Doctor Crounse House gets reprieve from village

Enterprise file photo — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

It could soon be a memory: The Frederick Crounse House could soon see new life after falling into disrepair following 30 years of neglect. Altamont and Guilderland co-own the house at the corner of Route 146 and Gun Club Road in the village, and have decided to list for sale their interests the historic home.

ALTAMONT — The Doctor Crounse House received another stay from the wrecking ball on Tuesday night, when the Altamont Board of Trustees voted unanimously to list for sale the village’s interest in the historic home, which it co-owns with Guilderland.

On Tuesday, March 20, the Guilderland Town Board also voted unanimously to sell its stake in the 1833 home of Altamont’s first doctor.

The sale would be subject to a restrictive covenant that would require preserving the building’s historical features and also require it to be a single-family home although it was built as both a home and doctor’s office.

The board was asked during its meeting about having to keep the home for  single-family use because someone would have to make a substantial investment in the property and there may be an appropriate use for the structure other than a single-family home.

Trustee Dean Whalen said that the single-family restriction could be left out of the covenant because Guilderland has zoned the property as R20, which allows for single-family or two-family dwellings and such uses as day care or group homes or public buildings. So other uses would have to go through a variance process anyway.

The village board, at its April 2 meeting, voted to adopt a draft of the restrictive covenant and authorized Mayor Kerry Dineen to finalize the language with Peter Barber, Guilderland’s supervisor. The Guilderland Town Board will take up the restrictive covenant at its April 17 meeting, Dineen said.

Dineen then read the draft of the restrictive covenant:

— The grantor [the buyer] shall not make any changes or alterations to the Crounse house without prior written approval from the grantees [the village and the town]. Such changes or alterations requiring the approval of the grantee shall include but are not limited to: impacting the home’s conservation and preservation of values; increasing or decreasing the height of the home; making additions to the home; changing the exterior construction materials; moving, improving, or altering the facade including roofs, foundations, and chimneys of the house;

— Grantee agrees that the property shall be used for a single-family purpose only; no other uses shall be allowed on the property;

— The grantor grants the grantee an easement to enter the property to maintain, repair, or replace the support and panel for the museum in the street program. “The museum in the street program began last June, and the Crounse House is one of the sites on the walking tour of the village,” Dineen said;

— The grantor agrees that there shall be no subdivision of the property;

— Within 30 days of the transfer of the property, the grantor shall submit a plan to the town of Guilderland building inspector that addresses the unsafe structure of the house;

— The grantor and grantee agree that this restrictive covenant shall be a covenant running with the land comprising the property, meaning the covenant stays in place if the grantor decides to sell the home; and

— Grantor and grantee agree that this restrictive covenant shall be a perpetual restriction.

The exterior construction materials — such as asphalt roof shingles and mid-20th-Century siding currently on the house — do not appear to be original. While the original post-and-beam early-19th-Century frame of the house appears square and solid, the later additions at the back of the house are collapsing.

There was agreement among the board members that it will difficult to find a buyer who is willing to spend the kind of money that is necessary to make the home habitable, but with the covenant in place, the village and town hope that they can attract the “right” buyer. By passing the motion, it would allow them to at least see if there were someone willing to preserve the home.

Trustee John Scally said that, as the owner of a historic home himself, it was his hope that someone would have the opportunity to restore the Crounse House “because it brings out the spirit of Altamont.”

Altamont and Guilderland purchased the home from Albany County over 10 years ago for about $40,000 — the house had sat vacant for decades before the purchase. The thinking at the time was to keep the home out of the hands of a buyer who would strip it of its history, and eventually finding a public use for the space.

The house, which sits on 2.8 acres of land, was built in 1833, and was home to Frederick Crounse, Altamont’s first doctor.

