(Albany, New York -- April 26, 2002) Press Statement from the Preservation League of NYS:
PRESS STATEMENTS and NEWS RELEASES:
Director of Public Policay Daniel Mackay said: "The Preservation League has supported this lawsuit from its inception, as the actions of the Community Preservation Panel signal a serious misunderstanding or disregard of its obligations under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), as well as a disrespect for the significant historic resources of the Village. While the League supports economic revitalization that enhances a community's historic resources, such development must acknowledge and respect the integrity of those resources and proper public process. At this juncture of our continuing legal action, we are no longer only concerned with protecting the architectural integrity of the Aurora Inn, but with protecting the sanctity of the state law's [SEQRA] intent and ability to protect the unique historic resources of New York State."
(Washington, D.C. -- April 25, 2002) Press Statement from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
National Trust President President Richard Moe said: "We are pleased to join our local and state partners to seek the review of the highest appeals court in New York. All too often we've seen that communities, in their rush to find so-called improvements, are blinded to what makes them unique and authentic in the first place. Unfortunately, that is the case here. The National Trust intends to continue our involvement in Aurora, as the college proposes additional phases of its plan, in an effort to influence a greater sensitivity to historic preservation concerns."
For Immediate Release: April 24, 2002
Aurora Coalition Heads for the State's Highest Court
National and State Preservation Groups Join Grass Roots Effort
(Aurora, NY) A national and a state historic preservation group joined a local grassroots organization on April 23 to stop renovation of an old inn and protect a 100-building National Register Historic District. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, The Preservation League of New York State, and the Aurora Coalition filed for permission to be heard by the NYS Court of Appeals in Albany.
Interiors, additions, and balconied porches of the Aurora Inn, a three story 1833 brick building, already have been destroyed along with an historic market building. "But the project isn't finished, and there are other structures at risk," says Aurora resident and Coalition member Karen Hindenlang. "The National Trust and the Preservation League have made this next step possible."
The three groups seek to overturn a ruling which may "open the door to the piecemeal dismantling of New York State's historic districts," according to their joint motion for Leave to Appeal.
Aurora, says National Trust regional attorney Marilyn Fenollosa, is "an exceptional historic district... characterized by the NYS Historic Preservation Office as one of the most threatened historic places in the state." Chartered by Congress in 1949, the National Trust limits its participation in litigation to instances where state and local preservation laws and nationally significant historic properties are at risk, according to Fenollosa. "This case meets those criteria."
Tuesday's filing is part of an on-going historic preservation case receiving national attention. In September, 2001, the Aurora Coalition, a small group of current and former residents, filed suit against the village government and Wells College to re-examine the college's plan to gut the interior and alter the exterior of the Aurora Inn and demolish an adjacent building to make way for an addition. Dismissed by the State Supreme Court in November, the Coalition�s petition was supported by the National Trust and the Preservation League with a "friend of the court" brief in the state�s appellate division. Demolition work began in January after the Coalition could not post a $250,000 bond in seven days to undertake the court's offer of an injunction. In March, the Fourth Department of the Appellate Division upheld the earlier ruling against the Coalition.
The state government's Historic Preservation Office called the Aurora Inn "an extremely rare and intact surviving example of an early 19th century inn" with a high level of integrity. The inn was fully operational until closed by Wells College in October, 2000, because of financial problems. Much of it was irreversibly altered this spring.
The controversial inn project is the first of several planned by Wells College in conjunction with multi-millionaire alumna Pleasant T. Rowland. Last year, Rowland and Wells formed the Aurora Foundation, L.L.C., a limited liability company created to develop about a dozen historic college-owned properties in the lake-side village of 600.
"The college has used the word 'restore' repeatedly to describe their plans for the village. But their treatment of the inn is in no way a restoration," says Jacquetta Haley, Ph.D., a Wells alumna and museum consultant for historic homes. "This first project is an unsympathetic, unnecessarily destructive, and badly conceived rehabilitation, as judged by federal government guidelines. What will become of the rest of Aurora's remarkable Historic District?"
