Planning Commission — Proceedings by Authority
City of Jamestown, ss:
State of New York,
Mayor’s Conference Room
The regular meeting of the Planning Commission for the City of Jamestown, New York was held on Tuesday, October 16, 2018 at 3:30 p.m.
Members Present: Chairman Greg Rabb Jeff Nelson, Jeff Lehman, Paul Whitford, Paul Andalora, John LaMancuso, Tom Nelson Council Liaison
Members Absent: Regina Brackman
Others Present: Bill Rice, Crystal Surdyk, Todd Thomas, Steven Ald, Jessica Boudreau, Matthew Mazgaj, Shawn Whitmer, Tami Berg
Press: Jason Sample, Dennis Phillips
Chairman Rabb called the meeting to order.
Mr. Rabb: The first thing on the agenda is Cherry Street. Jeff, are you going to present all of that?
STREETSCAPE PLAN REVIEW FOR CHERRY STREET
Mr. Lehman: In your packet, you have a copy of the work that’s being proposed on Cherry street as part of the DRI money. No curb work or anything is going to happen. The work is moving a number of planters around to facilitate putting some handicap ramps up to three of the buildings; as you can see on the northeast side. Moving a couple of tree planters, updating the brick, the existing brick is going to be redone, and the street will be milled and paved. It’s pretty straightforward; it’s the second phase to what we did in front of the Reg Lenna earlier in the summer. Any questions?
Mr. Andalora: This is this year?
Mr. Lehman: This is this year, yes. The plan is to start later on in the week upon your blessing.
Mr. Rabb: Jeff, does this show the location of the removable bollards? We’ve got a list here, but…
Mr. Lehman: The removable bollards will be similar to what we did in front of the comedy center and there’s actually – you can see the locations listed on the bottom right side. There’s nothing on the plan for it, it just tells you where they’ll be recessed into the street so we can use it for activities downtown.
Mr. Rabb: It says, Cherry Street on the southside of West Third Street.
Mr. Lehman: It will be the south side of Cherry Street at West Third is what it should say, yes.
Mr. Rabb: Okay, it’s really on the south side of Cherry and West Third, right?
Mr. Lehman: It’d be right here, yes.
Mr. Rabb: Okay, because the way that read, it doesn’t say that to me. Maybe it’d be easier if you just tell me where. Are the bollards going to go on Cherry and West Third and Cherry and West Fourth? Is that my understanding?
Mr. Lehman: There will be one here at Cherry, right at the bottom of the map and West Third on the east side of Washington Street, which is, you can visualize it, at Third, right before Washington. You’ll have Third Street at the east side of Pine, so we can close that off in front of the Reg, that block, and East Third on the west side of Spring Street. So, we cordon off the area, that gets closed off routinely, in front of the Reg Lenna. Does that make any sense?
Mr. Rabb: Yes, that’s better.
Mr. Lehman: It’s something that was added into the design after we did what we did on West Second Street. It seemed to work out pretty well.
Mr. Rabb: So basically, it’s going to close off access to Third Street.
Mr. Lehman: Temporarily when we have events. You’ll also see there’s a number of paintings, pole paintings, to get done as part of this listed above that. Painting, galvanizing…. Again, more of an aesthetic thing.
Mr. Rabb: Are there any other questions about this? Everybody is okay? Staff recommendation?
Ms. Surdyk: We recommend that you accept the SEQR and I have it for you to sign and the plan as proposed.
Mr. Rabb: We’ll do that with two separate votes.
Mr. Whitford moved to accept the SEQR approval. Seconded by Mr. Andalora.
Carried: 5 – 0
Mr. Whitford moved to accept the site plan. Seconded by Mr. Jeff Nelson.
Carried: 5 – 0
Mr. LaMancuso arrived.
CONTINUATION OF SITE PLAN REVIEW FOR GATEWAY LOFTS PROJECT
Mr. Rabb: We’ll move on to the next item agenda, the Gateway Lofts. I don’t know if anyone is going to speak to that this afternoon before we go ahead? If so, again, please state your name, residential address and who you might be representing if anyone.
Mr. Mazgaj: Thank you Mr. Chairman. My name is Matthew Mazgaj, residential address is 1427 Big Tree Road, Lakewood, New York. I’m here representing Community Helping Hands. Steve Ricca, who typically accompanies me at these meetings, had a death in the family early this morning. I think his colleague will be joining us at some point, but I told him that I could handle this and that he should be with his family.
I just wanted to recap; we met with the Jamestown Strategic Planning and Partnerships Commission in August, met with you all last month and had our public hearing last week. We’ve been trying to work reverently with your comments; listening to comments about parking, playground, fencing, snow and driveways. And to further that effort of collaboration, we’ve secured options on two properties immediately adjacent to 31 Water Street and proposed plans alternative site plans that can accommodate additional greenspace and additional parking or additional parking to help satisfy some of the requirements of the code. At this point, it would be helpful to the continuation of the project, if we could work together to come to a preferred site plan so that we can request variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals, which would be filed as soon as we’re given some guidance as to your preferred alternative in the site plans.
Also, Steve has sent out emails detailing our position regarding the SEQR and that we believe that this is a Type 2 action, but we are willing to cooperate with the Planning Commission if they would like to do a coordinated review. I talked to Marilyn on the phone regarding the SEQR analysis and happy to have further discussions related to what environmental review is the preferred route, based on the code and Jamestown’s requirements. This is Chip here, who is the SEQR expert, if there are any questions related to the SEQR. I thank you again for all your time and that’s where we are following the public hearing.
Mr. Rabb: Were you planning to present on this before we…
Mr. Ald: No, not unless you have any questions. Do you want me to circulate the copies of the two options?
Mr. Mazgaj: I think everyone has the alternatives, but we have additional copies if anyone needs them.
Mr. Rabb: I’m sorry to hear that Steve had a death in the family, so when you talk to him, please express my condolences. It’s certainly understandable why he’s not here. I wouldn’t expect him to come. Is anyone else going to address the Gateway Lofts project? I don’t know, Matt, if anybody wants to address questions I’ve had after that article came out in Sunday’s paper? I’m assuming you’re familiar with that?
Mr. Mazgaj: Happy to, sure.
