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Friday, February 15, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Another look back at the Wiss's history; clarification of LLC's ability to take ownership

post by Howard B. Owens in business, Le Roy, Wiss Hotel

Tim Hens, who owns property neighboring the Wiss Hotel building and is an engineer and history buff, sent along this photo of the "Wiss House" circa 1900, when it was two stories with a wood exterior.

He notes it was a wood-framed building.

Is it possible that the three-story structure there now is the same two-story building with a third-story addition? Most of the frame structures built in the early 1800s were post-and-beam construction with wood siding. Very few remain in our area. It would have been difficult to add a third floor to a post-and-beam constructed building. Was there ever any history of a fire? Possibly they rebuilt on the same site?

Building permits were not required way back when, so the historical record is rather incomplete.

Hens also notes that the facade in the postcard pictures we ran the other day make it look like the facade is stacked stone.

Here's one of those postcards:

Of course, we all know the current facade is red brick.

Hens said it makes no sense to put brick in front of stacked stone and it isn't likely somebody would have removed the stacked stone to put up brick.

Thinking about this, I remembered something I read in the Lynne Belluscio article from 2005.

Hepps added the third story to the old two-story landmark and capped it off with a flat roof. He covered the exterior with metal siding.

In 1927 he replaced the siding with 'tapestry brick" veneer. He added the small one-story store to the east ...

So the Hepps-owned building we see above was probably sided with tin that was pressed to look like stacked stone.

I asked Hens if that was possbile and he said yes, but said such a facade in that era wouldn't not have weathered well.

As for adding the third floor to the wood-framed structure, compare window and door placement. The interesting thing to note is how the east end of the building isn't level with the west end in both pictures. 

However, Hens said a new building, given the slant of Main Street, could have been built the same way.

Personally, it seems to me unlikely that the building of 1900 would be so similar to the building of the 1920s if they were different buildings.

So here's something else to debate: Is the current Wiss the same building as the structure originally built at that location in 1802 (the construction date in an article Hens shared).

On another note, a caller this morning raised the issue that I haven't reported that the Le Roy, NY, LLC, isn't in a position to take immediate ownership of the building even if the village board approved the sale today.

That hasn't been an issue, at least in public statements, for the three trustees blocking the sale, but it's also true.

I confirmed with Bob Fussell this morning that there is a contingency in the LLC's offer that would give the group four months to raise funds sufficient to move forward with the project.

Fussell said he believes people have made sufficient verbal commitments to ensure the funds would be raised well within the time frame, but until the funds are committed, the LLC won't take title to the building.

Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 1:37 pm

New Wiss supporters come forward, put pointed questions to trustees opposed to saving 200-year-old building

post by Howard B. Owens in business, Le Roy, Wiss Hotel

Louis Buono, top photo;
Chris and Chandy Kemp; Bill Kettle

Even Louis Buono thinks the Wiss Hotel building should be saved.

Buono owns the McDonald's franchise in the Village of Le Roy. Buono is concerned that tearing down the Wiss will hurt the character of the village and do nothing to bring more people downtown.

That outcome would hurt his business.

"I am the last person that wants empty storefronts, that’s for sure," Buono said. "I stare at them regularly and it is frustrating."

When speaking of the Le Roy, NY, LLC, Buono used the word "we" a lot and indicated he is planning to invest in restoration of the Wiss if the LLC can persuade at least one more village trustee to approve the sale of the building.

In all, five people who have never spoken up before on behalf of saving the Wiss spoke at the trustees' meeting Wednesday night.

Even Police Chief Chris Hayward, who never comments at village meetings about anything not directly related to the police department, had something to say.

Hayward doesn't favor apartments for the building -- there are enough apartments in Le Roy, he said -- but he doesn't understand why the LLC group isn't being given a chance to try and save the Wiss.

"When the mayor asked me back in March to stay on and not retire, part of our discussion was about what my motivations were for leaving and what would motivate me to stay," Hayward said. "One of the motivations I talked about for leaving was that in almost 30 years we’ve turned from a community that always worked together to get things done to a community that always looks for reason not to do things.

