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SUIT SEEKS TO REMOVE LANDMARK STATUS OF SCHOOLHOUSE

When is a historic building not historic any more?

When there have been so many interior and exterior changes over the years that only the original brick walls remain, according to a suit seeking to remove landmark protection status for a Civil War-era brick schoolhouse at one of the busiest corners in Amherst.

Michelle Tiburzi, owner of the schoolhouse parcel at the southeast corner of North Forest and Maple roads, wants a State Supreme Court justice to overturn a 4-3 vote by the Amherst Town Board designating the structure as a protected historic landmark.

The one square mile Village of Williamsville in southern Amherst has designated 10 historic landmarks since the 1980s, but Amherst didn't even have historic preservation legislation until 1994. The town's Historic Preservation Commission pushed for the schoolhouse to be the first building so protected in the 54-square-mile town, and the Town Board accepted the recommendation June 2.

Ms. Tiburzi, married to a prominent Amherst developer, said her property was used as "a test case," with officials so unsure of their new law that two public hearings had to be repeated.

The litigation asserts that whatever historical significance the small brick school once possessed, it has been lost by the many changes in the building and site since its sale to private owners in 1957.

"The building has been significantly altered, both inside and outside, in every fundamental aspect of its structure," the suit contends. Two additions at the rear of the building, comprising more than 70 percent of the total square footage of the original building, are the most visable changes, it says.

Other changes over the years include at least replacements of the roof, the addition of a porch-type portico to the front, a completely rebuilt chimney and the addition of vinyl shutters.

Meanwhile, "the interior . . . has been totally gutted and an office configuration . . . added," the suit notes.

"Every significant facing of the building has been significantly altered. The only remaining original material is those portions of the old brick, which together comprise the smallest total surface of existing structure."

Together, the changes, "make this property essentially a modern brick building on a commercial site," Ms. Tiburzi said.

"Landmark designation destroys it's development potential," resulting in "serious economic detriment" to the owner, according to court papers.

Ms. Tiburzi also charged that the town "undertook no in-depth analysis or formal study" of the landmark issue, other than by having a consultant conduct what she called a "windshield tour" of the area. A decision that reduces the value of a piece of property should be based on more than someone "driving by and deciding that anything old is, therefore, good," she said.

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