Thursday, June 26, 2008

Overflow Crowd at BZA Hearing!

Opposition strongly outweighed support for the Fort Orange Club's plans to raze two historic buildings on Washington Avenue. Links to coverage in the media are pasted below.

If you were unable to attend the hearing last night, you can still make your voice heard:

Times Union:
Fort Orange sticks to plan At Albany zoning meeting, club reiterates need for controversial expansion
ALBANY -- The city's Board of Zoning and Appeals meeting room overflowed Wednesday night as Fort Orange Club officials reiterated their reasoning for an expansion plan that once again drew opposition.

WNYT, Channel 13:
Fate of historic buildings up in the air
A proposal for the Fort Orange Club to expand has sparked passionate opposition. The private club wants to tear down two structures to create more parking. But many residents and neighborhood groups are fighting to save the buildings...

Fox 23 News:
Historic Building's Future Uncertain
Dozens turned out for Wednesday night's Albany Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. All Albany residents who, after hearing the Fort Orange Club's plan to expand, had something to say.

CBS 6 Albany:
No Decision on Fort Orange Demolition

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What's wrong with this picture?

A better future for whom? For the 600 or so club members who motor in from Loudonville and other suburban enclaves and need a place to park? For those "who have myriad choices when it comes to education or medical services or places to socialize"? Or for the thousands of us who actually live, raise families, and pay taxes in the city of Albany? I wonder ...

Fort Orange's plans aimed at a better future

First published: Thursday, June 19, 2008 (Times Union)

In response to Joseph Laux's recent letter concerning the Fort Orange Club: Mr. Laux is correct that the Fort Orange Club has been a fixture in Albany since 1880.

And, as Mr. Laux also said, the members of the Fort Orange Club do have a responsibility to do what is right when it comes to Albany's past. I would argue that part of honoring that past is looking to the city's future, a future that ensures that a healthy city has a vibrant and healthy Fort Orange Club where business, government, civic and social leaders gather to enjoy social and business engagements with friends and colleagues.

To ensure that future, the Fort Orange Club, not unlike The College of Saint Rose or the Albany Medical Center, must keep pace with the demands of a citizenry who have myriad choices when it comes to education or medical services or places to socialize.

To that end, for more than 125 years, the Fort Orange Club has managed to keep pace with our ever-changing cityscape. Sometimes that means expanding, and that is what we seek to do.
As a 12th great-grandson of Albert Andriessen Bradt, who came to Fort Orange in 1637 and with likely ties to Mr. Laux's Van Epps family, too, I want to honor Albany's rich historical past by ensuring that as a member of one of Albany's finest institutions, I am ensuring our city's future.


BZA Hearing - June 25

Please join your neighbors ~ attend this public meeting ~ voice your opposition to the demolition of these buildings.

Case # 6-08, 1575

The case of The Fort Orange Club regarding the premises located at 110 Washington Avenue AKA 118-120 Washington Avenue requesting a Use Variance, Area Variances and a Parking Lot Permit pursuant to Sections 275-26, 375-72A, 375-72C, 375-90F, 375-98 and 375-174 of the City of Albany Zoning Ordinance to allow for the construction of a 2,350 +/- square building addition to a nonconforming fraternal organization that does not meet the minimum required rear yard setback of twenty-five (25) feet, stone work and wrought iron fencing that exceeds the maximum permitted height of six (6) feet and an accessory parking lot expansion from 51 to 66 spaces, to require the demolition of two (2) small office buildings. The property is located in a C-O Commercial Office zoning district. AMENDED

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Letter stating Ft. Orange opposition to retaining buildings at 118-120 Washington Ave.

Read this document on Scribd: letter-yevoli-5-28-08[1]

Fort Orange - site plan

Read this document on Scribd: site_plan_modified

5/8 Letter from Hudson/Park NA highlighting age of buildings

May 8, 2008

Michael Apostol, Chairman
Board of Zoning Appeals
Department of Development and Planning
21 Lodge Street
Albany, NY 12207

Re: 118-120 Washington Ave. – Application for Parking Lot Permit

Dear Mr. Apostol:

On April 23, 2008, the Board of Zoning Appeals met to consider the application of the Fort Orange Club to demolish two buildings on Washington Ave. to enlarge their existing parking lot. The BZA tabled decision on this proposal and it currently appears as pending on the agenda for May 14, 2008. As you are aware, Hudson/Park Neighborhood Association ("H/PNA"), along with the Center Square Association, Washington Park Neighborhood Association, and Councilmember Richard Conti oppose this proposal.

