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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 26, 2012

Property with historic house to be acquired, building demolished
By Zach Simeone

BERNE — For decades, state and town officials have said that the dilapidated 19th-Century frame house at the corner of routes 156 and 443 is unsafe, as it has been a hub for car accidents due to its blocking visibility. But, with its base structure weakened by Tropical Storm Irene, and its location along the Fox Creek, the building may now pose a greater threat, especially if extreme weather conditions were to return.

“The potential hazard,” Supervisor Kevin Crosier said, “is this large building falling into the stream, plugging up the bridge, and then catastrophic destruction downstream,” while destroying the bridge in the process.

Vasilios Lefkaditis, a Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board member, had purchased the corner property last summer with the intent of tearing down the larger building on the corner, and turning the smaller blue building across the street into office space.

Now, he plans to sell property, through the town, to the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of FEMA’s property acquisition program, meaning both buildings will be demolished.

“It’s my understanding that, if you’re selected, then they go through a procedure where they value the buildings, make an offer, and so on, and so forth,” Lefkaditis said Wednesday. “Technically, it looks like FEMA is buying the building from me, and paying for demolition, and, in return, I’m giving them the right to take the property and leave it undeveloped.”

The town has submitted an application to the state, which reviews all applications and decides which projects are appropriate to hand over to FEMA, which then reviews the projects, and determines whether the project is both safe and a worthwhile use of funding.

FEMA funds 75 percent of the project, but the demolition and removal of the buildings is conducted locally.

Susan Hawkes-Teeter, who lives just across the creek from the run-down building, watched in August as Irene tore her garage off of her property.

In March, her friend drew her attention to the retaining wall that runs along the Fox Creek, at the foundation of the soon-to-be-demolished house on the corner, and she became nervous.

Some parts of the wall are missing chunks, and others are slowly buckling outwards.

“Thank goodness we haven’t had a heavy snowmelt and rains and all that,” Hawkes-Teeter told The Enterprise.

Portions of the retaining wall on the Hawkes-Teeters’ side of the creek were blown off and sent down stream with her garage, but she is not eligible for any sort of funding, she said.

“If we own the wall, then the town can’t put it down as part of one of their projects,” Hawkes-Teeter said. “So, even though that building could come down, and the retaining wall there might get altered or fixed, ours will still be like this, unless we want to spend $50,000 to put in a retaining wall.”

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