Saturday, February 20, 2010

Support needed for Lower Washington Ave. Historic District

Albany's Historic Resource Commission will hold a public hearing on the nomination of the Lower Washington Avenue Historic District on Wednesday, March 3rd at 5:15 pm in the Common Council chamber at City Hall.

The district will include the south side of Washington Avenue from South Swan Street to Lark Street. Please let the City of Albany's Historic Resource Commission know you support the Lower Washington Avenue Historic District by attending the public hearing on March 3rd and speaking in favor the designation, and/or mailing or emailing a support letter to:

Norman Rice, Chair
Historic Resource Commission
c/o Richard Nicholson
City of Albany
Department of Development and Planning
200 Henry Johnson Boulevard
Albany, NY 12206

Historic Albany Foundation can provide a sample support letter for you to tailor with your own observations. Please email Cara Macri at HAF to receive a copy.

Also, the historic district nomination will need to be ratified by the Common Council at a later date. Please cc: HAF and your Councilmember on your correspondence to ensure your support is recorded in their files.

Supporting Lower Washington Avenue historic district

Lower Wash Hist Dist Support

Board ignored new ordinance

TIMES UNION - Letter to the Editor
First published: Friday, February 19, 2010

As a resident and elected official who represents downtown Albany, I am deeply disappointed by the Fort Orange Club's decision to demolish two buildings to make way for additional parking. What is even more disturbing than these proposed plans however, is the Albany Planning Board's recent vote allowing the project to go forward.

The board's approval completely ignores Albany's recently enacted demolition review ordinance. Indeed, many of the factors the ordinance requires the board to weigh in reviewing demolitions were blatantly ignored, along with the testimony of nearly two dozen citizens, architects and historians who showed up in person to oppose this plan.

Demolition of structurally sound buildings to make way for parking does not fit into Albany's comprehensive plan, nor is it good urban planning or policy. One can only hope that in reviewing future applications, the planning board actually looks at our new ordinance and doesn't simply ignore what it was meant to protect, namely meaningless demolitions that destroy the fabric of our city.

Albany County Legislator
6th District

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Judge: Group sued too soon over Fort Orange Club demolitions

Times Union - Albany NY

Last updated: 12:47 p.m., Wednesday, February 10, 2010

ALBANY -- A judge today dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Planning Board's blessing for the Fort Orange Club to tear down two 19th-century Washington Avenue buildings -- but the demolitions are still not likely to happen anytime soon.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Richard Platkin ruled the Historic Albany Foundation sued too soon because the demolition plans still need to be approved by the city's Board of Zoning Appeals, Historic Resources Commission and once again by the Planning Board before the Building Department can issue a permit to raze the buildings.

For nearly two years, Historic Albany has opposed the 130-year-old private club's plans to demolish the buildings to make way for three new parking spaces in a lot adjacent to the clubhouse, itself one of Albany's most historic buildings.

Historic Albany contends the buildings are part of the historic, urban fabric of lower Washington Avenue, a stone's throw from the Capitol.

Club officials have countered, however, that the buildings, which date to the 1830s, have no historic value and that demolition also will help them convert more spaces from valet parking to self-parking, something members want, while at the same time making the lot safer.

The demolitions are part of the club's larger plans to expand its athletic facilities.

In his 15-page decision, Platkin said the historic preservation group cannot sue until the city actually issues the demolition permit.

"It does place us in a little bit of a precarious position because we won't know the exact moment when the building commissioner grants the demolition permit," said Historic Albany's attorney, George Carpinello.

"We may be involved again in another race to get to the courthouse before the wrecking ball hits the building," he said. "Usually the owner tries to tear the building down before we can get to a judge."

Carpinello noted, however, that Platkin did say that Historic Albany can challenge the Planning Board's determination that the demolitions would have no significant environmental impacts -- just not yet.

The club had contended that the four-month clock for such a challenge started ticking when the Planning Board first issued a so-called "negative declaration" under the State Environmental Quality Review Act in May 2008.

But Platkin rejected that argument, noting the club later withdrew its plans to demolish the buildings amid sharp public backlash in September of that year.

