After house is demolished, Doctor Crounse property would be an excellent public space

To the Editor:

I read with interest the letters from the community and articles in The Enterprise about the Doctor Crounse House. I understand concerns expressed about the condition of the building and the decisions made recently, and over the years, to remove the building because of its deteriorating condition.

From as early as 2007, the then-Guilderland town historian, a member of a committee to explore use of the property, expressed her opinion that the building was not historically significant and recommended that another be built to be used for public and community purposes.

Over the succeeding years, other committees wrestled with the possible uses of the building and, in each instance, doubts were expressed on the viability of its repair and, as importantly, securing funds for that purpose. As the elected mayor, I served on those committees with a professional architect, with municipal staff having expertise in building and planning skills, and with community members who had a committed interest in the promoting the culture and history of Altamont.

The reports produced by the committees were shared with the village board and town supervisor and formed the basis for decisions made throughout that time.    

Although the property is co-owned by the town and the village, Altamont’s board did its best within the unsettled financial environment to support the idea that the property would be retained for future public use, and committed staff and funds to secure and maintain the property during very difficult financial times in hopes of someday finding funds to repair it.

Additionally, the town was in the middle of a decades-long project to restore the Schoolcraft House and decided not to divert funds for the Crounse property during those critical years. The Altamont community itself was in the midst of a decade-long effort to raise funds to save the Altamont train station for its future library.

The village board worked with local legislative leaders to secure $25,000 as part of a larger Guilderland town $175,000 grant to replace the Crounse House roof.  Unfortunately, the building was discovered to contain asbestos and, due to increased remediation costs, this modest intervention was abandoned.

I believe the $25,000 was re-purposed to support other building projects in the town of Guilderland. As I understand it, the town subsequently committed to cover the demolition costs given the several years that the village used its own limited resources to maintain and insure the building.

When the Guilderland board voted to demolish the structure recently, I believe it was based on the professional opinion of its building inspector about the current safety of the building. Although not an outcome I would have preferred, it opened up the possibilities to refocus municipal efforts to use the property as a public site, similar to the village’s long-term commitment to its parks and green spaces.

Altamont placed new historical markers on the property as part of its successful Museum in the Streets project to note its significance in the early years of the village when the actual center of the village was Knowersville, containing some of the area’s most important historical buildings, albeit just outside the current limits of the village. It kept alive my personal dream that the entrance to the village still might be used as a park or information center  

In my opinion, the property would be an excellent public space and serve the long-term interests of both village and town.

Not only would it bring attention to old Knowersville, a significant player in Altamont’s early history, and now situated in the town of Guilderland, I believe it would help generate support for my other dream, which is to install sidewalks on Gun Club Road connecting the Crounse site to the village’s Crupe Bozenkill Park and complete a walkway surrounding the entire village.

I believe such an initiative fits well as part of the town’s long-term vision and future focus for creating walkable and bicycle-friendly streets in Guilderland.

Although I appreciate the opinions expressed in recent letters to the editor and the accompanying articles in The Enterprise, I am wary that the solution to sell the property with complicated caveats to rehabilitate it as it once was would be difficult to implement.

Although the village and town would receive a return on their original, modest investment, I am uncertain what would happen to the property when a new owner discovers the extent of deterioration. The property is worth a lot more today than it was when the village and town bought it for back taxes in 2006.

I see the nearly three-acre site as being very attractive to entrepreneur and business uses rather than preservation as an historical site. I am especially concerned that the village of Altamont would lose all future tax revenue since the property is under the town’s jurisdiction, and ultimately lose its chance to install a welcoming park space that highlights the history of old and new Altamont.

The reaction by some in the community about the property raises my hopes that they and others would be energized to help in this effort. I would be willing to continue my commitment and join any committees that would be formed to fundraise, but I do not support the municipalities’ selling the property and losing what leverage they have in retaining the property as a public space.

When and if this possibility is discussed publicly in the village or town, I will be there, front and center, to express my opinion.  

James M. Gaughan


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