It appears all options to save the Doctor Crounse House have been exhausted

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
For the first third of this year, the plan had been to knock down the Frederick Crounse House in Altamont. 

ALTAMONT — Citing a lack of support from the village of Altamont as well as time constraints, the citizens’ group Historic Altamont Inc. on Monday said that it would no longer seek a state grant that may have covered the entire cost of restoring the historic — and dilapidated — Dr. Frederick Crounse House, which is co-owned by the village and town of Guilderland. 

However, the group also asked that the municipalities consider taking out an endangered properties loan through the state — which Historic Altamont said it would help raise up to $50,000 to repay — to abate asbestos in the house, which, the group claims, could make the property more attractive to prospective buyers.

In 2006, the town and village jointly paid $40,000 in back taxes to Albany County to purchase the Federal-style house built in 1833 by the area’s first doctor. Altamont’s mayor at the time, James Gaughan, described the condition of the building as “fair to good.” He envisioned housing the village’s extensive archives there, where visitors could learn about Altamont’s history.

But, instead, neither the town nor village did anything to restore or maintain the structure. The house fell into disrepair and the municipalities spent $25,000 in grant money earmarked for a new roof for the Doctor Crounse House on other projects.

The house is located on Altamont’s Main Street, on the outskirts of the village, in what had been the original center of development — Knowersville — before the train station moved the village and it changed its name to Altamont.

Several attempts by the grassroots citizens’ group, Historic Altamont Inc., to save the house from demolition haven’t panned out.

Tom Capuano, president of Historic Altamont Inc., told The Enterprise earlier this month that his group needed, for this last attempt, both the town and village to say that they would be willing to wait for the grant process to play out, which could take about six months.

Guilderland had been open to Historic Altamont moving forward with its grant application. Peter Barber, Guilderland’s supervisor, told The Enterprise on June 10, “I have met with Tom and his group a number of times and let Tom know that, yes, obviously, if he’s got a grant that Historic Altamont Inc. might be applying for, then the town would be supportive of that.” 

 At its June 18 meeting, Guilderland’s town board adopted a resolution in support of Historic Altamont’s grant application.

While Guilderland had stated explicitly — albeit informally — its support of Historic Altamont before the group’s self-imposed June 12 deadline, which it had set because of the time needed to write and apply for the grant, the group never received any advance indication from the village whether or not it would support the group’s proposal.

The village had moved its monthly meeting from July 16 to July 2. However, it did not move the meeting for Historic Altamont alone (initially, the move was made to accommodate summer hiring), Mayor Kerry Dineen wrote to The Enterprise, but, she added, the village did recognize “the change would allow us a timely conversation on [Historic Altamont’s] proposal.”  

Additionally, Dineen had asked Capuano to be present so that he could answer questions from the board. 

Dineen, in an email to The Enterprise on June 24, said that the “entire” village board “needs to have a discussion on the proposal” with Capuano or members of Historic Altamont at its July 2 meeting “before voting to approve or deny the application.”

The Enterprise wrote to Dineen that Barber told Capuano the town supported his proposal, and that it would make its support official at the next town meeting — which it did.

Asked why the village couldn’t have given Capuano unofficial approval to move forward with the grant process as Guilderland had, Dineen responded: “Guilderland approved the grant application through a formal resolution at last week’s meeting.  We were to consider the same at our next meeting on July 2nd. The Village board received the information on the proposal after our monthly June meeting.”

Timing and a complex process

At the June 4 village-board meeting, Capuano asked the board for one last reprieve in order to pursue a $300,000 matching — $150,000 from the state, $150,000 raised by Historic Altamont — Historic Preservation Grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. 

The village board, although skeptical, had been willing to read a letter that Capuano would prepare explaining the grant and why he thought his group could obtain it. 

That letter, hand-delivered to the village hall on June 7, according to a June 24 email from Capuano to Barber and the Altamont Board of Trustees, “made it clear that we needed to either meet with you or know by June 12th if our grant writing should proceed or not.”

Capuano told The Enterprise on Monday that he received no response from the village to his hand-delivered June 7 letter until after he sent a June 20 follow-up email to Dineen. But, by that point, Capuano wrote to Barber and the village board, he and his group “had already lost 12 irreplaceable days we had set aside for writing and research.”

Capuano estimated that it would take a professional grant-writer about 80 hours to write his group’s proposal, and said that he and two other members of his group had volunteered to do the grant-writing, adding that two additional members had volunteered to do research. 

With “numerous and complex grant requirements,” that “would consume an enormous amount of time and energy,” a July 26 application deadline, and with having to wait until July 2 for a decision from the village board, Historic Altamont was at a “hopeless disadvantage,” Capuano wrote. “It would be very difficult to garner community support without the support of our own Village Board. Under these disappointing circumstances we must accept that competing for this grant in 2019 is no longer a viable option.”

Asked about the delay in responding to Capuano, Dineen wrote that she and the board had picked up and began reviewing Capuano’s letter as well as additional documentation he had submitted “the week of [June] 9th, with the understanding we would discuss and possibly approve a resolution for the application at our next meeting in July.”

  She wrote that, when Capuano sent the June 20 email “about wanting to meet with the town and myself [on June 24]. I responded very quickly as you are aware, indicating we would be discussing the proposal at our next meeting. I asked Mr. Capuano to bring some specific information with him that was not addressed in the proposal.”

For his part, Capuano said that, when he asked for the June 24 joint town-village meeting, Barber responded quickly with his availability, “but we didn’t get the same from the mayor.”

Dineen said that the July 2 meeting was necessary because the board needed an opportunity to ask questions of Capuano and to discuss the proposal, “as it was missing a lot of the information we required from the first two proposals we considered.”

Capuano said that the things the board wanted to address on July 2, were “topics of interest” and “very worthy of discussion”; however, Historic Altamont just didn’t have any more time to wait.

Dineen also pointed out that the last time the village had heard from Historic Altamont, in November 2018, the group had “arrived at the conclusion that the costs of asbestos testing and abatement” were “beyond” its “reach.” And, she said, the group had made the decision not to “pursue further the acquisition of the property.”

Further, Dineen wrote, for the first part of the year, the plan had been to knock down the house; however, the town and village hadn’t met since April to discuss the project.

At the June 4 meeting, Dineen said that the village had received a lot of emails asking that the Doctor Crounse House be taken down. On June 11, The Enterprise, through a Freedom of Information Law request, asked for those emails pertaining to the Doctor Crounse House. The village responded that the records will be available on or about July 17. 

As for Capuano’s last-minute bid at the June 4 meeting to save the Crounse House, Dineen wrote, “This new proposal was a surprise to the Village Board and we need to do our due diligence as an approval of their proposal has major potential impacts on both Village and town residents.”  

She continued, “It is unfair to expect the Village Board to take action without any discussion by the entire board and HA within such a short timeline. To this date, there has been a maximum of 13 days since we received this proposal.”

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