Hastings facing Nov. 1 deadline, or court action could follow
By Joshua Maloni
If the owner of the Frontier House doesn't provide a "schedule of performance" by Wednesday, Nov. 1, he could be fined hundreds of dollars - or more.
In a letter sent to Richard Hastings/Hastings Lewiston on Oct. 10, Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Harry Wright wrote, "On October 16, 2016 you were advised by Mr. Ken Candella, Building Inspector for the Village of Lewiston, that certain immediate repairs were necessary to stop further deterioration of the facility. ... We now face going into another winter season with the exterior in poor condition and the building at significant risk. ... You are hereby advised that all of the repairs set forth by Mr. Candella must be immediately undertaken with every effort made to complete them by December 31, 2017 unless a qualified contractor can assure us that no immediate danger will be incurred by delaying until a more appropriate construction season in early spring of 2018."
Hastings was invited to attend this past Monday's HPC meeting. Neither he nor his representatives could attend, partly due to illness.
Upon not seeing anyone, the HPC doubled-down on its ultimatum, directing Zoning Officer Ed DeVantier to initiate court proceedings on Nov. 2, should its request not be met.
The board intends to utilize village code to fine Hastings $250 per day until its written directives are met.
As of press time, there is no indication correspondence will be provided to the HPC by next week's deadline.
Speaking on behalf of the Hastings family on Thursday, business consultant Stacey Sheehan said Hastings is, instead, focused on selling the Frontier House.
Furthermore, she said Hastings was recently hospitalized, and "He's not in the market for rehabbing something, or trying to turn it into something. He's retired. He's almost 80 years old. He just wants to sell the building."
Sheehan added, "I don't think he should spend $500,000 doing masonry work on a building he doesn't intend to keep and hopes he won't be owner of in six months time."
One year ago, Candella was asked to assess the physical condition of the almost 200-year-old building at 460 Center St., better known as the Frontier House. Following his examination, Candella sent Hastings a five-page list of code violations.
In Wright's recent letter, he wrote, "These (code violations) were provided in great detail and a required schedule of performance set forth. Certain non-critical elements were given leeway until spring 2017 however all work was required to be performed by July 15, 2017. Recent inspections have indicated little, if any of the repairs have been completed."
The letter further stated, "The Village Trustees, Building Inspector and HPC have been extremely patient in awaiting your response to this critical issue, however we are now at the end of that patience. Immediate action is required and we request you attend our (Oct. 23) meeting to seek any clarification you may require."
On Monday, the HPC members said Hastings has not supplied enough information, fully answered its inquiries or provided sufficient proof the Frontier House exterior will survive the winter.
"Assuming we receive no communication from the owner, or his attorney, giving us the information we requested in the letter, on Nov. 1, you are authorized to seek a fine of $250 per day on behalf of the Historic Preservation Commission," HPC Vice Chairman Ken Slaugenhoupt told DeVantier. "That's what I would recommend."
Board members Wright, Lee Simonson, Loretta Frankovitch and Jim Fittante agreed.
Candella's letter to Hastings Lewiston was dated Oct. 27, 2016. The full list of violations can be viewed HERE
On Thursday, Candella said he hasn't added anything to the list of violations in the past year, and he has, in fact, removed a few minor items.
At the HPC meeting, DeVantier said, "What the village did was an inspection of premises. The items (to repair) weren't completed. Follow-up letters were sent to the owner, and they were disregarded."
"The violation is in place with the village code," he added. "He can now be fined, issued an appearance ticket. The village fines are $250 per day. But we also have the building code violations that Mr. Candella came up with last year. ... So, we have roughly 19 building code violations on the Frontier House. And that falls under New York State Building Code, and the fine on those is $1,000 per day."
Discussion between DeVantier and the HPC indicated the village fine would be applied for at town court, while the state penalty would be requested at New York State Supreme Court.
"After your letter, it pretty much finalizes that we go to the next step, which is 620 in the village code, where we make an application to Supreme Court to make a decision on the building. And there are several options: The building could be removed; it can be ordered to be repaired, and owner back-charged," DeVantier said.
If the HPC doesn't receive a response by Nov. 1, "I would be ready to go (to court) Nov. 2," DeVantier said. He added, "I issue an appearance ticket ... for each specific violation."
DeVantier noted resolution could be achieved in court without a fine being levied.
