Page: B10
Date: Thursday, February 7, 2002



Albany The city's public safety commissioner acted prudently and within his authority when he declared the landmark St. Joseph's Church on Ten Broeck Triangle an immediate public danger, prompting work to shore up the 18th-century cathedral, a judge has ruled.      In a six-page decision, state Supreme Court Justice Thomas W. Keegan pointed to engineering reports and photographs of the Gothic-style Roman Catholic Church and said ``it is plain that the exercise of that emergency authority, in this instance, was justified by the need to protect the public health and safety.'' The building's owner, restaurateur Elda C. Abate, had disputed the severity of the building's condition and whether the city had the right to take control of the property.      At issue was Public Safety Commissioner John C. Nielsen's Dec. 20 order, declaring the building structurally unsound. That order followed a Sept. 26 notice to Abate, who purchased the church from the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese in August 2000 for $1, informing her that she should immediately apply for a building permit and commence work to make the building safe.      Once Nielsen's order was issued, the city took control of the site and began shoring up the property on its own.

     Abate's attorney, Randall Kehoe said the city's action has effectively prevented her from gaining access to her own building and carrying out the work the city has requested. ``She owns the structure. She wants to make repairs,'' he said.      Kehoe said it is possible she will appeal Keegan's decision but that he may recommend waiting until a separate dispute centering on the September order, now being heard by City Court Judge Cheryl Coleman, is decided.      The city has spent an estimated $150,000 so far on interior scaffolding work to stabilize the church and prevent collapse. Nielsen said the work is nearly complete and he is pleased that the judge's decision allows that work to continue.      Abate had originally pledged to restore the old church for use as a banquet hall, and neighbors and historic preservation advocates supported that plan. The support evaporated, however, when Abate sought permission to stay open until 4 a.m. and advertised the church as the future site of a dance club.      In a statement issued Wednesday, Mayor Jerry Jennings said: ``I believe the court's decision is an important step in what will be a long, but necessary, journey to save this landmark.''      Jennings has said he'd like Abate to cooperate with the city in an effort to put the church in the hands of the Historic Albany Foundation, which could find a new use for the church.

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