When history and ugly collide - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

When history and ugly collide

July 11, 2006

Albany -- Some historic homes and buildings are falling into disrepair in the city. And those fighting to save history are having to decide at what point do these aging structures need to be demolished.

So why is the Historic Preservation Society is so opposed to demolishing what you might consider nothing more than an eyesore?    

Albany's historic district stretches across all of downtown. It's full of old homes and businesses, some of which have sat empty for years and become unsightly and sometimes unsafe. But owners and the City just can't go in a demolish the buildings because of historic preservation rules. That's creating some real ugly spots on a changing downtown horizon.

Tomorrow, the owner of an old, vacant home on 1st Avenue will ask Albany's Historic Preservation Commission to allow him to demolish the house. But getting the commission to agree to knocking down a house in the historic district isn't easy.  "There are occasions where that creates roadblocks for us," said Code Enforcer Sgt. Robert Carter.

Carter says the historic commission often stands in the way of tearing down structures many of us would consider dangerous eyesores, like these old houses on West Whitney.  "They have a certain character to them that is germane to that particular area," said Dr. Arthur Berry of the Historic Preservation Society.

Dr. Arthur Berry says the old homes are structurally sound, even though they look pretty bad. He says the commission is just trying to save history. not stop progress. "What we are trying to do is to try to maintain the integrity and character or City."

Berry says the commission considers the cost of renovating the structure, and they work with homeowners to get federal grants if they can't afford to make renovations. "Many times people want to maintain it but can't afford to maintain it so you try to consider those type things."

But giving the okay to demolish an old home or business is the commission's final resort. And even then, they show the owners how the property will be used then. "We have to look at a City, a city block and city street and see, if you allow them to tear it down, what will you put in its place. Will it enhance the community or not?" 

Berry says the commission faces a lot of resistance from homeowners who feel they should not be told what they can and cannot do with their property. But he says its his job and his passion to preserve Albany's rich history, and he'll fight a little to make sure that happens.

The Historic Preservation Commission doesn't have a say-so as to what an owner does inside a historic building or home, but they can order any renovations of repairs be done a certain way with certain materials to preserve the structure's original design.

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