On the western edge of East Hampton Village sits the tiny Jericho Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. It includes just three houses, all of them built in the early to mid-19th century.
One of them, the Talmage Jones House, changed hands in 2021 for close to $2 million. The real estate listing touted its history. The house is one of some two dozen protected 1700-1850 timber-frame landmarks in the village.
Liz Young, a self-described “real estate entrepreneur” who purchased the house with her husband, Ryan Denehy, under the name of 132 Montauk Highway L.L.C., runs a company that says it can help new homeowners navigate zoning laws to make their homes into equity-building powerhouses.
Since purchasing the house, the couple has completely renovated it and replaced all its historically significant exterior windows with Andersen windows, according to a retroactive application to the village’s design review board.
“They also destroyed some of the timber frame,” said East Hampton Village Mayor Jerry Larsen in a phone call last week. “It’s egregious, and they knew what they were doing, that’s the most upsetting aspect of this. They should be prosecuted to the full extent that the law will allow.”
A red Stop Work order was plastered on the house by Kent Howie, a village code enforcement officer, on Feb. 13. “It was a good catch by the Building Department,” said Mayor Larsen.
“Whether they do it on purpose or think they’re getting away with it, we have to treat it the same. The judge will impose a fine, we will write the ticket,” said Tom Preiato, the village building inspector. “You can play dumb, but it’s going to cost you time and money.”
The amount of the fine, which Mr. Preiato said is still under review, was estimated at $5,500 — negligible, given the cost of the home and its extensive renovations.
Robert Hefner, the village’s former director of historic services, said by phone that this sort of violation is uncommon. “In most cases, historic districts have run pretty well,” he said.
With legislation lauded by Mr. Hefner, in 2013 the village board placed two dozen such timber-frame houses under protection, recognizing that the approximately 70 such buildings within village limits help to tell the story of East Hampton’s history. Under that legislation, demolition that removes even a part of the timber framing of these early buildings is not allowed.
In “East Hampton’s Heritage: An Illustrated Architectural Record,” edited by Mr. Hefner, he singles out the “six-paned double sash” windows of the Talmage Jones House, and a stairwell with “flaring” posts.
“The three houses were built by and for members of the Jones family, prominent East Hampton builders, and share similar floor plans, construction methods and distinctive interior details,” reads the original historic-register listing. “The historic interiors of all three houses survive with an unusually high degree of integrity.”
At the Talmage Jones House, some of those details have been Dumpstered.
Last week, its owners belatedly applied to the Design Review Board for a “certificate of appropriateness,” seeking retroactive approval to replace all existing windows and a patio door. The application claims that the “windows are all deteriorated and non function [sic] as supposed.”
The application has yet to land on the review board’s agenda. “We get squared away with the law-abiding people first,” said Mr. Preiato. “But I can’t see their Andersen windows gaining approval.”
Billy Hajek, the village planner, has walked through the house and assessed the damage. “The floor system for the first floor had been altered and parts removed,” he said in a phone conversation. “The exposed timbers in the walls on the second and third floor were intact but manipulated. . . . They did extensive renovations without a building permit.”
“You can’t put back old timbers,” said Mr. Hajek. “But we want to ensure the windows are period-correct and match what existed. Whatever additional work is being proposed should be consistent as well. Historic homes generally have what some people view as limitations: Low ceilings and exposed timbers that people want to cover up. These are projects where you have to have a desire to maintain the historic integrity of a place. If you don’t have that desire, the building is going to be compromised.”
“Unfortunately,” Mr. Hajek added, “I think it’s a sign of the times. Everything is looked at as an investment. The owners need to make a return on it.”
On her company’s website, Ms. Young cautions: “Generally speaking, unallowed alterations to your property must be taken down if and when they’re discovered. Perhaps more importantly, if you make changes to your property that are in violation of local zoning laws, you will be responsible for reversing them. But don’t let a fear of zoning laws stop you from tackling renovations.”
The Talmage Jones House, or 132 Montauk Highway L.L.C., is now on its second builder, Patricio Suarez, who was also ticketed. According to Mr. Preiato, Mr. Suarez “is amenable to making it right.”
“The real fine is time,” the building inspector said. “They’ll pay double for the building permit fee. This isn’t the way to do business. I wouldn’t want to engage her to show me the way.”