Local Look: Proposed house dismays neighbor, a Palm Beach official waging a legal fight against it
Palm Beach homes: Intended as a guesthouse, a house designed for a North End lot shouldn’t be classified as a standalone single-family project, says Julie Araskog.
A contemporary-style house designed for a Palm Beach cul-de-sac has met with opposition from neighbor and Town Councilwoman Julie Araskog.
Because the structure is intended to be a guesthouse for the home next door to it, Araskog says, the town shouldn’t treat the design as a stand-alone, single-family house on its own lot. And she has asked her colleagues on the Town Council to review whether a zoning official erred when he signed off on the design and sent it to the Architectural Commission for review.
The North End house in question was designed to replace one built in 1985 at 1485 Via Manana, directly across the cul-de-sac from Araskog’s home at 1490 Via Manana.
The design was presented last month to the commission by architect Daniel Kahan on behalf of his clients, Jason and Josephine Kalisman. They own the property and live in the house immediately to its east at 1480 N. Ocean Blvd.
With an indoor-outdoor focus, the new house would look across a swimming pool to the main residence, and both would have similar architecture, materials and color schemes, Kahan told commissioners at their July 24 meeting, when they first reviewed the design. The project was described on its formal application as “a new two-story residence, which will serve as a guesthouse and pavilion for the main house.”
In emails sent in advance to board members, Kahan wrote that his clients bought the lot “with the intention of creating a garden/pool pavilion for their existing house, with two small bedrooms for limited guest use.”
He reiterated that idea at the commission’s July meeting. “The main function of the house is to be an indoor-outdoor space, essentially a loggia,” said Kahan, a principal at Smith and Moore Architects in West Palm Beach.
‘Not in harmony’
At the same meeting, Araskog objected to the design and was especially concerned that the front facade facing her home lacked charm and detail.
“I’ve been devastated by the thought of this proposed structure and its effect on my views and enjoyment of my property each day,” she said, noting that its architecture was remarkably different from the houses nearby.
“It’s not in harmony with the character of the neighborhood,” she said, later adding that the design “resembles a white pump station in its present form on our charming, unique cul-de-sac.”
Kahan told the board he had already revised the front of the house to address her concerns, including the addition of windows. But Araskog countered that he had not met the town’s deadline for submitting those changes and that the commission should disregard them. The board agreed with Araskog and reviewed only the original design.
Araskog is no stranger to legal fights regarding proposed houses on the North End. Before she was elected to the council in 2017, she made a name for herself as an activist who fought fiercely against residential projects she believed disrupted the visual harmony of their neighborhoods.
Commissioners in July ended up unanimously deferring the project for further study for a month, and the board had been expected to reconsider it this Wednesday. But the item was pulled from the meeting’s agenda in anticipation of a filing by Araskog’s attorney requesting the Town Council appeal. The appeal was filed late Wednesday afternoon, and is expected to be heard by the council Sept. 11. Araskog will recuse herself from that discussion, she said.
‘Unity of title’ an issue
The appeal centers on Zoning Administrator Paul Castro’s decision that the project met all of the town’s code requirements for a single-family house and therefore could be presented as such to the commission.
But the appeal prepared by Araskog’s attorney, John R. Eubanks Jr., argues that the guesthouse function and design of the proposed structure requires the Kalismans’ two lots to be combined under a “unity of title” under the town’s code. That legal move also would trigger stricter zoning requirements for the project.
Castro on Friday said he stands by his original decision that the house adheres to the neighborhood’s zoning code regarding its overall height, lot coverage, setbacks, landscaping and related issues.
“It’s a single-family house — and you can call it a guesthouse if you want — but it’s on a ‘conforming’ lot that meets all code requirements,” Castro said.
If the lots were combined through a unity of title, the guesthouse would be designated an “accessory structure” to the main house, he said.
But even if the lots were joined legally, only one of the stricter zoning requirements would affect Kahan’s original design, Castro added. The guesthouse would have to be moved 5 feet to the east, away from the cul-de-sac and closer to the main house on the property. Other elements in the original design could remain the same.
Owners of adjacent properties, he added, often choose not to pursue a unity of title, which must be approved by the town’s administrative staff. By not legally joining the lots, owners “have more flexibility in the future” if they want to sell them separately, he said. That’s because the town also must approve severing the unity of title and will only do that if the buildings on each lot meet all code requirements at the time of separation.
Araskog’s 151-page appeal package includes a brief statement from neighbors David and Gail Leavitt, who live on the cul-de-sac at 1485 Via Manana. Like Araskog, the Leavitts said they believe the Kalismans’ project, as designed, demands a unity of title be granted for the two lots.
The appeal documents also include affidavits from Palm Beach architects Jeffery Smith and Gene Pandula supporting the position held by Araskog and the Leavitts regarding the unity of title issue.
At the July meeting, Vice Chairman Michael B. Small, who presided on the dais in the absence of Chairman Bob Vila, said that not having a unity of title complicated his evaluation of the project — especially regarding the look of the front of the house.
He addressed Kahan directly: “Am I looking at this as something, quoting you, [that] interfaces with the existing house immediately to the east? Or am I looking at this as a stand-alone house that someday may be sold off?” he asked. “If I am looking at it that way, then I am looking at the western facade in a way that would not be acceptable, at least to me, architecturally, and I would have greater problems with that.”
Amid such concerns, several commissioners said they liked the way the main house addressed the proposed one on the opposite side of the pool. Among them was Alternate Commissioner Betsy Shiverick, who voted in the absence of Commissioner John David Corey. She was enthusiastic about the project.
“I think it’s a fantastically successful integration design,” she said. “It looks like a really fun place and extremely functional for a family. I think it looks really nice.”