening of the meeting that an approval would render null and void the pending litigation.
"We're very happy about the decision. Our architect had great foresight. We made a lot of compromises but I think it will be just beautiful," Judith Urquhart said after the meeting. The Urquharts purchased the house for $5.9 million in June 2010. According to the online database Vision Appraisal, the house is currently appraised at $5.9 million.
One neighbor who spoke against the Urquharts' demolition plans a year ago this time spoke in favor of the revised plans. "I think that this project, as presented, is a thoughtful and respectful renovation of a Southport classic," said Sharon Klammer.
Last year about two dozen people expressed opposition to the Urquharts' plan, but no one spoke against the new plan, which includes two additions and two expanded areas to give the family the function they need while maintaining the scale and intent of the original structure.
"This is walking the line between the historic and giving the Urquharts what they need ... We're trying to keep the spirit of this house," said architect Mark Finlay, principal of Mark E. Finlay Architects in Southport.
The garage and a shed will be expanded, but in a way that will not change the street scape. Architect Jay Valade, a partner at Mark E. Finlay Architects, said the garage expansion will blend with the neighborhood landscape. "It's not going to be in your face."
"One of my favorite parts of this proposal is the garage ... It's a wonderful design," said Commissioner Margaret Kufferman.
"They've done a good job," said Commissioner Peter Petron.
Commissioner Henry Backe said he gets the sense that the front of the house has a "stark colonial feel" compared to the updated back. "It's almost like two different houses front to back," he said.
Fallon said the renovations will preserve, restore and enhance the historic nature of the house. He said the town's Zoning Board of Appeals last week granted the necessary variances to do the work.
"The existing 1930s colonial house is a very important part of the Southport historic landscape and the commission denied demolition of that structure. This proposal represents thoughtful consideration of bringing a 1930s structure up to the 21st century," said commission Chairwoman Ellen Gould.
Additions, including a master bedroom, will be constructed on the rear of the house, which sits on a nearly one-acre property along Southport Harbor within sight of Ye Yacht Yard.
Three sets of French doors and a number of windows will be added to the rear of the house "to try to take advantage of the (water) views," Finlay said, adding that the current configuration of the house closes off the water views from those inside.
The house will also be raised by one foot for flood protection and the height of a rear stone wall will also be increased, according to Finlay.
"The water is lapping right up against it," he said of the current wall.
Although Backe voted for the new plan, he stipulated that during the renovations the Belgian block lining the paved driveway be removed and replaced with bluestone curbing or some other appropriate material.
Urquhart said she is unsure of the timetable for renovations and construction, but looks forward to completion so the family can move into the home.