Dealing With Problem Buildings
by Thaddeus Flint
New Lebanon’s crackdown on problem buildings is itself creating a problem: What to do with the buildings when the owners refuse to cooperate?[private]
That question arose at the May Town Board meeting on Tuesday, May 9 when a hearing on one derelict property took place without the owner, who declined invitations to discuss various violations at his building.
The property in question, owned by one Fred Munch Jr., is located right next to the Walter B. Howard Elementary school. According to the Town’s Code & Zoning Enforcement Officer, Cissy Hernandez, the building’s porch roof is in a state of collapse, with the roof detached from the main structure. Windows and doors were found to be wide open.
With the property located in such close proximity to a school, the Board is looking to make sure curious children don’t find their way inside. The Town’s attorney, Stephanie Ferradino, describe the building as an “attractive nuisance,” though attractive only for those who might like the danger of imminent collapse.
“We have an obligation to keep it safe,” said Town Supervisor Colleen Teal.
The building’s owner actually has an obligation to make it safe. However, Munch has now failed to appear at two scheduled hearings. He is, though, aware of the problem and New Lebanon’s desire that he do something about it. According to Court Clerk Cynthia Creech, Munch appeared before the Town Court last Fall and was made aware of various violations at that time.
“My recommendation is to demolish the whole porch,” said Hernandez.
The problem with that solution is that it might destabilize the rest of the building to the point where the Town would then have to foot the bill to demolish the entire structure.
“How much would we compromise it if we touch it,” asked Councilman Dan Evans.
According to one resident, who had toured the building years back to see if the roof could be fixed, the building is already compromised and ready to fall.
“Once we start this, we are liable,” pointed out Councilman Kevin Smith. “To spend the money to demo it is ridiculous.” Smith added that the Town had already spent over $500 just trying to convince Munch to stabilize the property.
“The Town will never get their money back,” agreed Councilman Mark Baumli, who wanted to reach out to Columbia County to see what their future plans are for the Munch monstrosity. “We should leave it alone and let the County deal with it and hope Mr. Munch is well insured,”
According to Smith, the property has over three years of tax arrears listed.
Supervisor Teal made the motion that she contact Columbia County and see what the outlook is on foreclosure. In the meantime the Town will board up the first floor windows and doors and put a temporary snow fence outside the property. Estimates will also be obtained for removing the porch and for demolition of the entire property. A vote found all in favor of this motion with the exception of Baumli who voted against it.
The Highway Department’s 2008 International Truck, which was totaled during Winter Storm Stella in March, will be replaced with a 2018 model largely paid for by insurance coverage. A new truck will come to just under $208,000. The insurance payment is $172,738 which includes a $500 deductible. The remaining $35,212 will come from the Highway Surplus account. The Town is also currently looking into getting FEMA aid to help cover the cost of the vehicle, and anything that agency does provide in the future would go back to Highway Surplus. All in favor voted for this replacement plan.
Another vote with all in favor was to amend a local law which required the Town to publish new zoning laws in their entirety in the local paper. This was from a time when more people read local papers and the internet had yet to be invented. New Lebanon now publishes all local laws and amendments on its website and a hard copy is available at the Town Clerk’s office, so the feeling is that the money spent on a legal notice nobody will read anyway is better spent elsewhere, or not at all. A public hearing on this amendment will take place just before the next monthly Board meeting, at 6:55 pm on June 13.
A planned June 24 Block Party by M&M’s Tap and Tavern has some Board members concerned about traffic and safety that day. As the event is expected to attract quite a few people, the Columbia County Sherriff’s Department will have deputies on hand to help block partiers get to the event from the parking, which will be located across Routes 20/22. M&M will be responsible for the law enforcement bill.
Councilman Baumli was concerned about the finish time which was said to be 2 am on June 25, although M&M information says the music ends at 11 pm.
“I think it’s a good idea, but for the daylight,” Baumli said. Some residents wondered how race night traffic would work with mobs of people crossing back and forth from Valley Plaza to the Midtown Mall.
Nevertheless, it appears that the event, complete with corn hole tournament, wing eating contest, and live music, is going forward. More information can be found at the M&M Facebook page.
The night began with a public hearing and a presentation on water. Nobody from the public had anything to say at the hearing, which was for future zoning amendments in regard to solar.
Steven Winkley of the New York Rural Water Association explained how his outfit, which consists of just him, could work with the Town to identify and protect local water resources. There would be no cost to New Lebanon to have the Town’s aquifers mapped and a source water protection plan put together. The Board will consider a draft resolution provided to them by Winkley.
The night ended with Town Clerk Tistrya Houghtling reminding residents that the Town’s Free Store is now up and running at the Town Hall. Residents are invited to come by and get what they need, free of charge, everything from clothes to toys, and even several pairs of tap shoes.
“People are literally tap-dancing out the door,” said Supervisor Teal.