No parking, please
First published: Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Albany's Zoning Board of Appeals tonight will consider once again whether to let the Fort Orange Club raze two buildings to clear the way for a parking lot and an expansion of the club.
At the risk of repeating ourselves, we'll say it again nonetheless: Albany should not let this happen.
You don't have to be an expert on architecture or urban design to appreciate that there is a rhythm to a city's landscape, especially an historic one. The array of different designs, the variations of height and mass of the buildings, the materials and colors and all the details down to the way doors and windows were built all combine to tell a street's history. Even if one doesn't know that history, one can witness it in a city like Albany — even more, one can feel the texture of 200 or 300 years just in the sweep of an eye.
The private Fort Orange Club wants to pull a few threads from that complex tapestry by demolishing the two-story office buildings at 118-120 Washington Ave. The razing would be part of a $4.75 million plan to gain some parking spaces and expand the club's athletic wing to include squash courts and a weight room.
That these buildings are not in themselves historic is not the point. That spot has been occupied by residential or commercial buildings since the early 1800s. It is in a key part of the city with a richness of architecture, from the ornate state Capitol to the Greek revival columns of the State Education Building to the Art Deco facade of the Alfred E. Smith Building to the more modern Empire State Plaza and private "Twin Towers" offices across the street from the club.
For the sake of convenience for a few members of a private club, what would be left for all the world to see would be a hole in an important streetscape. Fill it with a nice fence and shrubbery as the club proposes to do, and there would still be a void where a void does not belong.
Washington Avenue already has its share of parking lots that insinuate themselves on the street, and they are as inappropriate and unwelcome as a vacant lot would be in a neighborhood of row houses.
Nor are we convinced the club has done all it can to find other solutions, such as access to parking elsewhere for, say, a valet service.
We recognize that the club is part of the city's fabric, too, and appreciate its desire to expand and thrive. We also recognize that parking is a big asset for any downtown enterprise. Just ask any state worker or resident of the neighborhoods near the club.
But Fort Orange's argument for tearing down buildings in an historic area is no more persuasive than landlords or homeowners in Center Square would be in saying they'd like urban life to be a little more convenient for them at the expense of their city's character.
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