Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fort Orange Club receives demolition approval

By CHRIS CHURCHILL, Staff writer
Last updated: 11:52 a.m., Thursday, January 21, 2010

ALBANY -- The Fort Orange Club this morning won the right to demolish two Washington Avenue buildings that have been at the center of a long historic preservation fight.
The club, which wants to demolish the 19th-century buildings at 118-120 Washington Ave. for parking, argued that the buildings have little historic and architectural value. And the majority of Planning Board members apparently agreed with that assessment.

"I don't believe there's any charm about these two structures," Raymond Joyce, the board's chairman, said this morning. "Being old does not, in and of itself, mean historic."

Robert Sweeney, attorney for the club, said after the meeting that he did not know when the buildings, which are empty, would be demolished. The leader of the Historic Albany Foundation, which led the campaign to save the structures, said the group is still hopeful the buildings could be saved.

"We're weighing our options," said Susan Holland, executive director of the nonprofit. (But) I'm very disappointed in the verdict. Very."

During this morning's meeting, representatives from the Fort Orange Club said the landscaping they have planned along Washington Avenue would be an improvement over the existing buildings and stressed that the prestigious private club needs the parking room because of its recent construction.

"This project is not about demolishing a building for a parking lot," said Larry Wilson, an architect hired by Fort Orange. "It's about replacing the parking lot that is being lost."

After backing away from the demolition plan in 2008 following public backlash, the Fort Orange Club renewed its effort to raze the buildings last November, when it asked state supreme court to compel the city to grant a permit for demolition. The court refused to do so.

The city's Common Council in November passed an ordinance requiring the property owners seeking to raze buildings get planning board approval, leading to the Fort Orange Club's appearance before the board today.

The demolition permit for the Washington Avenue building comes with conditions: Fort Orange can't raze the Washington Avenue buildings into it secures a parking lot permit and has site plan and Historic Resources Commission approval for its proposed design.

See a rendering of the Fort Orange Club's plans and comment on the planning board's decision at Real estate: Places & Spaces

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