"Robbins Nest," he added, "we came up with reasons not to do it. The pool. We came up with reasons not to keep it open. I think we need to turn back into that community that looks for reasons to get these things done.  ... I just think we’re coming up with reasons not to do something that might have a positive impact on the community."

Another downtown property owner, Bill Kettle, said he thinks tearing down the Wiss would hurt the value of his own investment.

Kettle owns the buildings at 10 and 12 Main St. He said he's put a lot of money into restoration of those buildings and considers them the bookend -- with the Wiss being the other bookend -- to Main Street.

"My focus and concern with the Wiss is maintaining the character of Le Roy," Kettle said. "I’m very concerned about the Wiss being the fuse that will ignite a larger demolition of Main Street."

Mayor Greg Rogers, later in the meeting, pretty much confirmed what a lot of preservationists fear -- that once the Wiss goes, other buildings will be on the chopping block.

The Wiss property by itself is not big enough to attract a developer for the kind of new commercial construction that attracts investors.

“I’m not going to blow sunshine up your Kool-Aid," Rogers said. "It’s going to take more than one or two. It would take that whole corner. That parcel over there isn’t big enough for basically anything by itself."

Keeping the character of the village is also what brought Chris and Chandy Kemp to Wednesday's meeting.

The professional couple -- he's a math teacher in Rochester, she's an attorney in Buffalo -- moved to Le Roy because they were charmed by the village atmosphere.

Chris Kemp said he and his wife had never heard of Le Roy before a real estate agent drove them into town, heading east into the village on Route 5.

"We came in under the train trestle, and before that it was like, ‘yeah, whatever. It’s like Lancaster. Woopie freakin’ do,' and we came under it and, no lie, it was like the sun came out, the flowers were swaying, people were walking hand-in-hand up some kind of main street, which you can’t get anyplace else," Kemp said.

The village sold itself immediately to the couple and one of the first things they did was visit the Wiss for wings and hockey while a biker gang was hanging out there.

Both Chris and Chandy said that they worry tearing down the Wiss will start exactly the kind of domino effect described by Kettle.

"I don’t want to live in Generica," Chandy said. "I could have built a McMansion in a suburb anywhere in America. I’ve been a lawyer for 20 years. I don’t have to live here, but I want to and this is why: It’s the character. It’s the village. We don’t want to be where there’s some major development on every corner."

Many, many young professionals want to live in communities that are true communities and have character and charm, Chris Kemp said.

"We’re the people you want to have here," Chris said. "We’re the people who pay your taxes. We keep the place running. We’re the people with a little money, a little ambition, a little drive and a little common sense."

Bob Fussell Jr., spoke out, too. Of course, he said, he agrees with his dad, who is heading up the LLC effort.

"I think you would make a big mistake to tear that down," Fussell said. "I don’t want to see a Tim Horton's or some commercialized garbage sitting on that corner.  When I take my daughter on her bike down Main Street, I don’t want to take her by a Tim Horton's. I enjoy main street. I’ve lived here most of my life, and that’s just how I feel."

As the conversation became a little more free flowing, with some back-and-forth between citizens and board members, Chris Kemp and Louis Buono tried to draw out of the three trustees who oppose saving the Wiss just exactly what their thinking is.

Mike Tucci, Robert Taylor and Jim Bonacquisti, have all raised concerns about safety, the viability of saving the Wiss, and for Bonacquisti, the idea that the corner is "screaming out for retail."

Buono countered that once the LLC takes possession of the building, the safety issue is resolved. There is a contractor ready now to shore up the building and even install a fire wall, though it's questionable whether it's needed.

If safety was the issue for the three board members, he said, there would be a scaffolding and yellow tape around the building already.

Getting to the point of tearing down the building will take a lot longer than it would take the LLC to resolve the safety concerns, Buono said.

As for Bonacquisti's suggestion that the corner is "screaming out" for retail, well, Buono said, the LLC's plan includes retail on the first floor.

"It can't be safety," Buono said. "It can't be retail. The LLC takes care of both of those issues."