At the April 23, 2008 meeting, the applicant represented that these structures are not "historic." Since the hearing, H/PNA has learned that at least one of the structures (118 Washington Ave.) dates from prior to 1833. A copy of the Building Inventory Form on file with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is attached to this letter. Given the significance of this additional evidence, we believed it important to bring to your attention as the BZA considers its decision.

Roger Bearden, President
Hudson/Park Neighborhood Association

4/23 Letter of Opposition from Hudson/Park NA

April 23, 2008


Michael Apostol, Chair
City of AlbanyBoard of Zoning Appeals

Re: 118-120 Washington Avenue; application for demolitionof two existing structures and a parking lot permit

Dear Mr. Apostol:

On April 16, the Hudson/Park Neighborhood Association ("H/PNA" or "Hudson/Park") met in its monthly general meeting to discuss, among other things, the application of the Fort Orange Club to demolish two existing office buildings in order to increase its parking lot by roughly 40%. The subject property is located in a C-O, commercial office zoning district.

Although Hudson/Park's membership was generally opposed to the Club's plan, the consensus of the membership was that we would support the determination of the Center Square Neighborhood Association ("Ctr. Sq."), since the destruction is planned to take place within their environs. On April 17, Ctr. Sq. voted to oppose the Club's project. Therefore, please accept this letter in support of Ctr. Sq.'s position, and in opposition to the Club's destructive, unwise and unnecessary plan.

The Club's proposal is to demolish two perfectly serviceable buildings in order to increase the size of its parking lot, despite the fact that they admit in their application that the project would be carried out without the BZA's approval of the unnecessary demolitions. In support of their proposal, the Club states that the buildings are not historic, although such statement is irrelevant because the buildings form part of a harmonious streetscape and are part of the historic fabric of the neighborhood.

Setting aside the issue of whether or not the plan is sensible, Hudson/Park believes that serviceable and structurally sound buildings should not be demolished to form parking lots. An approval of such a plan would set a bad precedent in Albany that could lead to willy-nilly destruction of existing neighborhoods, and could lead to a coring out of the tax base. Further, the subject property is in sight of the Capitol and the Smith building, and if approved by the BZA would be the 2nd time in recent memory that demolition of perfectly serviceable buildings for parking was approved over the objections of the neighboring citizens.

We strongly urge the BZA to reject the Club's application. It is inconceivable that such a plan should be rewarded by approval; it is bad planning and flies in the face of the conclusions of the Re-Capitalize Albany study, which advised leveraging existing building stock to support neighborhood vitality, rather than demolishing such buildings in favor of empty lots containing part-time parking. We also strongly urge the BZA to remember that the City is about to enter a protracted comprehensive planning process that will shape the future of Albany, and the future vitality of its fisc and neighborhoods. Approval of this ill-conceived plan would send the wrong message. Denial of the plan will be a step in the direction of sound planning, neighborhood protection and urban revitalization.

Roger Bearden, President
Hudson/Park Neighborhood Association

The Fort Orange Club Plan - in their own words

Re: The Fort Orange Club Revitalization & Reconstruction Project

May 12, 2008

To whom it may concern:

The revitalization of the city of Albany should not be the burden of City officials and tax payers alone. The local business community needs to share the social and financial responsibilities of continuing to make Albany a wonderful place to live, work and recreate. The Fort Orange Club of downtown Albany has developed a member approved Comprehensive Plan to accomplish just that. This plan will provide immense economic, aesthetic and historic benefits that will aid in the vitality and growth of the local community. The plan further demonstrates the Fort Orange Club’s commitment to enhancing the lifestyle of Albany residents as well as setting an example of how the local business community can play an important role in the success of preserving Albany’s storied history and promoting the architectural significance of the City of Albany.

The Fort Orange Club Streetscape design and implementation is part of the overall Master Plan that adopts a comprehensive and integrated approach toward the design of the new addition and long overdue improvements to the existing Fort Orange Club. This improvement initiative is part of a long-term and coordinated effort towards the upgraded athletic facility that is over 2 decades behind the times and necessary for the long-term survival of the Club. The almost quarter of a million dollar budget for the Streetscape enhancements along Washington Avenue will stand as a model of what other developers and landowners should consider when making modifications that impact land use parallel to a city street. When completed, the new addition to the Club and enhancements will result in showcasing the historic Fort Orange Club and become one of the City of Albany's treasures for years to come.

The bullets below will provide the outlined specifications of the Fort Orange Club Comprehensive Plan and detail how the City of Albany will benefit from the plan’s acceptance.

