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.
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.
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.
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.”