Tagged with " Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation"
Mar 29, 2021 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Here’s how Saratoga Springs can end demolition by neglect

65, left, and adjacent 69 Phila St. still need to be renovated.

Two historically significant downtown Saratoga Springs houses were spared the wrecking ball last week. Now it’s time, at long last, to prevent their continued deterioration.

You can’t miss 65 and adjacent 69 Phila St., long-vacant sore thumbs with the bold red X signifying they’re too dangerous for fire department to go inside.

Last week – almost 11 months after being cited for failing to remedy property maintenance violations and years of intentional neglect — the owners finally appeared before the city’s Design Review Commission for permission to demolish the buildings. They unexpectedly pulled their application for 69 Phila, saying they have a buyer who will rehabilitate it. The commission clearly showed how the owners overwhelmingly failed to meet the reasonable criteria for demolition or 65, and would have concluded the same for 69 had that application not been pulled.  

So now what?

A City Court conference is scheduled for Tuesday, a continuation of the case initiated last year. This is by no means the first time the city has tried — unsuccessfully and, frankly, not very forcefully – to get these owners to comply with code. However, this can be the time when real progress begins.

The next immediate step could be to require the owners to secure a bond to cover the cost of repairs necessary to preserve the integrity of both structures, with firm deadlines for compliance. There must be severe, daily fines for non-compliance.

Or, better still, let’s jump to this option: The court could authorize an entity to correct the building code violations. This court-appointed receiver would pay for the work and petition the court to be repaid through a lien on the property. This and more relevant details are explained in a Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation letter to the judge filed with the Design Review Commission.

That, it seems, is the surest route to accomplish the key goals: end the deterioration, restore the properties, and prevent the owners from being financially rewarded for their intentional neglect.

Both houses had seen better days when Helen and Case Simpson bought 69 Phila in 1995 and next door’s 65 Phila in 2002. Still, the owners are not novices in buying, selling and, sometimes, fixing up properties for sale or rental. Legal and ethical responsibilities of ownership in a historic district were essentially ignored, and opportunities for assistance to rehabilitate or sell the properties squandered, even after the city’s 2013 adoption of laws governing vacant property.

In recent years, the city increased code enforcement staff and fees regarding vacant structures. Happily, several historic properties have been saved and rehabilitated. Still, the code enforcers have lots to do.

What will become of 65 and 69 Phila St.? Now is the chance to send a message — to everyone — that demolition by neglect will not be tolerated in Saratoga Springs.  

Dec 8, 2020 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Tell Saratoga Springs to nix demolition by neglect on historic Phila Street

Adjacent 65 and 69 Phila St. in downtown Saratoga Springs have been neglected for years.

The owners of two longtime neglected, vacant houses at 65 and 69 Phila St. are seeking permission to tear down both adjacent buildings in order to build anew. Saratoga Springs should not reward property owners who intentionally neglect their vacant property, particularly houses of architectural significance in historic zones as is the case here.

This request will be heard Wednesday, Dec. 9 by the city’s Design Review Commission. You can put in your 2 cents by emailing Jennifer.merriman@saratoga-springs.org by noon Wednesday. Go to the city website to sign up to participate in the meeting by Zoom.

The Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation notes both houses were constructed in 1851 in the Italianate style, one with white clapboard, by an architect and builder, and the other in red brick, by a mason. Both are contributing buildings to the East Side Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

The owners have let the buildings deteriorate since buying them more the 15 and 25 years ago, respectively, and any hardship they now claim is self-imposed.  

Years ago, the city denied the owners’ request to turn these two adjacent lots into three. The owners continued to neglect the two houses even as they bought and owned other vacant houses in the city. They have had multiple opportunities to sell the Phila Street properties, as documented by the Preservation Foundation, which even underwrote a structural assessment for serious buyers.  

The Preservation Foundation will make the case Wednesday that these building are worth saving and should be reviewed in accordance with the city’s Historic Review Ordinance.

The city will continue to lose structures of historic and architectural significance if property owners are rewarded for their intentional neglect (and, according to the preservation foundation, piecemeal removal of architectural features) and allowed to profit from the land sale for new construction.

Another day, let’s talk about the city’s culpability as rules regarding vacant properties have been ignored with impunity. For now, let’s try to prevent this specific demolition by neglect.

Jun 17, 2019 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Celebrating Mayor Ray Watkin’s legacy on his 90th birthday

Mayor Watkin pronounces Jim and Barbara husband and wife on July 8, 1978 — for the second day in a row. The day before he officially married us in City Hall.
Ray Watkin shares a laugh during his 90th birthday party in his backyard on June 9, 2019, with Nancy McNeary and her brother-in-law Fred McNeary.

When you go inside the 1910 post office on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, look around. Look up at the leaded glass skylight. Notice the murals on the walls from the 1930s. Admire the arches and architectural details remaining in one of the most elaborate lobbies of its kind in New York.

This historic gem exists because one local guy sued the federal government – and won.

That guy is Raymond Watkin, who turned 90 on June 9.

Watkin was mayor from 1974 through 1980. He was mayor when the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation was established and when the post office and other properties were designated components of a new Broadway Historic District. When Watkin couldn’t convince his City Council colleagues to step up, he personally sued the federal government — and literally stopped the destruction of the post office.

The turning point of downtown occurred during his tenure, as local and federal initiatives and investments began to restore and ultimately preserve Broadway storefronts, setting the stage for today’s thriving downtown.

At the time, I was a rookie reporter covering the city for The Saratogian, the daily newspaper. Back then the City Council elections were non-partisan, which seems fitting for local races, though no one loves to schmooze about politics more than Ray Watkin.

I don’t think I ever got a scoop out of Mayor Watkin, but he does have a special place in my heart. In 1978 he officiated my wedding – two days in a row. As our big day approached, Watkin informed us he didn’t have jurisdiction at our wedding venue in Albany. So my now-husband Jim picked me up at the newspaper and we went across the street to City Hall, where Watkin married us in a lovely, brief and intimate ceremony. He then performed the faux formalities the following day before more than a hundred unsuspecting family and friends.

Thought I’d share these couple of stories on the occasion of Ray’s 90th, to publicly thank him for a memorable marriage ceremony and for his legacy to the city.