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A Historic Train Station Badly in Need of Tender Loving Care

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August 21, 2023

By Barrett Seaman–

A local group called Friends of the Ardsley-on-Hudson Train Station is urging the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to delay or amend transfer of ownership of the stationhouse to John Michael DeGennaro, a Yonkers-based developer who has leased the building for the past eight years but failed to maintain it. The group represents the Ardsley Park Property Owners Association (APPOA), residents of the Hudson House condominiums and Mercy College, all adjacent neighbors, and has recently won support from the Village of Irvington,

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The stationhouse is eligible for recognition as a historic building by both the State of New York and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, The group opposed to the transfer claims that DeGennaro has allowed the building to deteriorate and failed to live up to “very clear responsibilities”  to maintain its eligibility, according to a draft of a letter that the Irvington Board of Trustees intends to send to the MTA. And yet, as Mayor Brian Smith said at the Board of Trustees’ August 16th work session, DeGennaro “has a lease that he has had for eight years, which he hasn’t lived up to for eight minutes.”

According to Irvington resident Chet Kerr, who represents the opponents of the deal, the MTA is now in the process of working out terms of the transfer, which it hopes to complete in a matter of weeks.

If the deal goes through, it is unclear is what DeGennaro plans to do with the property. Since obtaining his lease in 2015 (for an initial one-time $50,000), he has done nothing of consequence to maintain it,  Due to his inaction, the MTA terminated DeGennaro’s original 200-year lease in 2019, but an appellate judge prevented them from evicting him. Rather than fight it out, the railroad’s executives decided last spring simply to give him the property and be rid of what (other than an annual income from renting space to the Post Office) is a non-productive asset on their books.

In the past, DeGennaro, who has not responded to questions about his intentions, has indicated that he hoped to sublet the property for commercial use, such as a coffee house or office space. According to the village, however, he has never completed the applications needed to obtain the requisite Special Permits. Complicating matters, village law requires that any commercial use have a specified number of parking spaces, the only possible location for which would be on a parcel of undeveloped land adjacent to the stationhouse that is still owned by the MTA.

Steeped in Irvington history, the station was originally a private depot attached to the Ardsley Casino, a Gilded Age club dating back to 1895 with its own dock jutting out into the Hudson to accommodate grand yachts owned by members like J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt (who, incidentally, happened to own the New York Central Railroad, whose tracks passed by the club). It was designed to mirror the grandiose Elizabethan-style Casino, which in its day was one of the nation’s elite private country clubs. Henry James described the building as “a large agreeable riverside station which spread there, close at hand, as the appendage of the club itself.”

The Casino is gone now; its successor, the Ardsley Country Club, is housed on a hilltop half a mile to the east. In its place is Hudson House, a massive pre-war building featuring 130 spacious apartments. Also gone is the footbridge that connected the Casino to the train platform and the dock, allowing club members to stroll out to private train cars or yachts that would take them back to the city at the end of a sports-filled weekend. But in 2010, a truck slammed into the bridge. Rather than repair it, the MTA, which by then owned the stationhouse, opted to take it down. Instead, a new overhead pedestrian bridge, entirely divorced from the old stationhouse, was installed just to the south.

Which leads us to the current state of the train station—a sad remnant of its distinguished past. Its only function is to house a U.S. Post Office branch largely patronized by the residents of Hudson House. A second-floor apartment and a couple of wood-burning fireplaces stand empty, gathering dust. The windows are in disrepair and the ceiling in the Post Office leaks. A large white sign is posted in one of the windows declaring that an application for a Special Permit has been filed with the village Planning Board. That application, however, is nearly two years old, inaccurate and incomplete, according to the records.

To get the MTA’s attention, opponents of the deal have sought the support of local politicians—particularly state representatives like Assemblywoman MaryJane Shimsky and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Kerr says these officials are sympathetic but want to know what the village government intends to do. The village has been pondering the same thing. “What kind of hammer do we have?” Mayor Smith asked at the August 16th meeting.

Not much of one, it seems. The railroad has the right to sell (or give) the property to anyone it likes, but what the village is asking in a letter to David Florio, Director of Real Estate Transactions and Operations, is that the MTA either pause the process pending further negotiations or at least stipulate three requirements in its contract with DeGennaro:

First, the MTA must include a restrictive covenant that requires DeGennaro to “maintain and preserve the exterior features” that qualify the building for inclusion in the State and National Register of Historic Places.

Second, that covenant must “run with the land,” that is, carry over to any subsequent owner, should DeGennaro decide to sell the station.

Third, the deed must state clearly that the Village of Irvington has the authority to enforce the covenant.

Copies of the letter, which is signed by Mayor Smith, are being sent to Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Assemblywoman Shimsky and half a dozen others, including Irvington resident Catherine Rinaldi, president of the MTA.

Why the stationhouse was never formally nominated for inclusion as an historic building is something of a mystery. According to Earl Ferguson, chair of the Irvington Historical Society’s Historic Preservation Committee, “it has been identified and recorded for nearly 50 years by local historians and the Irvington Historical Society as an important landmark.” But the nominating process requires the owner of the property to participate in the application, and the MTA, for whatever reason, never offered to do so. That may be in part because the application process is particularly cumbersome. “Many property owners,” says Ferguson, “view the procedure as a disincentive.”

Red tape is probably one reason why other interested parties have not stepped up. Money is another—not so much to buy the place, since MTA is willing to give it away—but because of the heavy costs involved in restoration. Kerr and other supporters would love to attract the interest of some of the large non-profits that have a record of investing in historic places, but they understand that nothing will happen as long as John Michael DeGennaro has the keys to a building that was once a gem on the banks of the Hudson.

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