Height Of Posts At Hepburn House Raise Neighborhood Ire

by Categorized: Katharine Hepburn House Date:

Katharine Hepburn kept a pretty low profile in the seaside borough of Fenwick, but the new owners of the actress’ expansive estate got into quite a tussle with the local historic district commission.

The dispute wasn’t over the massive makeover of the Hepburn mansion that raised the house 5-1/2 feet, but the height of two granite posts marking the driveway entrance. The posts were tall enough, apparently, to fuel a two-year court battle that ended this week.

Katharine Hepburn’s former home in the borough of Fenwick. Courant File Photo/Richard Messina

Owner Frank J. Sciame thought that by planting raised flower beds around the posts, he would be reducing the visible size of the posts from five feet to four feet, the height ordered by the commission. The commission disagreed and took Sciame to court.

A Superior Court judged last summer sided with the commission over the height. But Sciame, a prominent New York City developer, pressed the issue in an appeal arguing that he was being harassed by the commission. On Monday, the state Appellate Court backed the lower court ruling.

“The commission can’t pick and choose the orders that they are going to enforce,” Lewis K. Wise, of Rogin Nassau LLC in Hartford, the commission’s attorney, told me today. “He basically ignored their decision. This was a fight that they didn’t pick.”

Sciame and his wife, Barbara, bought the Hepburn House in 2004 and renovated it. It has been on the market for a year-and-a-half, now with an asking price of $30 million.

STORY: Katharine Hepburn’s House Gets Extreme Makeover For Sale

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The problems began in 2010 when Sciame installed the posts without getting approval from the commission. They later sanctioned the idea but only if the posts were reduced in size by a foot to better mask their visibility. Sciame responded by planting the flower beds.

Sciame argued in court that he had found an appropriate solution to the commission’s concerns, especially since their regulations did not specifically address driveway entrance markers.

The commission pushed back, saying it did have the right to demand that the posts be physically reduced in size. The commission, Wise said, has the power to approve or disapprove exterior alterations or new construction within the district.

Genevieve Salvatore, Sciame’s lawyer, told me her client sliced off the offending foot of granite on the markers a couple of months ago. But he pursued the appeal because he didn’t believe the commission had the right to specify how he reduced the size of the posts.

“He didn’t think the borough had the right to tell him how to do it,” Salvatore said. “When you look at the regulations, they don’t talk about posts.”

Salvatore said the commission also didn’t tell Sciame how to shave off a foot. “He reduced them in a way that he thought was appropriate,” given extensive experience as a developer of historic preservation projects,” Salvatore said.

Sciame does not plan any further appeals in the case. “My client just wants to move on,” Salvatore said.

The spat could prove costly for Sciame. Wise said the commission has filed court papers to recover about $40,000 in legal fees.

The posts at the driveway entrance to the estate in Fenwick have been cut down. John Woike / The Hartford Courant

When the granite markers eventually were cut down to size, one of the slices went right through the number “10” for the property’s address, 10 Mohegan Ave.

That prompted a snarky comment from a borough official quoted in a New York Times story today. The official said Sciame was sending the borough a “message.”

Salvatore said that wasn’t the case. In fact, she said, workers were being dispatched to the house today to fix the number.

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16 thoughts on “Height Of Posts At Hepburn House Raise Neighborhood Ire

  1. Cat

    You know, if Kate was still living in that house today, not one person would be complaining about these posts. People of Fenwick, you have too much time on your hands.There are far more important things in this world to worry about.

  2. Lyric

    Cat nailed it. Mr. Sciame is the “new kid” on the block — the man who spent millions renovating the house and making it beautiful and modern. This is his “punishment” from the people who consider him not one of “their crowd” — very petty of them. They wouldn’t have beeped if Kate had placed posts at the end of the drive. Ridiculous to have gone to court over something so totally frivilous.

  3. Michael

    I think he should leave the posts as is with half of the number 10 missing. Bunch of stuck up snobs in Fenwick and Cat is right, if Ms. Hepburn was still living there they wouldn’t have dared question the height of the posts.

  4. Donna

    I agree with all that if Ms. Hepburn were still alive she would not have tolerated such nonsense from the neighbors!

  5. Ronald

    All these borough commissioners are on power trips, but the developer should have know better, they always win. Was it really worth the 40k to prove you’re a tough guy? Anyone recall the couple from NYC that painted their house black with polka dots in Stonington Borough? Now that was entertainment.

  6. g

    Thats all zoning boards do in any town. Make silly and pointless rules, make every complaint into an ordinance, and nit pick every little thing to death for any menial excuse to claim non compliance and threaten a fine. Why do we even need them? big waste of tax dollars.

  7. barracuda

    Rules are rules…every town has them and they are enforceable for a 30 million dollar house or a 30 thousand dollar condo. If everyone did as they chose our private and public properties would be in shambles. Hopefully MONEY won’t buy off the commisioners…BTW who is going to pay 30 million for that house?? The Hephurn house has probably lost all of its old fashioned charm.Work should have been done to bring the house up to code, maybe some cosmetic fixings, but 30 million dollars is rediculous.!!And people in New York and New Jersey are homeless.

    1. John

      30 million or not, there will always be homeless people.
      As far as Fenwick goes, it is a really nice place and the people are wonderful. Very nice and not snobby at all. I know the whole place is gorgeous, but the posts were just too high. They looked out of place. Why can’t he just make a nice stone wall there with flowers and everything? Why those hideous posts? It could be the case of the new one on the block not wanting to fit in or even trying? Who knows.

  8. Rosey

    Really…what a total waste of time. Over posts really. Tut tut put your energies into something beneficial. Lol!

  9. g

    Thats exactly what zoning boards do. Invent menial things to have a problem with and charge a non compliance fine when whatevers wronf is probably wrong because the person doesnt have the money to fix whatever issue there being gone after for. Officials in that kind of power are just rich, inflexible and heartless individuals.

  10. North Cove Nelly

    This overblown NY developer made a monstrosity out of Kate’s house,all with intent to fill his own pockets with cash.
    His asking price is ludicrous.
    The granite markers were absurd, and the Commission was right to stand its’ ground.

  11. joan

    This is hysterical. When Ms. Hepburn was alive there was a hideous HUGE hand written ‘private property’ sign at the end of the driveway for years before she passed. As far as I know nobody OPENLY complained about that.

    Jealous people, even in Fenwick.

  12. Babz

    Tyler Perry just sold his house for 11.25 million; perhaps if he buys the house we will really see HYSTERIA in Fenwick. In any event the architect made the house habitable again and all the improvements will benefit the townspeople with the hefty taxes they are paying. This is another example why people move out of Connecticut, the people have lost their compassion, tolerance and common sense. This was all about two posts, not a fence that obstructed views etc.

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