Mr. Rabb: I read through it very carefully and I did have a series of questions that you may or may not want to answer right away this afternoon, I’ll leave that up to you. I don’t know if you want me to do a question at a time, or if you want to do the questions all at once. I’m not trying to preclude anyone form the commission raising questions in general or about the article that was in Sunday’s paper. In fact, I would almost prefer that if anyone on the commission had a question, that you would raise it before I look like I’m dominating the conversation. Did anybody on the commission have a question, or our council representative?
Mr. Tom Nelson: No, I think there were questions that were raised at the last meeting, at the hearing, that need to be addressed.
Mr. Rabb: Did you want to mention any one in particular, or do you want me to go ahead with my questions?
Mr. Tom Nelson: Go ahead with yours. You had a list.
Mr. Rabb: I did make a list of 15 questions and that evening I know Steve attempted to answer at least a couple of them, but then more questions were raised by that article in Sunday’s paper.
Mr. Mazgaj: Happy to give it a shot and if I don’t know the answer, as with this entire process, I can look into it.
Mr. Rabb: Okay. If the commission is okay with this, I’ll go ahead. Again, I don’t know what answers you might have for me, or any, but I noticed when I read the article that it talked about turning the project into the epicenter of social services in the city, which seems to me to go way beyond the scope of a housing project that is normally subject to review by this commission. The county has an office of social services in downtown and it almost seemed to imply that all that’s going to be shifted there, but I couldn’t tell what an epicenter is, so I don’t know if you want to hang onto that and let me move on.
Mr. Mazgaj: No. I think that that’s an aspirational goal. What sets this project apart from other housing projects is the onsite social services. And the strategic site location within the medical corridor, the thought is that if you have an issue related to social services and you need assistance, you can go down to the Gateway Lofts project on the first floor which will house all the social services and that will be – epicenter is a lofty demarcation and we’re not trying to take anything away from the county, but we’re trying to make it a holistic site for the prevision of social services to the residents and other members of the community.
Mr. Rabb: But, is it anticipated that the county is going to shift what it has right now downtown in social services into the Gateway Center?
Mr. Mazgaj: No sir.
Mr. Rabb: Okay. So, this leaves it kind of open-ended.
Mr. Mazgaj: I don’t think that there’s a reference to any shift of county social services. I mean, epicenter, there could be multiple epicenters of social services. It was, I think, meant to point out that it would be a holistic location that would be – you could go there and have all of your social services needs met.
Mr. Rabb: Okay, but as far as you know, there is no intention to shift the current provision of social services on Fourth Street into the Gateway project. As far as you know.
Mr. Mazgaj: Steve?
Mr. Ald: Steven Ald, STEL Incorporated, 8036 Dennis Road, Angola, New York. There is a whole host of social services being presented in the building right now in terms of St. Susan’s Kitchen, Community Helping Hands, who has multiple different kinds of social services that they’re doing, BOCES, Mental Health Association. These will remain there and we may be able to entice one or two others; talking about Evergreen Health and COI possibly taking up some space in the ground floor, but it’s mainly the ones that are already there that we are anticipating staying there that makes this building so attractive as a place where people with special needs to come and take advantage of these social services which have nothing to do with the county social services. And we have no intentions of trying to entice the county to place any of their social services in this building.
Mr. Rabb: Have you been talking to Evergreen or COI about moving there?
Mr. Ald: Yes, we have.
Mr. Rabb: Have they given any indication as to the interest in moving?
Mr. Ald: Evergreen is cautiously interested, but being that the building won’t be available until 2020, nobody is willing to make a commitment at this time as to what their needs are going to be in 2020.
Mr. Rabb: And COI, are they cautiously interested?
Mr. Ald: COI initially expressed interest in doing daycare there and since then they’ve found another location for their daycare, but we would certainly approach them when we get closer to completion and construction to see if maybe they want to move their daycare or put something else there. Those are just two groups that come to mind, but there are others that to me would probably investigate when we get in sight of six months of completion.
Mr. Rabb: Okay, thank you. I had a second question here that is says that the project has been in the works for three years and is now at the turning point, but my understanding in talking with the professional staff that they weren’t approached about the project until May. Which means, five months, maybe? Is there a reason why you didn’t come to the professional planning staff sooner? If this project has been in the works for three years, that would mean 2015. We didn’t find out about it until May of 2018. I don’t understand why we weren’t approached sooner. I think part of the problem I’m having as chairman of this commission is that I’m not sure that we’ve been part of the process until, if I take this date correctly, relatively late in the process and we usually urge you to come to us sooner so that we can avoid some of the problems we have been having. I’m kind of confused by this.
Mr. Mazgaj: Sure. I haven’t been involved in the process since the beginning either, but my understanding is the long lead-time into the project was from a fledgling concept building over a series of years, then with help from the senator in the form of financing contribution related to the fourth floor, that was when you could really start putting meat on the bones of this concept and we brought to you as much of a finished site plan as we could when we did. That’s kind of the route that this has taken thus far. We weren’t trying to hide the ball on anyone and…
Mr. Rabb: I’m not trying to say you are. It’s just that usually with site plans, the sooner you come to us the better. Because I think we could have avoided a lot of the problems, at least from my perspective, we’ve been having.
Mr. Mazgaj: Sure –
Mr. Rabb: Because we seem to be working things out after the fact rather than in the beginning of the project. Especially if I take the three-year time span into effect.
Mr. Mazgaj: Well, as far as site plan issues, we identified the parking and setback issues as kind of a site plan-specific issues that we were trying to come to the Planning Commission with and trying to work diligently to work through those.
Mr. Rabb: Even those two are more of a zoning board – with variances, which is not what this body does.
Mr. Lehman: Have we identified how much parking is required? It’s hard to say we have enough or too much or you need more greenspace. I mean, I applaud the development for going out and getting the additional greenspace, but still we don’t know how much parking we need.
Mr. Mazgaj: I listened to your comment after we talked and we’re working on doing a survey of kind of the general car ownership for typical residents for these types of properties and we are going to provide that to the Planning Commission as soon as possible. The general understanding is that it’s less than a car every three units?
Mr. Ald: Two.
Mr. Mazgaj: Two units, so generally…
Mr. Ald: That’s for low-income units. The special needs population frankly doesn’t have any cars.
