WESTFIELD — Although the Westfield Historic Preservation Commission would not normally be involved in new construction projects, that is exactly what happened on Monday when the commission unanimously agreed to grant a Certificate of Appropriateness to one local couple that is looking to build a new, single-family home on a subdivided parcel of their historically-designated property.
“As you may recall, in 2018, the Stillufsens [the property owners] received permission from the Town of Westfield Planning Board to subdivide a parcel of their historically-designated property,” Commission Chair Maria Boyes said. “In 1993, the entire property was designated as a historic landmark pursuant to the town’s historic preservation ordinance. As a result of that designation, the proposed subdivision, as well as any and all improvements to be constructed on the property, are subject to the requirements of the historic preservation ordinance.”
The historic structure, known as the Matthias Sayre House, was constructed in or around 1760 as the original residence of Matthias Sayre, a member of one of the town’s pioneer families. According to historical records, Mr. Sayre was a local shopkeeper who fought in the Revolutionary War. The property is located at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Chestnut Street.
When the subdivision was first approved in 2018, the homeowners, Andrew and Heather Stillufsen, agreed to use all proceeds from the subdivision to renovate and preserve the existing historic structure.
In other words, Ms. Boyes said, even though the newly-created lot [designated 667 Fourth Avenue, Block 3303, Lot 6.02] is now its own separate property, it still retains its original historic designation and is subject to the provisions of the historic preservation ordinance as a locally historically-designated property.
“When the planning board allowed the subdivision, they made sure that anything constructed on a newly-created lot would be required to come before this board,” Ms. Boyes explained.
Andrew and Heather Stillufsen bought the property in 2009 and received approval to subdivide the lot in 2018. However, when the couple brought design plans to the commission in 2019, their original proposal for a new, single-family dwelling to be constructed on the subdivided lot was deemed “too imposing” for the space, Ms. Boyes said.
Although the commission granted its conditional approval to the project back in 2019 with the provision that the couple reduce the overall volume of the new home, the agreement was only valid for two years. As such, the Stillufsens were required to come back in front of the commission to secure the body’s go-ahead before starting construction on the more scaled-back design.
“The home was redesigned as a more village-like structure, breaking up the volume into smaller units and changing the roofline to allow for a flat roof in some areas and a steeper pitch in others,” Ms. Boyes continued. “The resulting architecture became more of a modern farmhouse aesthetic meant to contrast the existing home rather than ineffectively blend with it.”
According to design specs presented at Monday night’s meeting, the new structure (which has lower eaves and an 11-percent decrease in overall volume from the original design) falls in line with standards established by The Secretary of the Interior.
After some discussion regarding building materials (the new home is to be constructed out of natural wood plank siding, stucco and stone and the windows will be aluminum clad in an iron ore color scheme), the commission granted its unanimous approval to the couple.
“We’re not just here because the approval has lapsed, but we actually do have a contract of sale [for the subdivided lot] that is contingent upon this group approving the plans that are before you,” Mr. Stillufsen said, noting that the commission’s decision will allow restoration work to begin on the historic structure more quickly. “We’ve gone through a lot of previous meetings — planning board, historic preservation — and that’s all well-documented. As you can probably imagine, a house that is almost 260 years old…restoring it doesn’t get cheaper,” he stated.
At this point in time, Mr. Stillufsen said, the [Matthias Sayre] house is “desperately in need of some TLC.”
“Our hope is that [the Matthias Sayre home] will last for many more years. This is a win for Westfield, a win for historic preservation, and a win for us as well, because we get to live in what I hope will be our dream home once it is fully restored and brought into the 21st century,” Mr. Stillufsen said.
Although Monday night’s meeting included a public hearing for the project, there were no comments made either in support of or against the proposal. Local resident Peter Primavera, however, who volunteered to lend his services to the commission during a meeting held earlier this year, said during Monday night’s regular public-comment period that he was “very disappointed” by what he characterized as the commission’s lack of communication.
“It’s interesting that the HPC feels the need to limit the time that people are allowed to speak,” Mr. Primavera said of the commission’s five-minute public-comment limit. “Numerous, numerous emails to this commission have gone without response. I don’t know what the solution is; I don’t know what the problem is, but I would like the HPC to address why simple communications and simple requests are not being responded to or being answered.”