Planners to hear club's request for permit to demolish two buildings
JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST STAFF WRITERSection: Capital Region, Page: B7
Date: Wednesday, December 30, 2009
ALBANY -- The Fort Orange Club's quest to demolish two Washington Avenue buildings -- delayed last month by a state judge and a new city ordinance -- will go before the Planning Board this morning.
The meeting marks the first time the board will consider a demolition permit request -- now required under the new ordinance, passed by the Common Council Nov. 16, that significantly increases public airing of the requests.
The club's application to raze two 19th-century buildings at 118-120 Washington Ave., adjacent to its clubhouse, was made 10 days before the measure was approved, when the building department still had the sole authority to issue the permits.
But the department, anticipating the council's action and in light of public protest over the proposal in 2008, referred the Fort Orange Club's application to the Planning Board anyway, prompting the club to sue.
A state Supreme Court judge later dismissed that suit on the grounds that the club didn't yet have cause to mount a legal challenge because the city had merely referred its request to the Planning Board, not denied it.
The club has reserved its right to appeal that decision but has not filed a challenge to the judge's order.
"We'll wait to see what the decision is from the city," said Sal Ferlazzo, an attorney representing the 129-year-old club, which argues the buildings have no historic value and which hopes to use the space for additional parking as it expands its athletic facilities. "If certain action occurred, there'd be no reason to perfect the appeal."
Preservationists have opposed the club's demolition plan since it was first publicly proposed in 2008, contending the buildings are part of lower Washington Avenue's historic streetscape and that their loss would further diminish the urban feel of the stretch just a block from the state Capitol.
The Historic Albany Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the preservation of the city's historic buildings, asked Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi to issue a temporary restraining order against the demolitions -- a point that became moot when he refused to grant the club's demand that the city issue a permit.
Last summer, amid public outcry, the club temporarily shelved the demolition plans but renewed them this fall as the new ordinance loomed on the council's agenda.
In the weeks since, Historic Albany has been in discussions with the club to reach a solution that will satisfy both sides, said Executive Director Susan Holland.
"We're trying to work out keeping the building with just as many (parking) spots, so we've been out there measuring and drawing," Holland said.
While the Fort Orange demolition application is the first to reach the Planning Board, at least two others have been referred by the building department, said Director Nick DiLello.
One of the other applications came from the Brighter Choice Foundation, which is in the process of building a new charter middle school between Elk and Sherman streets, DiLello said.
The new ordinance, proposed by 6th Ward Councilman Richard Conti, requires demolition permit requests for buildings not located in historic districts, or not in imminent danger of collapse, to be reviewed by the Planning Board -- and for the applicant to submit detailed plans about what it hopes to do with the property next. Requests to demolish buildings in historic districts already receive greater scrutiny.
The Planning Board meets at 9 a.m. in City Hall.
Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.