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New Windows for an Old Building

May 1, 2013

by Matt Henderson

Redevelopment of historic buildings can be a tricky business.

At a Historic Resources Commission meeting Wednesday night, the commission discussed and approved a plan to replace six street-facing windows at 355 Madison Ave., a plan that would cost the managers of the property nearly $9,000 more than the original estimate.

335 Madison Ave.
Photo Credit: Matt Henderson

The property, just east of the Pine Hills neighborhood, is a two-family residence located in the heart of Albany’s Center Square/Hudson-Park Historic District. Built in 1880, the building was in need of some renovations.

Trisha Deguire, representing CRM Management Rentals at the meeting, said, “we have one building with original wood windows, so the commission had a bit of a sticking point on allowing them to be replaced with aluminum frames.”

The nine-member commission includes two archaeologists and is tasked with preserving and protecting more than 4,000 structures in 15 National Register Historic Districts within the city.

The process to replace the windows started a little more than a year ago and came with an estimated cost ranging from $8,000 to $9,000. Because the commission required the new windows to be historically accurate, that price nearly doubled.

The devil is in the details.

The placement of the window frames was even important, noted Commissioner John Myers. “They’re not as prominent on the street as they are on the upper windows,” he said, implying that frames that were not historically accurate would be more difficult to detect on the street-level window frames than they would be for those higher up and easier to see.

Norman Rice, HRC Chairman, with Richard Nicholson from the Office of Land Use Planning  Photo Credit: Matt Henderson

Norman Rice, HRC Chairman, with Richard Nicholson from the Office of Land Use Planning
Photo Credit: Matt Henderson

Deguire answered several questions about the details of the replacement windows from Lee Pinckney, another commissioner.

“What color will they be,” he asked. “Will they be painted?”

The point of this line of questioning was to ensure that the replacement windows would be as close to identical as possible to the originals, a key issue for the commission.

Deguire said that had the windows been replaced at some time in the past, such as during the 1970s when several area buildings were renovated, there would’ve been no hesitation on the part of the commission, which was the case for the 26 other properties managed by CRM. But because these windows were original, the commission required that they remain historically accurate.

“The difference is if something has already been replaced, then it’s pretty easy to replace it again,” she said.

The building, owned by Robinson Redevelopment Company, has an assessed value of $160,000. It is also tax exempt.

Under guidelines from the New York State Property Tax and Assessment Administration assessor’s manual, historic buildings receive tax exempt status if they’re owned by “a nonprofit corporation or association organized or conducted exclusively for one or more specific purposes….”

The state grants tax-exempt status for these types of buildings, including those used for residential purposes, in order to encourage owners to redevelop and renovate them.

Redevelopment of historic buildings is an important issue, not only because of their value as pieces of history, but also because there is some nostalgic significance to living in a building that is more than 130 years old.

355 Madison Ave. Photo Credit: Matt Henderson

355 Madison Ave.
Photo Credit: Matt Henderson

Redevelopment also helps to save money. Donovan Rypkema, an expert on the economics of historic preservation, has noted that rehabilitating a historic building can save between three and 16 percent over the cost of demolishing and replacing it.

In a discussion paper for The Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, the author, Randall Mason, argues that the costs and benefits of rehabilitation of historic structures help preservationists make their case for renovation over replacement of old buildings. He goes on to say, “economics literature clearly comes down in favor of a positive effect of historic districting on property values.” Historic districting and building rehabilitation can result in neighborhood property values increasing between 5 and 20 percent.

It isn’t always easy to renovate historic buildings, as building management companies such as CRM have found, but the value added is important for holding on to the look and feel of an old neighborhood.

Ensuring that future generations have the ability to visit and see buildings built, in some instances, prior to the Civil War, carries more than monetary value.

Now that planned renovations to 355 Madison Ave. have been approved, area residents will have one more reason to remember the history of the neighborhood in which they live. -30-

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