The gut rehabilitation of the Aurora Inn includes the removal of nearly all interior features, including broad character-defining front-to-back halls with their associated central stairway. In addition, plans call for a total reconfiguration of the upper floors, the addition of windows, the creation of a glassed-in garden room, and the introduction of sky-lights and kitchenettes.
"Re-designing historic architecture to suit transient modern taste betrays both our past and our future," says Wells professor and long-time Aurora resident Dr. Linda Schwab. "Generations to come ought to be able to discover what it is to be American by seeing authentic parts our heritage."
Rowland founded the American Girl Company, which markets historic theme dolls and accessories and was bought by Mattel in 1998 for more than $700 million. A Wisconsin resident, Rowland has purchased several Aurora properties, including a lakeside mansion, a 19-room federal home, a small variety store, and a large home-furnishings business. In 1995, she failed in an attempt to establish a commercial American Girl Doll museum and tea room at an historic estate in Mt. Kisco, NY.
(Aurora, New York --March 17, 2002) Press Statement from the Aurora Coalition:
The Aurora Coalition lost its appeal against Wells College and the Village of Aurora on March 15. Naturally, we are disappointed by the decision. It would seem that the State Environmental Quality Review Act, as interpreted by the courts, may be inadequate to protect the irreplaceable historic buildings in our National Register District.
Nonetheless, we remain committed to historic preservation in Aurora, and thank all those who have come forward to help us: the many current and former residents of the village; the National Trust for Historic Preservation; the Preservation League of New York State; the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation; and individual preservation experts from all across the state and the country.
The fact that so many people have come together under difficult circumstances to form a coalition and mount a legal challenge should make it clear to all concerned that Aurora's rich history belongs to the entire community, and its precious architectural legacy is a part of the nation's heritage.
We understand it may have been frustrating for the college and foundation to learn that their vision for Aurora was not shared by the whole village, or endorsed by the wider preservation community.
But, as work continues on the project, we can see the impact of what state officials termed a "gut rehabilitation." This is not a restoration. The plans show that the end result will not reflect any previous historic condition. It is not even facade-ism, as it appears that the remaining brick shell will be substantially redesigned. The Aurora Inn's exterior elevations and interior floor plan are being radically altered, and the historic integrity of the building lost forever. We believed, and experts agreed, that it was unnecessary to do this in order to make the building a commercial success.
The devastation of the historic heart of Aurora -- the Inn and the Market -- divided the village. We hope the foundation's other projects will not perpetuate that rift. We call upon the foundation to fulfill its initial promise to the community: to give residents a full voice in planning the village's future, to develop projects with the broadest possible support, and to protect and preserve our shared history in this National Register District.
Karen A. Hindenlang, VP
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 13, 2002
TWO PRESERVATION ORGANIZATIONS JOIN AURORA COALITION TO STOP "RENOVATION" OF HISTORIC INN
(AURORA, N.Y.) The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) and the Preservation League of New York State (PLNYS) have filed a joint "friend of the court" brief, supporting a lawsuit brought by the Aurora Coalition against Wells College and the village government.
The Aurora Coalition seeks to stop Wells from completing the partial destruction and complete redesign of an historic 1833 inn on the main street of Aurora. Most of the buildings in the rural village and on the college campus are part of a National Register Historic District.
The NTHP does not participate in historic preservation lawsuits unless the property is of national historic significance and state or local historic preservation laws are at risk, says Marilyn Fenollosa, regional attorney for the Trust's Boston office. The Aurora case involves "an exceptional historic district with an unusually high degree of integrity. The New York State Historic Preservation Office has characterized it as one of the most threatened historic places in the state. We hope that our national perspective will aid the local court in its analysis of some of the procedural issues raised by this case."
In their application for "amicus curiae" status, the two preservation organizations addressed three issues:
The NTHP and PLNYS filed their amicus brief before the Fourth Department of the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division on Feb. 4. Oral argument will be heard on February 25.
- The observance of local preservation regulations, based on the U.S. Secretary of the Interior's "Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings." The two preservation groups say that the village government "utterly failed" to consider the federal guidelines before approving applications to demolish parts of and substantially renovate the inn.
