McKownville Improvement Association
- McKownville - deed restrictions in the Pitkin-Witbeck development

Deed restriction covenants in the Country Club Highlands development
map of Country Club Highlands 1912
The original sale of the McKown Hotel Farm property by William McKown to William H Witbeck occurred in 1907. Witbeck had a subdivision plan made for "Country Club Highlands" (filed in 1910) covering the part of the property east of Fuller Road and north of Western Avenue, of about 40 acres extent. He built a house for his family at the eastern end (1421 Western Avenue), and by mid-1912 had sold a few lots near this along Western Avenue, and on the lower end of Norwood Street.
For unknown reasons (but perhaps from needing a source of capital to install the water and drainage piping), he then sold in June 1912 the whole residue of this property to a partnership of his eldest son, Benjamin F Witbeck, and Arthur F Pitkin, a principal in the American Locomotive Works in Schenectady. This partnership redesigned the subdivision, filing a revised map of the "Country Club Highlands" on the last day of 1912.

The deed conveying the property to the Pitkin-Witbeck partnership contains an overall restriction (covenant) on permitted use of any of the lots to be sold, reading as follows:
That part of the premises hereby conveyed which are situated on the north side of the Great Western Turnpike from the Fuller Road to the east bounds of said premises are restricted as follows: No building to be erected thereon other than a dwelling house and appurtenances and on Great Western Turnpike no building to be erected within forty five feet from the north line of said turnpike except a porch or stoop to said building and said building to cost at least and not less than three thousand dollars[.] On any other streets included in the above mentioned premises on the north side of Great Western Turnpike no building to be erected at a cost of less than eighteen hundred dollars and to be erected no less than twenty feet from the line of the street on which said lots front except a porch or stoop and no intoxicating liquors to be sold and no business or manufacturing business to be carried on on the said premises north of said Great Western Turnpike and east of the said Fuller Road.
The above covenants as to restrictions are to run with the land and this grant to be forfeited if restrictions are violated.
excerpt from Deed for McKown Hotel Farm dated 2 June 1912; Book 603, pages 197-200
William H. and Selenia A. Witbeck to Arthur F. Pitkin and Benjamin F. Witbeck

In the years before any zoning ordinances or planning existed in the Town of Guilderland (i.e. before 1953), this was the only legally enforceable way to keep a development residential, and the lots desirable to the customers the partnership wished to attract to build the neighborhood. The covenant forbidding sale of alcoholic liquids was it seems not because the Witbecks were prohibitionists. After all, in 1912 they still owned the large and busy hotel and tavern on Western Avenue at the Fuller Road intersection, right across from the west end of the development; it could be proposed that the covenant was at least in part to prevent any nearby competition!

Deeds for the original sale from the Pitkin-Witbeck partnership, and its successor the Pitkin-Witbeck Realty Company, for lots sold in the "Country Club Highlands" development after 1912, all contain some version of this restriction on the minimum cost, and the placement, of the building allowed, and (in addition) that the building must be a one-family dwelling.  They all include the statement that business use, and specifically the sale of intoxicating liquors, was not permitted. The deeds for the lots sold by William H Witbeck before 1913 also contain such statements.
Some of the lot sale deeds contain the statement about the restriction running with the land and forfeiture being the penalty for violation, but this was not copied into all of them.
  A few lot sale deeds contain a time-limit qualification as to the restrictions; those seen with this addition all say that the restrictions are to expire 1 January 1940. For example, for 16 Elmwood, the deed for the two lots sold in 1914 contains this sentence:
All covenants by the parties of the first part in this instrument contained shall bind and affect only the premises hereby conveyed and continue in force until the first day of January 1940 and no longer.
But a third adjacent lot bought by the same person in 1916 does not contain this statement; instead it has the generally common text:
Said covenants as to restrictions to be continuous and running with the land.

Deed covenant restrictions and subsequent Town zoning
The first and so far only conversion of property in this residential development to obviously non-residential, commercial purposes, at the eastern corner of Fuller Road and Western Avenue, occurred around 1960.
This example raises the question of whether the zoning code and ordinances of the Town of Guilderland supercede original deed restrictions. In the case of the Fuller/Western corner properties, these were sold as residential lots and, after two zoning board of appeals hearings, and despite legal action protesting the decision, buildings were constructed that were then used for business purposes.
The properties at the Fuller Road-Western Avenue eastern corner now (in 2021) consist of two one-story medical-type office buildings fronting on Western Avenue, and one two-story dental practice building fronting on Fuller Road, with at least 86% of the overall lots occupied by the buildings and blacktop parking. They were originally residential lots of the Country Club Highlands development, with deed restrictions for one single family residence in each of the three parcels. How and when did this change get made?

