ARBOR HILL NEIGHBORS OBJECT TO PLAN FOR HISTORIC CHURCH

LYDIA POLGREEN Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B5

Date: Friday, May 11, 2001

A plan to transform a landmark 19th-century church into a banquet hall faces possible opposition from residents who are worried about late hours and increased traffic in their island of tranquillity at the base of Arbor Hill. Neighbors initially praised the effort by Elda and Mario Abate to reuse the former St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, the 140-year-old anchor of the Ten Broeck Triangle.


But after hearing that the local restaurateurs plan to ask the Board of Zoning Appeals on Monday for noon to 4 a.m. operating hours, some residents said Thursday that they will object to the proposal.


``We do not want a bar or anything open until 4 a.m.,'' said Virginia Poyner, a longtime resident of the triangle and a lifetime parishioner at St. Joseph's. ``This has always been a quiet neighborhood. It's about gracious living that is very comfortable in the middle of the city.''


The Abates obtained the church from the Roman Catholic Diocese last year for $1 in exchange for a commitment to renovate and use it. The deal came under fire from Mayor Jerry Jennings and others when they learned that the Abates were behind on the taxes for their Lark Street restaurant and could have faced foreclosure. Jennings worried that the Abates did not have the financial wherewithal to undertake a monumental restoration project that could easily cost millions.


The couple has since paid the $24,000 in back taxes. But they have accumulated $11,000 more in city and school taxes since then that are now past due, according to Joseph Pennisi, county management and budget commissioner.


The Abates were also counting on a $500,000 state grant that the Historic Albany Foundation had applied for to shore up the exterior and fix a column damaged by water. But the former church is not among this year's grant recipients, making it unlikely that the money will come through, according to Elizabeth Griffin, foundation director.


Elda Abate said she is undeterred by the setbacks.


``We are going to try to do it ourselves, just like with Elda's on Lark,'' Abate said. She and her husband spent years fixing up the three burned-out buildings that now house her Italian restaurant. She said she is financially prepared for the project and has already repaired leaks in the roof.


Nadine Shadlock, a property owner who won a Historic Preservation Merit Award from the Historic Albany Foundation for her work on a house she owns on Ten Broeck Triangle, said she hasn't seen anyone working on the church and worries that little is being done. According to city Buildings and Codes Director James Googas, no building permits have been issued for the property.


Shadlock said the neighborhood feels betrayed.


``She has been given that priceless treasure which the Irish immigrants sacrificed to build,'' Shadlock said. ``She hasn't held up her end of the bargain.''