- The issue of segmentation, or breaking a plan into discrete parts without reference to the whole. The two preservation groups said that "Segmentation of environmental review opens the door to the piecemeal dismantling of nationally Registered Historic District." They see "compelling evidence" of a "Wells College Master Plan" to demolish and/or renovate "many of the contributing buildings in the Village of Aurora/Wells College Historic District."
- Compliance with the State Environmental Quality Review Act. The groups says that they hope to "correct some of the gross misunderstandings of historic preservation law" evidenced by the village boards� findings, which, they say, "fly in the face" of both the federal standards and state requirements for an environmental review.
Meanwhile, the Aurora Inn is cordoned off, the dumpsters are in place, and the heavy equipment is on the move. The college began work when the coalition, a small organization of Aurora residents, Wells College alumnae, and preservationists, could not post a $250,000 injunction bond to delay the work beyond two previous temporary restraining orders.
In January, the college destroyed the inn�s original balconied porches, a 1904 kitchen addition and the 1958 dining room. The plans are to build a large modern addition and possibly a marina.
Local residents do not know how far the demolition of inn's 1833 interior has gone. The plans call for complete destruction of the federal-style central hallway, stairway, floors, walls, fireplaces, mantelpieces, and all other nineteenth century interior features.
"Watching the chain saws tear off the original porches was like witnessing an act of cultural vandalism," said Karen Hindenlang, a Wells alumna, village resident, and vice president of the coalition. "The intervention of the Trust and the League at this critical moment is crucial to our effort. We have a whole historic district to protect. We don't want to see this happen again."
The college, the main employer in this rural village of 600 on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake, has entered into a new business partnership that will affect the historic district. In 2001, the college and a wealthy alumna, Pleasant T. Rowland, set up the Aurora Foundation L.L.C., a limited liability company (LLC). The company�s board of five includes Rowland and two others appointed by her and two appointed by the college. The company will control more than a dozen college-owned historic village buildings, several of which now house small locally run businesses.
"The LLC plans will radically alter the community's character," says Pru Campbell Kirkpatrick, an Aurora native, Wells alumna and secretary of the Aurora Coalition. "And, thanks to its new benefactor, the college seems to have unlimited means to pursue it's vision for the community, without input from concerned citizens or preservation experts."
Pleasant T. Rowland, who graduated from Wells in 1962, sold her American Girl Doll company in 1998 to toy maker Mattel for more than $700 million. In addition to the LLC company, she has invested personally in local real estate, purchasing two lake-front mansions and MacKenzie-Childs, Ltd., a nationally known pottery and home-furnishings business just north of the village.
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have questioned the plan for the Aurora Inn. An OPRHP Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator, Richard Lord, warned that the proposal was not a renovation or a restoration, as college and village officials claimed, but a "gut rehab" which would reduce "an extremely rare and intact... early 19th century inn" to nothing more that a brick shell.
Ralph Manna, Regional Permit Administrator for the DEC, wrote the village planning board "to underscore the importance of the Aurora Inn and the associated historic district" and asked that, in light of "the gravity of the issues and the lack of clear justification in the current record..., due consideration [be] given to the historic environment before any irrevocable steps are taken."
But in August, the village Planning Board voted to permit the demolition. Lord, from the OPRHP, wrote, "It is regrettable that a project intended to save the historic Aurora Inn will destroy its historic character in the process. One hopes that an institution of Wells' caliber would recognize its important stewardship role in a village with an architectural legacy so rich and intact."
January 9, 2002
AURORA COALITION CHALLENGES WELLS COLLEGE IN SECOND ROUND
(Aurora, NY - Jan. 9, 2002) The Aurora Coalition has taken its case against Wells College to the State Supreme Court Appellate Division. On January 7, the coalition, a group of Aurora residents, Wells College alumnae and preservationists, filed an appeal with the Division's Fourth Judicial Department, seeking to stop the College's plans to demolish part of a 168-year old inn in an historic district in Aurora.
