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ORCHARD DOWNS, HISTORIC LANDMARK, TO COME DOWN

The Orchard Downs buildings, one of Orchard Park's historical landmarks, effectively became history Tuesday night as the Village Planning Board approved its demolition.

Developers Peter Krog and David Hart plan to replace the 1820s-era hotel with a $1.3 million office building.

They still need to receive a special-use exemption from the Village Board and three variances from the Village Zoning Board of Appeals before they can proceed with demolition, but Tuesday night's decision was the big one.

If the Village Board approves a permit to build a new 9,979-square-foot building -- any building over 3,500-square feet requires a permit -- and the Zoning Board of Appeals gives its go-ahead to three design issues, the old hotel will be demolished.

A public hearing on the demolition included emotional pleas to restore the old structure at the corner of Quaker and Buffalo streets (Routes 20A and 24 0/2 77, respectively) by members of the Orchard Park Historical Society. But even more village businessmen and neighbors supported the demolition.

"My reasoning is that it is an eyesore at this point," said Planning Board Chairman David Rood. "Also, I was a volunteer fireman for many years, and I've seen the condition of the building."

Hart read from a memo from an Orchard Park Fire commissioner saying the building is unsafe, and Orchard Park District Chief Joe Jensen called the Downs a "potential fire hazard."

"If there's a fire in this building, if it's going more than 10 minutes, we're going to have a problem," Jensen said.

Hart and Jensen described a building that has been vacant for three years, gone through several owners over the past decade, been the subject of bankruptcy and foreclosure procedures and suffered water damage, dry rot and electrical code problems.

The hotel has been designated a historical building by the village, but its detractors say the building was modified so drastically over the years that it lost its architectural integrity.

Historical Society members disagreed.

Suzanne Printy, widow of former town and village historian John Printy, said that although her husband -- who died Jan. 4 -- had not opposed the demolition, it was only because he took the developers' word on the condition of the building.

"I'm glad he didn't see this. He would really be upset," Suzanne Printy said. "I really am sick about it. We work like dogs on the history of Orchard Park, and then they go and demolish one of the historic places."

Printy said she had been told by two contractors, whom she said she was not free to identify, that it could be fixed, and for less than the cost of rebuilding.

Some Historical Society members questioned why Hart and Krog spent $700,000 on the property, suggesting they planned to demolish the building all along. Hart denied that.

"We actually had the fire inspection well after we closed on the building," Hart said. "That's when we learned how deficient it was regarding code."

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