Historic Albany enters bid to save buildings Fort Orange Club wants razed
By JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST, Staff writer
First published: Wednesday, November 11, 2009
ALBANY -- A state Supreme Court judge issued a temporary restraining order Tuesday barring demolition of two Washington Avenue buildings near the Capitol as the Historic Albany Foundation started a legal effort to save them.
But an attorney for the Fort Orange Club, the 129-year-old Washington Avenue landmark that hopes to use the space for additional parking, dismissed the significance of the order, noting the private club has no plans of razing the buildings until its own dispute with the city is resolved.
The club sued the city Friday after officials declined to immediately issue a demolition permit and instead forwarded its request to the Planning Board. Without a permit, the club cannot legally tear down the 19th-century office buildings at 118-120 Washington Ave.
"This would prevent an illegal act," attorney Sal Ferlazzo said of the judge's order, "and certainly we have no intention of committing an illegal act."
Historic Albany's entrance to the legal fray was only the first of several developments Tuesday surrounding the demolition plan and a proposed ordinance prompted by the club's earlier efforts to raze the buildings that would boost city oversight of demolition.
Hours after the order, the Common Council's planning committee unanimously forwarded the ordinance -- which would require Planning Board review of all non-emergency demolitions not in historic districts -- to the full council for passage on Monday.
But the committee's approval came with an amendment that would also impose a moratorium on all non-emergency demolitions between the date of the ordinance's passage and the date it becomes effective, 30 days later. It was not immediately clear how that would affect the Fort Orange Club's demolition application, which was submitted last week.
A second attorney for the club, however, warned lawmakers that the proposed ordinance is not only illegal under state law but would act as a wet blanket to economic development at a time when the city can ill afford it. "This is a heck of a thing in this economy and in this city to be doing something like that," the attorney Bob Sweeney told the committee.
Historic Albany Executive Director Susan Holland stressed the importance of the city's historic fabric and questioned whether parking for members of a private club qualifies as economic development. Holland was involved in efforts last year to spare the buildings. The club halted those plans amid public outcry and received zoning permission to pursue expansion of its athletic facilities.
The committee approved the measure despite lingering questions about how it will be implemented and -- more basically -- what legal definition of a building will be used.
Historic Albany is arguing that state law requires greater environmental review because the buildings are adjacent to the Center Square/Hudson Park Historic District and eligible to be in a historic district on Washington Avenue.
Buildings in historic districts cannot be demolished without the consent of the city's Historic Resources Commission.
"As you tear down buildings and put up parking lots, you lose the context, the historic context," the group's attorney George Carpinello said.
State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi set a Friday deadline for legal papers and will render a decision sometime after that.