Karepeles Museum given approval
Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Jeffrey Ashe on Wednesday noted that the application for a use variance was submitted by current building owner David Karpeles and Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum Director Vartan Bonjukian after a certificate of occupancy for the building at 66 Kingsboro Ave. was denied by the city building inspector.
The reason for the denial was that the proposed building use as a museum is not permitted in the R-1A residential zone in which it is located according to city zoning code.
Karpeles purchased the Kingsboro Avenue building from Taylor Made in April planning to open the nation’s 15th Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum in the location. Founded in 1983, the Karpeles Manuscript Library is the world’s largest private holder of original historical manuscripts and documents on display in museums housed in historic buildings across the country.
Ashe explained that following a scheduled public hearing the use variance application from the museum would be reviewed by the board on the basis of four criteria laid out in the city zoning code to determine whether the proposed use would be beneficial or detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the community.
Speaking in favor of the application during Wednesday’s public hearing, Chas DeLilli said that he and his wife who have owned the building next door to 66 Kingsboro Ave. since 1995 had no opposition to the use variance previously obtained for the property by Taylor Made and did not oppose the new use of the building as a museum.
“We are in favor 100 percent,” DeLilli said.
This support was further expressed by Gloversville 3rd Ward Supervisor John Blackmon who both represents and resides in the section of the city where the building is located.
“I’m very much in favor of the museum there, Taylor Made Product was a good tenant and they kept the building up, I believe that the museum will do the same thing,” Blackmon said. “I think the most important thing with this building is that it’s not vacant, that it’s kept up and I believe that the new owner will maintain the building in the proper sense.”
Ashe additionally read into the record a letter of support from another neighboring property owner, Peter Galarneau, and made note of a phone call from nearby resident Rose Sussman in favor of the museum’s application.
With the public hearing concluded, the board took up the use variance criteria which examines whether under the zoning regulations the applicant will be deprived of the economic use or benefit of the property, if the property poses an alleged hardship due to its unique nature in relation to the surrounding neighborhood, if a granted variance will alter the character of the neighborhood and if the alleged hardship was self-created.
In considering each item the board members agreed that the building constructed in 1932 to serve as a Christian Science Church is unique with respect to the surrounding neighborhood, built to serve a public purpose that would likely make it costly to convert for residential purposes.
“The building size and architecture and the way it’s laid out really makes it much different than anything I see in that neighborhood as a residence,” Ashe said. “The expense to convert it to a reasonable home, seems to me certainly substantial versus using it for purposes it is already well suited for.”
Additionally, the board agreed that using the building as a museum would not impact the neighborhood.
“I can’t see much of a difference with the use as the Taylor headquarters,” ZBA member Ronald Sutler said.
“I think the building enhances the neighborhood,” ZBA member Steven Cirillo added.
In considering the final criteria for a use variance, Ashe argued the hardship was not self-created due to the perception of allowable uses for the building that was previously used as a corporate headquarters and the fact that buildings can be used for similar non-residential purposes including as schools or churches in the city’s R-1A residential zone.
“There’s been a variance on this to use it for commercial purposes for a decade,” Ashe said. “I think that anyone that used the judgment of reasonableness would say that I wouldn’t expect them to think that a museum would not be allowed at the time of purchase. I think the hardship was not self-created on their part.”
The other members of the Zoning Board of Appeals agreed and approved a motion granting the zoning use variance.
Following the meeting, Bonjukian said he was pleased with the decision and will be in touch with the building inspector this week to obtain the variance and certificate of occupancy for the museum.
“I feel great now, because this was a little nerve wracking,” Bonjukian said “I was looking forward to this job from the start, it was kind of a hiccup in the process and now that it’s smoothed out and done in a legal way it’s going to be a lot more comfortable.”
Bonjukian explained that the museum opened before the zoning issue came to light when he contacted the city building inspector seeking to find out the maximum occupancy of the building. Although Bonjukian said the museum did not officially close while he and Karpeles sought a solution, the open sign was removed and the museum refrained from advertising that it was open.
Bonjukian said that he did not think the zoning issue was overlooked intentionally by the building owner and speculated that local officials and the previous occupant assumed that Karpeles was aware of the zoning regulations over the site and the need to obtain a variance.
“I think everybody was working on the assumption that somebody had told us,” Bonjukian said. “We should be all set now.”
With the zoning issue resolved, Bonjukian said the museum will look to attract patrons in the near future to view exhibits of ancient Egyptian artifacts and a permanent collection of historical documents dating back to the birth of baseball that includes original applications submitted by several cities seeking to join or resign from the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs in the late 19th century.
Bonjukian said the museum also recently acquired hand stitched leather baseballs from the early 1800s to add to the collection that show how baseball has developed over time. Bonjukian is hoping to hold an official grand opening for the museum in the fall and is currently working to develop possible events at the museum such as an ice cream social fundraiser and temporary exhibitions featuring the work of local artists.