Opera House sings swan song?

Mary Perham
The Opera House

Confusion over plans to renovate portions of the 100-year-old Opera House on Shethar Street could mean work is put on hold.

“There have been oversights on our part,” Planning Board Chairman John Ridge said Wednesday. “We’re stumbling over ourselves.”

Ridge told planning board members key information– such as floor plans and drawings – for renovations for rooms on the building’s third and fourth floors have been lost or mislaid.

The board also needs more information on the proposed renovation, according to village Attorney Bill Reed.

Reed told the board he missed an earlier public hearing because he was not given enough notice and had a prior commitment. But the letter of recommendations he sent to be included at the hearing was misunderstood, Reed said.

“These are recommendations,” he said. “You can ignore them, you can approve the application. But I had some concerns I felt needed your attention.”

Reed said the application does not include the total dimensions of each of the two upper stories -- and has no information on the proposed occupancy of the renovated rooms or the total occupancy each floor can handle. How much weight the old floors can bear was also important, he said.

According to documents Reed provided the board, when he asked for information on the septic system, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, the only answer he received was the systems were done “by others.”

Reed said he interpreted that to mean any systems had been approved for the first and second floors, but there was no plans for systems for the remaining floors.

Developer Jim Keena and his partner Cindy Tallo argued the correct plans had been submitted.

Reed suggested the board locate an independent engineer to review the plans, with the cost paid by Keena.

“I don’t know enough about this, you don’t know enough,” he told board members. “This is the biggest project the village has ever seen.”

He said hiring an independent engineer would not take be excessive, noting Guthrie recently paid $5,000 for a review of its plans to build a new hospital in East Corning.

Reed said the additional work would benefit Keena, since any project could be challenged in court.

Code Enforcement Officer Bob Magee said he would sit down with Keena and Tallo and go through the remaining requirements.

“Everybody wants you to do this,” he said. “Everybody wants it done safely, without major problems. Get through this, and you’re on your way. You’re bullet proof.”

Keena told Magee there was no guarantee other roadblocks won’t be raised.

“It’s a changing target,” he said.

Keena and Tallo also said they did not intend to submit their future plans for a theater on the third and fourth floors, despite the recommendations of Reed and Magee.

Tallo said the theater was a separate application and they were looking for funding through a state Main Street Grant.

“Well then, understand the dilemma you’re creating,” Magee said. “You combine these and you’re home free. You do the theater separately and you start all over again.”

Planning board members expressed their exasperation at the complicated process, saying different projects seemed to require different scrutiny. Applications seem to be filed at separate times, they said.

“We get things piecemeal, we do things piecemeal,” Paul Albee. “We hear about it when we make mistakes. I’m sorry you’re confused, Jim. I’m confused, too.”

That confusion may ultimately put the project on the shelf, Keena said later.

Keena said he will review the written list of requirements drawn up by the planning board. However, the uncertainty of the planning board and what he believes could be more problems raised later may lead him to drop the project for a while, he said.

“You know, I wanted this to be something I could give to the community,” he said. “I don’t expect to make a dime off this. It was supposed to be fun. But this, I don’t know. I just don’t know.”

Reed said the village strongly supports the project but needs assurances it passes required reviews.

“There are no agendas, here,” he said. “This is a wonderful project.”

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