Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fate Of Lakeside Mansion Debated



What to do about the old mansion on Brookwood Point is still an issue, even though the 22-acre property is about to move from the Cook Foundation into the hands of the Otsego County Land Trust.
“The landscape can wait, but the house has to be dealt with,” said Martha Frey, the former Otsego 2000 executive director who, with Dr. Francis Nolan, is co-chairing a Land Trust study group seeking to chart a course for one of the last public access points to Otsego Lake.
Frey was addressing 70 people who gathered Sunday, Jan. 30, in Templeton Hall for the first of three public-input meetings designed to help the Frey-Nolan citizens committee put together a plan as soon as this spring.  The theme of the undertaking:  “Brookwood Point.  Discover Its Part; Imagine Its Future.”
But the issue about the mansion was raised in atmosphere of some excitement, which Nolan captured in his remarks:  “Looking ahead 10-20 years, I see an amazing place out there.”
Frey and Nolan outlined the status and history of the property, which grew from a simple home in the 1820s to an extensive and substantial summer retreat by the time it went into decline in the 1950s, when Robert Cook bequeath it to a foundation he created.

In the Q&A that ended the afternoon, four options were outlined:
• Renovate the house, which immediately needs a new roof and other steps to protect it from the elements.
• Historically reconstruct the house and the barn, which was razed four years ago.
• Replace the house with a “footprint,” perhaps a pavilion that occupies the same space and echoes the existing structure.
• Sell the house with a conservation easement that limits how it can be used.  Perhaps a boutique-hotel developer would be interested, and as a private entity could take advantage of tax credits that a not-for-profit like the Land Trust cannot, Nolan said.

“All structures change over time,” said Susan Birdsall.  “To say you should never change a house doesn’t make sense.”
Maria Tripp envisioned the house being used for receptions.  Earl Peterson suggested perhaps it can be reduced to its original size, before unprepossessing servants quarters were added to the south side.
Bill Parsons, the preservation contractor, observed that, whatever the cost of renovation, “the demolition cost can be so high it ameliorates that cost.”
Added Frey:  “The house right now can’t be used at all, due to code issues.”
Wayne Mellors, who is on the citizens committee, wondered whether the handful of slips that are rented out in summer might be increased as a source of revenue.
Since the garden was planned by a noted landscape architect, Frederick DePeyster Townsend (Lucy Townsend’s great-great-grandfather), it could be revived and perhaps become a stop on the American Heritage Garden Trail system, Nolan said.
Regardless, the group seemed to favor passive recreation, picnicking but probably not swimming, an access for canoes, but likely not motorboats.
The citizens committee will review the public input, continue its deliberations, and come back to the second public meeting, perhaps in March, with a firmer concept.

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