Wednesday, April 13, 2011

UPDATE: 900 Columbia Street

It's been a month since the Save 900 Columbia Street petition with 652 signatures was delivered to the executive director and board of the Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties and to the commissioner at the New York State Office of Mental Health and three weeks since a group of advocates for the house met with Jeffrey Rovitz, executive director of MHA, and Susan Cody, who directs MHA's residential division, to explore how MHA could achieve its goals without demolishing a historic house, so it's time for an update on the progress of the effort to save 900 Columbia Street.

After the meeting on March 21, the ad hoc group--Jane Smith, Timothy Dunleavy, David Marston, Peter Jung, and I--were convinced that asking MHA to find a different location was not a possibility. The project was too far along, and their previous experience in site selection had been both unpleasant and fruitless. At the meeting, the group asked to see the plans and the feasibility study for the new facility, and these documents were provided a few days later by the architect for the project. After reviewing and discussing them together, the ad hoc group sent a list of questions to MHA meant to encourage them to consider the possibility of locating the new facility farther back on the site, thus permitting the lot to be subdivided and the historic house spared. Someone had expressed an interest in buying the house.   

Not surprisingly, the responses to our questions explained why our idea was not possible and showed little willingness to alter the plans in order to save the historic house. MHA did, however, offer to give the house to Historic Hudson so that the organization could move it to another site "in a timely fashion" after the new facility had been built and the residents moved into the new building. The problem with this idea is that the house is an important element in a surviving historic streetscape, and its location, at the intersection of Columbia and Union turnpikes, contributes greatly to its significance. Moving such a monumental brick structure would not only be a daunting undertaking, but it would diminish the building's historic importance.  

In their response, the ad hoc group reiterated their belief that achieving MHA's mission and preserving the historic house were not mutually exclusive and pointed out that Section 14.09 of the State Historic Preservation Act of 1980 could present an obstacle for the project, since it is being funded through the New York State Office of Mental Health. Here is the relevant paragraph (426.1 e) from the Historic Preservation Act:
The act requires State agencies to consult with the commissioner if it appears that any project which is being planned may or will cause any change, beneficial or adverse, in the quality of any historic, architectural, archeological or cultural property that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places or property listed on the State Register of Historic Places or that is determined by the commissioner to be eligible for listing on the State Register of Historic Places. It requires State agencies, to the fullest extent practicable, consistent with other provisions of the law, to avoid or mitigate adverse impacts to such properties, to fully explore all feasible and prudent alternatives and to give due consideration to feasible and prudent plans which would avoid or mitigate adverse impacts to such property. It establishes agency preservation officers for the purpose of implementing these provisions.
The ad hoc group suggested that MHA speak directly with the State Historic Preservation Office about their project.  

Earlier this week it was learned that MHA had contacted SHPO and now understood their obligations under Section 14.09 of the State Historic Preservation Act. SHPO has also been in touch with the cultural resource person at the Office of Mental Health. The future of 900 Columbia Street, it seems, is now being determined at the state level. 

1 comment:

  1. Hopefully this is nothing but good news for 900 Columbia.