March 27, 2002
Section: Albany/NYS
Edition: Schenectady Albany; Final
Page: B-04

Landmark Albany church's owner fined over $70,000


Gazette Reporter

ALBANY - The owner of St. Joseph's Church was fined about $72,000 Tuesday for failing to comply with the city's order to stabilize the historic building. The sentence, handed down by Albany City Court Judge Cheryl Coleman, is the latest development in Elda Abate's fight to regain control of St. Joseph's. The property has been under the city's control since late December, when Public Safety Commissioner John Nielsen declared the building structurally unsound and ordered emergency stabilization work. Abate has 120 days to pay the fine, which is the result of Abate's failure to do the work needed to stabilize St. Joseph's, said Corporation Counsel Gary Stiglmeier. An additional $2,500 fine is related to Abate's Lark Street property, Elda's on Lark. Among other things, Abate failed to obtain a building permit and extended her property into the adjoining property without authorization, Stiglmeier said. If the St. Joseph fine goes unpaid, a lien will be placed on the church and the city will be able to foreclose on the property. Randall Kehoe, Abate's attorney, described the sentence as "unconscionable" and said he would appeal. "It's a bizarre set of circumstances when a woman is fined that much for trying to restore a landmark," Kehoe said. The fine is too much for a single individual, he said. "She's not a corporation. It's a remarkably unfair fine." In addition, Abate will be billed for the work the city has done to stabilize the church, an amount that will probably exceed $150,000, Stiglmeier said. Stiglmeier said the city was pleased with the sentence. "We're pleased the court saw fit to impose such a significant penalty," he said. "It speaks to the validity of the city's case." He described Kehoe's argument that the fine is too much for one individual as "silly. The ordinance doesn't make a distinction between individuals and corporations." Abate purchased St. Joseph's from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany for $1. At one point, she had expressed interest in turning it into a dance club and bar, an idea criticized by nearby residents.

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