How the Conservatives Are Losing the Fight Against Luxury Real Estate

The Poughkeepsie Historic Preservation Commission adamantly opposed this plan, refusing to issue a Certificate of Adequacy. This prevented the developers from obtaining the necessary permits to continue, and they appealed the decision. City lawmakers upheld it, and the developers sued. The case continues.

Despite the lawsuit, the city recently completed the sale of the property and is working with the developers to find a settlement. “We have a housing problem – it’s been called a crisis – and this site is a perfect place for market-priced homes,” said Poughkeepsie Mayor Robert Rolison. The current deal would preserve Pelton Manor, a historic building that has been vacant for nearly a decade, for public use. Originally it was to be converted into apartments; now it’s to house an arts organization.

This is not enough for the opponents. “It’s a straightforward deal that’s just typical of the good old-boy way around here,” said Ken Stier, a freelance journalist who moved to the Brooklyn borough four years ago and is a vocal opponent of the plan. “The mansion, and its small but precious setting overlooking the river, is the crown jewel in a much diminished historic district,” he said. The neighborhood, he continued, will be “completely privatized and filled with high-end housing.”

The Poughkeepsie Preservation Commission, meanwhile, is in a precarious position. Of its seven seats, the terms of three have expired and two more will expire this summer. With five of the seven seats up for grabs, it would be easy for the mayor to replace them with commissioners more sympathetic to the plan. So far this has not happened.

“I did not replace them because of their involvement in this proposal, because it would not have been the right thing to do,” said Mr. Rolison, the mayor. But the future remains uncertain. “I haven’t yet,” he said, “but I’m not going to lock myself into anything.”

The repercussions of a local government firing the leaders of its historic preservation commission have so far been minimal. In the case of Durham, the city could lose its certified local government status. The designation comes from a federal, state-administered program that provides cities with financial assistance and training in exchange for meeting preservation standards. New York has 75 certified local governments, including New York City.

“The situation in Durham is incredibly frustrating,” said Daniel McEneny, division director at the New York State Historic Preservation Office, which oversees the program. Mr. McEneny’s office wrote two letters to Mr. Marriott, the Durham City Supervisor. The two letters explain that the Durham Preservation Commission currently does not have a quorum to operate. So far, the town has not responded. “If we don’t have an answer, we will start with an audit,” which is the first step to removing Durham from the federal program, Mr McEneny said.

Mr. Ciccone recently wrote an email to Mr. McEneny claiming his dismissal sets a dangerous precedent. “This metastasizes from an esoteric local problem,” he wrote, to a major threat to local historic preservation commissions everywhere.

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