Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Riggi controversy, pro and con.


Reader's view: A building falls, and civility with it
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I write this letter both as the attorney for Ron and Michele Riggi and as a lifelong resident of Saratoga Springs. Now that 23 Greenfield Ave. has been demolished, there are some things that need to be said.

First of all, it should be emphasized that when 23 Greenfield Ave. was purchased, its demolition was perfectly legal. My clients applied for a demolition permit in May of 2009, and while the application was pending, the city issued an “administrative hold” followed by a moratorium. The moratorium was issued at the request and urging of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation as well as certain other citizens of the community.

The purpose of the moratorium was to prevent the demolition of 23 Greenfield Ave. and any other similarly situated buildings pending an update of the city’s historic zoning ordinance. In the intervening year, two important matters occurred: my clients commenced a lawsuit against the city to declare the moratorium unconstitutional and illegal, and the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation petitioned the City Council to enlarge the city’s historic district by adding 48 parcels of land, including 23 Greenfield Ave., located in the northwest portion of the city.

It soon became clear that there was a classic dispute over the rights of the individual property owner versus the rights of the municipality. The two hearings conducted by the Planning Board as a part of the advisory opinion process were particularly instructive.

The written comments and the oral presentations made by people both inside and outside the proposed expanded district showed that a significant majority were opposed to any further expansion of our local historic district primarily for the reason that they rejected the idea of additional control by the city over improvements to their properties. When the Planning Board failed to issue a positive advisory opinion, the Preservation Foundation chose not to pursue an extension of the moratorium. It should be noted that a similar effort to expand the historic district was made in 1993 and it similarly failed for lack of public support.

Historic preservation has played an important part in the rebirth of the city starting in the 1960s. It’s my observation that historic zoning works best in the business districts and more densely populated parts of town, where the buildings are viewed as more “public” than in a single family zone. As the owner of a building on Broadway, I am pleased that it is within the historic district.

Most owners of single-family homes, however, feel somewhat differently about ceding some of their property rights to the government. Despite the good intentions of many of the people who have populated our land use boards over the years since we adopted a historic zoning ordinance, many people feel that they have been subjected to unnecessary expense and bureaucratic delays.

The most important lesson which should be gleaned from the experience of 23 Greenfield Ave. is that, above all, we have an obligation to treat our fellow citizens with respect. During the controversy about the demolition of 23 Greenfield Ave., I was saddened to hear and read gratuitously nasty comments about Mr. and Mrs. Riggi which served no useful purpose other than to unnecessarily enflame the situation. The postings on the blogs were particularly outrageous, not only because of their content but because they were written anonymously by people who were apparently reluctant to attach their names to their venomous comments.

Although there were many people who disagreed with Mr. and Mrs. Riggi in a respectful fashion, their voices were muted by the obnoxious remarks. Even the posting of signs represented bad behavior. How many of us would like to leave our homes in the morning to be confronted by the signs of some of our neighbors who happen to disagree with our position? Mr. and Mrs. Riggi fought for the preservation of their rights and, by extension, the rights of the other citizens of Saratoga Springs. They are not entitled to any special consideration because of their station in life or because they have been extraordinarily generous to so many organizations in our community; however, they don’t deserve to be scorned because some disagree with their position.

Far worse than the destruction of a building is the destruction of civility, which I witnessed during this process.

John J. Carusone Jr. is an attorney with Carusone & Carusone in Saratoga Springs.


© 2010, a Journal Register Property

Reader's View: So much wrong with demolition of 23 Greenfield Ave.
Sunday, June 13, 2010

Truth be told, Mr. Carusone, the Riggis’ story is not what you tell. First of all, the Riggis did not have a demolition permit when they started demolition, nor had they applied for one. The Saratogian also made that error. They may have applied for a demolition permit in May 2009, but it was after the fact.

This is what happened:

I heard about the demolition going on, walked down and spoke to the contractor. He said they were removing asbestos. As a neighbor, I knew in fact that asbestos had been removed several years earlier. The contractor was actually in the act of demolishing historic window sills and throwing them in a dumpster.

I sensed something fishy going on and called code enforcement in the Public Safety department. A code enforcing officer came, found no demolition permit had been applied for, stopped the demolition and boarded up the house. The Riggis tried to pull a fast one, also broke the law, and yet have not been fined?

As a member of Sustainable Saratoga, I have another issue with them. They did not salvage one piece of this historic building. Cabinets, fixtures, toilets and all the rest of the elegant furnishings of the house could have gone to Habitat for Humanity. The historic architectural details could have been saved and reused in restoring another building. This waste sets a bad example for the whole community as we are becoming more conscious of recycling and reusing.

As a neighbor, I have plenty of reasons to dislike what the Riggis did. I came to Saratoga in the early 1970s, attracted to a city that valued its historic heritage and architecture. My husband and I moved to the historic North Broadway neighborhood and restored a dilapidated old Italianate Victorian. The Riggis demolished an important part of my neighborhood and part of the history I value. They took something away from me and diminished our neighborhood.

I assume the Riggis moved to North Broadway because they loved the neighborhood and the community, but they have not been good neighbors. Their sense of individual rights far outweighs their social responsibilities. Their dogs yapping intrudes on the rights of the adjoining neighbors to peace and quiet. Their replacing a beautiful building with a dog kennel infringes on the property values of the whole neighborhood. Would you move next door to a place with 27 dogs?

Saratoga Springs is the historic city it is because people before us had a vision, a sense of social responsibility, and a value of something for the greater common good. Thinking only of ourselves and our individual rights disconnects us from our neighbors and diminishes our sense of community. When you live in a city, you are not an island.

Our city needs a thriving community of people inspired by, evolving and learning from others and from the beauty and history of what surrounds us.

Amejo Amyot is a resident of Saratoga Springs, a member of Sustainable Saratoga and founder of the Beekman Street Arts District.


© 2010, a Journal Register Property

1 comment:

tomllewis said...

Amejo Amyot wrote: "Would you move next door to a place with 27 dogs?"

Well, my answer is not only yes, but 2 months ago I DID move less than one block away from 23 Greenfield Ave.

So much of all this public bashing is based on envy.

I don't know how much money the Riggi's have donated to various not-for-profits (though I believe it is significant), but I do know that they donated $1 million to the new YMCA. To say, as the writer does, that "their sense of individual rights far outweighs their social responsibilities," is not very balanced.