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The next time Amherst permits an old building to be demolished, the town's Historic Preservation Commission would like to be alerted before the stones, shingles and rock-faced concrete blocks lay in a pile of rubble.

The commission is seeking to change the town law that protects landmarks.

The commission's effort comes after a two-story concrete-block building off Harlem Road in Snyder was torn down earlier this month to make room for a proposed Rite-Aid drugstore, just days before preservationists planned to protect it by applying for historic status.

The advance notice would enable the commission to prevent some of the town's older buildings from being demolished before they have been considered for landmark status, said Jacqueline C. Simon, the commission's chairwoman.

Town Board Member Peggy G. Santillo said she is upset because the commission didn't have enough time to file the paperwork after learning the building's owners intended to tear it down.

The building was one of 87 in Amherst considered to have extremely high architectural and historic significance, according to a reconnaissance survey of town buildings prepared last year by Bero Associates Architects of Rochester.

"What we'd really like to do is prevent that from happening again," Mrs. Simon said.

If alerted that an owner has sought a demolition permit from the town, the commission could move quickly to file the paperwork seeking the landmark designation, Mrs. Simon said.

Once an application is submitted, the commission can issue a notice of proposed designation. That triggers a provision in the law that prohibits the building from being demolished.

Now, the town law protects only buildings already designated as landmarks and offers temporary protection to buildings whose landmark applications on file with the town clerk are pending before the commission.

The owners of the building at 3935 Harlem applied for a demolition permit on Aug. 4, the same day commission members talked about seeking a historic designation for the building at a public meeting. The owners received the demolition permit on Aug. 12.

Commission members did not realize the building had been torn down until a student intern, on an assignment to help prepare an application for the building's preservation, showed up and discovered it missing, Mrs. Simon said.

Amherst Building Commissioner Thomas C. Ketchum said his department couldn't deny a demolition permit.

"When the Historic Preservation Commission issues a notification of proposed designation, that's the time I'm authorized to withhold permits," Ketchum said. "I'm sympathetic to the commission's plight. But the owners are well within their rights to do what they did. If the Town Board wants to protect the structures in the survey, they need to amend their ordinance."

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