Slaugenhoupt said he would be in favor of anything that would "streamline the process to getting a satisfactory resolution."
Part of what the HPC is requiring from Hastings is verification he will employ an agent of repair who is well-versed in historic preservation - or, as Wright wrote, "an identified contractor with suitable expertise and qualifications regarding historic renovations."
He explained, "All repairs must be made in accordance with the standards and procedures of the U.S Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation, which are available through the Village HPC should you wish."
That same requirement would be necessary if the village ultimately steps in to oversee conservation.
Slaugenhoupt said, "It is very important that the way that it is repaired, the materials that are used, the processes that are used, are consistent with the historic nature of the building."
He said the HPC should have an opportunity to approve the person or company working on the Frontier House.
"There's the matching of the mortar, the consistencies to make sure that it expands and contracts, because some of the damage that has been done was because there was a harder mortar put in that didn't meet the old mortar in the building. That almost makes the situation worse," Fittante said. He is an architect who has worked on several village developments.
Deputy Mayor Bruce Sutherland said that, if the village does pay for building repairs, the cost would be added to the property owner's tax bill.
Sheehan said, "We agree that repairs should be made," but she disputed the fact "little" work has been completed in the past year.
"Repairs have been made," she said. "Repairs have been made inside. We have contractors who can verify this. We have receipts for these things. We've had electrical work done. We've had things done to the floor. We've had a whole bunch of stuff done inside."
Furthermore, Hastings has been seen working on the Frontier House exterior. Sheehan said the developer also shored up the front porch, which was used to stage musicians during the late-August Northwest Jazz Festival.
"What they want is the big-ticket items, which is the repointing of the stone and masonry work," Sheehan said. "These are things that Mr. Hastings is not in the mindset to basically seek out and spend money on, because he's trying to sell the property. These are very expensive repairs. Ken Candella's list must add up to $500,000."
Sheehan said there are, again, potential buyers in the mix, but these people are hesitant to step forward "not because of the shape (the building is in), but because of the level of meddling coming out of the village. ... People don't even want to deal with it."
In recent years, elected and appointed leaders have suggested the Frontier House's exterior poses a risk to the safety of passersby, but it wasn't until last October that someone qualified to assess the Frontier House's condition actually conducted a proper investigation. It was at that time Candella offered his professional opinion.
On Nov. 2, if legal proceedings are initiated, then Sheehan said, "If the fines come, ... I guess it's between the attorneys."
Both Richard Hastings and Candella declined comment.
The Hastings family has worked on the back and side portions of the Frontier House in the past year, particularly to remove nonhistoric additions. The front porch also was used as a stage for the Nothwest Lewiston Jazz Festival.
FRONTIER HOUSE TIMELINE
The Frontier House was built in 1824. At that time, it was considered one of the finest hotels in the Northeast.
In the 1970s, right through its shutting in 2004, the building housed a McDonald's restaurant - with a famous passenger-side drive-thru window.
In 2004, and again a decade ago, plans to reopen the Frontier House as a hotel or as part of an upscale housing development were presented, altered, changed or delayed by other developments and/or lawsuits, and subsequently dropped.
In 2013, owner Richard Hastings' son, Alan, was named president of the Frontier House. The younger Hastings operates The Silo Restaurant. He desired to turn the property into a microbrewery, but was unable to find grant monies.
Two years later, then-Town of Lewiston Supervisor Dennis Brochey attempted to find money for his municipality to purchase the building. Negotiations between Brochey and the senior Hastings broke down upon receipt of a lower-than-expected property assessment ($750,000).
The building sits on nearly one acre of land, in the middle of Center Street, and includes a parking lot. Despite the property's inactivity, those familiar with the Frontier House speculated the historic four-story building, coupled with dedicated parking, would be valued at $1 million.
The Village of Lewiston has also floated a handful of proposals to purchase the building - for far less than $1 million or even $750,000 - but those bids have thus far been rejected.
"It's not an easy building to find a buyer for, and the village's solution is that he should just lower the price tag to $2," said Hastings family business consultant Stacey Sheehan. "Well, that's not going to work. He wants to get paid a fair price for it. The only offers he's received so far have been really ridiculous - like $200,000, $300,000. I would never recommend he take an offer like that."
In late May 2015, the Frontier House and adjoining property was listed at almost $1.7 million. The price has reportedly come down since that time.