Historic Albany sued Jan. 22, the day after the Planning Board granted its conditional permission for the demolitions -- the first in the wake of a new city ordinance requiring Planning Board review of non-emergency tear-downs.

The law was prompted in part by the club's initial plans to raze the buildings in 2008.
Robert Sweeney, an attorney for the club, has repeatedly called allegations that the club was working covertly to demolish the buildings unfair. He said the club followed established procedure, at the direction of the building department, for six weeks before requesting a demolition permit on Nov. 6.

"The record is very clear on that," Sweeney said, "and it's insulting to the Fort Orange Club to suggest otherwise."

Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Carpinello, Sweeney spar over demo permits

On Monday, 2/8, I spent two hours at the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, listening to oral arguments on the matter of the Fort Orange Club’s request to demolish property on 118-120 Washington Avenue to expand their parking lot.

(I typed up this post last night, and decided to wait until this morning - Tuesday - to see what the Albany Times Union had, to fact check. They have nothing. This is a long post, and I don't have the comedic talent of "Albany Citizen One," -- I won't be making up nicknames for the parties involved or commenting on whether or not they are cute -- but I hope some people find this useful or at least interesting. -- CMR)

Representing the Fort Orange Club was attorney Robert Sweeney. Representing the City of Albany was Assistant Corporation Counsel Jeffery Jamison. (They were at the same table.)

Representing Historic Albany Foundation was attorney George Carpinello.

The Judge first sought to establish why Historic Albany Foundation was seeking an injunction to prevent demolition of the buildings when three additional permissions needed to be secured before a demolition permit was granted: approval of the Board of Zoning Appeals, approval of the Planning Board, and the approval of the City’s Commissioner of Buildings.

Mr. Carpinello stated that the injunction was being sought because the Fort Orange Club would not represent that they would not pre-emptively demolish the buildings.

Upon further questioning from the Judge, he noted that the Fort Orange Club might “prepare the buildings for demolition” in ways that would make demolition a fait accompli.

(We have seen too many examples of demolition by neglect – or in too many cases demolition made necessary by property owners who punch holes in the roof to let water in, thereby making the building "unsafe" and requiring "emergency" demolition - CMR)

The injunction protects the status quo, and prevents the irreparable damage of the buildings coming down, said Mr. Carpinello.

The Judge asked Mr. Sweeney what harm would come to the Fort Orange Club if the injunction remained in place, and Mr. Sweeney replied that his client should be allowed by law to park in that spot. The lack of parking is hurting his client, their membership recruiting, their booking of events that always happen at the Club. (Fear of revised NYS ethics laws wouldn’t have anything to do with that, would it? – CMR)

Much discussion ensued over the timing of previous applications and appeals or lack thereof. Additional time was spent arguing whether the Fort Orange Club pulled its application for a demolition permit at the same time it pulled its application for a parking lot permit and height variance for its fencing. (According to an affidavit given by Mr. Jamison, the demo permit was believed no longer active once the Club revised its application in order to move forward with construction of their health facility.) There was additional back-and-forth on whether or not appropriate analysis had been done when a negative declaration was issued on the need for an environmental impact statement (EIS) on these demolitions.

Mr. Carpinello noted that this was a Type I Action that would meet or exceed thresholds listed in the statewide or agency SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) regulations. These are likely to require preparation of an EIS.

FYI -- An EIS concisely describes and analyzes a proposed action which may have a significant impact on the environment. The EIS is available to the public for information and comment. An EIS must include:
  • description of the action, including its need and benefits;
  • description of the environmental setting and areas to be affected;
  • an analysis of all environmental impacts related to the action;
  • an analysis of reasonable alternatives to the action;
  • identification of ways to reduce or avoid adverse environmental impacts.

Ultimately, according to Mr. Carpinello, the Fort Orange Club wants to tear down buildings that date to the 1830s for 3 parking spots. He pointed out the absurdity of the notion that the loss of 3 parking spots would harm the Fort Orange Club.

