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Demo plan stirs concern in downtown historic district

By Carter Smith

The 19th-century home at 116 Main Street


In August 1895, as Evan Jones Smith was graduating from medical school in Rochester, he received a letter from the head of the Irvington School System, R.A. McDonald, urging him, "If you have nothing to do and can arrange to come to Irvington at once with a will to staying here, now is your time. There is no doctor here and there are a good many sick people… Come prepared to dress well all the time and to keep yourself looking tidy every day."

Three days later, a second letter from McDonald arrived, which read, "No physician here, and many sick people — two children died this morning and I have one of my own that is just on the point of death."

According to an article published in the Irvington Historical Society Roost in 2007, Smith did come to the village, where he soon married Irvington teacher Gertrude Chesley and built a home and office at 116 Main Street. His practice was eventually taken over by his son, Chesley Evan Smith. In 1962, another doctor, Mario Dolan, moved into 116 Main Street with his wife Judy and nine children, and saw patients  there for many years.

Given the home’s history, when Irvington’s Joseph and Sylvia DeNardo submitted plans on Feb. 18 to tear down the 19th-century structure and replace it with a three-story, mixed-use building, the news spread in a 21st-century manner — it went viral on Facebook. Three weeks after a Facebook page called “116 Main Street IRV - For Demolition?” was created, it had 464 “likes” from people wanting to keep an eye on the story.

The intense level of interest in the home’s fate is not surprising given that the property sits within Irvington’s newly established Downtown Historic District. The building itself is included in an inventory of the more than 200 buildings in the district.

“One of the most stately buildings gracing Main Street was built by Irvington’s first resident physician, Dr. Evan Jones Smith,” begins the housing inventory that was submitted with the application for recognition by the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. “This two-and-one-half-story building is a well-preserved example of Colonial Revival and Greek Revival style.”

The DeNardos purchased the roughly half-acre lot and its 4,700-square-foot home for $1.35 million on July 8, 2014, paying $50,000 more than the asking price. The property is divided into two rental units — the main five-bedroom, two-bath unit that is 3,870 square feet, and a smaller two-bedroom, one-bath unit that is 830 square feet. While David Steinmetz, the attorney representing 116 Main Street Capital, the DeNardos’ limited liability company, was scheduled to present his clients’ application at an Irvington Planning Board meeting on March 3, that application was adjourned. In an e-mail to the Enterprise, Steinmetz wrote, “The DeNardo application was simply adjourned while they explore a variety of options for the redevelopment of the property. I cannot comment extensively on the ‘historic issue’ at this point other than to confirm that the DeNardos’ consultants have advised them that the building is in the historic district and listed as a ‘contributing structure,’ not an ‘historic structure.’”

Steinmetz is also representing DeNardo Capital Corp., a separate entity owned by the couple, in its ongoing effort to redevelop the former Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) property at 30 South Broadway. On Feb. 26, DeNardo Capital submitted a petition requesting the village board to amend the village’s multi-family zoning district regulations to allow denser construction.

On March 11, Village Administrator Larry Schopfer said the Village had received no information that 116 Main Street Capital plans to withdraw or revise its initial proposal, despite the March 3 adjournment. However, the adjournment came just over a week after the Village posted a public notice that the village board would be holding a public hearing this Monday, March 16, at 7 p.m., to consider creating a new Historic Overlay District covering the historic district shown on the National Register, and amending the zoning code to require applicants to receive architectural review board approval to demolish a building in the Historic Overlay District.

According to Village Attorney Marianne Stecich, village code prohibits the building department from issuing a demolition permit for the first 90 days after a notice of a public hearing is made. Therefore, 116 Main is safe from demolition while the zoning change is under review. If the change is adopted, it will apply to the application, requiring the ARB’s approval of any change to the property.

When Irvington marked Historic District Day last June to celebrate the news that both the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the National Park Service had designated Irvington’s downtown area as an official historic district, it represented the culmination of years of work by Village staff and officials, the Irvington Historical Society, the Irvington Landmarks Preservation Board, and other members of the community to preserve and protect the historic character of the Main Street area.

In 2011, the village board created the Irvington Historic District Committee, led by co-chairs Andy Lyons and Earl Ferguson, which then completed the lengthy application for historic district designation for the Main Street area. Village Trustee Connie Kehoe worked with the committee, and well-known historic restoration architects Joseph Pell Lombardi and Walter Sedovic both Irvington residents, provided valuable expertise.

When Lombardi, who restored and lives in the famed Octagon House on Clinton Avenue, learned that 116 Main Street might be demolished, he sent a letter to Mayor Brian Smith, the planning board, the ARB, and the board of trustees, recounting the story of Evan Jones Smith’s arrival in the village, adding, “We must do everything in our power to retain this venerable and important village landmark. Will we be known to our descendants as the people with foresight and strength who protected their inheritance?”

Irvington’s historic district includes the original streets laid out by John Jay, the founding father’s grandson, at the time the old Dearman Farm was divided up in the mid-1800s. The Main Street area and surrounding streets alone boast over 200 structures built between 1850 and 1930, including the historic Stanford White “Cosmopolitan” building (now known as the Trent Building); the Bridge Street waterfront complex (site of the former Lord & Burnham greenhouse manufacturing plant); several notable churches; the Tiffany Reading Room within Irvington Town Hall; and the 1852 McVickar House, the second oldest in the village, which serves as the headquarters of the Irvington Historical Society.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


March 13, 2015

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