Island real estate: Swanson-built house would occupy a prominent lot at 205 Via Tortuga in the North End neighborhood.
Longtime Palm Beach homebuilder Dan Swanson and his wife, Karen, have won the town’s approval for a house designed to rise on a prominent lot they own in Phipps Estate, the North End enclave the couple developed more than 20 years ago.
The Architectural Commission has given a conditional thumbs-up to the stately house and detached guest house designed for the lot at 205 Via Tortuga on the northeast corner of North County Road. The irregularly shaped property measures nearly an acre and is the only lot in the neighborhood that hasn’t been redeveloped.
The architectural drawings call for a French country-style house with seven bedrooms and 13,523 square feet of living space, inside and out. The project was designed by architect Jonathan C. Moore of Smith and Moore Architects and would be built by the Swansons’ company, Addison Development Group Inc.
The Swansons have lived on the irregularly shaped property for many years in a 1920s-era cottage they plan to raze. On Friday, Dan Swanson declined to say definitively whether the new house would be built and sold on speculation.
“We’re thinking we’re going to build this and see,” he said, adding he and his wife might move in “if she falls in love with it.”
Even so, for more than a year the unbuilt house has been listed for sale — at $18.95 million —- in the Palm Beach Board of Realtors Multiple Listing Service. Real estate agent Jim McCann of Premier Estate Properties began marketing the architectural plans in tandem with the lot to give would-be buyers an idea of what could be built on the property, McCann told the Daily News last year.
The idea, McCann said, was that the Swansons might pursue building the house if a buyer were interested. That was an unusual scenario, given that the design hadn’t been reviewed by the architectural board.
For two years, McCann also has marketed the lot at its land value alone, most recently at $11.9 million.
And that land is special, said Architectural Commission Chairman Bob Vila, during his remarks at the project’s initial review on May 29.
Vila called the land “one of the most beautiful properties in town” and noted its abundance of old-growth trees and other plants, many of which would be used in the landscape for the new house, the plans show.
The house proposed last month, by and large, earned praise from the board.
“I personally find the house an attractive house,” said Commissioner John David Corey. “It’s a slightly different style for the Mediterranean vernacular.”
But he expressed concern that its size might overwhelm the lot.
The plans call for the existing driveway on North County Road to be relocated to Via Tortuga, where it would replace an existing pedestrian entrance to the property. Lush landscaping at the front gate would hide the two-story house from the street, and the driveway would wind toward the residence, the commission was told. A four-car garage would be placed perpendicular to the main house on one side of the motor court.
At the rear, the house would face an expansive pool with a whirlpool spa. A two-bedroom guesthouse would stand on one side of the pool opposite a covered loggia.
The Swansons developed the 19-acre Phipps Estate neighborhood by running two streets — Via Tortuga and Via Las Brisas — on either side of the sizable estate known as Casa Phippsberger, the home of Susie Phipps Cochran and Bob Eigelberger. Once part of the Phipps family’s massive landholdings, the neighborhood is today home to 20 homes, along with Casa Phippsberger.
The most recent house built by the Swansons’ company in the neighborhood stands at 207 Via Tortuga, immediately west of the one where the new house will be built. The Swansons sold that property for $5.2 million in 2015 and built the buyers a custom home, which was completed in 2017, property records show.
The house that won approval last month sparked a lively discussion about the merits of artificial stone versus natural stone, which tends to be more expensive.
After being questioned about the abundant cast stone on the house, Swanson told the board that it was a common material on Palm Beach buildings.
But several board members urged Swanson to replace it with natural coral stone. Vila, for example, said natural stone on this project would justify any additional cost because it was more appropriate for such a high-quality house in a prominent location. Using natural stone would make the residence “the best house on Via Tortuga,” Vila said.
Other board members mentioned that artificial stone doesn’t weather in the “beautiful” way that natural stone does.
The commission ended up casting two unanimous votes after considering the project, including endorsing a code-variance request governing the position of the swimming pool.
The board also voted to approve the overall architecture, although commissioners asked the design team to revise some elements, including replacing the artificial stone. They also wanted Moore to rework the front entrance to the house, refine some of the window arrangements, re-examine some of the exterior lighting and lighten the color of the roof to increase its energy efficiency.
The board deferred a vote on the landscaping and hardscape by AGT Land.