Lawyer Outlines Lawsuit Arguments if Hospital Demolition Denied

Proposes village demand mini-museum in return for allowing tear-down

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Cold Spring faces a likely lawsuit challenging “arbitrary” and “capricious” conduct if its Historic District Review Board refuses to allow developer Paul Guillaro to demolish the old Butterfield Hospital, a Guillaro lawyer warns. Alternately, if the village permits Guillaro to tear down the derelict structure, it could get a mini-museum honoring the hospital’s heritage, the attorney, Steven Barshov, proposed in an 18-page legal memorandum.

Barshov proposed that as a condition for approval of the demolition application, the village demand that Guillaro create the historic exhibit in the complex he wants to construct on the Butterfield property.

The memo declares that “since the building’s demolition meets all the criteria in the village code … a denial would be arbitrary, capricious, irrational, and contrary to law.” Barshov gave the memo to HDRB members at a public hearing on Dec. 5, informing them that it presents “every issue that we would raise in court” if not allowed to raze the long-abandoned hospital to prepare for redevelopment. The Cold Spring village government subsequently provided a copy of the memo to Philipstown.info.

Attorney Steven Barshov, left, with Paul Guillaro at the public hearing on hospital demolition (Photo by L.S. Armstrong)

Attorney Steven Barshov, left, with Paul Guillaro at the public hearing on hospital demolition (Photo by L.S. Armstrong)

On the several-acre Butterfield property, Guillaro, of Butterfield Realty LLC, seeks to construct a complex of three single-family homes, condominiums for retirement-age buyers (senior-citizen housing), an intergovernmental municipal building-cum-community and senior center, post office, and an office-retail “square” along Route 9D.

The site lies within the village historic district and to proceed, Guillaro needs the Historic District Review Board to grant demolition permission – in legal parlance, a certificate of appropriateness. So far, the HDRB has seemed adamantly opposed to demolition, or at least extremely reluctant to condone it. It is scheduled to render its decision on Wednesday, Dec. 19.

The hospital was built in three stages. The oldest part was completed in 1925, consisting of a large, neo-colonial, Georgian-style mansion. A wing added in 1941 mimicked that form, but a modernistic expansion in 1963 wrapped around and largely consumed the 1925 core. Those changes destroyed any historic architectural elements and any reason for keeping the structure, Barshov contended in his memo.

Invoking village code

 In crafting his case, Barshov quoted the Cold Spring Village Code. The code cites the village’s 19th-century buildings as the reason for establishing the historic district in the 1970s. It explains that the Village Board found “that the village has a large number of commercial and residential structures which faithfully reflect elements and characteristics of 19th-century Hudson River architecture.” According to the code, loss of these old buildings “threatens the essential 19th-century character of the area,” with its “unique and distinctive architectural heritage,” while preserving them brings benefits, including economic gains.

“The purpose of the Cold Spring Historic District is to preserve the village’s 19th-century architecture,” Barshov emphasized. “No other purpose is articulated,” and “demolition of the building is entirely consistent with [the] village code,” he asserted. Moreover, getting rid of the hospital actually “would eliminate a structure that detracts from the historic character of the community, not enhances it,” he added.

Butterfield Hospital, with the 1963 expansion in front and 1941 wing on the left; photo by L.S. Armstrong

Butterfield Hospital, with the 1963 expansion in front and 1941 wing on the left; photo by L.S. Armstrong

Barshov wrote that demolition permission “should be granted and conditioned on the applicant [Guillaro] installing an appropriate public gallery in a replacement building, in which the history of Butterfield Hospital, Julia Butterfield, and Hobart Brown Upjohn are appropriately displayed, and [on] naming the site in honor of Mrs. Butterfield.” Julia Butterfield, a pillar of 19th-century Hudson River society, left the money for the hospital in her will. Prominent architect Upjohn designed the initial structure.

Conflicting perspectives

The Dec. 5 public hearing featured a blitz of commentary from both sides. While Barshov previewed his courtroom case should a lawsuit ensue, the HDRB offered audience members its own report arguing that the entire hospital, despite its disparate 1925, 1941, and 1963 components, constitutes a valuable historic whole. The HDRB convened the hearing to gain citizen input, and Barshov protested that in disseminating its report the HDRB was attempting to sway public opinion to support its own views.

While the hospital “may seem to be a disjointed collection of unrelated sections,” the HDRB report stated, “several design narratives unite the overall structure, communicating the story of its evolution from the common architectural root … . ” Furthermore, while each hospital section “is stylistically distinct and a product of its time, they all relate to each other, forming a common and progressive architectural narrative.”

The pieces also show the structure “represents a continuum of the evolving design of a medical facility that served its community”; reveal “the ways medical services changed” in the 20th century, and “tangibly represent the civic and philanthropic efforts” of important personages, the HDRB concluded.

By contrast, Barshov stated that two separate architectural history surveys conducted by experts, one completed recently for Butterfield Realty and the other undertaken a few years ago for the HDRB itself, determined “that the building no longer retains any exterior architectural features of historical significance and does not contribute to the Village of Cold Spring historic district.” He also discounted the notion of keeping the building to commemorate significant historic figures or the hospital’s role in the community. In considering a demolition, the HDRB must defer to the code and not “craft its own decision-making criteria,” he said.