Mr. Carpinello noted that had a full Environmental Impact Statement been required, the Club would have been required to explore reasonable alternatives and mitigating measures. In lieu of an EIS, they issued a conclusory statement of their belief that the buildings are not worth saving.

Mr. Sweeney argued that his client had explored the possibility of valet parking in the large lots and garages across the street and up the block, but said that the facilities were "packed" at the time Club members and guests needed to use them. He also noted that it wasn't really just 3 parking spots, it was 3 new PLUS the spots they lost when they expanded the footprint of their building to create the new health club wing. Finally, he insisted that while they offered valet parking in their lot currently, for those spots in the back of the lot, what the Club's clients really wanted was an individual parking spot where they could simply pull in and park, without giving their keys to an attendant. And besides, the buildings, while old, had been altered and were not historic, and therefore not worth saving.

Additional discussion of who decides whether buildings are worth saving ensued. Mr. Carpinello referred to testimony given by preservation architect Doug Bucher which spoke to the significance of these buildings which date back to the 1830s.

The Judge wondered why Mr. Carpinello hadn’t provided copies of this testimony, and Mr. Carpinello replied that since the City had convened the hearing at which Mr. Bucher testified, it was the City’s responsibility to provide transcripts, but that they had not yet done so. Mr. Jamison indicated that he was working on it, and waiting to learn the date of return on the petition. (Obviously, I am not a lawyer so I may have some of the terminology wrong. Sorry. – CMR)

There was further discussion of the City’s new demolition review ordinance, and specifically how determinations are made as to whether a building is historically or architecturally significant.

Mr. Carpinello noted that since there was a disagreement among preservation architects (with those paid by the Fort Orange Club noting the insignificance of the buildings – CMR) – what are the options?

The Court does not decide if the buildings are significant, Mr. Carpinello argued, rather it determines if the agency responsible for making that determination followed the guidelines of SEQR – did they analyze alternatives, did they analyze mitigating measures?

Mr. Sweeney said the Club did take a hard look at these criteria and their arguments were in their application for demolition.

Mr. Carpinello indicated that the Fort Orange Club had made a claim of a financial impact in excess of $100,000 in chambers (I don’t recall the exact amount – CMR) but noted that he had not been given a copy of the document outlining those losses. There was some discussion of a confidentiality agreement, and the Judge asked the two attorneys to work it out, and noted that he would take Mr. Carpinello’s request under advisement.

He then noted that he would defer decision on this matter.

I boarded the elevator in the Justice Building with a number of dapper gentlemen from the Fort Orange Club side of the hearing room. As they were trying to figure out which floor they were going to, I pressed the button for “C” – for the Concourse of the Empire State Plaza. One of the gentlemen bellowed to the security guard, “How do we get outta here?” and he replied, “Press C.”

The gentleman said, “Oh, she pressed C, she knows where she’s going.”

And I said, “Yes, I do. And I walked here.”

Monday, February 8, 2010

Supreme Court Decision & Order - 11/23/09

Index No. 9418-09

For those of you keeping score at home, here's a copy of Judge Teresi's decision from 11/09, dismissing the Fort Orange Club's lawsuit against the city of Albany. The dismissal was made 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 demolish the buildings at 118-120 Washington Avenue to the Planning Board, not denied it.

Yes, it is posted on Scribd as "For to Range Club" -- don't know whether that's a glitch or meant to obfuscate ...

For to Range Club

Ft. Orange demolition arguments in Appeals Court

TODAY - Monday, February 8th at 3 PM.

According to attorney George Carpinello, the Court has granted a request for oral argument on the matter of the Fort Orange Club's request to demolish property on 118-120 Washington Avenue to expand their parking lot. The hearing will be held at the Justice Building on State Street (the modern building at the end of the Empire State Plaza, almost directly across from the Capitol) Appellate Division, 7th Floor, Courtroom 3 at 3:00 p.m. on February 8th.

The hearing will be held in open court so anyone can attend but, obviously, the only people who will be speaking will be the attorneys for the parties.

If you have questions or need more information, call Susan Holland, executive director at Historic Albany Foundation, 465-0876 extension 11.