Kemp turned to asking trustees what they envision for the corner and Tucci said, "grass."

He said, "I see grass and picnic tables."

An idea Chris scoffed at, suggesting it wouldn't be used much with Trigon Park just down the street and Chandy noted a park there wouldn't generate tax revenue.

By the end of the meeting, neither Tucci nor Bonacquisti really answered the question of what their real objections are.

Tucci seemed to reject the idea that taking down the Wiss will lead to more buildings coming down.

"I’m not for demolishing Le Roy," Tucci said.

Taylor said he remains opposed to saving the Wiss because he doesn't believe it can be saved.

In a back and forth with Fussell Sr., Taylor admitted that he's previously said he's not an expert in construction and restoration. Fussell noted that all the experts who have looked at the building say it can be restored.

"It's just my personal opinion," Taylor said, "but I think it's the ugliest building I've ever seen."

Lisa Compton has been at every village meeting on the Wiss and supports the LLC, though she said she can't afford to invest. Just as Taylor hasn't been convinced by anything he's heard, nothing Taylor, Tucci and Bonacquisti have said changes her mind.

"I’m coming at it from a taxpayer," Compton said. "I just haven’t found a good enough reason to drop it. It makes good financial sense. I haven’t been persuaded, kind of like the other board members who are against it. I haven’t heard anything to persuade me yet that it's a bad idea."

Perhaps the most hopeful word for preservationists came at the end of the village board meeting.

Tucci said the idea of the LLC putting in office units upstairs instead of apartments appealed to him. A change in business plans could change his mind.

Taylor said he agreed with Tucci.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 7:56 pm

MVA with injuries at Route 19 and Selden Road, Le Roy

post by Billie Owens in accidents, Le Roy

A motor-vehicle accident with injuries is reported at Route 19 and Selden Road in Le Roy. Traffic is being shut down on Route 19 at Parmalee and Randall / North Street roads. Mercy Flight is not available, if it is deemed needed. Le Roy fire and ambulance are responding and an ambulance from Bergen is requested for mutual aid.

UPDATE 6:59 p.m.: Medics are told to proceed in non-emergency mode.

UPDATE 7:03 p.m.: Bergen is told to go back in service.

UPDATE 7:22 p.m.: Shortly, northbound traffic will be allowed to proceed.

UPDATE 7:47 p.m.: One patient was taken by Le Roy to Strong Memorial Hospital.

UPDATE: Reader submitted photos:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Wiss supporters hope trustees take conservative route and avoid taxpayer expense to raze building

post by Howard B. Owens in business, Le Roy, Wiss Hotel

Preservationists in Le Roy still think the former Wiss Hotel building can be saved from the old wrecking ball.

In interviews and conversations this week, Wiss backers said they still don't believe village trustees will want to spend six figures of taxpayer money, creating a vacant lot with an uncertain future and expense, when there is a willing and able buyer ready to step in and rehabilitate the structure.

They hope public pressure over the expenditure -- once the cost is known -- will build, and that more people will come forward both to endorse the Le Roy, NY, LLC, and to express their support for retaining some of the charm of the village.

In fact, according to Bob Fussell, more people may show up at tonight's village board meeting to let trustees know how important the issue is to them.

He said he's heard from at least two such people.

The trustees meet at 7 p.m., and since the Wiss isn't on the agenda, any remarks will come later in the meeting during the public comment time.

Meanwhile, the process of requesting bids from demolition companies was delayed a couple of weeks after village officials learned an asbestos survey was necessary before the village could publish an RFP.

Mayor Greg Rogers said the study was completed -- though he didn't immediately have available the results -- and the RFP has been publicized.

The RFP process will give trustees the truest picture yet of just how much it will cost taxpayers to demolish what is perhaps the oldest commercial building in Le Roy.

Informal estimates have ranged from $150,000 to $250,000.

The Le Roy LLC has offered $10,000 for the building and the promise to shore up the building immediately and raise $400,000 to finance restoration.It's unlikely, according to Fussell, that the building could be torn down any sooner than the LLC could shore it up and begin rehabilitation work, negating any concerns over the building's safety.

