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Schenectady building owner speaks to planning board hours after arrest

Schenectady building owner speaks to planning board hours after arrest

Alleged code violations a source of tension
Schenectady building owner speaks to planning board hours after arrest
I Am Fitness at 237-245 State Street in Schenectady on Friday, April 21, 2017.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

A building owner who was arrested Wednesday on a charge of failure to appear in court on code violations, appeared hours later  before the Schenectady Planning Commission to present plans for his fitness gym on lower State Street.

It was the latest development in a saga that has frustrated city officials, as improvements to the old Patton and Hall building at 237-245 State St. have been slow to non-existent since a fire gutted the structure in 2012.

It took years for James DeFalco to address the fire and water damage and bring the building back up to code, a pace that irked city leaders working to revitalize that section of downtown. DeFalco in 2014 presented initial plans for his fitness center on the ground floor and was given a checklist of necessary improvements.

Nearly three years later, he was charged with building code violations for failing to make some of those adjustments. He was charged Wednesday for alleged failure to answer the violations, though he said later Wednesday evening that the district attorney missed the previously scheduled date.

DeFalco, who has owned the property since 2005, appeared before the Planning Commission Wednesday night to ask permission to change the building's façade. The gym is called I Am Fitness.

City records show there are roughly $10,000 in liens on the property.

In what was at times a tense discussion, City Planner Christine Primiano said DeFalco had not completed the improvements asked for at his 2014 presentation.

“We can go through that list, since that was brought up,” DeFalco said.

Of the six items, DeFalco said he completed four, including removing graffiti and replacing boarded windows. He did not present a detailed plan to improve the façade of the building, which was requested in 2014, Primiano said.

Another condition that came out of the 2014 meeting was that he return to the board with a proposal for new signage. But that, he said, would be taken care of with the facade improvements.

“I’m here,” he said, chalking the delay up to a franchise change.

“Three years later,” Primiano responded.

In the meantime, the area around the property has been a focus of investment by the city and the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority.

Scott Cietek, vice president of Metroplex, was at Wednesday’s meeting and said he felt DeFalco's building was still a mess, saying “nothing has been accomplished” to clean it up.

Metroplex has, in recent years, reached out to DeFalco to see if he’d be interested in selling the building, said Ray Gillen, chairman of the authority.

“This building has been trouble for years,” he said. “When people are not fixing their buildings, we say, ‘How can we help you fix it,’ or, ‘do you want to sell it?’”

The board asked that DeFalco return next month with detailed plans, preferably designed by an architect, that show his vision for the front of the building.

“I’m just trying to make an improvement to the building,” DeFalco said at one point. “I’m not trying to get into the political aspect of this.”

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