By JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST, Staff writer
First published: Tuesday, November 10, 2009
ALBANY -- As the city and the Fort Orange Club head to court today, an attorney for the 129-year-old private club said its request to demolish two Washington Avenue buildings is not a reaction to a proposed ordinance that would make it more onerous to do so.
The city reacted to the club's request on Friday for a permit to demolish 118-120 Washington Ave. by referring the matter to the Planning Board -- a move that in turn prompted the club later that afternoon to ask a state Supreme Court judge to force the city to issue the permit.
Currently, the city's Department of Buildings and Codes is not required to make such a referral.
"We simply want nothing more, nothing less, than the current law applied to this facility," said Sal Ferlazzo, the attorney representing the club, which for more than a century has been a cultural institution and symbol of wealth in the city.
"The Fort Orange Club is a strong proponent of historical preservation," Ferlazzo said, "and the intent behind the renovations is to restore the campus-like original setting from 1812, when the building was first constructed."*
The Common Council is currently debating an ordinance that would require non-emergency demolitions -- that is, the razing of buildings not deemed a danger to public safety -- to first receive the blessing of the Planning Board.
The proposal, introduced last month by 6th Ward Councilman Richard Conti, was at least partially in response to the club's attempt to raze the two 19th-century buildings adjacent to its clubhouse last year to make way for an expanded athletic facility and additional parking, sparking strong public opposition.
Club officials later halted the demolition plans and received zoning approval for the rest of the project but never committed to not tearing the buildings down.
In that way, Ferlazzo noted, "it appears that the law was a reaction to this application, as opposed to our application being a reaction to the law."
The council's planning committee is scheduled to discuss the proposed ordinance at 5:30 p.m. today at City Hall, just hours after both sides are due in court before state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi at 2 p.m.
In its lawsuit, the club alleges its project manager from Sano-Rubin Construction met with Nicholas DiLello, director of building and codes, on Nov. 4 to review all the requirements to obtain a demolition permit.
But after the club completed those requirements, the suit alleges, DiLello instead referred the request to the Planning Board rather than grant the permit. DiLello cited the downtown location and proximity to a historic district.
"The long and short of it is the current law is crystal clear that the permit should be granted," Ferlazzo said.
Conti countered that if the court sides with the club, it sets a "significant precedent" that the city has no discretion so long as basic requirements are met.
"Nipper could come down," Conti said, referring to the landmark RCA dog on top of a Broadway building. "Should their rationale prevail, then there's absolutely no protection for anybody unless you're in a historic district."
Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* This claim was refuted by architectural historians in July, 2008.