Ancram buildings: ‘Fixer-uppers’ or ‘taker-downers’?

ANCRAM—Though the town has a local law that allows it to remove or repair dilapidated buildings deemed a threat to public safety, some are hesitant to put the law to use.

The subject of derelict buildings around town came up under New/Old/Pending Business at the June 21 Town Board meeting.

Town Supervisor Art Bassin reported that the Tinsmith House, a building on the northeast corner of the State Route 82/County Route 7 intersection in the Ancram hamlet that has been falling apart for many years, has been sold to new owners who plan to fix it up and live there. Recent Town Board meeting discussions about the building had focused on getting the previous owner, Dennis Berry, to donate it so it could be torn down. New owners told Mr. Bassin they think it will take a year or less to get it back in shape. “It’s pretty exciting,” said Mr. Bassin.

There is no plan to move the Stiehle House elsewhere. The house, on the southeast corner of the same intersection, is owned by the Ancram Preservation Group (APG). At the May Town Board meeting, R.O. Blechman, who made it clear he was speaking for himself and not as an APG representative, said he would “advocate strongly”… “to move [the house] away from the intersection.”

After speaking to someone else connected with the APG, Mr. Bassin reported at the June meeting, “moving the Stiehle house is not the plan. It will stay where it is.”

The discussion then turned to Porters Store on Route 82 just east of the hamlet intersection. Councilwoman Bonnie Hundt wanted to know the status of that crumbling structure owned by Joseph and Donna Hoyt. According to minutes of the November 2017 Town Board meeting, Mrs. Hoyt said she was in the process of applying for a grant to take down the building.

At that time she said the dangling pieces of roof had been removed and a contractor had found the interior of the building in stable shape but the exterior was an issue. “Mr. Bassin offered that there was interest in helping the Hoyts take the building down. Mrs. Hoyt said that they would handle the situation themselves,” the minutes said. The Town Board subsequently withdrew a resolution to authorize an engineering study of Porters.

Councilwoman Hundt said the issue should be revisited, “If [Mrs. Hoyt] has no plans, something needs to happen there to force the issue.”

Mr. Bassin said the town will have to get a lawyer and an engineer. If the building is deemed a threat to public safety then the town could take action at its own expense.

The local law dealing with unsafe buildings says, “If the engineering report confirms the Code Enforcement Officer’s determination that the building or structure is unsafe and also poses a danger to the health, safety and welfare of the public or adjacent properties, the owners of the unsafe building or structure shall be so notified, and required to take action to cure the violations identified by the engineering report.

If the owner does not act to make the repairs or demolish the building within 60 days, the Town Board, following a public hearing… shall determine whether or not to authorize the necessary repairs to eliminate the risks identified by the Code Enforcement Officer and Town Engineer, or shall authorize the demolition and removal of the unsafe building or structure, and have the cost of repairs or removal become a lien against the property.”

Mr. Bassin observed that even in the worst wind storms as of late, no debris has been flying off any of the derelict buildings.

He said if the town takes action on anything short of debris coming off the buildings “we will find ourselves in a lawsuit that will last forever.”

Councilman David Boice volunteered to talk to the Hoyts to find out the status of the grant application. He cautioned, the town should “leave them all alone or take action on them all, once we start down that road…”

It was noted that there are also two derelict buildings on County Route 3 and another on Cottontail Road.

If the board is so inclined, I can solicit an engineering study, an inventory and pictures and have an engineer evaluate the threat to public safety,” the supervisor said.

Before hiring an attorney, Councilman Hugh Clark suggested the town investigate the New York State Building Code applicable to the issue. Mr. Boice said the town could ask its building inspector to provide that information.

There is some logic to leaving these things alone,” said Mr. Bassin.

In other business the board:

Heard from Stuyvesant Town Justice Carrie O’Hare who is researching the history of Columbia County town and village courts to find out the names of those who have served as justices. Since she believes these elected officials who “put on the robe” should be recognized for their service, she had a “perpetual plaque” made bearing the names of past and present Ancram Town Justices and presented it to the Town Board for display in Town Hall. She plans to do the same for every town and village in the county

Heard from Glenda Dietter that the traffic through the Ancramdale hamlet is increasing in number, volume and speed. She said the situation is hazardous to the elderly, disabled, children, bicyclists, pets and that her own house has nearly been hit. The hamlet “once was sleepy and quiet, but not anymore,” she said. Mr. Bassin said the town could enact a law imposing weight limits on big trucks to prevent them from travelling through there and can also contract with the Sheriff’s Office for more police presence

Heard a detailed update on where the current Comprehensive Plan Review stands from Councilman Clark. A townwide survey, which is part of the review, has been completed and the review is on target in terms of timeline. The review will be done by late October “if we keep our eye on the ball,” Mr. Clark said.

Heard Town Clerk Monica Cleveland discuss her research into the purchase of a gazebo to be placed near the children’s playground at the Town Hall to provide some shade. Mrs. Cleveland and a gazebo subcommittee were authorized to take a field trip to purchase a gazebo by the Fourth of July. They can spend up to $10,000 for the structure and $2,500 of the cost must come out of the Youth Commission budget. Perhaps a band will even come and play there.

The Town Board’s next meeting is July 19 at 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email

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