KINDERHOOK—At one point 71 people attended the Village Board meeting Wednesday, November 18, held online on Zoom. The two issues that brought many residents to the meeting both had to do with village code enforcement.
Many people were there to hear about the issue with the Jack Shainman Gallery: The School on Broad Street that has new exhibit by artist Nick Cave that includes words written across the building’s facade in large black letters: “Truth Be Told.” Earlier this fall the village’s Code Enforcement Officer Peter Bujanow denied approval for the plans to put the vinyl material used to spell out the words on the building and now the owner of the gallery, Jack Shainman, and his lawyer, William Better, must go to the village Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to appeal the denial.
The School gallery matter was the subject of a recent New York Times article, and Village Attorney Rob Fitzsimmons reviewed the history of the building with the residents at the meeting. He said that when Mr. Shainman bought the building from the Ichabod Crane School District in 2012, the two-story brick former school was designated a cultural facility and Mr. Shainman had to come to the village code enforcement officer (CEO) for review of any changes to the outside of the building. In 2014 and 2015 Mr. Shainman received variances from former village CEO Glen Smith for banners on the building and artwork on the lawn.
Mr. Bujanow was appointed CEO last year and when the The School came to him for permission for this new artwork, Mr. Bujanow turned down the request, stating in an October 5 letter to The School that the request “is denied due to your proposal not being in compliance with Kinderhook Village Code and the additional safety concerns raised when reviewing New York State Building Code.”
On October 21, Mr. Bujanow issued a stop work order as the lettering was going up on the building. The stop work order lists the alleged violations including: “Exterior alterations in the Landmarks and Historic District requires Historic Preservation Commission review and approval, Village Code Chapter 75-6; Violation of Village Sign Regulations, Village Code Chapter 130-19 and Chapter 130 Attachment 2; Violation of Code Enforcement Officer letter dated October 5, 2020, denying the application of flammable, material to the building facade; and Violation of 2020 NYS Existing Building Code violation—applying combustible material to building exterior.”
Despite the order, the wording was completed across the building and the gallery issued a press release about the art opening to The Columbia Paper on November 3 with a quote from Mr. Shainman saying, “We are living in a moment when the distinctions between fact and fiction are often blurred,” adding, “I am proud that just as it was when it first opened, The School continues to be a place of learning, and perhaps today, of reckoning.”
Mr. Better was quoted in The New York Times article saying that the issue of the work’s flammability is “the ultimate red herring,” and that the vinyl material is “a 3M product that is regularly used on buildings across New York State.” He is also quoted in the article saying that signs are defined in the village code as “an announcement, direction or advertisement, and this is none of those.”
At the November 18 Village Board meeting, Mr. Fitzsimmons said that if the ZBA hears the appeal of Mr. Bujanow’s decision, that board will have a public hearing on the issue, where both sides can state their case. He did not say whether the ZBA has received an appeal from The School. But Mr. Fitzsimmons said the ZBA, not the Village Board, would determine whether the words are art or a sign.
“The Village Board is technically out of the loop,” he said.
Mr. Fitzsimmons also said the gallery is not being fined for having the words on the building.
When observers asked to address the issue at the meeting, Mr. Fitzsimmons said that would not be appropriate since both sides were not at the village meeting.
Resident Rima Bostick said the Village Board was infringing on her First Amendment rights by not allowing her to comment on The School. She did manage to charge that the village had driven out other arts institutions due the Village Board being “short sighted.”
Clark Griffin, The School’s operations manager, spoke during public comment. He thanked everyone who came out to support gallery. “It’s sadly between the lawyers now,” he said.
Kinderhook Mayor Dale Leiser said that board members had read the many emails they had received about the issue.
The village ZBA canceled its November 23 regular meeting due to “lack of filed applications.” The ZBA’s next meeting is December 28. According to an email about the cancellation of the meeting, applications before the board need to be submitted at least 10 days prior to the meeting. Public hearings must be announced and properly noticed before they can be held.
The other zoning issue discussed at the meeting had to do with a house at 48 William Street that was deemed unsafe in February. Several neighbors of the building logged on to the Zoom meeting to discuss that topic.
‘We are living in a moment when the distinctions between fact and fiction are often blurred.’
The School Gallery
The village plans to demolish the house but is waiting for a variance from the state. Mayor Leiser cautioned that things are moving slowly at the state. But he said once the village has authorization from the state, taking down the building “will be quick.” Residents at the meeting were concerned with how long the process had already taken.
Village Attorney Fitzsimmons stressed that the board is “not taking ownership of the building” or brokering any deals to sell the property.
Also at the board meeting:
• The board heard from Darren Waterston and Yen Ngo about their plans to open a restaurant on Hudson Street. Mr. Waterston said they are hoping to open a farm-to-table restaurant in the large property by this summer. “It’s quite an ambitious project,” he told the board and thanked Mr. Bujanow for his help in the process. “It really is going to take a village,” Mr. Waterston said
• Village Economic Development Director Renee Shur talked about plans for the Kinderhook Business and Professional Associations (KBPA) December Nights holiday programs to bring visitors to the village
The next village meeting will be Wednesday, December 9 at 7 p.m. For more information about the meeting go to www.villageofkinderhook.org
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email