"My gut feeling is once the community understands the potential cost to demolish the Wiss, we might get a favorable vote at that point," Fussell said.

Rogers has consistently said he doesn't necessarily back the LLC's plans, but thinks their proposal makes the most business sense for the village.

When trustees see the actual price of demolition, it may persuade one or more of them to change their minds.

"I wouldn't say it's a dead deal," Rogers said.

Trustee Jennifer Keys said she's also optimistic that at least one other board member can be persuaded to support the sale of the Wiss to the LLC.

"I hold out hope that until the building is gone, somebody is going to come forward and say something that is going to resonate with other board members," Keys said.

Meanwhile, she said she feels in an odd position. A Democrat, Keys said she feels like she's to the right of some of her colleagues on the issue.

The three trustees advocating the expense of demolition are either Republicans or Conservatives.

"I'm kind of baffled," Keys said. "I must be missing something. I'm generally seen as the most liberal person on the board and I don't see why we would spend this money and not accept $10,000 for the building."

The trustees who so far been backing spending the money are Robert Taylor, Jim Bonacquisti and Mike Tucci.

We tried to reach each of the three men this week to ask a basic question: Why not give the LLC a chance to see what it can do? What's the harm in letting them try?

Taylor said his biggest concern is the people in the LLC. He doesn't think the building can be saved and the people willing to put their own money in the Wiss will lose their investment.

"It's not a question of giving them a chance," Taylor said. "My firm belief is the building is in a condemned condition and they're just pouring their money into a bottomless pit.

"I grew up in this town," Taylor added. "I've known Bob Fussell since he was 2 years old. I haven't seen the list of people in the LLC, but I've lived here for 70 years, so I assume I know them all. Like I said before, I don't want to see anybody pour money down an empty hole."

Taylor said he has fond memories of going to the Wiss as a boy with his parents.

"I remember it when it was in its quote unquote heyday," Taylor said, "and I know what it looks like now."

He said he has it on good authority that the third floor has been suffering from water damage for 30 years and that beams are soaked with water and won't hold a nail.

"I really believe the building is beyond repair," Taylor said.

He also said, "I don't really care what they build. That's not my concern. I don't want them to spend money needlessly."

Bonacquisti also believes getting the actual cost of demolition will help resolve the issue, but not necessarily in favor of the preservationists.

"Despite the folks coming forward now, I can list three times as many folks that agree with our decision," Bonacquisti said in an interview through Facebook messages.

His position hasn't changed, he said.

"I truly believe that corner is worth a lot more empty than having that old building there," Bonacquisti said. "The traffic flow at that four corners is very high and as I have stated in the past, that corner is screaming for some type of retail where we can generate property tax and add to the employment of folks in this area."

The Wiss with apartments on the second and third floor just isn't a good idea, Bonacquisti. There are already too many apartments in Le Roy, he said, plus he knows the building well (he and his wife once lived within 200 feet of the Wiss) and the odor from vehicles, the noise and high traffic volume makes it an unappealing place to live.

He regrets that the village didn't resolve the issue three years ago (which was before he was on the board).

"I also believe taking that building down can fix that corner once and for all," he said. "Have you ever been on Lake Street in the left-turn lane? Pull up to the stop line, only to have to throw the car in reverse as a truck or bus is coming from the east turning north?"

Tucci did not respond to The Batavian's request for an interview.

Keys said she is still confused by her colleagues' position and thinks the LLC proposal should appeal to conservative politicians.

"It's free enterprise," Keys said. "It's people in the community taking care of an issue. It's a group of people who believe in it so much that they've spent their own money to get this far. It just doesn't make sense economically to spend money unnecessarily, even it's as low as $148,000. We could spend that $148,000 on infrastructure."