The Aurora Coalition says that two village government panels did not comply with state mandated review procedures before giving the College the go-ahead to demolish part of the inn and an adjacent building. The College�s plans also call for destroying an 1833 stairway, a central federal-style hallway, fireplaces, mantelpieces, walls, floors, framing, and all other interior features of the Aurora Inn.
Two respected historic preservation organizations, the Preservation League of New York State (PLNYS) and the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) have provided technical and legal assistance to the coalition for its court challenge.
"We are pleased to have the support of these prestigious preservation groups," said Karen Hindenlang, vice-president of the coalition. "It upholds our conviction that the College's plans are extremely ill-advised and constitute a serious threat to the preservation of important historic resources."
The Preservation League, in papers filed in support of the coalition's efforts in the lower court proceedings in October, cited three legal issues "of statewide concern." The PLSNY, New York's only statewide preservation organization, is dedicated to creating a "preservation ethic that prevents losing the past through neglect, ignorance, or momentary expediency."
The National Trust for Historic Preservation wrote that to lose the inn "to demolition or inappropriate development would be a tragedy." Marilyn Fenollosa, regional attorney for the NTHP, also expressed the Trust's concern "about certain inadequacies of the planning process," particularly the refusal by local authorities to receive and consider testimony from the State Historic Preservation Office. This refusal "undermined attempts to avoid or minimize the adverse effects of the proposed plan," she said. Chartered by Congress in 1949 to lead the private historic preservation movement in this country, the Trust has nearly 250,000 members nationwide.
The Aurora Inn is part of a national register historic district - a series of buildings along the village's main street that parallels Cayuga Lake. Tania Werbizky, director of technical services for the PLNYS, said that Aurora is "one of the largest and most outstanding village historic districts in the state."
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) sent several letters to the village planning board during the initial local review process. In one letter, Richard Lord, OPRHP Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator, said that the Inn "is an extremely rare and intact surviving example of an early 19th century inn in New York State" and "OPRHP considers the Inn to be extremely significant and its integrity very high."
The renovation of the Aurora Inn is the first of many projects to be undertaken by the Aurora Foundation, L.L.C., a limited liability company set up as a joint venture of the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation and Wells College. Rowland, a Wells College alumna, sold her American Girl Doll company in 1998 to toy maker Mattel for more than $700 million. Rowland has bought several properties in Aurora, including two lakefront mansions, and MacKenzie-Childs, Ltd., a nationally known pottery and home-furnishings business just north of the village.
Wells College has announced that nearly a dozen historic buildings the College owns in the village would be placed under the umbrella of the new corporation. The College has not yet announced the overall development plans for the village.
"Our legal efforts put us in a David-vs-Goliath position," says Pru Campbell Kirkpatrick, secretary of the coalition. "We are a new group, struggling to raise money to bring about compliance with preservation laws. The College seems to have unlimited means to pursue its vision for the community and apparently wants to do it without input from concerned citizens or preservation experts."
September 25, 2001
AURORA COALITION CHALLENGES PLANS FOR HISTORIC DISTRICT
New Group Asks College and Village Not to Gut Historic Inn
"The new proposal bears no resemblance to the historic condition. Work of this nature, which essentially ignores the significant qualities of an historic building, cannot be characterized as restoration, preservation or even appropriate rehabilitation." - State Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator
AURORA, N.Y. -- (Sept. 24) A coalition of Aurora residents and friends have petitioned the State Supreme Court for a re-examination of plans to gut an 168-year old inn and demolish an adjacent building in this small village on the east shore of Cayuga Lake. Both buildings are owned by Wells College and are part of the Aurora Village/Wells College National Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
"The plans call for irreparable damage to the Aurora Inn," said Karen Hindenlang, a village resident, Wells College graduate and coalition board member. "The original three-story, 1833 central stairwell and the federal style front-to-back hallway will be gutted." Additions to the rear of the inn and an adjoining operating market will be demolished to make way for a new wing. "Once the interior is gone, we've got no more than a shell - a pretty façade with a phony interior."
