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Public hearing to consider fate of historic East Aurora houses

The East Aurora Historic Preservation Commission will hear public comment at 6 p.m. today about whether to grant a local landmark designation and thwart a restaurateur’s plan to demolish the old house where Irving Price lived when he founded the iconic Fisher-Price toy company.

“The whole point of the public hearing is to elicit information so we can make an informed decision,” said Mark Warren, chairman of the commission. “We’re keeping open minds, as we must.”

Concern about the demolition prompted the commission to consider a protective local landmark designation, a distinction that must be approved by the Village Board. It could help prevent the village from issuing a permit to tear down two Main Street houses, Nos. 253 and 259, which is the former Price house.

Both are owned by the owners of Pasquale’s restaurant across the street.

While Gene Wachala, a Pasquale’s co-owner, declined to comment, his lawyer offered details and explanation of the plans by email. If the houses are torn down, Wachala would replace them with parking for Pasquale’s patrons and a new building. It would have commercial space and second-floor apartments and a design with a peaked roof line to imitate the triangular roof peak of the Greek Revival style at 259 Main St., which was built in the 1840s.

“The proposed building will return residential use to the property,” wrote Corey Auerbach, Wachala’s attorney. Wachala won’t be swayed by public interest in preserving the buildings, he said, because the cost of rehabilitating them is too high: The first floor of 259 would have to be gutted since a water pipe leak buckled the flooring, and the joists have mold. Also, the foundation is shifting, and there is “extensive dry rot in several areas adjacent to the down spout.”

The commission will consider the properties’ connection to historic figures, such as Price, distinguishing characteristics and their contribution to the overall appearance of the downtown.