History: The Wiss has stood in Le Roy for at least two centuries. The original structure was built by Richard Stoddard. Stoddard died in 1810, so the building had to have been erected prior to 1810, according to an article by Le Roy Historian Lynne Belluscio. The article appeared in the Oct. 3, 2005 edition of the Le Roy PennySaver. John Wiss purchased the building in 1869. The hotel was briefly known as the Michel House after George Michel of Wheatland purchased it in 1904. John Hepps purchased it in the 1920s and renamed it the Wiss Hotel, in honor of the previous owner. Don Pangrazio ran the establishment for 40 years before closing it down in 2005. The county acquired the property in 2010 in tax lien foreclosure and immediately deeded it to the village.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Bergen and Le Roy responded to barn fire in Riga this morning

post by Howard B. Owens in bergen, fire, Le Roy

Bergen and Le Roy fire crews responded to a barn fire in Riga this morning. WHAM 13 reports 56 sheep died in the fire.

We didn't cover this initially because it is in Monroe County, but as it turns out, the location is actually in Bergen's fire district.

WHAM 13 had a crew on scene, so we would anticipate more coverage from the news station later today.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Wolcott Street School in Le Roy to perform 'The Jungle Book'

post by Jamie VanWyngaarden in Le Roy, musical, wolcott street school

The sixth-grade students of Wolcott Street School in Le Roy will be performing "The Jungle Book" at 7:30 p.m., Thursday.

Unique to the Le Roy elementary school, the annual sixth-grade musical is an opportunity for its students to showcase their musical, acting and artistic talent.

This year, 63 students auditioned for various roles in the production, with opportunities made for all.

The stage will be colored by the various characters of the storyline, both human and animal alike.

In addition to acting, students are responsible for creating the set, props and costumes.

With only six weeks of rehearsals, “This is the shortest amount of time I have prepared a musical and the students are doing a fantastic job!” musical director Jessa Dechant said.

She is joined by Andrea Feola, who has been the assistant director for the fourth year in a row.

Several other teachers are also providing support to the production by filling in various roles such as lighting and sound.

The Le Roy PTSO and Le Roy Music Boosters will be doing the hair and makeup for the performance.

Also, several Le Roy JR/SR High School students are volunteering their time as backstage crew.

In addition to the 45 minute show, the school is hosting a food drive the night of the production to benefit local food pantries.

The food drive and the musical became a team two years ago when Disney’s "Cinderella KIDS" was on stage at the school. Its goal was to provide a way to give back to the community.

The idea stuck and has become a yearly tradition as a way to do something nice for those in need within Le Roy.

Donations of nonperishable food items can be brought Thursday evening and will be collected at the door.

This event is open to the community. No tickets are necessary.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 10:12 am

Burglary suspect arrested yesterday may be linked to other break-ins in the county

post by Howard B. Owens in bergen, byron, crime, elba, Le Roy, Oakfield, Stafford

An observant resident may have helped the Sheriff's Office yesterday nab a suspect in a series of burglaries in the county.

So far, Jeffery James Leaton, 22, of Caswell Road, Byron, has only been charged with an alleged burglary on Griswold Road, Le Roy.

According to Deputy Chief Jerome Brewster, Leaton was caught in the act at the Griswold Road home after a person reported suspicious activity at the residence.

Brewster said investigators are looking at Leaton as a possible suspect in other burglaries. There have been strings of burglaries reported since early January in Elba, Oakfield, Byron, Bergen and Stafford.

Leaton has been charged with one count of burglary, 2nd, and is accused of making forced entry into the Griswold Road residence. He was allegedly in the process of stealing jewelry.

Following arraignment in Town of Le Roy Court, he was jailed on $20,000 bail.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 7:43 am

Thefts reported on Vallance Road and North Road in Le Roy

post by Howard B. Owens in crime, Le Roy

A thief struck in the area of Vallance Road and North Road in Le Roy overnight, according to reports on Sheriff's dispatch this morning.

Four locations on Vallance Road had items stolen and a computer was stolen from a location on North Road.

A vehicle was stolen from one residence on Vallance Road, but later located down the road.

A suspect footprint was found in the snow and a witness may have seen a suspect vehicle, described as tan in color with a partial plate of FLG.

