Cobleskill gets OK to take church

Federal and state agencies have approved a $225,000 grant to cover most of a plan for the village to
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Federal and state agencies have approved a $225,000 grant to cover most of a plan for the village to acquire and demolish a flood-prone church along the Cobleskill Creek.

The third try proved the charm after two previous applications for funds were rejected in the past couple of years, said Shane Nickle, senior planner with the Schoharie County Planning and Development Agency.

Provided the Village Board approves paying for a property appraisal and taking care of the estimated $11,000 cost of demolition and land restoration, the 1.4-acre site on South Grand Street now occupied by the Calvary Assembly of God church would become a park or be used for parking for a nearby Little League baseball field, according to village officials.

Church officials must also agree to receive 75 percent of the fair market value established by the professional appraisals, Nickle said.

The church and land is currently assessed at $265,800, according to county records. Owned by New York District Assemblies of God, the property is wholly tax-exempt as a religious institution.

Once it becomes village property, it must be maintained as open space with no inhabitable buildings allowed, Nickle said.

The village share of costs includes demolition, but that may include the value of services, if village crews do some of all of the work. Although village and church officials are expected to meet next Friday to work out some details, representatives of both sides said Friday they were pleased to learn the grant was approved.

“We’re in favor of it,” said Mayor Mike Sellers. “We [previously] voted on that to pursue it the end … but we’ll see what the board wants to do now.”

Pastor Ray Richards was out of state and unavailable Friday, but church Trustee Jim Meigel noted that the growing congregation had already planned to build a new church on vacant land a few miles away on Mineral Springs Road.

“We hope to start construction this spring or early summer,” Meigel said.

“We’ve been doing some fundraising, and this [grant] helps with that,” he said.

Aside from accommodating the 150 to 200 people that Meigel estimated attend Sunday services, a new building will also avoid the need for periodic relocation that the congregation has been forced to do when high waters hit the 36-year-old building, Richards noted in July 2006.

During widespread flooding in late June 2006, the church filled with about 61⁄2 feet of water, according to Richards, about a foot higher than a 1996 flood.

The area, near the Cobleskill fairgrounds, has flooded at least four times since 1987, according to Nickle.

The county sought funds under a “pre-disaster” Hazard Mitigation Grant program to help keep the “floodway” area where the creek overflows with high velocity clear of occupied structures, he said.

Such floodways are more dangerous than adjacent flood plains, where water spreads out with less current, or force. The church, located about 150 feet from the creek, is in such floodway zone.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state Emergency Management Office program provides for buying such properties, not taking them by eminent domain.

“We reached out to [church officials] when we found out they were moving,” Nickle said, “because of the fear the county and the village had that if [the property] ended up in residential use, then we would put more of a burden on emergency management and rescue personnel.”

If the earlier grant had been approved, the state would have picked up the 25 percent local share of buying the property.

He said the state money ran out because so many people applied for aid during 2006 flooding in the region.

“In very happy FEMA approved this,” Nickle said. He warned that federal rules require following a relatively tight schedule to receive the funds.

“The appraisal has to be done by May 25, and the village has to buy the property by Aug. 31,” he said. Demolition and site restoration, such as grading and seeding, must be done within 90 days of closing the sale.

Categories: Schenectady County

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