The house where six people died — including five children — will soon be knocked down despite one man’s effort to save it as a memorial to the dead.
In an effort to reduce density in the crowded neighborhood, the city has denied Alvin Ramsaroop proposal to rebuild 206 Division St., the site of the worst Schenectady fire in more than 25 years.
Nancy L. Self and her boyfriend, Kenneth Ketter, were the only two occupants of the house to survive the fire on August 7, 2004. Each of Self’s children — Nancy, 17, Elijah, 15, Bryan, 13, and Scott, 8 — perished. Self’s grandson, 7-month-old Vincent Manning Jr., the son of Nancy D. Self, also died, along with his father, 22-year-old Vincent Manning Sr.
Self asked Ramsaroop, a friend, to fix the house when she learned the city was going to knock it down. An elaborate stone memorial still stands in front of the boarded-up building, with flowers, candles and engraved prayers set on the front stairs. The city has made repeated efforts to get permission from Self to move the memorial to her children’s graves, but she hasn’t answered their messages, Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said.
Initially, Self and her ex-husband, Elijah, wanted to rebuild. But their insurance policy — which also had to cover the mortgage — did not give them enough to take on the extensive repairs.
After the burned-out structure sat vacant for three years, the city took title to it with the intention of demolishing it. Then Self appealed to Ramsaroop.
“She wants to see the house standing,” Ramsaroop said.
He paid for a structural engineer to assess the house. The engineer determined that it could be saved.
But Van Norden and other members of the city’s property disposition committee have now rejected Ramsaroop’s proposal to buy the house and repair it.
“I guess it can be fixed,” Van Norden said. “But our philosophy is to reduce the density in very dense neighborhoods.”
The policy is aimed at reducing the number of vacant and abandoned properties in the city, which was built for 92,000 residents but now houses just 61,000.
The property disposition committee is particularly committed to demolishing burn-outs in dense neighborhoods, Van Norden said, even though the city has to pay for the work.
“It would save the city $10,000, but there’s a value to reducing density,” he said.
But Ramsaroop does have one last chance to get the house. He can appeal directly to the Schenectady City Council, which has final authority over all property disposition decisions.
Ramsaroop appears to be taking that route. He made his pitch to the council at Monday’s meeting, during privilege of the floor.
“I read in the paper there’s no money to do demolitions. Why demolish the house?” he said, adding that the burnt-out house is in a good neighborhood.
“It’s a good place to live,” he said. “Maybe I’d live there.”
But, he added, he can’t put up a house there if the city knocks down the burn-out.
“It’s a 30-foot lot. You can’t build on anything less than a 40-foot lot,” he said.
Mayor Brian U. Stratton discussed the matter with him privately afterward. But Van Norden said the mayor has since been convinced that the property disposition committee made the right call.
“They really are on top of each other over there,” Van Norden said. “I explained the situation to the mayor, but [Ramsaroop] could go to the council and ask the council to over-rule the property disposition committee.”
He’ll have to act fast. The city delayed demolition last year while the committee considered Ramsaroop’s request, but has already awarded the bid for demolition.
“It’s already been budgeted. The only reason it didn’t come down is he expressed an interest in it,” Van Norden said.
He expects to demolish the house in the spring.
The house was badly damaged in a fire that neighbors believe was set by arsonists. No cause has ever been determined for the blaze, or whether it was intentional or accidental.
Neighbors said Self escaped by jumping out of a second-story window. Two young men broke in the front door and tried to get upstairs to rescue her children, but they couldn’t find the bedrooms in the smoke.
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