        Road - Western Avenue on Sanborn map 1952These lots were used from 1950 as the turn-around and waiting place for the Western Avenue bus service (previously this had been across Western Avenue in the yard of the former McKown/Witbeck Hotel). This arrangement must have been by informal or rental agreement by the Witbecks, as the lots were owned then by their McKown Farm Realty Corporation. Perhaps there was a basic shelter structure for people waiting, but there were no other buildings in them; the Sanborn fire insurance map of 1951-52 shows an absence of any buildings in these lots.

In late 1957, the lots for 1465-7 Western Avenue were sold to August J Domenico by the McKown Farm Realty Corporation and, just under a year later, the same Corporation sold the lots for 1469-71 Western Avenue and for 340 Fuller Road to the same buyer. There may have been an informal agreement to allow the bus service to continue to use the lots until the construction of Stuyvesant Plaza was finished, because the bus terminal is listed at 1471 Western in the city directory until 1960. In 1960, a listing for 1465 Western Avenue appears, for Well Built Homes of Albany real estate and insurance. Notification of a zoning change request from residential to business has not been found for this property in the paper of record at that time, the Altamont Enterprise. It is inferred that the "house"-style building of 1465/7 Western was constructed in 1959, perhaps first intended as a residence, but the immediate use for an office and a business was a presumptuous violation of the residential deed restriction and the residential zoning covering it at that time, unless a zoning hearing was held and the announcement was not, as was usual practice, published in the Enterprise.

There are published notifications for zoning change requests for the other parts of the property that Domenico purchased. In April 1960, a hearing was scheduled for a request to change the zoning from residental (R) to General Business (GB) on the lots for 1469-71 Western and 340 Fuller. The business purpose is not stated in the public notification. Another hearing was announced for December 1960 on the same properties, this time for a request to change the zoning from residential (R-9) to Local Business (LB); a small entry a month later in the Altamont Enterprise revealed the purpose to be to build a diner. A letter dated 23 January 1961 from his lawyer to Augustus Lux, the owner of 6 Elmwood Street, adjacent to the property in question, reveals that the Town Board did approve the zoning change, and confirms that the purpose was to put a diner on the property. The lawyer served papers to obtain a declaratory judgement that the restrictive covenants in the deeds requiring only residential occupation were still valid and in full force; in other words to show that the Town's decision could not override these covenants. Documents subsequent to this have not been seen, but it can be inferred that there were, probably, negotiations, because a diner was not built. However, the property was converted to a business use (medical/dental offices), showing that a zoning decision did in practice override the deed restrictions, but there is no record, at least in the Altamont Enterprise, of an actual testing of this in a court case and a consequent legal decision.
This particular sequence of events seems to have prompted the Town in January 1961 to appoint a committee to examine and report on possible (commercial) rezoning of properties along much of the length of Route 20, Western Avenue, in the Town of Guilderland. They also provoked from a former McKownville resident an immediate communication to the committee of his opposition to this proposed bulk rezoning of residential property. The issue of spot-zoning in the Town  gave rise to another pertinent public letter submitted to the Town Board later in the same year. Up to mid-1962, no substantial changes appear to have resulted from the committee's activities.

The Guilderland zoning map from the early 1970's shows these lots zoned B-1, Local Business; the 1996 and the 2018 zoning maps retained the same Local Business classification for them.
Domenico sold the 340 Fuller Road property to Lawrence Kotlow in 1978, and provided a mortgage for $99,000 at the time, so it is inferred that the two-story house-style structure there was built by Domenico prior to this date. In 2021 Dr. Kotlow continues to own this property and to use it for his dental practice.
In 2003, the Domenico's sold the 1465-67 and 1469-71 Western Avenue properties to Bonjay LLC, a company owned by a dentist with an Albany practice, Howard Kabinoff, and his wife. This company continues to own these properties in 2021.

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