Residents, Town Historian Robert Newton and Historical Society President Marlene Baumgartner angrily blamed the Elma Town Board on Wednesday night for not stopping the recent demolition of the 98-year-old Lee Mansion on Bullis Road.
The town last week “lost a treasure,” Baumgartner told the board,
The Lee Mansion at Camp Centerland was demolished shortly after Brian Young took ownership, she complained.
If the town had acted sooner to join the Certified Local Government Program that helps localities to preserve and protect landmarks and resources, the demolition might have been prevented, she said.
She said East Aurora is a member and has an excellent preservation program.
Baumgartner approached the board twice in the past two months to ask for help in saving the Lee Mansion, which Henry Ford had visited many times. One of his executives built the estate in 1912 for a summer home.
The Certified Local Government Program, among other services, gives legal advice, identifies property eligible for listing and gives grants for their projects.
Councilman James Malczewski said in a letter to Baumgartner that the property was for sale for five years and the society should have addressed its concerns over that time instead of at the last minute.
Malczewski also pointed out that a fire in 1990 gutted the original mansion and in his opinion may have had something to do with the fact that the state wouldn’t recognize it.
Malczewski also wrote that Young purchased the property and that he “has some rights.”
Young paid $1.2 million for the site a week ago, then got a permit to demolish it.
Supervisor Dennis Powers said he had spoken with Young about preserving the mansion, but after Young looked into it, it was too expensive.
Young plans to build three residences for family members on the site.
Councilman Michael Nolan said the town had known about Young’s plan to purchase the site for a month, which was not enough time for the town to enact preservation legislation and appoint a qualified preservation review commission.
He said Young acted within the law to knock down the mansion but suggested the Historical Society, town historian and board view this as a “wake-up call.”
Nolan suggested a historical preservation committee be formed to prevent this from happening again.