The battle between historic preservations and property-rights advocates over the status of the Dragon Inn grew heated last week, as village trustee Terry Parisian accused the village’s Historic Review Board of “telling people what an individual can do with their property.”
After the speakers were through, Review Board chair Richard Frisbie decided to keep the hearing open until April 24, when the board will vote on the designation. Written comments can be dropped off at Village Hall, 43 Partition St.
The March 27 hearing was just the latest skirmish. Since late last year, owner Ching Ya Wu has been seeking permission to demolish the fire-damaged building, which he says is holding back the sale of the property. But the village’s Historic Review Board, charged with designating local landmarks and maintaining the historic appearance of the business district and south side, wants to protect the building, once a grand home called Clovelea owned by Saugerties paper magnate W.R. Sheffield. The Review Board’s 2007 designation of the property was judged incomplete and indefensible in court, so the board decided to redesignate the structure, along with two other buildings that once made up the estate; the gatekeeper’s house and carriage house. Designation would force Wu to make the demolition request to the Review Board, which would most likely deny it. That decision could then be appealed directly to the Village Board.
Wu is opposed to the designation, as is gatehouse owner Shane Ellis. Carriage house owner Scott Harrison is in favor of it.
About 20 people turned out for the hearing. Most of the speakers were in favor of the designation. But not Lisa Fellows, who’s lived across the street from the site for more than 27 years. “The first eyesore that people see when coming into the village is that building,” she said. “The words some here have used to describe this building such as beauty, and pride of Saugerties, are not words that I would use.
“Something needs to be done with this building – demolish it,” Fellows said.
“What should non-interested people have to do with determining what happens to this property?” asked an angry Terry Parisian. “Rather than doing this, why don’t we look at the building and try to come up with a way to use part of this building as part of a development.”
Mayor William Murphy has suggested that if a plan that Wu has proposed to construct upscale townhouses on the site moves forward, then the mansion could be turned into a community center for the homeowners.
Alex Wade, in charge of special projects for the village and president of the group that saved the Lighthouse from ruin, spoke in favor. “I strongly support the historic designation for all three buildings,” he said.
Former trustee Susan LeBlanc said if this issue had come up in Columbia or Dutchess counties it would have been designated quickly.
“I can’t believe the village government hasn’t done anything about the condition of this building,” she said. “The village needs to get after the owner to do something about this.”
In other news, Donald Snyder, Wu’s construction consultant, informed the board that a wetlands delineation has recently been done on the property by the state. The Department of Environmental Conservation determined that two areas surrounding the decline behind the building are wetlands. Also, the area could be contaminated; over the years, debris (mostly old refrigerators and stoves), was dumped there to build up the decline to make usable building land. Snyder said tests will likely find contamination because it’s possible that batteries and oil were dumped there. He urged the board to think of the future when deliberating the designation, not the past.