1. Comprehensive Plan

  • Total anticipated cost of the overall Comprehensive Plan is $4,750,000.
  • The main Club House will be significantly upgraded with new electrical, plumbing, HVAC, etc.(at a cost of approximately $ 1 million)
  • There will be an enlarged and upgraded athletic wing providing additional up-to-date recreational facilities to attract future members from the younger business professional community.
  • The removal of 120 Washington Avenue and reconfigured parking is only a small part of the overall Comprehensive Plan.
  • There is a pressing need to have adequate parking in order to be economically viable and to service the current 600 members and their guests. Presently, there are many days throughout the year that the current Fort Orange Club parking is inadequate. The University Club, situated in the same general neighborhood, has suffered due to inadequate parking.
  • Representatives of the Fort Orange Club visited the Buffalo Club (Buffalo) and Genesee Valley Club (Rochester), both of which underwent similar upgrades of their clubhouses and added new recreational facilities. In each case, these clubs have experienced strong growth in membership and utilization of club facilities following their expansions. It should be noted that both Buffalo and Rochester economics are weaker than Albany’s.

2. Safety

  • There will be an expanded driveway, with room for two cars (in/out) vs. only one car width now.
  • Presently, there are many days that the parking lot is full. As a result, cars will often back out into traffic on Washington Avenue causing hazardous conditions.
  • The wider driveway entrance and reconfigured parking will help alleviate the congestion, thereby improving safety on Washington Avenue.
  • A sentry house will be added to have a person near Washington Avenue to oversee traffic flow and parking.

3. Streetscape

  • The Streetscape will be attractively designed with iron wrought fencing, stone work and professional landscaping adding to the beauty of the immediate community and enhancing the overall green space appeal of The Fort Orange Club.
  • Architectural elements will be of the highest quality and will play off the elegant themes of iron and stone used throughout the city.
  • The view of the streetscape, with depth of The Fort Orange property, will open up to a view consisting of beautiful church steeples on State Street.
  • Almost a quarter of a million dollars will be invested on the Streetscape alone setting a positive precedent for enhanced sheltering of parking within the City of Albany.

4. Historic Preservation

  • The Fort Orange Club dates back 128 years and its Club House, originally a residence, is 197 years old.
  • The Lamplighters Foundation (501c3) was recently established to not only preserve our historic building, but to also promote the history and architecture of the City of Albany. As of this date, the foundation has raised $250,000.
  • The Fort Orange Club is one of Albany’s most noteworthy institutions, with over 600 members, who possess both long term and historic connections within the City of Albany’s businesses, educational institutions, professional firms, cultural organizations, and government.
  • Preserving and nurturing Albany’s storied history, attractive look, and its overall vibrancy has and always will remain an essential mission of the Fort Orange Club.

5. Benefits to the City of Albany

  • This Comprehensive Plan will likely result in a higher property assessment in the future due to the expanded athletic wing at the rear of the property, thus leading to higher property tax income for the City.
  • A wider driveway and expanded parking situation at The Fort Orange Club will alleviate the current problem of incoming traffic backing up onto Washington Avenue. The diluting of this congestion will improve the safety conditions on Washington Avenue.
  • This high quality and elegant design will add to the beauty and attraction of downtown Albany.

Successful organizations plan for their future by utilizing a Comprehensive Plan addressing the needs of its members, in order to ensure and maximize future success. We feel that by pursuing this Comprehensive Plan, The Fort Orange Club will be able to best achieve the goal of ensuring a successful future as well as continue to play an important, valuable and lasting role within the bright future of the City of Albany. Adding value and pride to the urban living of the Albany experience will attract younger business professionals, which will in turn enhance the overall downtown environment. The benefit of these improvements greatly outweighs keeping an older and inefficient building.

Preliminary History -- 118-120 Washington Ave.

Compiled by Elizabeth P. Griffin

I recently visited the Hall of Records and researched the history of the buildings located at 118 and 120 Washington Avenue. I used both the Assessors Rolls and City Directories to determine the dates the buildings were built, the builder and how the buildings were used over the first forty years from the dates of their construction.

I had very little time and think it would be very useful for others to check my work and expand on my research to better understand who occupied and owned the buildings from 1870 to 1930, a time when Washington underwent tremendous social, political and architectural change. What is unique about these buildings is that they are rare survivors of Washington Avenue's early labor and industrial history and date from 1830s and 1840s, before the block became fashionable for grand mansions.

