LITTLE VALLEY — In an about-face from last week, the Cattaraugus County lawmakers failed to muster enough votes to bring a resolution to the floor seeking bids to demolish the Civil War Monument and Historic Building.
At the Dec. 3 Public Works Committee meeting, Legislator Richard Lamberson, D-Allegany, read a series of talking points that included demolishing the county monument.
Members of Citizens Advocating Memorial Preservation (C.A.M.P.), who had attended the work session to talk about preserving and reusing the building, were flabbergasted.
County Legislature Vice Chairman James J. Snyder, R-Olean, asked at the outset of Wednesday’s meeting to first address the resolution seeking immediate consideration to solicit bids for the demolition.
A roll-call vote on whether to bring the resolution to the floor fell short of the needed two-thirds vote of the legislators.
All six Democrats, Conservative Matthew Keller of Olean, and Legislature Chairman Norman Marsh, R-Little Valley, voted to bring it to the floor, while the remaining 13 Republican legislators voted against it.
“By not letting this resolution come to the floor” at the last meeting of the year, “it automatically dies,” Snyder pointed out.
Snyder proposed that in the coming year legislators “work with C.A.M.P.” to explore the possibility of preserving the building.
“It’s too early to pull the plug yet,” he said.
C.A.M.P was formed last year after some county residents, including descendents of thousands of county residents who were members of the 154th Regiment that fought in the Civil War, learned the monument was to be demolished.
Legislator William Sprague, D-Yorkshire, who favored demolishing the building, said this amounted to “kicking the can down the road.”
Linda Edstrom, R-Olean, who will not return to the Legislature next year, said there were many issues that were not discussed.
Carl Edwards, R-Limestone, who also will not be returning next year, said the issue was “mishandled” and that voting to demolish it “would have been a prime example of bad government.”
Thomas Stetz of Allegany, chairman of C.A.M.P., put away the speech he’d written and expressed thanks for giving the group more time to try to preserve the 101-year-old building.
He said the monument has been placed on the Landmark Society of Western New York’s "Five to Revive" list and was a candidate for the New York State Preservation Society’s "Seven to Save" list.
Public Works Committee Chairman William Weller, R-Franklinville, who was one of the 14 sponsors of the resolution to seek bids for demolition, said he had a change of heart when new information was received on Tuesday.
“I thought we needed more dialogue with those folks,” he said. “Before, we felt these folks couldn’t accomplish it. Maybe these folks will have a chance.”
A communication from State Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, suggested a $200,000 grant could be used to “mothball” the monument until funding can be raised to renovate and preserve it.
That grant could make a difference in the outcome of whether to preserve the monument, Weller said.
Meanwhile, Lamberson, the Allegany Democrat who said Republicans asked to read the “talking points” at the Dec. 3 Public Works meeting, said he was left “hung out to dry” with the vote. “It was their idea,” he said. “They came to me.”
Lamberson noted, “Eighteen people said they wanted it down” last week. “I doubt much will be done with it.” He said he remains opposed to spending county money to preserve the building.
Stetz said he was surprised at the turnaround, but that it was a good surprise. “Apparently they got flooded with mail," he said. "They realized the best thing to do is talk. We feel restoration and preservation is best and hopefully, affordable.”
With the $200,000 in historic preservation funding Young suggested and the $175,000 the county had budgeted for the building’s demolition, that’s almost half of what Clinton Brown Co. Architecture of Buffalo had estimated it would cost for renovations.
County estimates are closer to the $1 million range.
“We blocked it,” Snyder said afterward. “It takes a two-thirds vote to get it on the floor for debate and we blocked it. It got to contentious in too short a time.”
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)