Mr. Mazgaj: Right. Over half of the units won’t have any cars. The second floor will be, I think the requirement is one and a half cars per unit. This will be a third less than that, so one car for every two units. We’re trying to get reliable data based on STEL’s work with similar populations to supplement your understanding of the need for cars or parking spaces.
Mr. Rabb: Okay. Then I note here, it says the 2017 Common Needs Assessment funded through the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative shows that Jamestown lacks quality, affordable housing, particularly for families. But, there’s no citing of data and my understanding at least from two sources; one is the city’s Comprehensive Neighborhood Plan adopted back in 2010 as well as the census data that the housing vacancy rate in Jamestown is anywhere from 13 – 15%, which is pretty high. So, I don’t know why the needs assessment, and again, I’m not asking necessarily to explain the article, but it would have been nice if some data was quoted because the data that I have says that we have way too much housing.
Mr. Mazgaj: Right. The distinction there is quality affordable housing. I think that this was touched on in detail in Steve’s letter regarding compliance with the Comprehensive Plan that was distributed at the last public hearing and it identifies at the top and the middle of page 4. I read through this and I thought it was a very comprehensive review of the studies that Jamestown has done which have come in over time starting in 1998 and culminating with the 2017 review. Steve has spent a lot more time with this subject than I have so I defer to his summary in the letter.
Mr. Rabb: Which also doesn’t cite any data, it just cites statements, again from a needs analysis, or the Poverty Reduction Initiative, at least in the middle of page 4. My understanding, because this says funded entirely by state and federal money and it also talks about continue to securing the necessary funding. I just want to make it clear. The funding still is not in place, right?
Mr. Mazgaj: That’s why we are before you, to get as far along in the approval process as possible which improves our ability and the likelihood of being funded for low income housing tax credits and the other funding sources.
Mr. Rabb: Okay. Then I read, the project is innovative and seeks to be environmentally friendly. Solar panels will be installed on the roof and by working with Montante Solar, the installation of the panels will be workforce development and training project. I think in the hearing, it came up as to whether or not you’re planning to seek LEED certification or tapping into district heating, but I don’t think we ever got an answer on that question.
Mr. Mazgaj: Yes, I think Steve addressed that.
Mr. Ald: I talked to the gentleman after the meeting that was in the audience who gave me some helpful information about district heat and so I connected with our architect and I assume that they’re working on it.
Mr. Rabb: So, you were probably talking with Doug Champ because he’s the one who brought it up who is retired from the BPU.
Mr. Ald: That sounds familiar, yes. Our intention would be to incorporate district heat if it’s a reasonable cost. The energy requirements of New York State, which the Division of Housing and Community Renewal which will be providing the allocation of tax credits is quite high. It’s much higher than what your code would require. I’m not sure if – they don’t require us to pay the extra money to become LEED certified, but if we were willing to go through that process, we would achieve some bronze or silver lead status, but it’s very expensive to do that on top of the expense of actually building the building to those standards. So, we typically just build it to the standards, but don’t ask for the certification.
Mr. Rabb: And then on the issue of the solar panels; I’ve been on the board of the BPU for eleven years and I’ve been Chairman for ten months and I checked with the staff and they said there was one brief conversation with the staff at the BPU about solar panels, but nothing ever actually came of it. So, I don’t know if you have anything else to add on that. I would point out that the new president of the college has been talking with me as Chairman of the Board and our General Manager about doing solar panels at the college as a cost-saving idea, but unfortunately, given that most of the electric that’s even here is hydro, the cost of solar panels, the electricity produced by that is so cost-prohibitive that unless the college can find a way to get a subsidy, there’s no point in us pursuing that anymore, so I think solar panels are a great idea, but given that most of the electricity here is hydro and is likely to be reapproved for an extension, solar panels basically, on a project of your scale, or the college, economically makes no sense. Are you getting some kind of subsidy to make this happen and then I guess my second question would be; it talks about workforce development and paid training project and the president of my college asked, again, is there any real market for the college to design a certificate or degree in solar panel installation and basically, the professional staff at the BPU said given how little solar is done around here, because most alternative energy that’s not hydro is the wind turbines, that one or two people, there really is no market for it. I’m not sure if this makes any sense at all to use electricity that’s going to cost significantly more. Are you guys getting a subsidy?
Mr. Ald: Yes.
Mr. Rabb: From who?
Mr. Ald: Montante has given me the projections on this. There is a very large incentive from New York State to offset the cost of the solar panels.
Mr. Rabb: But, from who in the state?
Mr. Ald: I don’t believe…
Mr. Mazgaj: NYSERDA I would imagine.
Mr. Rabb: Yes, but we don’t…
Mr. Ald We have NYSERDA on a downstate project, so I’m sure that they’re probably involved in this now. The projections from Montante, which I could share with you by email today, show that the cost of the solar panels versus the savings we will get the first year that we’re operating, we will be losing money and then the second year we start, we’ve already paid off all of our costs and then from the second year on is all profit after that. It’s very, very profitable to us to do these solar panels from an operating standpoint.
Mr. Rabb: But, many of the NYSERDA programs are not available to Jamestown because we don’t pay into that – our customers don’t – we pay into our own energy conservation project, so a lot of the NYSERDA programs simply are not available in the city because the BPU has chosen to charge our customers a small fee to go into a fund that we administer and do energy projects through Daniel Reynolds because if we buy into the NYSERDA program, a lot of that money leaves Jamestown and never comes back so I’m not sure if Montante, I don’t know where they’re located, but I’m not sure if they know that some of these NYSERDA programs simply are not available inside the city of Jamestown.
Mr. Ald: Yes, they are aware of it. I was aware of it ten years ago when I did my last Jamestown project. I was aware of that and had kind of forgotten that and Montante reminded me of it. So, yes, they’re very well aware of how the BPU is set up as a separate sort of entity.
Mr. Rabb: Well, deliberately because we were afraid that if we participated in NYSERDA, our customers, speaking as the Chairman of the Board, would be paying into a fund that we would never get back here in part because hydro is so cheap, there still is no real financial incentive. So, at least when we charge our customers to pay into the BPU fund, all that money stays in Jamestown and is only open to Jamestown BPU customers. I guess maybe what I would suggest is that if you’re going to do this; because right now, at the college, we have said until we have a substantial subsidy, we simply can’t do that because we’re inside the city of Jamestown.
