Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wurster and Demolition

Jamie Larson's article in the Register-Star gives the impression that, when Code Enforcement Officer Peter Wurster was "bombarded with criticism," I was the principal bombardier. My involvement was limited to sending pictures I took of the building on Thursday to the members of the Historic Preservation Commission and publishing an article about it on this blog. I did call it an "unauthorized demolition," because it was, but my only reference to Wurster was to wonder if a demolition permit had been issued by the Code Enforcement Office. But I may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, so I'll remind you of another Wurster demolition offense.

As we all know, there's a building missing on Warren Street, just east of the building at the corner of Fourth Street that Richard Cohen has been talking for years about turning into a hotel. The building was demolished at the end of December 2006--just after Christmas--when many people, including several members of the Historic Preservation Commission, were away for the holidays. It was a very old building--very likely 18th-century--and significant for its antiquity if nothing else.

Cohen had been before the Historic Preservation Commission seeking approval for a design for the hotel that required the elimination of that building. The HPC was still deliberating about the design, but they gave Cohen a conditional Certificate of Appropriateness to allow him to do some essential work on the roof and to present his project to the Planning Commission. Wurster, however, took it upon himself to give Cohen a demolition permit. More than three years later, there is no hotel or any progress on a hotel, but there is still a hole in the streetscape of Warren Street--a historic district recognized on the national, state, and local levels.

Paragraph 169.8.B of Hudson's preservation law outlines the following expectations:

Demolition shall be permitted only after the owner of the site has submitted and obtained design approval of his/her plans for new development under the provisions of this chapter, including an acceptable timetable and guarantees, which may include performance bonds for demolition and completion of the project. In no case shall the time between demolition and commencement of new construction or lot improvement exceed six months.

When the building was demolished, Cohen's design had not been approved, and more than three years later, no new construction or lot improvement--beyond putting up a temporary plywood wall--has occurred. Last I heard of the project, Cohen had yet another new architect.

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