Plans For The historic Masonic Temple building retracted after variance OK’d in Hudson Falls

The historic Masonic Temple building, left, will no longer be renovated into 22 apartments for senior living, according to Bill Nikas, who was proposing the plan. Although Nikas received a variance Monday night from the Zoning Board, he withdrew his plans Tuesday.

HUDSON FALLS — Village Attorney Bill Nikas withdrew his plans for the Masonic Temple Tuesday morning, even though the Zoning Board had approved a variance just the night before. Nikas bought the building nearly three years ago for his Sandy Hill Vision project and was planning on investing several million dollars. He intended to turn the five-story building at 214 Main St. into 22 senior apartments on the second through fifth floors, with commercial uses on the ground floor. But Nikas said Tuesday he felt his proposal was not welcomed by the community and felt he and the board were treated poorly by residents during the public hearing.

“Bummed out is an understatement … I don’t need the Masonic. I was doing it for the community,” Nikas said over the phone.

When asked follow-up questions via email Tuesday afternoon, Nikas wrote back, “You witnessed last night. I have no comments. I’m done.”

Plans for Masonic Temple retracted after variance OK'd in Hudson Falls

Plans for Masonic Temple retracted after variance OK’d in Hudson Falls Monday night, the Zoning Board granted Nikas a waiver despite opposition voiced by residents. The waiver would have allowed Nikas to encroach on a vehicle easement for the Strand Theatre that had been added to the deed in the 1930s. Nikas sought the waiver for construction of an elevator. Two residents voiced opposition to the elevator variance, saying encroachment on the alley would block access for emergency response vehicles. The chairman of the Zoning Board, Lou Distasio, accused Brenda Ross, one of the residents opposing the project, of being against the village.

“I don’t understand why people are trying to stop the progress of something of this nature over a couple of things that can be handled,” Distasio said during the meeting.

Ross said she wasn’t against the village or the project but didn’t approve of the way the project was being handled.

“I don’t care if it was Santa Claus building this, and I’d sure like to make him happy. But it is wrong for the other 7,000 residents in this village to special something for one individual or one project,” Ross said to the board.

“It is favoritism.”

Distasio, reached by The Post-Star on Tuesday afternoon, hadn’t heard yet about Nikas’ decision to withdraw the project.

“I’m flabbergasted,” Distasio said.

Resident Tammy Phair, whose husband has renovated village housing for seniors, was also at the meeting to oppose the way the project was being handled. Phair said she is not against the Masonic Temple, the revitalization of downtown or Nikas.

“The only thing I’m against is donated parking and skipping the rules,” she said.

“Donated parking to a board member, an attorney and a member of the LLC being given public parking and putting an elevator on somebody else’s property … It needs to be done right. My concern is for the seniors, and they need to be protected,” Phair added.

The board was also considering allowing Nikas to use part of a public parking lot. With the approval Monday night, Nikas was planning to build an elevator and staircase in the alley between the temple and Monahan and Loughlin Inc., next to the Strand Theatre. The elevator would have been built in the back of the building in a setback zone — the only place it could go without damaging the building’s historic character, according to state historic preservation officials. In a unanimous vote, the board approved a variance for an additional 3 feet from the 8-foot rear setback. That variance encroached on the 15-foot easement for the Strand Theatre in the alleyway that runs from the back of the theater to Locust Street.

Jonathan Newell, executive director of the theater, asked the board Monday night to “exercise our rights in that easement so the elevator can be situated in a different place.”

The theater needs the easement for loading and unloading equipment, such as stages, he said.

“All I’m saying is that if the theater is important to the village for economic development, it makes it easier for us to sell it to user groups if we have a loading dock,” Newell said.

Nikas said during the meeting the Strand Theater had been abandoned for the past 50 years and the easement didn’t apply.

“Going forward, we hope it’s a theater for the next 100 years, and we don’t want to limit the acts that can use the space because we don’t have a loading dock,” Newell said.

“We want what is best for the theater and the needs of the community … hopefully, we’ll work something out,” Newell said.

Newell learned Tuesday afternoon of Nikas’ decision to retract his plans.

“I am surprised,” he said.

“We admired his desire to preserve the building and appreciate his neighborly cooperation while we revive the Strand. But the more public dialogue was needed about the whole project. Not just the easement.”

By CALLIE GINTER, Poststar

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