Mr. Ald: I don’t know if maybe different resources are available to low income housing than to colleges, but I can put you in touch with Montante and you could…
Mr. Rabb: Well I would think what has to happen is whoever is planning to do this needs to talk to the BPU before because I’ve been told by the professional staff that there was one small conversation. And that they haven’t heard anything about this in a long time. So, I don’t know if it’s you guys that have to talk to the professional staff or Montante, but somebody’s got to talk to them. The meeting that we had with the college, with the president, myself and the general manager and, at this point, we have ruled out that in the city of Jamestown, this project just isn’t doable. So, I’m concerned that you’re going to try to do something that ultimately economically doesn’t make any sense. Which is why you don’t see a lot of solar panels.
Mr. Ald: Perhaps we can help out the college and show the college how it could be done and how the college could make money. And to get to your point about the job training, it’s not to train professional-level people, it’s to train laborers. We are going to take people who are unemployed at this point in time and train them to be construction laborers.
Mr. Rabb: Okay, but to go back to the other point, I think it would be better if the project went and spoke with the BPU. I defer to – we have engineers and our general manager and the staff there is exceptional having worked with them for eleven years. I mean, if they’re saying to the college, this isn’t going to work, I’m curious if they haven’t said to you, this isn’t going to work. I think that more needs to be done on this.
A question came up at the public hearing about the operational funding and I have a note here that there is conditional approvals and then when I read this in the article, it says programming and operating funds for certain social service programs at the project will be provided by the Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative and the note I have from the public hearing is that you have conditional approvals. So, which one is it? Do you have conditional approval, or will it be provided? Because the newspaper article is quite definitive; it will be provided.
Mr. Ald: If we build the building, it will be provided. The condition is that we must build the building. So, if we build the building, then the services will be funded by ESSHI.
Mr. Rabb: Okay. Then number seven says STEL has a positive track record in this area and I don’t mean to impugn STEL or put you on the spot, but I think it was the day after the hearing, if I have my timing correct, I was informed that because of a business person’s complaint, a STEL-owned house on Prendergast Avenue was condemned.
Mr. Ald: Yes. And that house is in pretty good shape. In fact, they told us that – I suggested that we could tear it down as contaminated would save us money if we could just tear it down as a condemned building. They said, oh no, it’s structurally fine, but we’re condemning it. It seems kind of suspicious circumstances that this building has been owned by STEL for some years, it’s been held as a place where we could expand one of our current residences to it and for years, the city has been aware of this building and then right after the public meeting then suddenly the city takes an interest and decides to condemn it.
Mr. Rabb: And I had the same suspicions and I was assured that there was no connection between the two things. It was a local businessman, a doctor, who also lives in the city who made the complaint and that’s what they reacted to; which had nothing to do with the public hearing. I don’t want to say that STEL did anything wrong, but I don’t think the city did anything wrong. It’s just curious to me that one of your buildings was condemned and I guess you’re going to have to work it out with the Department of Development.
Mr. Ald: We decided to take action on that immediately and the very next day I called an environmental consultant to have him go through the house which he is doing today I believe. He’s scheduled it for today to go through the house and identify any hazardous materials in the house that have to be removed before we can tear it down. I have a demolition contractor ready to go as soon as we have reports on what needs to be removed. He’s going to both remove the contaminated material and then demolish the house. I had looked at in on Google Earth and it looks like it’s in great shape. It’s not some horrible eyesore of the city so I’m very suspicious as to why this doctor suddenly…
Mr. Rabb: Again, I would reserve my suspicion because I had the same suspicion, but I checked it out and there was absolutely no connection between the two events. They were responding to a complaint from someone on that block; a legitimate complaint. I don’t think there’s any connection. I’m not saying you guys did anything wrong, but I guess I’m suggesting don’t say that the city did something wrong. I think it just happened at the same time. Because I was just told of it. I had nothing to do with it. I came out of the hearing and the next day I find this out. I think we need to know about it and I appreciate your answer.
I guess my final point, I know I’m taking up an awful lot of time, but it says the Gateway Lofts is only part of a larger strategic plan for revitalizing the neighborhood. Yet, I note, consistently, that none of this ever references the Jamestown Neighborhood Comprehensive Plan that was adopted while I was still president of the city council, on December 27, 2010 by a 9 – 0 vote; so, everybody went along with it. Yet, I can’t find anywhere in any of these comments, any reference to a plan for revitalizing all neighborhoods in the city of Jamestown that became part of our planning documents while I was still presiding by a 9 – 0 vote. And I think that should be discussed. And this references to the neighborhood and neighborhoods, but why – if this is part of a larger strategic plan for revitalizing the neighborhood, it’s not part of the city’s neighborhood comprehensive plan, and so there must be some other larger strategic plan for revitalizing the neighborhood that is not official and is not something we can take recognition of, but I would like to know where this is. It confuses me.
Mr. Ald: I think it’s been cited by Steve Ricca, the multiple, additional plans, some of which were funded by the city that have happened since 2010 that probably supersede the old 2010 plan…
Mr. Rabb: It has to be consistent with or pursuant to, it can’t supersede a plan that the city council adopted. It’s just curious. This is something that I was involved in when I was chairman of this commission and then I went on the council and then we adopted and now we’re working in partnership with Jamestown Renaissance Corporation, in part, to implement the plan. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m on that board, so we’re working with the city to implement a plan that my colleagues, eight years ago, adopted and it never perceived it or changed that plan. There might be other plans pursuant to it, but it has to be consistent with that plan and that plan consistently says, there’s simply too much housing in Jamestown and if you’re going to build new housing, you’ve got to have a plan for how you’re going to take existing housing off the market. That’s our number one source of concern from a perspective of neighborhood planning in the city.
Mr. Mazgaj: And to that point, and we’ve discussed this before, obviously citationto the plan and its compliance with the plan would have been ideal. But in a document that we provided to the paper to explain the project, we didn’t go that route. The goals of this project are to help the most vulnerable people in the city of Jamestown. We’re going to be removing specific units as based on the acquisition of additional space to turn into greenspace, but the ultimate goal of the project is to have those that cannot occupy single-family residences based on their social conditions; whether it be mental health, education, etc., come and receive the services they need and then through either programming specifically out of the Gateway Lofts, which could be acquiring single-family residences, turning them over as far as doing workforce development in that regard and then getting these people to be able to occupy those single-family residences. That’s kind of the long-term – we said plan, maybe it’s a goal. A goal of the project is to have the tentacles of this project reach far into the neighborhoods of the city of Jamestown and through people’s own development, they are able to occupy, renovate and become taxpaying members of our community. So, maybe the word plan is not with a capital p, but with a small p as far as our hopes and dreams for the outcomes of the project. Obviously, we respect all the comments and we’re trying to make efforts to remove buildings in compliance with the plan, but really, we see that our view of how to better our citizens is kind of a sustainable way of turning the housing stock in Jamestown.
