The burned-out Roycroft Professional Center -- facing its fourth winter in dilapidated condition -- is at the heart of debate among East Aurora village trustees who are adamant that the structure be cleaned up.
Many village trustees Monday night expressed frustration over the eyesore created by the ruins of the building -- which once served as the power plant for the other buildings on the Roycroft campus -- since it was heavily damaged by fire in February 1997.
Moreover, the village Historic Preservation Commission has recommended the village pursue taking control of the building from owner Daniel Murray, possibly through eminent domain proceedings.
While village officials generally seemed reluctant to pursue eminent domain, many insisted that something needs to be done with the center at 39 S. Grove St. on the Roycroft campus. The campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Some board members favored the village's first sending a cleanup notice to Murray, president of Murray Brothers Nurseries in Orchard Park, that, if ignored, would be followed up through State Supreme Court and could ultimately be resolved with the village doing the cleanup work. But they acknowledged that cleanup costs could be significant.
Mayor John Pagliaccio is meeting with Murray on Wednesday for an update on the latest plans for the building, which is believed to be the last one erected on the Roycroft campus. Pagliaccio seemed doubtful about any plans, noting that he and other village officials have met with Murray and nothing has been resolved for some time.
"I don't know if there's anything else we can do," Pagliaccio said, noting the board's approval earlier this year of an incentive offering village tax breaks to historical landmarks over a 10-year period based on the increased assessed value of any renovations. The board had hoped that initiative would be an incentive to get improvements under way for the power house, among other sites.
"It's been very difficult to get him to move off the dime," Pagliaccio said.
He noted it has apparently been difficult for Murray to come up with a feasible plan for the center and to secure the necessary financial backing. Murray has also been changing architects, village officials said. He bought the building in 1998 and had initially talked of converting it into a multiuse facility with a bakery, coffee shop and bar, and studios for artists.
"He (Murray) needs to be told to clean it up or we'll do it for him," Trustee Sara Foster said. "I think it's dangerous and unsafe."
Trustee Christine Peters agreed, citing the building's negative impact on the community. "How long do we allow this building to continue in this state?" she asked. "We've waited 2 1/2 years now."
"He's been blowing smoke," Trustee David DiPietro said. "Has he done anything constructive?"
If the village were to consider acquiring the property through eminent domain, the village would presumably face a long, involved process.
Trustees balked at doing that, saying they don't want to have to use taxpayer money that way at a time when they face several other pressing issues and have limited resources as a small bcommunity.
"We own enough property. We shouldn't own it," Donald Nieman said.
"Even if we owned it, what do we do with it?" Lowell Dewey said.