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December 21, 2014
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Preservationists lose Hessinger Building battle


It was not a good day for Palline Plum. She has been fighting, on and off, with officials from the Town of Callicoon for 12 years about the fate of the Hessinger Building.

Once she thought the 160-year-old structure, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, could be used for an artists’ residence program. On April 8, workers began tearing the building down, peeling away the main front portion and exposing the rear interior rooms to the elements.

In a reference to the meaning of the name Callicoon, Plum wrote in an email, “The town of the turkeys has lived up to its name. It’s very sad and very dumb.”

Officials from the Town of Callicoon, councilman Howard Fuchs and supervisor Tom Bose, who had won the most recent months’ long battle to demolish it, watched as the building was gradually pulled apart.

Greg Semenetz, as former supervisor of the town who is now running for a seat on the county legislature, said most of the people in the area wanted the building gone. Semenetz, who has restored various old buildings in the area, said this one was too far gone to have been of any value, but he said the crew would try to save the vaulted basement room.

Town officials said the building had to be torn down because it presented a danger to the public, but that is a matter over which there has been considerable disagreement.

Tom Ward, an engineer for the town, issued a brief report saying that the building was unsafe.

Zeke Boyle, a registered historic preservationist, disagreed as did architect Robert Dadras. Both said the building had problems that needed to be addressed, but that it did not represent a danger to the public.

Robert Silman Associates, a New York City engineering firm, issued an 18-page opinion on the question that was highly critical of Ward’s brief report. The report said, “In its present state, the building, as a whole, does not present a danger to the public; it is not an “unsafe building.” Demolition, which has been recommended by Mr. Ward and the Town of Callicoon, is an extreme and irreversible measure that, based on our prior experience with similar structures and our engineering judgment, is both not warranted and not recommended.”

Judge Frank LaBuda, in ruling on whether or not the demolition could go forward, did not mention the Silman report in his decision, apparently because it was submitted too late into the process to be considered.

LaBuda ruled that the town had adhered to their unsafe building procedures and could proceed with the demolition. That was on April 1. Seven days later, the teardown began, leaving precious little time for an appeal or to ask for a stay.

Even though the original building can never be brought back, there is still some chance that Plum could appeal to the appellate court. Plum’s attorney, Ronald Litchman, said, “I’m disappointed with LaBuda’s decision and I believe an appellate court would decide differently.”

But Plum, who is 68, suffers various physical problems, lives in Indiana and has limited resources to mount an appeal. Although she has been unable to afford to renovate the building, she has been paying taxes on it for years at an assessed value of $30,000.

Now, the cost of the demolition will be added to the tax bill, which she will likely be unable to pay. The building will ultimately be foreclosed by the county and sold at auction and county taxpayers will likely foot the bill for the tear-down.