The Butterfield heritage

As Barshov pointed out, in his proposed complex Guillaro has offered to include a public gallery with historic exhibits on the hospital’s background — in effect, a small museum. “Certainly such a public gallery or hall, with appropriate interpretive exhibits, would be far more fitting to the legacy of Butterfield Hospital, Julia Butterfield, and Hobart Brown Upjohn than retaining the existing building, which will simply continue to molder and rot,” Barshov wrote in his memo.

He said that Guillaro “is under no obligation to restore the building and the HDRB cannot require its restoration” but that in authorizing demolition the HDRB can “impose reasonable conditions which further the purpose of the [historic] district,” such as establishing a small museum and giving the complex Mrs. Butterfield’s name, impositions that “the applicant would willingly embrace.”

4 thoughts on “Lawyer Outlines Lawsuit Arguments if Hospital Demolition Denied

  1. Whatever the HDRB decides, they have my utmost respect. They have expertise in architectural matters, they have studied the issue thoroughly, and they were appointed to independently make decisions. I trust them completely. The pressure levied against them, particularly in certain quarters that practice divisive, agenda-based maybe-journalism, is grossly unfair. Whether they permit demolition or insist on some form of re-purposing of all or some of the hospital, the HDRB volunteers deserve praise for their thoughtfulness, and for their consideration of the past and how it affects our future. We are lucky to have them.

  2. Recently at my new restaurant on the Poughkeepsie waterfront (The Poughkeepsie Ice House) I saw a quite prominent Cold Spring village couple, who have been very involved in Cold Spring politics, the LWRC, the Special Board for the Master Plan, and who are learned and well respected progressive thinkers in the village.
    I made the comment that Poughkeepsie was aggressively pursuing a “come from behind” approach to preservation, economic development, and forward thinking and that Cold Spring had become lack luster in this respect. They later questioned me about this in an email and I returned by stating that I thought Cold Spring had lost the zest that it possessed in the 90’s. That “lets make this place work” attitude that made all of our houses go up in price, our businesses successful, and which brought all of the New York City “progressive” thinkers” to take up residence in Cold Spring because of our forward thinking.
    Reading the arguments that Mr Zgolinsky tries to make about the present state of the old Hospital with its ugly (visible) architecture, its lack of cohesive style, and its hideous physical condition, makes me realize that we have not only lost our luster, but are in “progressive reverse.”
    Keep up the good work, Al and we will soon look like Cold Spring in the 50’s and 60’s just like Poughkeepsie looks right now.

    • The charm and attraction of Tom Rolston’s Depot Restaurant is based primarily in the successful adaptive reuse of the old Cold Spring train station.

      Mr Zgolinski’s interest in preservation and adaptive reuse of the old hospital building is valid and appropriate to his work on the Historic District Review Board.

      A restored hospital building could be of similar value and charm to the Village and its visitors if given appropriate attention and care by its owner – just as Tom Rolston has invested in his charming old train station.

      To all of the HDRB, keep up the good work! In spite of inappropriate interference from certain quarters and divisive pressures from the public and the press alike, you demonstrate starch and integrity as you work to carry out your mandate. Thank you!

    • Tom: Many thanks for your comments which I believe are right on target. Although I am the “new kid on the block” with my shop, I have been coming to Cold Spring as a shopper and visitor for over 30 years. I live in the neighboring town of Putnam Valley which has absolutely no commercial base, no shopping, no retail, nothing remotely like the fantastic Main Street that’s here. All of our shopping opportunities are on Route 6, the Miracle Mile because, for many reasons, no retail can survive in PV, not even our beloved hardware store which closed a few years ago.

      Back in 2005 when I started my retail business I first looked at what was available in CS– there were few vacancies and the rents were high; but, there sure were a lot of shoppers and tourists. Fast forward to March of this year when I arrived after being warned by some of my fellow business owners not to expect much in the way of promotion from the civic organizations that are here. I came here because I love this place which is so breathtakingly beautiful, and because I had hope that if I worked with the Chamber and/or the Putnam Tourism agency, we could make it happen again.

      I find that what I’m running into is very discouraging: the powers that be at the tourism agency have their own ideas about how to bring people here that are not based in reality. The Chamber keeps such a low profile, it’s almost like a secret society. There is a merchants’ association that at least took out a Christmas ad and has done some other things, but even that group almost seems to have given up.

      Cold Spring has the potential to be a goldmine for all of us who live or work here. There’s a huge potential for business owners to make money and ease the burden of the taxpayers. However, none of us individually has the resources to do the kind of advertising, marketing and promotion that needs to be done. Either the Chamber and/or Putnam Tourism is going to have to invest money in advertising that works such as local cable tv that hits lower Westchester and NYC, radio stations with a wider demographic than WHUD, internet ads, etc.

      There are many resources out there if only the people who are in charge would acknowledge that maybe they don’t have all the answers and allow some of us who do to participate. None of us can survive a situation where shoppers are here only 2 days a week; we need foot traffic 5 to 7 days to make a difference. I sincerely hope that anyone who reads this and who feels like I do as far as trying to jump start our local economy, will contact me. I am not going to give up just yet.