Details shared on Albany demolition plan
Map from Albany official points out 100 possible buildings that could fall
Published on 05/16/2012 by the Times Union written by JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST, Staff writer
ALBANY — The city's planning and code enforcement chiefs Wednesday shared with council members a map of about a 100 buildings that could be candidates for demolition if the Common Council approves Mayor Jerry Jennings' request to borrow $2 million for neighborhood revitalization.
Only a fraction of that number would actually come down, but Planning Commissioner Michael Yevoli offered the map in hopes of softening opposition to the bond from lawmakers who balked at supporting it last week because they said it did not provide enough detail on how the money would be spent.
City Treasurer Kathy Sheehan later backed that decision, and the Historic Albany Foundation, the city's most influential preservation group, went even further, likening the proposal to a "demolition slush fund."
That accusation enraged Yevoli, who fired back that Historic Albany's remarks were out of line and showed the group's true colors as a special-interest group acting "contrary to the needs of the city of Albany" while "really shortchanging its neighborhoods."
In total, about $1.4 million would be spent on building stabilization and demolition, mostly in Arbor Hill, West Hill and the South End with an emphasis on areas where the city believes razing buildings will improve the chances of future in investment.
"We've agreed that you need more information for a bonding of this magnitude," Yevoli acknowledged Wednesday night as council members caucused to discuss Monday evening's agenda. But he added that his office could not provide lawmakers with an exact list, as at least one had demanded, because some of those buildings have yet to be fully evaluated and others may remain in the hands of private property owners eager to hike up the price if they knew of the city were interested.
"I don't want to give anybody any tip-offs that we're going to do this," he said.
Some properties could be acquired through a separate strategic acquisition fund overseen by the city's neighborhood revitalization arm, the Albany Community Development agency, and then either demolished or stabilized using the bond's proceeds, Yevoli said.
Still other vacant buildings on private property could be identified as public safety hazards and demolished on an emergency basis.
It was unclear whether Yevoli had succeeded in winning support. Bonding ordinances require a super-majority of 10 votes to pass and have become friction points between the council and Jennings' administration in recent years.
Councilman Dominick Calsolaro, the plan's most vocal critic on the council, said he did not yet know whether he would vote for it.
Susan Holland, Historic Albany's executive director, said she saw little improvement in the plan despite Yevoli's pledge to closely track and report how the money is spent as well as how much is recouped through insurance and other avenues.
Holland pointed to the city's demolition of seven buildings this weekend after a fire tore through Sheridan Hollow as evidence of the group's concerns that the city will act unilaterally with no real oversight. Two of the razed buildings were not damaged by the fire.
"I don't see the public input," Holland said. "All of those buildings did not need to come down."
But Councilman Ron Bailey, who represents parts of Arbor Hill and West Hill, said residents of those neighborhoods most afflicted with blighted blocks are eager to see action.
"In my area, people are asking, 'What can we do about these abandoned buildings?'" he said.
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