The Palm Beach Architectural Commission liked the general look of the architecture designed for 756 Hi Mount Road but said the project was overscaled for its lakeside lot.
| Palm Beach Daily News
The idea behind the design of a new custom home planned for 756 Hi Mount Road — on one of the highest points in Palm Beach — was to recall a villa on a Lombardy hillside, perhaps overlooking Lake Como, according to its architect.
“It’s very Italian,” Ken Tate of Ken Tate Architect recently told the Architectural Commission about the house planned for the North End site overlooking selling as is the Intracoastal Waterway.
The house — with its tiled roofs, outdoor terraces and two sets of split stairways leading down to the seawall — was envisioned to appear as though it were “cascading down the hill,” Tate said.
The lot has about a 26-foot drop from the roadway down to the Lake Trail, commissioners were told during their Sept. 23 meeting, which was held virtually on the Zoom Webinar platform.
And the board agreed the visual effect of the house was striking, using words like “elegant,” “enchanting” and “special” to describe the architecture.
But they also said there was simply too much house doing all that cascading.
And after an hour-and-a-half of discussion, they directed the architect to return with a scaled-down version at the board’s Oct. 28 meeting.
At the meeting, Vice Chairman Robert N. Garrison called the design “a very interesting” project.
“I’m really conflicted,” he said, noting especially how much he liked the front of the house facing Hi Mount road.
He added: “I like the house itself. I just think we really have to think about how massive it is when it’s going to be viewed from the Lake Trail.”
The lot of about six-tenths of an acre faces nearly 110 feet of waterfront and is the second one south of the Palm Beach Country Club.
Commissioners focused especially on the height and scale of the part of the building nearest the north side of the property, where the neighbors have objected to the proximity of the project to their house.
“My clients are very concerned about their privacy,” said attorney James M. Crowley, representing Christine and Robert Baker, who live at 766 Hi Mount Road.
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Sub-basement at issue
Tate designed the house for a client whose identity remains cloaked by the Florida limited liability company that bought the property in July for a recorded $15.2 million.
The new house would take the place of a much smaller one, with 3,887 total square feet, that was built in 1951 and has already been razed.
By contrast, the new house would have 11,073 square feet of living space, inside and out, on its first and second floors, including a variety of open-air terraces and porches. On those two floors, 8,624 square feet would be air-conditioned living space. The uppermost level would contain the bedrooms, while the main floor would have a variety of living spaces and public rooms, Tate said.
A partially exposed sub-basement would add another 6,121 square feet under air conditioning and would include the garage, an elevator, storage, and mechanical and computer equipment, Tate said.
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The sub-basement and the floor above it occupied much of the board’s attention.
Tate designed the main level — directly above the sub-basement — to project west from the hillside. The area around the sub-basement would be filled in with dirt trucked onto the site, although the west side would be visible.
As presented by Tate, the sub-basement would need the Town Council to approve a code variance, one of several variances needed for the project involving building height and other issues.
Attorney Maura Ziska, who represented the property owner, told the board the lot’s sharply sloped topography created a “hardship” that justified the variances, including one that requires sub-basements to be completely underground.
But officials discussed whether the house needed the sub-basement in the first place. Zoning Manager Paul Castro told the board the house’s design was remarkably different from that of its neighbors, which have only one floor above their sub-basements.
“And most houses in this type of situation use the topography of the land to ‘step down’ (the lot). But the owner doesn’t want to do this here. He wants to have a complete … story across the back (to extend) further west than any of the other (nearby) houses.”
Garrison picked up that theme in his remarks. The house, he said, “doesn’t take advantage of the hill. It’s forced on a flat platform, and everything works off of that.”
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‘A unique house’
Commissioner John David Corey called the architecture “rather successful” but said the height of the house and the part nearest the Bakers’ property needed to be scaled down. He also suggested eliminating a non-usable tower that projects above the roofline.
Commissioner Betsy Shiverick was likewise impressed with the house’s look and location.
“When you have a unique house like this, we have to take pause and maybe cut it a few breaks, just because it’s a special situation, a special-style house,” Shiverick said. “The details are really nice.”
But she agreed that parts of the living areas on the main floor could be reduced or eliminated to decrease the scale.
Alternate Commission Katherine Catlin called the house “elegant and enchanting” and said the architecture “‘transports you.” But she agreed that the architect should work to reduce the house’s height “as long as it didn’t diminish the overall look” or “Old World feel” of the house.
Commissioner Alexander Ives acknowledged the house’s grand scale but said the Italian-inspired design seemed authentic. Passersby on the Lake Trail, he added, wouldn’t feel visually “threatened” by the house above them.
“I respect the decisions the design team and the (owner) have made here,” Ives said.
Reached Tuesday, Tate confirmed for the Daily News he would be bringing a scaled-down version to the board for review Oct. 28. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. and will be held virtually. Details about the meeting are available on the town’s website.