Mr. Rabb: Well, at the risk of repeating myself, let me just be clear. I can’t speak for everyone on the commission or at city hall. I can only speak for myself. I applaud what you’re trying to do. If you look at my life, it’s been spent trying to improve the lot of people who aren’t as fortunate or as privileged as I am. The goals of the project to serve people in need; everyone who’s trying to do this, I salute you. I share in your concern. It bothers me every day when I go about this city on my business that there are folks who are suffering and they need our helping hands. I hope it’s clear that I support that. My problem isn’t with that, my problem is with the project, I’m not sure that this is the best thing to do. But even that’s not the issue. The issue is from the commission’s perspective that we have to make sure that we’re in compliance with the SEQR before we can take the next step to even talk about approving the site plan. So, my perspective is that we still have a lot of work to do. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have spent or asked my fellow commissioners to spend as much time on this as we have. The people on the commission know that this is probably the project, in all the years I’ve been doing stuff, that has taken up more time because of so many concerns. It’s not because we don’t think that what you’re doing is good or what you’re trying to accomplish; it’s the way. And that’s why I have issues. I’m more than happy to be quiet and see if any of my fellow commissioners or our council liaison have anything to say or would like to ask.
Mr. LaMancuso: I just had a couple questions. On the issue of the housing stock in the city, I think that everyone can agree that the housing stock in the city is suffering. There is dilapidated housing in almost every neighborhood. There are some neighborhoods that are so bad that you can’t help but feel very sorry when you drive through them for the people who live there. Such as, I think of some of the streets off of Willard or Allen Street on Swede Hill as they call it. Johnson Street and Peterson Street and things like that. And I think that the 2010 neighborhood plan talks a lot about that and I think that the reason why the plan says we should be careful about adding new units is because when you add new units, there’s less demand for the existing units. And when there’s less demand for the existing units, landlords can only get away with charging less and landlords in turn have less money to put into the properties, even less than they have now. So, I think that’s why it’s such a huge concern; the concern of the housing stock and making sure that we’re not just going and adding 79 or 78 units without taking out some other units. It’s fantastic that this project would allow 78 or 79 people or families to live in a beautiful new unit. But, what does that do for the other people in the city who live in the units that may get even less attention because all of these new units are being brought on without taking out a substantial number of existing units. For that reason – and by the way, I think it’s great that one of the revised plans now calls for taking out, I think, 2 or 4 units of housing, but that’s nowhere near the 70 or 80 that you’re bringing on. And I just wonder whether the applicant thinks it would be possible to set aside some monies, as part of the budget, to allow for, to the extent that it’s needed in the city, the demolishing of existing units in the city that are condemned or ought to be condemned and ought to be demolished. I wanted to see if the applicant thought that that was a possibility.
Mr. Ald: Sure. First, let me address the market issue. More than half of these units are for people that are homeless and so we’re not going to really be affecting the market negatively by taking people off the streets and putting them into this housing. In fact, we’ll probably have a positive effect on the market because we’re going to be taking these 41 people or families off the streets. We’re going to be giving them support services to make them acceptable renters to landlords. Most landlords in Jamestown would not rent to these people. Even if they had the money – if we were to give them a rent subsidy, a landlord would still turn them down because they have bad credit history, they have bad landlord references, they have unaddressed mental health issues. The average landlord in Jamestown doesn’t want to rent to these people. They’d rather have their unit vacant than have one of these people rent their unit with no services. So, we’re going to take these 41 families, give them services, make them acceptable renters to landlords in Jamestown and fill up more units in Jamestown and bring more people in and get them to be acceptable. It will be a constant treadmill, or a feeder, of new, qualified tenants into the market for Jamestown. The 38 units of affordable housing that we’re doing, those will be also available to people at a very low income. Perhaps not enough to pay for what landlords expect. Our rents are going to be below the market rent of Jamestown. So, these are people that perhaps couldn’t really afford to rent in Jamestown. Or if they do rent in Jamestown, it puts a huge burden on them financially.
Mr. Mazgaj: And Tami, you spoke to?
Ms. Berg: Harold Whitford.
Mr. Mazgaj: Harold Whitford who is – what’s his position?
Ms. Berg: He’s on the Landlord Association.
Mr. Mazgaj: On the Landlord Association. He is in favor of it primarily based on Steve’s comments that they don’t see this project as removing from their pool of potential customers, but instead, supplementing that pool.
Mr. Ald: Also, there has been some discussion of setting up a fund; setting aside a certain amount of money to demolish houses in Jamestown, in addition to the two houses, with four units in them, we could do the same thing out in other neighborhoods. It would not be considered a project cost because it’s off-site whereas these four units that we’re taking out, this is a true project cost because it’s going to become part of the project. It’s difficult for us to set aside a significant amount of money, but we can set aside something to take out houses and we would then perhaps turn over to the city and they could decide which houses they wanted to target with the money that we set aside.
Mr. LaMancuso: Are you saying that as part of your application process, you will not be, you will not qualify, to live in those 41 units unless you’re either homeless or you’re a transient living with family and friends or living in a motel. Is that true?
Mr. Ald: Yes. They have to be considered homeless by the definition of the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance. That’s New York State OTDA.
Mr. LaMancuso: What do you think the rent might be for the other 38 units? Do you have a sense?
Mr. Ald: They’re going to be at what’s called 50% of area median income or less. There’s going to be some at 40% of area median income and some at 50%. I don’t believe we have any at 60%, but we would be permitted to have some at 60%.
Mr. LaMancuso: Do you know what that means on a monthly basis? Approximately?
Mr. Ald: I don’t off the top of my head, no.
Mr. LaMancuso: If anybody else wants to jump in, feel free. I just had…
Mr. Rabb: I was just going to ask you had any other questions.
