By Steve Plunkett
Town commissioners bounced back plans for a two-story home on a cove off the Intracoastal Waterway as too big, telling the advisory Architectural Review and Planning Board to revisit the structure’s overall massing.
Also criticized at the Dec. 10 meeting were applicants James and Nadia Davis’ requests for a special exception to the backyard setback, the design of the master suite and east side of the house facing the cove, landscaping and choice of window frame color.
Mayor Scott Morgan led the charge against the home at 588 Banyan Road in the town’s core district.
“I just looked at the photograph of the proposed residence and it takes up a good chunk of the property. And frankly, in my opinion there’s an overwhelming massing to this house,” Morgan said.
The mayor wanted reasons for a special exception to be granted “outside of the desire to move the home further south to expand the size of the building.”
Architect Benjamin Schreier said the house already was well under what Gulf Stream’s rules require. The first floor was designed to be 8,699 square feet instead of the permitted 8,720 and the second floor was 2,625 square feet instead of 3,031. Also, the height of the second-story roof was 28 feet 10 inches, well below the permitted 35 feet.
That, the design’s Anglo Caribbean style and “the way that the massing has been broken down so there’s a village-like character to it rather than one big block” made it qualify for approval, he said.
“Really?” Morgan responded. “You think this meets the characteristic of a small village which is the definition of the core district’s character?”
Schreier also argued that he had consciously tried to limit the size of the home.
“First of all, in terms of its massiveness we are a full 6 feet below the allowable height,” he said. “I know we’ve been very sensitive to what might appear as mass.” But the mayor fretted that “we’re seeing this more and more as people are building new homes. They’re going bigger and bigger.”
Morgan said the plan lacked a village feel.
“This is a very large house that’s seeking even additional setback variance to put a large home on a lot that’s going to be visible to every other home in that cove,” Morgan said.
The current allowable size of the house was partly the result of a previous decision the commission made, Commissioner Joan Orthwein said.
The Davises bought the property for $4.5 million in April 2018. They soon asked the town to abandon a 2,500-square-foot right-of-way on Banyan Road that jutted into their peninsular parcel.
“We have no current plans to build a new house, so any theoretical benefit in setbacks or buildable square footage is option value, at best, to us,” they advised the town in November 2020.
Town Manager Greg Dunham advised commissioners then that abandoning the right-of-way would add 500 square feet to the maximum allowable first floor, making the total 8,720 square feet instead of 8,220 square feet.
Commissioners approved the abandonment in December 2020 after the Davises paid a $200,000 “privilege fee” patterned after a similar procedure in Palm Beach.
“We created this, by the way, when we sold off that piece to Mr. Davis,” Orthwein said at the Dec. 10, 2021, meeting.
Also at the meeting, Bill Boardman, a 17-year resident on the east side of Polo Drive, noted that the Davises’ existing home has only one story. “The roof really in most places is no higher than the surrounding trees. You can barely see the house.”
A disappointed Schreier said the ARPB had approved and even complimented his proposed design. “This is completely unanticipated,” he said.
But Morgan was steadfast in his desire to protect the core’s quaint nature.
“You see what happens in Delray … you’ve seen our neighboring towns, what’s happened to them,” Morgan said. “Manalapan’s a perfect example. I think it’s already gone.”
The mayor said Gulf Stream’s design manual outweighed the town’s numerical rules for construction at the site.
“I don’t think it’s consistent with the district definition ... which requires us to consider the characteristics. It mandates that we consider them, and I think we need to consider them,” he said.
“This is an opportunity to refocus the town on that which is preserving its overall character, which means preserving the neighborhood characteristics,” he added.
Later in the meeting commissioners discussed what changes could be made to encourage building one-story homes and discourage two-story proposals. Among the suggestions: making the front setback deeper for two-story structures, pushing them farther from the street. Commissioner Paul Lyons said with higher finished-floor elevations now required, side setbacks should also be examined to protect the backyard privacy of neighbors.