Wells College closed the Aurora Inn last fall, citing financial difficulties. The market is still in operation. "Everyone wants the inn to re-open, for the good of the community," said coalition board member Pru Campbell Kirkpatrick, who was born in Aurora and graduated from Wells College. "The inn could be operating now, if it weren't for this radical plan. The mechanical systems and decor could be upgraded quickly without destroying the historic value of the building."
Although permit applications for the project were filed by Wells College, the rehabilitation work will be financed and managed by the Aurora Foundation, L.L.C., a limited liability company set up last spring to operate commercial properties in Aurora. The foundation is a joint venture of the college and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.
Rowland, a 1962 alumna of Wells College, sold her American Girl Doll company in 1998 to toy-maker Mattel, Inc., for over $700 million. Rowland is currently on the Mattel board of directors. She has recently purchased properties in Aurora, including two mansions, and has bought MacKenzie-Childs, Ltd., a nationally known pottery and home-furnishings business just north of the village.
The Aurora Coalition, a not-for-profit organization, was created amid concern over the proposed inn/market plans. "Its goal is to promote, enhance and preserve the architectural, historic, cultural and economic integrity of the Village of Aurora and its environs and to give residents and friends a way to work together towards responsible change in the community," said Hindenlang.
The coalition's legal suit asks for the nullification of village permits because of allegedly improper review and approval procedures. "We're not trying to be obstructionist. We are not against progress. We want to see things done properly, with full consideration given to historic preservation issues," said Kirkpatrick. "Two state agencies provided recommendations and guidance which appear to have been ignored by the Village government."
Preservationists and State Agencies Weigh in Against Proposed Plan
Michael A. Tomlan, director of Cornell University's graduate program in historic preservation planning, says in an affidavit filed with the coalition petition that Aurora "is one of the most intact and evocative historic districts in New York State" and the inn is one of "the most architecturally and historically significant commercial structures in the Village." He believes village agencies failed to recognize this significance. He cited a motion by the village community preservation panel which granted demolition approval because "although they are old and we are used to them, [the buildings] are not particularly rare or unique or wonderful in their own right, as defined by the phrase 'Historical Significance.'"
Tomlan also mentioned that interior portions of the inn's upper floors have already been modified to an unknown extent without proper authorization. "This is not the first time Wells College or its agents have adversely affected significant historic properties under its stewardship, or the first time that Wells College has ignored applicable local zoning and review statutes," he said in the affidavit. In 1992, without proper approvals, the college began to demolish an 1817 Stone Mill, a property also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. A stop-work order halted the destruction, and the mill remains a partial ruin today.
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) sent several letters to the village planning board about the proposed project. Richard Lord, OPRHP Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator, said that the Inn "is an extremely rare and intact surviving example of an early 19th century inn in New York State" and "OPRHP considers the Inn to be extremely significant and its integrity very high."
Lord explained that use of the term "interior restoration" for the proposed work at the Aurora Inn is "misleading." "The submitted plans indicate that this is a "gut rehab" in which all interior walls and features -- even original or later historic walls, trim, doors and character-defining elements like fireplace mantels -- will be removed. The new proposal bears no resemblance to the historic condition. Work of this nature, which essentially ignores the significant qualities of an historic building, cannot be characterized as restoration, preservation or even appropriate rehabilitation."
In another letter, Lord stated that OPRHP believes "that the project as currently configured would have a significant and irreversible adverse impact on the Historic District." Ralph Manna, Regional Permit Administrator for the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), wrote the planning board "to underscore the importance of the Aurora Inn and the associated historic district." He noted the significance state regulations give to "historic resources and community character, which the DEC believes are very real and important issues in this matter."
Village Board Ignores Advice
Nearly 100 village residents and others, including two representatives of the state OPRHP, attended the Aug. 16 meeting of the village planning board. The planning board gave the proposed plan the go-ahead, saying, "the project will have only 'small to moderate' impact on historical resources." No one in the audience was allowed to speak.
"To voice our preservation concerns, it became clear that our only recourse was legal action," says Victoria Brzustowicz, a Wells College graduate and member of the Aurora Coalition's board of directors.
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