Mr. LaMancuso: I just had a couple others. I drove down there this afternoon and I went out back and I saw that there is some brush between the parking lot, let’s say, and the river. I guess there’s trees and things like that. Is there any plan for there to be any sort of barrier in front of the river in case children are in that area?
Mr. Ald: Jessica, would you like to address that?
Ms. Boudreau: Yes, so naturally –
Mr. Rabb: I just need you to state your name again and your address, please.
Ms. Boudreau: Jessica Boudreau, I’m with CPI. I live at 269 Meter Drive, Amherst, New York. We did discuss a fence at the previous meeting and that’s something the owner is willing to put in if you deem it necessary. Right now, we don’t have it shown on the site plan, but it can be added. As far as the landscape, we’re going to keep the low mow between the walkway and the river and keep it more natural looking and then it will be a typical grass landscape on the other side.
Mr. LaMancuso: Thank you for that. I also saw that there – is it true that down there right now is Evergreen’s needle exchange. Is that located there now?
Mr. Ald: It’s in that building, yes.
Mr. LaMancuso: Will they stay?
Mr. Ald: Yes, they will be staying.
Mr. LaMancuso: Is there any concern about the proximity of so many children to a service like that? I don’t know a ton about it, I’m sure you know a lot more about it than I do, but is there a concern about that?
Mr. Ald: Not really. The office that handles that is inside of the Mental Health Association’s office and it’s very discrete and most people don’t know that it’s there. The people using that don’t want to be identified so they are very discrete themselves.
Mr. LaMancuso: And they would continue to be within the Mental Health Association, I assume, on the first floor, right?
Mr. Ald: Right. And when we talked about expanding Evergreen, it was for an entirely different part of their services. They wanted to provide health services to people that have chronic illnesses. It was roughly 10,000 square feet of space that we have available, they didn’t want to give of it to the needle exchange. That was going to stay with the Mental Health Association and this other operation was completely separate.
Mr. LaMancuso: With respect to the 38 market, or just below market rate units, that we talked about a few minutes ago, do you expect that there will be children living in those units?
Mr. Ald: Yes.
Mr. LaMancuso: Do you have a sense of approximately how many?
Mr. Ald: I believe there are three or maybe four three-bedroom apartments. The rest of them except for, I think there’s three or four three-bedroom apartments and about the same number of one-bedroom apartments, which leaves the rest as two-bedroom apartments and we expect a reasonable number of children in the two and three-bedroom units.
Mr. LaMancuso: It could be forty or fifty or more, right?
Mr. Ald: Certainly, yes. A lot of the two-bedroom apartment are occupied by older – mother, father, older children are not yet adults…
Mr. LaMancuso: And the individuals who are in the, I keep calling it the jail diversion program, I don’t know if that’s the best term to use to refer to it, but those individuals that are in the jail diversion units will have access to the same common areas, such as, the lobby when you walk in or the parking lot or the open space, the courtyard, as the kids in the facility, right?
Mr. Ald: Right. And I believe it was Christine Schuyler – she addressed that concern. She’s saying that right now, those people, the women with children who need emergency shelter, they’re being put into the motel where we don’t know who’s living next to them, there is no screening going on there. In all of these units, there is going to be screening for appropriateness to live in the building. Screening to make sure that these people are not a danger to children, or themselves, or anyone. We don’t really have a concern because of all of the supervision and supportive services that we have 24/7. It’s much better than children living, even in single-family homes out in the community, we don’t know who’s living next-door to them there either. Right here, we have supervision, support and screening.
Mr. Mazgaj: And it’s non-violent offender treatment, in case you were wondering, instead of jail diversion. Because really, you’re treating people who have mental health, who are substance abuse diagnoses, who are not violent. That goes into the screening process.
Mr. LaMancuso: I saw that.
Mr. Ald: Yes, I think jail diversion implies a more broad category of people. People that have perhaps have committed several crimes, but they don’t have a mental health issue or a substance abuse issue, which could be treated by the professionals that will be onsite here.
Mr. LaMancuso: So those units will only be available to individuals who have a treatable mental health or substance abuse disorder?
Mr. Ald: Right; that’s the fourth floor. On the third floor it’s families with children who have a mental health, substance abuse, homelessness – there’s a whole range of different ways that they can qualify to live on the third floor, but they would all – domestic violence is another one. Everyone on the third floor would have to qualify on some sub-category, but they would not be people coming from the criminal justice system.
Mr. LaMancuso: And with respect to the units, the criminal justice related units, are those meant for individuals who are out on bail, or are those meant for individuals who are in mental health court or drug court or veterans court?
Mr. Ald: Yes, it’s a range of different ways that people can get into these units. Maybe they were just arrested, but not arraigned yet. Maybe they were arraigned and bail was set, but they would be transferred here instead. One thing that’s not going to happen is we’re not going to take people who have served their time and now need a place to go. Released from incarceration, that’s a different population.
Mr. Mazgaj: And STEL has this program already operating on Main Street, right? With a high success rate.
Mr. Ald: Yes; at 878 North Main Street in Jamestown.
Mr. LaMancuso: Would you tell us a little bit about that?
Mr. Ald: Sure. It’s a four-bed program that’s been operating, it’s the same model that we’re going to be doing here, it’s been operating for about 20 years I would say. We have a very low recidivism rate. People are very cooperative because they’re just grateful for a chance to have someplace to go besides jail and so they’re on their very best behavior at all times.
Mr. Mazgaj: The success of the program is what Cathy Young looked at and said this is worth investing in. But, scaling it up to 25 beds as opposed to 4.
Mr. LaMancuso: So, you do expect that some of the people will be from one of the treatment courts, but not all of them? There could be a range of different ways to qualify. And STEL will be doing all the screening for these individuals?
Mr. Ald: That’s right.
Mr. LaMancuso: We talk about violent crime. I don’t know what definition you’re using of violent crime, but I’m concerned about there being so many children in the building – and I understand the counter, that some of these children aren’t living in great situations to begin with, so this has to be better. I don’t know if that’s true. I think that if you have an opinion about that, at this point, we’re just speculating because we don’t know exactly who’s going to be living in the facility, so I don’t know that you can say whether it’s better or worse than their current situation, but I do have a concern about the individuals who have a criminal history that are going to be in these units. Could you tell us what type of crimes would disqualify somebody from living there? We talked about violent crimes, which I would like a little bit more detail on. I know it sounds like sex offenses, of course, disqualify you, but I think what about endangering the welfare of a child, would you be able to live there if you had that on your rap sheet? Where do you draw the line?