The following are a few dates and milestones of the buildings and their first owners:

  • 1830-31 C R Wooley, cooper, is listed in the City Directory as a Cooper on Washington Avenue (see Colonial Williamsburg's website for a description of the coopering trade.)
  • 1831-32 C R Wooley, cooper, is listed in the City Directory at 104 Washington Avenue (It is not clear if that is the same address as 118 as there were very few addresses at that block of Washington and addresses were often changed when streets were undergoing growth and development. Checking the Assessors Rolls should clear this up.)
  • 1832-33 Collins R Wooley is listed in the City Directory at 118 Washington Avenue.1844-45 Collins Wooley is listed in the City Directory as a cedar cooper at 120 Washington Avenue and 118 Washington is now listed as his residence. I believe he built 120 Washington for his shop but need time to cross refrence this with the Assessors Rolls.
  • 1850-51 Wooley & Harris cedar cooper are listed in the City Directory at 120 Washington Avenue and 118 Washington is again listed as Collins Wooley's residence.
  • 1854 Eliza. Wooley is listed in the City Directory as a widow who resides at 118 Washington. Collins is not listed from this date forward and most likely died the year before leaving behind his wife Eliza., sons William, Jesse and daughter Eliza. Wooley & Harris are still listed at 120 Washington Avenue.
  • 1865 Eliza. Wooley, widow is listed in the City Directory at 118 Washington Avenue and Harris & Cooper disappear from the Directory. In fact 120 is not listed at all but in the 1866 Assessors Rolls CR Wooley is listed as owning 118 & 120 Washington Avenue, three story brick. Both addresses are assessed as the same property. (It is not uncommon for the deceased head of households name to continue to appears on the Assessors Rolls for a number of years after their death.)
  • 1869 Eliza. Wooley does not appear in the City Directory and likely died in 1868 when she was listed at 118 Washington Avenue. Jesse Wooley, who was most likely a son and also resided at 118 the year before is now listed as a boarder on Eagle Street.
  • I did not have time to look further to see who became the new owner in 1870.

Jumping ahead to 1933, the year Albany's City Directories list buildings by address, the addresses are listed as one building named the Ripin Duguid Building and have a mix of commercial tenants and boarders. More research is need to determine when the building was named and who owned the building during that transition.

Uncovering the history of laboring Albanians and their families is difficult and time consuming because very few records exist that document their work and lives. These buildings are an exceptional tie to a past that illustrates how working families acquired property, established businesses, expanded their holdings and operations and worked together as a family unit to provide mutual support for a collective benefit.

Use Variance #3 requested by Fort Orange Club

Application for a use variance for expansion of existing health/athletic facility.

Read this document on Scribd: 110WasingtonAveAV3(06-25-08)

Monday, June 16, 2008

BZA to Meet 6/25 - Info Being Posted

Please take a moment to review the documents posted on this blog. Additional materials will be shared as time permits, and explanations given ... but for now, we want to make sure everyone has access to the same background information.

CDTA Letter opposing Fort Orange Club request

Read this document on Scribd: CDTA letter[1]

Area Variance request #2 by Fort Orange Club.

Request for Area Variance - streetscape design.

Read this document on Scribd: 110WasingtonAveAV2(06-25-08)

Area Variance request #1 by Fort Orange Club

Request for area variance - rear yard setback.

Read this document on Scribd: 110WasingtonAveAV1(06-25-08)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Please join your neighbors ...

You are an influential person in the city of Albany.

You want Albany to be a clean, safe and decent place to live and raise our families. You want Albany to remain economically viable -- for residents and neighborhood businesses. You want Albany to offer a good quality of life, with fewer vacant and abandoned buildings.

These are among the primary missions of our government, our neighborhood associations, our school districts, and other institutions.

Too often, however, these institutions talk about "solving neighborhood problems" -- one at a time.

Neighborhood problems feed on one another. Neighborhood solutions must support one another.

I hope you will join me in establishing a meaningful forum to discuss and address civic concerns -- through a new group that is apolitical, non-partisan, and which seeks common ground within and among our neighborhoods.

One of our first efforts will be to mobilize a large number of citizens to turn out at the June 25 meeting of the Board of Zoning Appeals to consider the application of the Fort Orange Club for the demolition of 2 buildings on Washington Avenue, a parking lot expansion, and an expansion of their building.

The Hudson/Park, Center Square and Washington Park neighborhood associations, Common Council member Richard Conti and Historic Albany Foundation have already been involved in efforts to preserve these buildings and maintain the streetscape.

Now, we need to drive home the point that the demolition of viable, historic buildings for the benefit of a few is not healthy for the rest of the city.

Several letters to the editor and a supportive editorial in the Times Union have outlined a number of arguments against demolition, and over the next few days, we will be making additional information available on a new blog, .

NEO -- in a new or different form or manner.

NEO -- Neighbors Empowered Online.

On June 10, 1776, the Continental Congress appointed a committee to write a Declaration of Independence. Won't you join us today in declaring your independence from "the way things have always been done" -- and help us establish NeoAlbany?

Bill Moyers said it best ...

Democracy without information creates the illusion of popular control while actually enhancing the power of the state and the privileged interests protected by it.

Please sign up today to become part of NeoAlbany.