SKANEATELES — “No Trespassing” signs posted in the windows of the Old Stone Mill don’t seem to deter workmen from entering the building.
Over the last several weeks, crews of carpenters have entered the 195-year-old stone structure at 3 Fennell St. with little notice.
In November, Skaneateles resident Jason Slottje, in partnership with his sons Nicholas and Spencer, took ownership of the property assessed at $1.7 million.
The new owners intend to retain much of the work begun by the former developer. Their plan is to put five of the six condominiums and three commercial spaces on the market by March 2011.
“It’s a great building property,” Slottje said. “We’re really excited about it.”
Slottje is in the retail and commercial real estate business.
His family owns Dollar Bazaar stores throughout New York and Pennsylvania.
Slottje became aware of the building since relocating to Skaneateles from Ithaca in 1988.
“We believe it will be a very unique home for people,” he said.
All of the residences include underground parking with elevator service, and each unit has a balcony with lake views.
The four residences that occupy the new construction attached to the historic building have additional balconies that face Fennell Street.
The previous owner, Rick Diamond and two other businessmen, started renovations on the property earlier, but had trouble filling the commercial units.
A water main break in 2008 and subsequent water damage chased out commercial tenants, and plans were put on hold.
Romy Callahan, of RealtyUSA, worked with the previous owners to market the six living spaces and is on board once more with the new ownership.
Under the previous ownership, the asking price for the 1,300 to 2,100 square foot residences were from $650,000 to $679,000. The pricing structure is not finalized, but the condominiums likely will list for less, she said.
Upgrades to the property include intricate molding, granite counter tops and high-end cabinetry.
“This is the greatest project,” she said. “They’re taking it to a higher level, but they haven’t lost the integrity or the characteristic charm of the historic building by adding the modern upgrades.
“All of the residences have access to a common area on the roof that has a spectacular lake view.”
Robert Paul, the owner of RPLS Network Communications, is a foreman on the job.
“We’re just doing a lot of finishing up of what wasn’t finished prior to the previous owners’ departure,” Paul said. “Most of the units are quite close to being finished. They’ve just got some little stuff to finish up, painting and sorting out things, you know, that need to be finished.
“I mean most of the work’s been done fairly recently. No big surprises or anything like that, really. There’s a lot of detail stuff that, of course, always gets left to the end and that’s the kind of what we’re doing,” Paul said.
“In 2002, there was a real concern over the imminency of the collapse of the building,” former village Trustee Alan Dolmatch said.
Since its construction in 1812, the stone building was a grain mill, warehouse, a red kidney bean processing facility, sustained damage from several destructive fires and served meals and libations to countless diners as restaurants and bistros created in that space.
From 1999 to 2003, tables set for service at the Old Stone Mill restaurant gathered dust and the eatery’s doors abruptly shuttered as a decorated Christmas tree stood haplessly in a corner during those years. The only business the building saw during that time came from people who frequented Chiang Jiang, the Chinese restaurant on the premises. For the rest of the building, decay set in and holes in the roof provided unauthorized entry for curious youth, causing the police department to check the property three times a day.
In 2003, Diamond and two other businessmen bought the property.
“Everyone was breathing a collective sigh of relief. Everyone was rooting for Rick,” Dolmatch said.
For the next five years, the town and village watched as one of the region’s oldest buildings endured significant demolition and reconstruction. By 2006 and 2007, only the original structure, with 33-inch thick stone walls, remained standing.
Village, historic and zoning boards gave the thumbs up to plans for the construction of six condominiums and three commercial spaces, although codes enforcement officer Jorge Batlle remembers some approvals were harder to achieve than others.
The expansion plans “went to the historic commission a number of times as they started changing, and it’s going to have to go back again because Mr. Diamond made some changes that the historic commission never approved,” Batlle said. “All of a sudden there’s a vent pipe poking through a stone wall that was a fireplace he put in.
“They (the historic commission) didn’t like those original old 3-foot thick stone walls penetrated.”
Slottje says contractors are currently upgrading fixtures to kitchens and bathrooms. He says he is aware of the building’s historic significance to residents and will likely maintain one of the residences for personal use.
“We want to finish it the right way,” he said. “And I think people will be very happy.”