The Common Council has agreed to transfer the First Baptist Church property on South Main Street to businesswoman Susan Casey as part of a settlement that allows demolition of the building to continue.
The question now is whether she pays the city $3,000 for the site once it is cleared or the city pays her $3,000 to take it.
Casey and the city have been embroiled in a legal dispute that threatened to stall the removal of the church, which was condemned because of deterioration and instability and is now a partially demolished shell. The settlement spells out how the situation will be resolved, though issues remain.
The final terms of the property transfer hinge on the language of the city’s Restore New York grant application, which provided $400,000 from the state to demolish the church. At the time of the application, Casey and her company, Piseco Realty, were designated as developers for the project.
The settlement agreement with Casey, approved by the council on Tuesday night, says the city will either sell the property to Casey for $3,000 or the city will give Casey $3,000 and the property for free, depending on whether the grant application obligates the city to give her the property.
Gloversville City Attorney Anthony Casale said he doesn’t believe the grant application requires the city to transfer the property for free to Casey. But that issue will be decided in court, unless Casey decides not to pursue the issue and simply pays the city $3,000.
“I remain hopeful that Piseco will concede the point that there is no legal obligation to transfer the title,” Casale said. “Those grant application documents now control who has to pay that $3,000.”
The dispute stemmed from a portion of Casey’s property the city’s demolition team was using to tear down the building. Casey owns a building next door to the church and a piece of property that is the key right of way needed by the demolition crew to take down the church.
Her building houses the Beacon Wearhouse clothing store, a laundromat and eight upscale loft-style apartments on the upper floors. Prior to Tuesday’s settlement, Casey had been threatening to obtain a cease-and-desist order to stop the demolition crew from trespassing on her property. She alleges damages to her businesses from the crew blocking the driveway to the rear of her building, disrupting customers and tenants.
She never got the chance to file a suit because Casale petitioned the Supreme Court for intervention first. Fulton County Supreme Court Judge Richard T. Aulisi on Friday granted the city temporary relief to continue using Casey’s property for the demolition, but only until 9 a.m. Wednesday morning. Casale said the city had until then to make a deal with Casey or risk a shutdown of the demolition project.
Casey said her damages in the dispute, which include having to shut down her laundromat for a period of time, exceed the value of the settlement agreement regardless of whether she pays the city $3,000, as the estimated value of the property itself is only $15,000. She said she agreed to waive damages from the trespassing in order to continue the demolition.
“I want that building demolished as much as anyone,” she said Wednesday.
Casey said she believes the grant application does require the property to be transferred to her and she believes that Aulisi will rule in her favor on that issue. As of Wednesday, she said she is planning to press the matter in court.
Casale said one final factor that could complicate the dispute is a provision in the general municipal law that could allow for citizens of the city to petition to put the sale of the property up for a referendum. He said if 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the last city election were to petition for a referendum, that would nullify the settlement with Casey.