Mr. Ald: I know, for sure, things like assault or any kind of a sex crime, even a non-violent sex crime. Those are all prohibited. Endangering the welfare of a child, if a parent has endangered the welfare of their own child, but now has improved their track record and they are regaining custody of their children, that would be the kind of parent that we would take onto the third floor, for example. Somebody that’s turned their life around and they now have custody of their children back, but they need a place to stay, that’s something that we have talked about. Many people on the fourth floor will also be parents. There will be a parent that has gotten into trouble with drugs or mental health issues and so they will be trying to get their life together to be back with their families. So, we can’t think of these people on the fourth floor as scary, homeless men, single men, just waiting for a chance to grab a child or something. These are people who are probably parents. They may have had jobs before they got into trouble and they just need a little bit of help to become fully functioning again.
Mr. Mazgaj: And the Sheriff anticipates that a majority of the units might be occupied by women; based on the population. Right?
Mr. Ald: Right. Yes, I forgot about that.
Mr. Mazgaj: Based on the population of females in the county that are involved in drugs and alcohol.
Mr. Ald: Or mental health.
Mr. Mazgaj: Or mental health, right.
Mr. Ald: The ones that are currently being incarcerated that the sheriff thinks should not be incarcerated that would benefit greatly from this and the majority of them are women.
Mr. LaMancuso: No children though, on the fourth floor.
Mr. Ald: No children, right.
Mr. LaMancuso: I just think about other things like what if you’ve been convicted of a felony, you know, sale of a controlled substance. Would that disqualify you automatically, or is it something that you would look at and say, well we believe that this person has been rehabilitated and doesn’t pose a threat to anybody living here, then we’ll let them stay.
Mr. Ald: Governor Cuomo just recently passed legislation that prohibits any affordable housing landlord from discriminating against somebody who has a criminal record without doing an analysis of their past; how serious was the crime, how long ago was it, how likely it is that they’ll repeat that behavior. All those things have to be taken into consideration before we can deny them. Ultimately, STEL does have the ability to deny people that we believe would be a threat to other people, the children, in the building.
Mr. LaMancuso: I thought about that myself and I read, I’m sure you’re aware, that HUD has come out with some guidance on that topic too, talking about in what situations you’re not permitted to discriminate against those who have criminal records. But I think this situation is unique and that you have 50 or 100 children living in the facility, so I think certainly if you’re disqualifying adult tenants because of some violent felony or sex offense or some other criminal conviction that you could cause a concern to the other tenants, that you would be justified. I think under these specific circumstances. Don’t you think?
Mr. Ald: I agree, yes.
Mr. Mazgaj: My understanding is that there is a high demand for this program, so STEL can be selective in choosing people that can gain the most benefit from their services. So, there are a lot of people who, the alternative to going to STEL is going down the negative spiral of incarceration, where here is and opportunity for them to turn their life around and get the treatment they need, spend time with their children and perhaps maintain a job and profession while not being a burden on the county taxpayers.
Mr. Whitford: I don’t believe John’s concern is that a program like that won’t work because, obviously, it does in the four unit. I think our concern is that is there a case history on mixed-use like this? A development, a project like this and the success rate? You certainly made it clear that your goal was to have these people own their own development and move forward and there was also discussion that they may be permanent residents. So, where’s the balance there? And is there a case history on having this mixed-use in the same facility with children? Is this the first one that you know of that you’ve had it in the same facility? Even one incident with a child is one too many. I understand John’s concern and it’s a real concern.
Mr. Ald: Sure. I don’t know how many other examples, I don’t know personally of other examples. I’m sure there are other buildings that do this. STEL, for myself I know, we’ve developed a couple of projects that did this. One is in Dunkirk. We have 37 units of apartments where about half of them are two-bedroom apartments and there’s one three-bedroom apartment and we have nine of the one-bedroom apartments that are reserved for STEL clients who have mental illness and are trying to get their lives back together to move out into the community, which, the Office of Mental Health who funds this, they call it permanent housing because there’s no fixed length of time where you must be out in – a lot of programs say 24 months, so whether or not you’re ready, at 24 months you’re out. This is different where they stay as long as they need to, but as soon as they’ve been rehabilitated to the point where they could function with less supervision, they’re encouraged, very strongly, to move on. Because this is a very expensive level of care. And if they’re not needing that expensive level of care then it’s in the state’s interest to have them move on and the state has various ways of encouraging people to move on that’s successful. We tend to see people staying anywhere from one year to three years. That’s the average length of stay and then they do move on. Our apartment building in Dunkirk is right next to our office and I know that there’s no problem with the children living with these other nine individuals. We did a project in Rochester that was 75 units; 24 of those 75 units were for just low-income (inaudible) people. We don’t continue to manage that, so I can’t personally say that they have no problems, but I haven’t heard anything negative about it and I still am in contact with that agency. I would think if that was a problem for them, they would have said, Steve, why did you let us do this. And I’ve never heard anything like that. I’m sure that there’s countless examples of this across the state, but those are the only two that come to mind that STEL has been involved in.
Mr. Mazgaj: Not to say that it’s a cure-all, but the fact that there will be 24/7 onsite supervision is kind of what sets this project apart. There was a handout from Pastor Amy Rohler that was handed out at the end of the public hearing that details how this type of a project is the next wave of successful housing for the poor, in that it is one that basically the model that we’re taking is opposed to the HUD housing where you build up a big structure and put people in it. This is taking a different road in providing social services and the support where there are people there and there are consequences if you run afoul of the requirements at the facility. It’s trying to identify those that want help and need help and obviously work as hard as possible to make sure that everyone is safe, happy and furthering their goals.
Mr. Rabb: But, to make it clear, the people that are there are not security people. They are caseworkers.
Mr. Ald: Right. If we were renting to the kind of people that needed security, they wouldn’t be eligible. Those kind of people, the people that need the security presence, we don’t take them.
Mr. Mazgaj: The alternative is if you have a security guard with a Billy club or a flashlight or a taser, I don’t see that much of a difference there. If something is happening, they’re going to call the authorities. There’s going to be someone making sure that that facility is secure and safe 24 hours a day.
