A years-old stop-work order has put a halt to the efforts of the latest owner of Clovelea to restore the derelict 19th-century mansion.
Nina Schmidbaur, who purchased the property in May and hired a contractor to begin cleanup shortly after, says the state Labor Department informed her that a stop-work order from a previous owner was still in effect. However, she said the state has not sent her the document and was eventually told her Freedom of Information Request for it would not arrive for 90 days.
“It’s at a standstill,” Schmidbaur said. “There’s this chess match the department of labor has caused and it has not been able to produce documentation.”
Plans for a psychotherapy office
Schmidbaur, a licensed psychotherapist and lifelong Saugerties resident, has big plans for Clovelea which would see the historic home host a holistic mental-health practice with treatment rooms for 8-10 practitioners working with children and adults. The Queen-Anne-style mansion last housed the popular Dragon Inn Chinese restaurant before a fire heavily damaged it in the early 1990s. Her practice presently only offers services online.
Schmidbaur will offer services on a sliding scale regardless of whether patients have insurance or not. She said she plans to place a special emphasis on serving the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities. Schmidbaur said she specializes in working with the LGBTQIA+ community.
“These are two populations, historically who have not had access to this type of treatment and have been harmed by the medical industry,” she said.
‘Concerned citizen’ alerted state
Schmidbaur said she hired a contractor on May 27 and began work on the site clearing up debris from a derelict porch that had collapsed. “When I bought the building it was already a pile of debris,” she said.
Schmidbaur said had received permission from Saugerties village officials to start cleaning up the property. Village Building inspector Eyal Saad confirmed that village officials authorized her to clean up anything outside the building including grass and garbage.
Schmidbaur said she tried to do all the right things when she purchased the building using a lawyer and a title company.
She said an anonymous “concerned citizen” called the New York State Department of Labor and she found out only after the contractor she hired told her they received a call from the DOL about a stop-work order. Saad agreed this anonymous call helped dredge up the stop-work order.
She said now, more than a month after construction was halted, she cannot get the Labor Department to produce the stop-work order. She said she’s reached out to the agency on multiple occasions to get a copy of the order and who requested it but has not heard back. She eventually was driven to file a Freedom of Information Law request with the agency to receive a copy of the stop-work order. Schmidbaur said she along with Village Mayor Bill Murphy recently received a response from the Labor Department, stating that their FOIL request for a written copy of the stop-work order will be delayed another 60 days pushing, the halt in work at the property to 90 days.
Saad said he only recently received a letter from the Labor Department, postmarked on July 1, informing him the agency had issued the stop-work order. He said it informed him that the agency had placed what he called a “new project suspension placard” on the project because of a “renovation started by a contractor not licensed to handle asbestos.” Abatement by a licensed contractor would need to be done to bring the site into compliance, he said.
“It was as much of a surprise to us as it is to her,” he said.
According to Saad, the stop-work order actually dates back to 2016 when the site was owned by Jason Moskowitz of New York City, who planned to build a boutique hotel on the site. That plan never came to fruition and he later sold it to Long-Islander T.J. Anand of Baran Hospitality Group for $130,000. Again nothing happened. Schmidbaur purchased it in May for the same price, $130,000, according to Zillow.
Saad said he cautioned Schmidbaur that she’d need to do asbestos remediation, though he knew nothing of a stop-work order being issued when Moskowitz owned the building.
Schmidbaur said she’s already spoken to licensed asbestos-abatement contractors about working on the building. But without a copy of the stop-work order, they can’t start working either because they don’t know what the scope of the work they need to do is, she said.
High hopes for the property
Village officials have weighed in support of Schmidbaur. They’ve seen absentee owners come and go, all claiming they’d renovate the once-lovely mansion that has been an eyesore on the southside of the village for decades now. The red tape in this case is especially galling, even by New York State’s usual Kafkaesque standards.
Saad said the project represents a major improvement to the area and the community and he doesn’t want to see the historic mansion sit derelict any longer.
“I never thought anyone would do it,” Saad said. “People have made promises and promises and never could do it.”
Village Mayor Bill Murphy said he’s also frustrated that the latest attempt to renovate this long derelict building has ground to a halt.
The mayor also recounted previous occasions where he’d gotten his hopes up about the property being revitalized, only to have them dashed when subsequent owners didn’t come through. Clovelea stands in a highly visible location to motorists entering the village on U.S. Route 9W.
“I’d love to see it fixed up, I drive by that thing every day,” Murphy said.
Village Historic Review Board member and local architect David Minch said he’s excited to see Clovelea in the hands of a local owner interested in preserving the historic mansion and stopping the neglect.
“She’s going to be great, she gets it,” Minch said speaking of Schmidbaur.
While it’s long sat derelict, Clovelea looms large over the history of Saugerties. The name Clovelea comes from the combination of a clove carved into one of the gable ends and its view of Platte Clove, he said.
“It’s a beautifully built stout structure,” he said, adding that the building is structurally sound and the roof is in good enough shape to protect the brick walls and foundations from the weather, while windows have been mostly boarded up to keep out the elements. He said the interior would require a good deal of work as most of it has been stripped or damaged by the fire.
Built as a home for businessman William R. Sheffield in 1882, Clovelea was sold to another businessman about 12 years after it was built. In the 1950s, the building became the Stonewall Hotel. It became Anton’s Restaurant in the 1960s, according to historian Michael Sullivan Smith’s website. It later became the popular Dragon Inn Chinese restaurant, and it flourished until a fire damaged the building in the early 1990s. It has since deteriorated significantly.
Several buyers or would-be buyers had planned to tear it down but were stopped by history buffs and the Historical Review Board, because of the building’s attractiveness and its past. The building is registered locally as a historic site.
Minch such a designation carries real teeth and has protected the building from demolition.
Schmidbaur said she feels like this property is being targeted and she can’t figure out why.
“For almost 30 years there was this abandoned structure and the state did nothing to ensure anything was properly removed,” Schmidbaur said. “It does seem a person does have a vested interest in not seeing this building renovated. I’m curious as to who is the anonymous concerned citizen is.”
Schmidbaur said the hold-up couldn’t come at a worse time as demand for mental health services has skyrocketed at the same time some have called into question the appropriateness of some leaders at the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Center. That’s left an opening for mental services among the LGBTQIA+ community, she said.
County officials are also fighting HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley parent WMCHealth over its plans to permanently shift inpatient mental services out of its Mary’s Ave campus at the former Benedictine Hospital to Poughkeepsie after the hospital operator previously said the move would only be temporary to free up space for COVID-19 patients.
Schmidbaur said she just wants to create a space in a beautiful building that offers a fresh slate for those in need of mental health services. She said she’ll create a holistic practice that looks at all factors that cause people to suffer mental health issues.
Schmidbaur asserted she’s here for the long run.
“I’m invested in our community and being part of the history here,” she said.