Resurrecting the fire-scorched Woodlawn Avenue row houses will likely require a much larger water main to be installed — a pricey endeavor that could add a significant roadblock to the project.
City Engineer Tim Wales said the 4-inch pipe feeding the fire hydrants along the street proved inadequate when firefighters were battling the blaze last summer. As a result, he said, the pipe would need to be replaced before he could support a redevelopment project at the site.
“We have a 100-year-old, 4-inch pipe with inadequate flow and pressure,” he said during a Planning Board workshop Monday. “As city engineer, I have to speak up. This is an issue for me.”
Replacing the main isn’t something that was envisioned for a project already on a tight budget. Michael Ingersoll of the LA Group said the added cost of replacing the line could make redeveloping the block a losing proposition for building owner Robert Israel.
Saving the five badly damaged buildings will mean reducing the number of apartments in them from 15 to 12. The plan also relies on the construction of a carriage house structure in the rear of the lot near Long Alley, which would add an additional two units to make the project financially viable.
“The project budget cannot bear a major infrastructure improvement,” Ingersoll told the board.
The hitch also comes when time is very much of the essence for the historical structure, which has been largely open to the elements all winter. Ingersoll said the buildings are already developing mold and other issues associated with its exposure, meaning the project must advance soon or risk having the structures deteriorate beyond salvation.
“It’s rotting away,” he said of the row houses. “Unfortunately, if its not started by April or May, then you start over.”
The other clock the developer must beat is the one-year anniversary of the fire, which is less than six months away. Even if the buildings do withstand the elements, Ingersoll said the project must start before late July or else face cumbersome regulations that will essentially require them to be torn down.
Fire ripped through the row houses on July 28, leaving more than 30 tenants homeless and severely damaging the five buildings extending down from 100 Woodlawn Ave. The house at 108 Woodlawn was almost entirely destroyed by the pre-dawn fire, save for its brick facade; 106 Woodlawn sustained massive damage and was left partially collapsed. Investigators quickly ruled out accidental causes and instead focused on two areas where they believe accelerant was used to spread the fire. A search warrant was executed at a residence in Wilton less than a day after the fire, but authorities have not yet made an arrest.
City officials became aware of the inadequate water line during the fire. The 4-inch mains are being slowly replaced by the city because they are less than half the size typically needed to fight fires. Even worse, some of the mains are so badly clogged with minerals that their openings are less than 2 inches wide.
In August, the City Council commissioned Chazen Companies of Troy to complete a model of the city’s water system by flushing hydrants and conducting flow tests. The $45,500 project will eventually give the city a master plan that will help officials see what will happen to the water pressure if there is a change.
City officials could add the water line on their list of projects for the capital budget. Wales suggested the city discuss with the developer different scenarios to hash out an adequate solution.
“Let’s entertain the discussion and see what we can do,” he said.