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They Brought Down the House

Jeanne Casatelli couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw on a local newscast that Target officials had expressed remorse over the destruction of a historic building in East Greenbush.

“The nervy SOBs, they pretended ignorance and expressed regret at the ‘removal’ of the house,” said Casatelli, of the local citizens group Community Action Network. “Some people know the price of everything and the value of nothing, but a 13-year-old child could tell these aren’t the right things to do.”

To make room for the construction of a new 125,000-square-foot Target retail store off Third Avenue in East Greenbush, developer John Nigro demolished the historic Defreest-Church House on Nov. 7 before a small crowd of furious protestors who for months had tried to save the structure. Early on Nov. 15, Nigro workers felled six healthy trees dating back at least 140 years to make room for the retail store’s parking lot.

Neither Nigro nor Target officials returned phone calls late Wednesday to comment.

CAN developed an alternative plan to save the home and trees on site and presented it to Nigro and Target officials, who deemed it unsuitable. The alternative plan called for the Target store to be shifted 22 feet, saving the historic building while only compromising 25 parking spaces from the retail store’s initial proposal. Casatelli said Nigro told her the proposal was too costly, but according to her own appraisals, the cost of demolition was $10,000 more expensive.

“Well basically, they stonewalled us,” said Casatelli. “They said that putting the big box back would encroach on the wetlands. But they never got it straight and never cleared things up.”

The two-story brick structure played a role in the anti-rent wars of the mid-1800s. During that period, farmers in Rensselaer County revolted against their landowners, eventually bringing an end to the feudal system of land control dating back to the Patroons of the 1600s.

Fred Breglia, an arborist and professor at the College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill, was to inspect the trees later in the day on Nov. 15, but upon his arrival found a pile of dead wood.

“We will boycott Target forever,” said Casatelli. “Target symbolizes all that is wrong with sprawl. They suck millions of dollars out of the community, but don’t show any respect for the desires of the its citizens.”

—Travis Durfee

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