Borough of Fenwick Historic District Commission v. Sciame
A historic district commission can order that posts at the entrance of a driveway be no more than 48 inches, so that the posts will not be too visible. The defendants own property in Old Saybrook that formerly was owned by the estate of Katherine Hepburn. Brooke Girty, a local architect, developed plans to renovate the former Hepburn residence. As part of the renovation, wood posts at the driveway entrance and near the residence were replaced with granite posts. The posts were not included in the original plans and were installed without a certificate of appropriateness from the Borough of Fenwick Historic District Commission. After the posts were installed, commission members were concerned that the driveway entrance posts were too visible. The historic district commission approved the posts, which were then 60 inches above ground level, provided that they were no more than 48 inches above ground level. The defendant property owners elected to mound extra dirt at the base of each post, so that the distance between the mounded dirt and the top of the posts was 48 inches. The historic district commission sued the defendant property owners, alleging that the defendants violated the commission's order. The defendants' construction manager testified that raising the level of the ground at the base of the posts was the most cost effective way of ensuring compliance with the commission's certificate of appropriateness. The certificate and the commission's meeting minutes did not indicate the starting point for the 48 inches. The court found that the commission was concerned that the posts were too visible and that increasing the ground level at the base failed to address concerns about visibility. "Without an actual reduction in the height of the pillars by mounting them lower in the ground or a reduction in their total height," wrote the court, "those concerns would not be addressed by the defendants' dirt mounding." The court ordered the defendant property owners to comply within 45 days and did not order a fine for failure to comply, because there was a good-faith dispute about the interpretation of the commission's order.