Upscale Homes, And Some Local Dissent, Coming To Croft Estate In Essex [The Hartford Courant]
(Hartford Courant (CT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 31--When Robert Croft built a Dutch-style windmill on his Essex estate in 1970s, many in town complained the structure spoiled the pristine views of the Connecticut River from Foxboro Point.
The windmill became one of the most accepted, recognizable landmarks in the town -- arguably, iconic.
Now, builder Frank J. Sciame Jr. is pushing ahead with even bigger changes for the 12-acre estate: a development of upscale homes.
"We recognize the importance of this area," Sciame said. "The development that will be built will be respectful of the environment."
Sciame's plans call for dividing the estate into eight lots, one of them containing the historic, 1870s Croft House and another the windmill. There are six building lots being marketed for between $1.25 million and $1.75 million. One lot has already sold for $1.1 million, just shy of the $1.25 million asking price and a house is now under construction. Buyers build their own homes, but the designs are subject to Sciame's approval.
The Croft House is in the middle of a massive, top-to-bottom makeover that will add two bedrooms, for a total of five. The 4,500-square-foot house has an asking price just under $3.5 million.
The windmill is listed at nearly $2 million. The four-story structure is on its own lot, where there is room for expanding the windmill.
Croft died in 2008 at age 96, and the property was put up for sale by his two daughters. At one point, the asking price was $7.8 million. According to town records, the property was purchased by Sciame for $5.1 million in December of last year.
Sciame, 62, an influential builder in the metropolitan New York area, is now poised to make a significant addition to the imprint he has already made on a relatively short stretch of the Connecticut shoreline. Sciame purchased and renovated Katharine Hepburn's seaside estate in the borough of Fenwick in Old Saybrook. Sicame had it on the market for $30 million until he pulled it off the market, unable to get his price.
In the last month, Sciame broke ground on a second, smaller house on the Hepburn property.
In Essex, the dramatic views of the river's North Cove will certainly be a prime selling point for the lots. Sciame has constructed wooden viewing platforms on each lot to show prospective buyers what views would be like from rear decks on their house.
But the views also are what turned the project controversial right from the start: the houses will forever change the landscape on what is one of the last remaining -- but undeveloped -- tracts on the waterfront in Essex.
Sciame tussled with the local planning board over efforts to preserve some of those views for the public. The board intially required that Sciame deed a 1.5-acre strip down the middle of the property for public access. Sciame sued, and was joined by Foxboro Point neighbors, who worried about the loss of privacy and the potential toll on property values.
An out-of-court settlement provided for the addition of a "view corridor" also down the center of the property with unobstructed views to the water. In addition, there are plans for a "pocket park" and Sciame paid $120,000 into the town's open space fund.
Construction is now underway on the property. The first new house is framed and exterior walls are sheathed in plywood. The renovation of Croft House, led by Sciame and the same builders that worked on the Hepburn House, has moved past the removal of walls and reconfiguring of the interior to the updating of plumbing systems.
How quickly the development gets woven into the fabric of the community remains to be seen. One point in its favor might be Sciame's reputation as a solid builder, with the Hepburn renovation an example.
But on a street less than a quarter of a mile away, the disappointment over the loss of the land -- and the views -- still lingers for William Reichenbach, a local lawyer.
"I am disappointed that it is being developed," Reichenbach said. "I'm not suggesting the former owners violated the law or the subdivision violates that law. But we're losing approximately 13 acres along the river, which was pristine."
Reichenbach said he believes the "view corridor" won't accomplish much because the houses will still be in the line of sight. He said he believes arrangement such as the "Cliff Walk" in Newport would have been better.
"That provides invaluable access in terms of the public," Reichenbach said. "It does not affect privacy or property values."
'You Keep The Bones'
The estate off Foxboro Point Road had been in the Croft family for at least 70 years. Robert Croft, longtime owner of the Dauntless Boat Yard in Essex, was a windmill enthusiast. The one on his property was used as a guest house. But records in the local historical society indicate Croft may have intended to sell them commerically with his being a prototype.
The style of houses to be built on the estate will reflect those already in the town: Saltbox, Federal and Italianate, Sciame said. Sciame has the right to review all designs but isn't involved in the actual construction.
His company, F.J. Sciame Construction Co., is much more involved in the Croft House, directing the renovations.
Sciame said the facade and much of the exterior of the Italianate-style house will be preserved, including signature brackets along the roofline of the 2,500-square-foot structure.
Floor-to-ceiling windows with original glass also will be retained and, in some cases, new windows will be designed to match the originals.
Inside is where the big changes are planned: rooms are being combined to form a kitchen and great room on the first floor; a skylight has been cut into the original widow's walk to flood the house with light. The attic, which once served as servants quarters, has been opened up for an additional bedroom.
The work seeks to blend the modern with architectural elements, such as the wide mouldings and ornamental keystones that grace the living room.
Care is being taken to preserve elements such as wide mouldings and ornamental keystones in the living room.
Sciame, former chairman of the New York Landmarks Conservancy and still a member of the board, said the organization often wrestles with how to take old buildings and transform them for modern uses.
"You keep the bones, the integrity of the historic fabric and yet, you have a modern open floor plan," Sciame said.
Saving The Property
When it was clear the Croft property would be sold, the town's land trust approached Robert Croft's heirs, Roberta Croft Ellis and Ellen Croft Craft, about purchasing the property. The land trust had a vested interest: it owns land both on the other side of North Cove and also on the other side of Foxboro Road.
"We never made any progress with the Croft family," said Robert Nussbaum, who was then president of the Essex Land Trust.
It was clear that the Croft family wanted to sell it at a market price and that would have been too high for the land trust to argue for state funding, Nussbaum said.
"There are very few pieces of this size that have not been developed in one way or another," Nussbaum said. "In a perfect world, that site would have been preserved for sure."
The argument for preservation also faced obstacles because Sciame didn't need a lot of complex approvals, Nussbaum said.
"Was a good enough fight fought?" Nussbaum said. "This was not a case where the developer needed a lot of variances. It's difficult to lie in the tracks on this one."
(c)2013 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
[ Back To Technology News's Homepage ]