Design Review Commission Grapples With Murphy Lane Barn

View From Street 2
Original House
New House

At their last meeting the Zoning Board of Appeals asked the  Design Review Commission  to provide an advisory opinion on what could be done with  39 Murphy Lane.  

The Design Review Commission reviewed the building at its April 6 meeting.  The Commission members had visited the site. 

They took their charge as finding some way that the building could be rebuilt to closely approximate the original barn.  It was not their responsibility to consider the troubled history of the project.

Their initial  concern was that  the  concrete slab the barn had originally sat on had been replaced by a full, raised basement, making the building higher than the original structure.  This was discussed at length.  Since the original structure was gone, there was controversy over what the original height of the entire building had been.

The DRC unanimously agreed that at a minimum, most of the foundation that is above the grade of  Murphy Lane should be cut away to lower the height of the building.  They discussed at some length the proper materials that could be used to try to approximate the original exterior surface of the structure.  They noted that it would be important to restore at least the appearance of the original barn doors.  They also discussed the type of roofing material that would be appropriate.

The engineer from American Engineering who had been hired by the owner Ms. D’Agostino to work on 39 Murphy Lane pointed out that the original design that had been accepted by the city included a car port that would radically affect the appearance of the building.  The engineer also noted that by law the building would need significant windows to meet code which would also affect its appearance.

The DRC was going to make some general recommendations to the Zoning Board of Appeals about what would need to be done.  As pointed out by a member of the audience, this still left much of the design of the appearance of the structure unresolved.  It was noted that the Zoning Board of Appeals had requested the DRC’s advice because they did not feel qualified to get into the precise appearance of the structure.  This left  the question of who would oversee the re-design of 39 Murphy Lane up in the air. 

 Brad Birge, head of the city planning department, suggested that the DRC volunteer to provide  oversight of the design to the ZBA.

This passed unanimously.

On the way out I overheard the owner of the property, Ms. D’Agostino, say to her engineer that she was going to put a for sale sign in front of the property.  I took that more as a bitter commentary than as a real decision.


7 thoughts on “Design Review Commission Grapples With Murphy Lane Barn”

  1. The funny thing is that she can not sell it. There is no structure that is habitable and there is no way to finance it. Maybe saratoga will wake up and actually enforce the laws.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. why would she feel any different when a group gangs up on an unreasonable request. It is a residential neighborhood…the property is not on the national register and thereby not protected from doing any changes…U3 zoning allows going up in height to 60 ft….and the extra foundation could be easily covered with siding a little lower to help it appear the same. It is now functional as a proper foundation. Nit pick neighbors should look at their own properties and think how they would If feel if I they had to remove non historic aluminium siding or a non historic solar panel. Wait what about the wires going to everybody’s home called cable…does that have to go thru design review? Just because? what about going back to original “Historic” colors Maybe the DRC should make everybody paint their house white for White Street, because “I” think that should be the way it “should be”. Is this the land of the non free and the home of the designers. Like Mr Moore’s project…”Do as I say not as I do” …I think not! Send in the punishers.


  3. Nothing funny about it. Who makes you the expert? Where is the Homeowners association that regulates it? Oh that’s right there is none. Let’s look at your property as long as we are discussing what is habitable and how you finance it. Oh right …its none of my business.


    1. I do not have to finance my property I own it outright. My point was that the amount of money that this developer has into this property, (purchase price, dragging water and sewer down Murphy Ln and the construction so far) is well beyond what any bank would finance with only a half-built barn, on a postage stamp lot. So the for sale sign will read cash only, very low price $25K, another $25K to have just a vacant unbuildable lot. 50k for nothing, if that.
      The ZBA and the DRC created this mess by allowing the developer to get this far. It should have been nip in the bud when it was first proposed with seven variances, and no water and sewer access.
      The problem is that unless the ZBA and DRC now force the developer to finish this it will sit abandoned until the city takes it back for taxes and then has to spend our taxpayer dollars to remove the half-built structure, and sell the lot for $2500 to the neighbor.


      1. Paula Johnson, get your facts straight. The DRC only reviewed this project at the April 6 meeting. This was a ZBA oversight project and only because the owner was requesting zoning variances. DRC has oversight over historic building in local historic districts, architectural review over buildings along main roads and signage. The exact districts and guidelines are on the City’s website.


  4. If you look at a map of Saratoga Springs, you will see irregular streets with many alleys distributed throughout. Many carriage homes have been sold off and turned into homes, cute newer homes built, adding to the fabric of our city.
    I have seen J. D’Agostinos’s plans and I see a charming barn like structure very similar to the original. Just not rotting wood, and termite infested shingles under a metal roof.
    The lower foundation can easily masked with additional topsoil and landscaping adding to the charm of a barn like structure.
    She was granted permits and variances by our city leaders all in the proper format.
    Change can be difficult at first, but I think you find that this newer structure will add to your neighborhood.
    Is it your block party featured above that you are trying to protect??


    1. There is a real difference between a carriage house and the barn. Carriage houses are substantial. They assume the space for a carriage and the horses that will pull the carriage on the first floor. Storage for hay and usually an apartment for the person who will drive the carriage and maintain the horses are on the second floor. The lot that the barn at 39 Murphy Lane was a small structure on a lot that was a fraction of the size of the minimum size for a properly zoned lot. In addition, usually carriage houses are found behind the kind of mansion that would have a carriage house on streets that have other mansions. They are not on the kind of narrow alley with modest out buildings as found on Murphy Lane. The photos in the related post showed not only the block party but how that small barn fit into that neighborhood.
      Zoning is about maintaining the character of neighborhoods. Variances are suppose to be, as the name implies, exceptions. In general these exceptions, in order not to adversely affect the neighborhood are suppose to be very modest. This was not the case with the Murphy Lane plot. In fact, the application submitted by the owner for the variance specifically addressed the need not to replace the existing structure because, and this was explicitly written in the application, it would adversely affect the neighborhood.


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