UPDATE 8:06 a.m.: More information from Chief Deputy Jerome Brewster. It was a van that was stolen on Vallance Road and later abandoned down the road. There were a series of thefts from vehicles along North Road and Brewster said he believes the incidents are related. The thefts this morning are similar to two other vehicle thefts in the past several weeks that have been reported to the Sheriff's Office, Brewster said.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Grace's Kitchen in Le Roy marks one year of providing free meals to the community

About a year ago, Selby Davis, a lifelong Le Roy resident, became aware of something -- one in four area school children were receiving free or reduced-priced lunches and breakfasts.

"I figured out there were a lot of hungry people who needed food," Davis said.

Davis sits on the board of the Le Roy Christian Community Project. LCCP runs a backpack program, which sends food home with needy children on Fridays to ensure they have something nutritious to eat over the weekend.

With seed money from The Backpack Club, Davis started Grace's Kitchen, a weekly dinner at the Le Roy United Methodist Church, 10 Trigon Park, Le Roy. The meal is from 5 to 7 p.m. and is free to anybody who walks through the door.

Donations are always welcome from anybody who can afford to make a cash contribution.

In the one year since the kitchen was opened, 4,832 people have been served meals. The largest turnouts have been 210 meals in a night.

Most of the people who show up are older residents.

People have told Davis that the weekly meal is something they look forward to not just because it's free, but it's a chance to socialize and share a community meal.

"I have one table of elderly women who come every week," Davis said. "They stay from 5-7. One of the women is 97. It’s such a Godsend."

There are children in the community who benefit from the charity, and some of them come in for meals but most of the children are served by volunteers who deliver the meals to their homes.

Davis said the volunteers have been key to the success of Grace's Kitchen. Her e-mail list of volunteers is too long to count, she said. On a typical night, eight or nine people show up to work in the dining room, five in the kitchen and a couple to handle deliveries.

"The volunteers have come out of the woodwork," Davis said. "They're devoted. They've been here. They're friendly."

For the volunteers, it's as much about being with friends as serving the community they said.

"It’s really become like a family here," Pavilion resident Debbie Lathan said. "We get to know all the people who come through and when they’re not here, we ask about them and we worry about them. It’s just like a great big family of people that come together every week."

David Mancuso, also of Pavilion, agreed.

"It’s just enjoyable each week," he said. "You kind of look forward to it. You have a lot of fun with the people here and each other, and you really feel like you’re doing something good."

Davis plans each meal and oversees the preparation. Volunteers describe her cooking as fabulous.

There's been tremendous support from the Le Roy community for the program, Davis said. Pastors from various churches stop in and lead prayers; Le Roy Rotary has made donations and Tops donates day-old bread each Tuesday.

There's always a need to feed the hungry of Le Roy, Davis said, and donations are always appreciated.

"I want to say thank you for the support of the community," Davis said. "I hope we're going in another year and in another 20 years."

The menu for each week's meal is posted on LCCP's Facebook page.

Nancy Baker, of Le Roy, mixes the salad.

Debbie Lathan, Dave Mancuso and Nancy Baker.

Monday, February 11, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Natural gas leak prompts temporary closure of Summit Street, Le Roy

post by Billie Owens in Le Roy

Summit Street in the Village of Le Roy is shut down after a report of the smell of natural gas coming from a residence there. Le Roy Fire Department is on scene and did detect natural gas with their equipment but are unable to shut off the meter. The fuel company has been notified.

UPDATE 12:22 p.m.: RG&E is on scene.

UPDATE 12:28 p.m.: The gas meter is being shut down at the curb now.

UPDATE 12:29 p.m.: Pavilion fire, which was also called to the scene, is released and back in service. RG&E asked Le Roy to stay there.

UPDATE 12:33 p.m.: There is no longer an odor of natural gas coming from the residence and the commander is sending someone inside to get a reading to be sure it is safe.

UPDATE 12:38 p.m.: A firefighter reports the air inside 51 Summit St. is clear and no natural gas is detected.

UPDATE 12:54 p.m.: RG&E has successfully disconnected the natural gas main line from the residence at the curb. Le Roy fire is back in service. The roadway is reopened.

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