Crounse was active in the historic Anti-Rent Wars, supporting the Hilltown tenant farmers who rebelled against the feudal patroon system of rent collection. And it was at this place, a world away from the the Civil War, the 134th regiment camped in front of Dr. Crounse’s house as he stayed up all night, helping the regiment doctor with the sick and wounded soldiers. The late Arthur Gregg, longtime Altamont village and Guilderland town historian, documented this history in Enterprise columns, later published in his book “Old Hellebergh.”

After decades of neglect, the house has fallen into severe disrepair. Sections in the back of the house had collapsed; part of the addition roof had fallen in on itself; asbestos in the roof had been discovered; and more recently, roof leaks have caused significant damage inside the house.

A state grant was received for $25,000 to fix the roof but used elsewhere partly because asbestos in the shingles would make the project more costly. An engineering firm was hired for $3,200 to evaluate the condition of the house.

As the mayor and supervisor who had led to the purchase of the Doctor Crounse House retired, the will to save the house dwindled.

By December 2017, the Guilderland Town Board voted unanimously to demolish the building.

Soon after, Enterprise coverage of the imminent razing spurred response to save the Doctor Crounse House, a point that was acknowledged by Whalen at the April 2 meeting while discussing the restrictive covenant. Whalen said that the some of the restrictions listed in the covenant were based on what had been expressed in the media, “which is why both the town and the village are looking at selling the property as an option,” he said.

The 1827 building The Enterprise used as a model of salvation is in central New York, in the town of Ulysses. It was listed at the end of October with a real-estate agent. The town sold it with a restrictive covenant, meaning it cannot be torn down; the exterior can be restored but not changed. Half of the prospective buyers who looked at it were artists; it is being sold to an architect.

Mayor Dineen was asked how the village and town planned to assess if there were any interest in the property.

Dineen had discussed this with Barber earlier in the day, but they “didn’t get too far into it,” she said. She did say that signs would be placed on the property.

The village adopts a budget

Also at the village meeting, the trustees adopted a $2.3 million budget for next year.

The 2018-19 tax rate for villagers will be $2.73 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The amount to be raised by taxes is $290,000, the same as last year, while the overall value of village property stayed at $106.1 million.

Dineen said that Altamont residents haven’t had an increase in the tax rate in 15 years. This is the result of Albany County’s municipalities over-reliance on sales-tax revenue. About 39 percent of the village’s general-fund revenue comes from county sales tax and about 21 percent comes from property tax.

In the adopted budget, fund balance is used to cover about 19 percent of the general fund; this includes a large one-time expense that was not in the first draft — $125,000 to repair the firehouse’s brick veneer, which is  paid for out of the village’s unappropriated fund balance.

The adopted budget is about $200,000 more than what was presented in February’s first draft, but still below this year’s budget of $2.45 million, which reflects a modification of $278,590 to account for the purchase of a new truck for the fire department.

Save for the one-time big-ticket items — the fire truck and brick veneer — the 2018-19 budget is up barely 1 percent from last year.

The general fund totals $1.39 million. The water budget totals $387,356 of which $345,000 is covered by water rents. The sewer budget totals $540,073 of which $483,498 is covered by sewer rents.

The budget also includes a 2-percent cost-of-living increase in salaries for village staff.

Reorganization

The April 2 meeting also acted as the village’s reorganizational meeting.

With no municipal elections this year, only appointments were made, including one-year terms for Whalen as deputy mayor, Patty Blackwood as deputy court clerk, and Kelly Best as secretary to the planning and zoning boards.

And, five-year term appointments were made for Timothy Wilford as chairman and Connie Rue as alternate to the planning board and Michelle Ganance and Isaiah Swart as alternates to the zoning board.

The Altamont Enterprise was named as the primary official newspaper with The Spotlight as the alternate. Key Bank, First National Bank of Scotia, First Niagara Bank, Citizens Bank, J. P. Morgan Chase Bank, Kinderhook Bank, Pioneer Commercial Bank, NBT Bank, and M&T Bank were named official repositories.

Barton and Loguidice was named the village engineer, and Whiteman Osterman and Hanna was designated as village attorney.

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