A battle between the village’s Historic Review Board and the owner of a 19th-century mansion over a proposed demolition may have became a moot point last week. A review by a state official and the village attorney found the Dragon Inn’s historic designation wasn’t done properly, clearing the way for a demolition permit. According to Don Snyder, owner Ching Ya Wu’s representative, the plan is to raze the structure and possibly build high-end townhouses on the location. Built by paper magnate William R. Sheffield in 1882, the building, first called Clovelea, later served as a hotel and Chinese restaurant before a fire gutted it in the early 1990s.
The issue is paperwork: documents from the 2007 historic designation of the structure are incomplete. Village attorney Alex Betke said the village wouldn’t be able to defend the designation in court if challenged by the owner, who had never sought the designation and said it made it impossible to sell the property.
Historic Review Board member Michael Sullivan Smith resigned over the village’s position, citing lack of “support of the elected officials or staff of the village.” He said the paperwork was incomplete because the “village office failed to maintain the file.” Notifications had to be made and the zoning map had to be changed following the board’s designation, but that didn’t happen; “technicalities that make the owner (before the fact) and the public (after the fact) uninformed of the designation. That is the straw that broke this camel’s back.”
“This shows things totally out of control,” Smith added.
Historic Review Board chair Richard Frisbie said he’s not sure what the board can or will do. It will still hold its planned public hearing on the demolition proposal on Feb. 27, though it’s possible a demolition permit will be issued by then.
Donald Snyder, Wu’s construction management consultant, sought a demolition permit from building inspector Eyal Saad on Tuesday, Feb. 19. Saad declined, explaining he wanted something in writing from the village attorney, who was on vacation at the time.
“This is a delicate issue,” he said. “I just want to make sure this is done correctly.”
To help expedite matters, Snyder said he and Wu would be asking to meet with Murphy this week to discuss Wu’s plans.
“We also want to reassure him and the public that we will not be putting up low-income housing here,” Snyder said. “It’s not been on our radar scope.”
Quite the opposite. One possible plan calls for constructing 36 upscale, three-bedroom townhouses on the 3.9-acre parcel.
Snyder also took time to blast Sullivan Smith. He said Smith’s writing on his blog Saugerties-on-Hudson.blogspot.com calling for residents to rise up and come to the meeting to oppose the demolition of the Dragon Inn was, “bigoted, political and inciting people against the project.”
“It was disturbing and shameful,” Snyder said, “and Smith should be held accountable.”
“I am confused. My blog, Saugerties-on-Hudson.blogspot.com, is an educational blog,” Smith responded. “The only thing related to Clovelea [its original name] is the history of the building. I know that set the record straight relative to Don Snyder’s interpretation of the history and significance of the architect and the builder and the other criteria used for the designation that he was questioning, but his assertions were never accurate or verifiable. I cannot see how this could be ‘disturbing and shameful.’”
It’s possible Snyder had Smith confused with Frisbie, who recently wrote on Facebook that the “historic designation is delaying the process long enough for a groundswell of public opinion to be heard. Some time near the village elections the Historic Review Board will reach its decision. By then, you should have, too. Then it is up to you, the voters, to support the candidates who agree with you.”
Frisbie said he regretted Smith’s resignation.
“Michael will be sorely missed,” he said. “He has the knowledge, and the passion and he had the time to dedicate to the board. He will be a real loss.”
Smith said the incident would have far-reaching consequences.
“Ultimately this application is going to affect every investor and investment in every heritage property in the entire village,” he wrote.