Poughkeepsie’s Monument Preservation Commission has adamantly opposed this plan and declined to issue a certificate of eligibility. This prevented the developers from obtaining the necessary permits to proceed, and they have appealed the decision. The city’s lawmakers have confirmed it and the developers have filed a lawsuit. The case continues.
Despite the lawsuit, the city recently completed the sale of the property and is working with the developers on a settlement. “We have a housing problem — it’s been called a crisis — and this location is a perfect location for homes at market rates,” said Poughkeepsie Mayor Robert Rolison. The current deal would preserve Pelton Manor, a historic building that has been vacant for nearly a decade, for public use. It was originally planned to be converted into apartments; now it should house an arts organization.
That’s not enough for opponents. “This is an outspoken sweetheart deal typical of the good old boys’ business here,” said Ken Stier, a freelance reporter who moved to the neighborhood from Brooklyn four years ago and is an outspoken opponent of the plan. “The mansion, and its small but precious setting overlooking the river, is the crown jewel in a greatly reduced historic district,” he said. The area, he continued, will be “completely privatized and filled with luxury homes.”
Poughkeepsie’s Conservation Commission, meanwhile, is in a predicament. Three of the seven seats have expired, with two more set to expire this summer. With five of the seven seats up for grabs, it would be easy for the mayor to replace them with commissioners more sympathetic to the plan. So far that hasn’t happened.
“I have not replaced them because of their involvement in this proposal, because it would not have been the right choice,” Mayor Rolison said. But the future remains doubtful. “I haven’t done it for now,” he said, “but I’m not going to lock myself into anything.”
The impact of a local government firing the leaders of the Historic Preservation Commission has so far been minimal. In the case of Durham, the city could lose its certified local authority status. The designation comes from a federal program, administered by the state, that provides cities with financial support and training in exchange for maintaining conservation standards. New York has 75 such certified local governments, including New York City.
“The situation in Durham is incredibly frustrating,” said Daniel McEneny, the division director of the New York State Historic Preservation Office, which oversees the program. The office of mr. McEneny has written two letters to Mr. Marriott, the city supervisor of Durham. Both letters explain that the Durham Custody Committee does not currently have a quorum to function. So far, the council has not responded. “If we don’t hear back, we’ll begin an audit,” which is the first step to removing Durham from the federal program, Mr McEneny said.
Mr Ciccone recently wrote an email to Mr McEneny claiming his resignation sets a dangerous precedent. “This is expanding from an esoteric local issue,” he wrote, to a major threat to local heritage conservation commissions everywhere.