WELLFLEET — The house at 20 Briar Lane is architecturally significant, with both Greek Revival and Gothic Revival elements. It is also the hoped-for location for two year-round businesses and two apartments.
These two realities came up against one another on April 9, when the Wellfleet Historical Commission voted to prevent owners Myya Beck-Baum and Thor Baum from demolishing the building while they find a way to preserve its façade.
The couple, who own Heart Core Fitness Studio and Thor Construction, say this delay will be a financial burden for them, requiring them to make further repairs to a building that is not structurally sound, and to sink money into architectural plans without knowing whether they’ll be able to go forward with them.
The April 9 historical commission meeting included 48 participants on Zoom, the majority supporting the couple’s intention to demolish the 1850s structure and replace it with a larger building that can be used to house Heart Core and two year-rounds apartments with two bedrooms each on the top floor.
The new building would have a larger footprint, going from 1,406 square feet to
1,898 square feet, Baum said. There would be sliding glass doors on the lower floor, which Beck-Baum said is an important detail in order to bring in light so “you don’t feel like you’re working out in a basement.” The new design has more charm than is evident from the drawings, Baum said.
The Cape Cod Commission recommended a demolition delay. Anne Freyss, of the historical commission, said the commission wants the couple to take the 18 months — but it can be less than that — to try to find a way to save the façade that contributes to the historic character of downtown Wellfleet. Though it is not in the historic district, the house’s steeply pitched roof with wide eaves is an example of Gothic Revival architecture that the commission wants to preserve if possible. It’s also in a high-profile place.
“All those things make it really significant,” Freyss said. “This is not a popularity contest for us. We all feel very strongly that we want young people in town and a vital community and we all want to see a resolution.”
Lydia Vivante, chair of the commission, said the owners could build more on the back by Ryder Court, she said, which would preserve the streetscape.
The majority voted for the maximum delay allowed by law. Luke Manning recused himself from the case, saying that he has a conflict of interest, and Tom Siggia abstained because he wanted the delay to be less than 18 months.
Beck-Baum and Baum, who spoke to the Independent by phone on April 13, said that they feel the commission is ignoring their needs.
“They’re saying a building matters more than two people who have two businesses,” Beck-Baum said. “We felt defeated and hurt.”
The couple bought the building in 2017 and have maintained three year-round apartments in it — those have long been part of the year-round rental stock. There is also a year-round cottage. Although the cottage is still being rented, the tenants in the house were asked to leave recently when the heating system failed, Baum said. The heating system remains a major problem the couple will have to fix to get tenants back to pay the mortgage, Baum said.
Beck-Baum told the commission that, at this point, her business is in jeopardy. She cannot continue to rent at her current location, 95 Commercial Street, beyond Oct. 15, she said, and the couple has been looking for two years for a new place for her studio without any luck.
The plans are set to go before the zoning board of appeals on June 11, for the next phase of permitting.
“We’re going to be strapped really hard to make this happen,” Baum said.