A process that started in April reached a conclusion Tuesday when the city of Dunkirk Planning Board approved the demolition of a former church at 501 Central Ave.
Brooks Memorial Hospital purchased the building in March 2011 for $150,000 from Iglesia Getsemani and sought permission for demolition of the property which is located in the city's Historical Overlay District. Its location put the building's future in the hands of the Planning Board, which has oversight when it comes to the Historical District.
The board approved the demolition by a 3-2 vote, but not before board members ran through their reasoning again. Members Bill Tuggle, John Mackowiak and Andy Bohn provided the 'yes' votes while board chairman Ed Schober and Chris Piede were in opposition to the demolition.
OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder
The City of Dunkirk Planning Board, by a 3-2 vote, gave Brooks Memorial Hospital the OK to demolish this former church at 501 Central Ave. The hospital purchased the building in March 2011 for $150,000 from Iglesia Getsemani.
The meeting began with Schober asking Jarrod Johnson, the hospital's chief operating officer, if there was anything he wanted to add to previous testimony.
"I'm happy you guys are bringing this to a vote and hopefully you will vote in our favor. We'd be very appreciative because we have plans for the hospital," Johnson said. "Thank you for the opportunity and thank you for meeting."
Johnson was asked about the plans.
"Initially we want to turn it into 75 new parking spaces for the hospital. We are looking at the expansion of some services. Right now we are looking at radiation oncology and how we can make that more modern," Johnson explained. "There's an opportunity there to add to the building and the addition would need spaces as well. That's really our plan to grow the hospital, grow outpatient services, to look at radiation oncology, and try to improve that program and the parking is needed to grow the services on campus."
Schober then reminded board members of the criteria from the city code the board was to use in judging the request. It comes from Section 79-14040 Findings.
"In approving the construction, demolition, relocation or material change in the exterior appearance of buildings and structures located on a lot in the H-D Overlay District, the Historic Commission/ Planning Board must make one of the following findings in their recommendation:
1) The proposed work preserves, enhances or restores the exterior appearance and architectural features of a building or structure and/or district of historic/architectural significance.
2) The proposed work compliments or enhances the exterior appearance and architectural features of a building or structure and/or district of historic/architectural significance.
3) The applicant has adequately demonstrated that the loss of a building or structure of historic/architectural significance is acceptable and/or made necessary by unsafe conditions which are economically unfeasible to correct."
Schober said portions of the building date to the 1860s and 1920s.
"In this time in the city we've seen it happen over and over again where a building maybe that most had thought had outlived its usefulness and was of no further value other than demolition, has experienced a rebirth," he added.
Bohn said he respected Schober's opinion but felt the building would be demolished, citing earlier efforts to save the former Ford House.
"I feel that it's not necessarily giving in, but ... we can only go so far as to save what is there," Bohn added.
Schober replied that the hospital's consultant said the building could stand for years.
"This property was purchased just a year ago with full knowledge of the planning issues at stake. So much so that the hospital even briefed us as a board through the previous director of development as to what our thoughts might be if they go ahead. At that time most of us thought that unless there was plans for a real building development, not a parking lot, that we were not in favor of it," Schober added. "... The hospital proceeded to go ahead and buy it anyways."
Tuggle said he had already made his opinion known and had watched the church deteriorate over the last 25 years he has lived in the area..
Piede said his opinion was unchanged.
"It just doesn't seem as a member of the planning board I should be voting against it when it says right there and it doesn't meet any of the criteria in my opinion. ... I'm not going to vote for the demolition," Piede stated.
Mackowiak said the hospital would eventually win, even though he thought the building was unique and a jewel.
"Unfortunately it happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," he stated. "If Medicor, the doctors, chose that corner and built their medical building there we wouldn't be having this discussion. If the city wanted to make that a historical site and make it another museum, or move City Hall, or whatever reason, they should have bought it when it was for sale. The hospital bought the building so now we're in this position.
"Do we waste taxpayer dollars fighting for a cause that most likely ultimately will lose? ... I kind of feel we're wasting our time here, let's get progress going."
Schober said he had yet to see an example of a building that had historic significance demolished for parking being equated with progress. He added the members had to be "a guardian and conservator as well for the historic district."
He noted the sale went quickly and there was no way to know if there was another interest in the building.
Development Director Steve Neratko said he would like to make his feelings known prior to the vote, saying he agreed with Schober's assessment that the board did not have the authority to allow the demolition.
"I would disagree with the thought that taking a building down and putting parking lots is progress," he explained. "... I cannot imagine a hospital having more parking available than this one."
Schober noted again the building is not near collapse and the board would be setting a precedent.
Johnson said the last time he was present he talked about volume increases at the hospital and ran through those again. Johnson said the hospital has gotten letters from a neighborhood association complaining about hospital employees and visitors parking in residential areas.
"Because it's going to be parking initially, I think the hospital really needs this space so we can continue this growth," he stated.
After further discussion, City Attorney Ron Szot made the suggestion that a lawsuit could follow and asked that any motion should mimic code language. Neratko added that fear of a lawsuit should not be cause for a 'yes' vote.
Whether the board would be setting a precedent was another topic for discussion. Schober said he saw no criteria the board could use to agree to the demolition.
After some problem with wording, Szot provided guidance before Tuggle presented the motion.
"Feeling that Brooks Hospital has provided evidence that under 79-14040 Section 3, that they are unable to rehab the property in question economically due to various factors," Tuggle said. "I make a motion that they be allowed to demolish the building based on obtaining the proper permits."
After the meeting Johnson said there was no time frame for tearing down the building as yet.
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