Monday, November 10, 2008

Who Runs Woodstock?

If you think the People run Woodstock, think again. I'm not even sure that the City Council runs Woodstock, after tonight's Historic Preservation Commission public hearing on an application for Landmark status for Grace Hall. Just in case you don't want to read all of what follows (and you'll miss the juicy part), the HPC voted unanimously to recommend Landmark status to the City Council.
(click on photo to enlarge it; then hit the Back button on your browser.)

Tonight's public hearing, a continuation of the October 6th false start, got underway with an immediate Motion by Woodstock Christian Life Services (WCLS) that Chairman Tim Art arbitrarily decided wasn't going to be considered. I saw a copy of it but returned it and will have to get a copy tomorrow.

Caryl Lemanski gave a nice recital of the history of Grace Hall and three of its students who went on to fame and, I hope, fortune. Orson Welles, Robert R. Wilson and Alan Breed, inventor of the automotive airbag. Chairman Art got impatient before Caryl finished and cut her off (just before she finished).

Allen Stebbins and other members of the HPC asked probing questions about whether WCLS had explored options for adaptive re-use of the property. It's clear to many that WCLS wants Grace Hall gone.

Questions arose about the protection of Landmark status in view of the City Council's decision on October 6 to approve the special use permit of WCLS, including demotion of Grace Hall. If the City Council supports the HPC recommendation, that could slow down demolition.

NO ATTORNEY FOR THE HPC WAS PRESENT TONIGHT. Whoa! Wait just a minute! Last month a junior associate of the City Attorney's office was present at the HPC meeting with "marching orders" from Rich Flood to allow the public hearing to be continued. The City knew that Attorney Mark Gummerson represents WCLS. So the City Attorney sent a "Yes" man to the HPC meeting. When I suggested to the City Council on October 7 that a senior partner should have been at the HPC meeting, the Mayor delivered a tongue-lashing. Oh, me; oh, my.

Talk about a set-up! The young attorney came with his instructions; what else could he do? Finding a new job is probably not easy, even for a young attorney. So the HPC rolled over and agreed with the WCLS request to continue the public hearing for a month. And what happened the very next night? The City Council approved the WCLS plan!

So tonight, when Chairman Tim Art referred to the Mayor's statement last month that he was following Due Process, all the flags in my pocket flew down on the field!

I had not intended to speak tonight, but I told the HPC that every time I drive past Grace Hall, I now admire that grand, old building. Personally, I don't want to see the "place where Grace Hall used to be." I cannot imagine that a bunch of small duplexes can have higher financial value for WCLS than a grand building renovated into condominiums, with the exterior maintained as a showplace in Woodstock.

WCLS' position is against a museum. Who do they think wants a museum? They seem worried about someone's "taking their building without compensating them." Wrong. No one wants to "take" their building. Keep it. Keep it nice. Threatening to let it fall into disrepair? That doesn't hold any water in my bucket!

On October 7 City Council Ralph Webster made a motion that was quite general in terms. See Page 11 of the October 7, 2008, City Council Minutes online at

Now, here's the kicker. Wait until you see the THREE-page proposed Ordinance concocted by the City Attorney's office and mailed to Dan and Caryl Lemanski and Mark Gummerson on October 17. Be sure to take your blood pressure meds before starting to read it.

After six WHEREAS's and some other legalese, the City Attorney has crafted out of thin air some conditions that guarantee the demolition of Grace Hall. These conditions were not set out by the City Council. Where did they come from?

Because I have not agreed with quite a number of positions taken by the City Attorney's office, I jumped to the early, and probably erroneous, conclusion that the City Attorney had come up with the ideas for the Ordinance. Upon further thought, I believe that he is probably just following orders. Where do such orders come from? If I had to guess between the City Manager and the Mayor, I'd guess the latter. After all, the City Manager gets to keep his job just about as long as the Mayor is happy with him.

Why is this the kicker? Because the main condition was NOT discussed by the City Council and ordered to be scribed by the City Attorney? Get this! If the Lemanskis "fail to fulfill any (emphasis added) of their obligations, demolition and construction may commence April 30, 2009."

One of their obligations is: "The Lemanskis shall produce a contract for the purchase of Grace Hall and its removal from its current location. Petitioner (WCLS) shall negotiate any such contract in good faith. The contract must be presented to the City by April 6, 2009 for consideration at the April 21, 2009 meeting of the City Council. Closing on the contract and removal of Grace Hall must be scheduled for no later than May 21, 2009."

That is NOT what the City Council agreed to on October 7. Just how long ago did the Mayor and City Council decide to banish Grace Hall from Route 47? Why do they all use such nice words, while they are signing their names to the destruction of Grace Hall?

Maybe at the next retreat, they should re-think the City's Motto: "True to its past - confident of its future."

Next time you drive by the Opera House, just picture a parking structure in your mind. Except for some interested Woodstock residents, that's what would be there today.

1 comment:

Richard W Gorski, M.D. said...

For about 33 years, when I first opened my business in Woodstock I have asked myself the same question: who REALLY calls the shots in Woodstock's City Government? Still looking for the answer. Hope you have better luck finding out than I have had over the last three decades.