Mr. Ald: The case managers have a high level of training and experience on how to manage these kinds of tenants.
Mr. Rabb: Yes, I was just trying to make that point clear.
Mr. LaMancuso: Could you give us an idea with respect to the fourth floor, could you give us an idea of what type of criminal convictions that you’d expect to see amongst the tenants on that floor?
Mr. Ald: I think, primarily, these people come to us before they’re convicted. When they’re working their way through the system, at some point the system decides that it would be better for them to come to a STEL residence than to be processed at the point of being convicted. Once they are convicted, it’s kind of out of our hands, they’re going to go to jail.
Mr. LaMancuso: Based on my experience, though, the people, the first-time offenders don’t end up in that position. People who are first-time offenders and don’t have a criminal history are people who, through plea bargaining, do a short time on probation or perhaps no probation, no jail and hopefully they learn their lesson and they’re out back in the community. I would expect that the people that would end up in these units on the fourth floor would be people with a criminal history that proceeded the criminal problems that they’re currently dealing with. do you think that’s true?
Mr. Ald: I think that’s probably true for the people that would have a substance abuse disorder, but people with mental illness, quite often, they might have some experiences with law enforcement where, maybe it’s creating a public disturbance or something like that where they’ve been maybe arrested, maybe arraigned and let go with a ACD, but quite often, people with mental illness, the first time that they get into trouble with the law is when they get sent to us because it’s something that is identifiable, that they need this help and they’re not going to get that anywhere except at a place like this. Especially if the person is willing to accept the help, that’s key of course. If you get a person with mental illness who doesn’t want the help, doesn’t believe that they need the help, then yes, they might get convicted of something like disorderly conduct and that kind of thing. The substance abuse people, they probably do have one or two or maybe multiple convictions for possession and that kind of thing.
Mr. LaMancuso: And weapons convictions would obviously be a disqualifier, arson would be a disqualifier, things like burglary and things like that would be automatic disqualifiers.
Mr. Ald: Yes.
Mr. LaMancuso: Thank you. With respect, it sounds like a lot of the individuals living here would be dealing with some sort of substance abuse problem; a large portion of them, maybe not a majority. And with that, and again, you know a lot more about this than I do, but with anyone struggling with a substance abuse disorder, there are relapses and some of these individuals and some of these individuals are going to be individuals, I can only assume, who perhaps addicted to things like heroin or methamphetamine, those seem to be, sadly, very popular things that are all too common in our community. And so, you expect that amongst those individuals living in the facility – I don’t want to call it a facility. Living in the development, with substance abuse problems, they’re going to have relapses while they’re living there. That’s something that you expect, right?
Mr. Ald: Yes.
Mr. LaMancuso: And that’s another concern that I have about a lot of the children living there. There is going to be drug use, you have to imagine, at some point in this building. It’s part of the recovery and treatment process and so it worries me. Especially because, like we talked about, it’s a concentration of individuals that may be unprecedented in the county, at least in Jamestown, who are all going through those substance abuse problems and you also have a concentration of children in the same building that may be unparalleled in the city. So, that worries me in addition to the 15 units on the fourth floor.
Mr. Ald: Probably half the children in the building are going to be living on the third floor and their parents, some of them, are going to be parents that have substance abuse issues. Unfortunately, that’s a common thing all over the United States right now; for children to be living with parents who either currently or formerly were addicted to drugs. As far as people on the fourth floor, if they are visibly intoxicated and, on the premises, or if somebody catches them using drugs on the premises in a public area, they would most likely be removed immediately back to the criminal justice system.
Mr. LaMancuso: But not the individuals on the third floor.
Mr. Ald: I would think the individuals on the third floor would be held to the same standard, yes.
Mr. LaMancuso: So, you wouldn’t tolerate those relapses?
Mr. Ald: Those people are not already part of the nonviolent offender rehabilitation program, so those people we don’t expect that they could – that’s not something we could use as a tool. We can’t remove them immediately back to the criminal justice system. We would have to go through an eviction process with them.
Mr. LaMancuso: Would you – just with one strike, one time where if there’s any proof that there’s drugs in the…
Mr. Ald: If it was in a public area. If it was a place where children could see them being visibly intoxicated or obviously, using substances, then yes, one act like that would be enough to ask them to go. If it’s just discovered some other way, through information given to us or maybe they confessed or something like that then no, certainly one or two relapses would be tolerated.
Mr. LaMancuso: Thank you for that. With respect to the first and second floors; will you be giving a preference to individuals who are dealing with mental health disorders or substance abuse disorders for those units?
Mr. Ald: For the second floor?
Mr. LaMancuso: For the 38 units.
Mr. Ald: No, no I don’t think so.
Mr. LaMancuso: Thank you.
Mr. Rabb: Anything else, John?
Mr. LaMancuso: No.
Mr. Rabb: Anything else Paul? Does anybody else have a question or a comment?
Mr. Jeff Nelson: I guess I don’t feel totally sure about one comment that was made as of yet that something that can go in any direction is that this might not have an impact on existing housing and might create more vacancy within the city. I tend to think that there’s enough things other than what would be going on in this project that are affecting housing and this could add something to it. At the same time, I think it’s a wonderful program that is needed in the city. So, I’m not objecting at all to what you’re planning and wanting to do, but I do have a feeling that there’s going to be a li ttle bit more of a problem in the existing housing area coming with this project. If I’m wrong later on, I’m wrong, but that’s the way I feel now and I’m not inexperienced with housing for people. I just wanted to put that in there. I think what that really does it creates, puts on this body if you will somewhat too, if that’s a possibility, we’ve got to try to get, in terms of planning, out in front of it. So that we’re thinking about, or trying to think what might go on in the city to deal with housing problems becoming even more severe. That’s it.
Mr. Rabb: Thanks Jeff.
Mr. Jeff Nelson: I might mention a couple of things in talking, years ago we had a lot of people we had to move out of Brooklyn Square and I always remember a lot of things the social workers talked about as to what was important when they looked at what was happening. One was, you may as well accept it, the parents are shot. It’s strange way to remember from professionals talking in exactly that way, but you’ve really got to get the kids. You’ve got to be working towards getting the kids inline as they grow, otherwise they’ll grow in the same way and at some point, be non-caring, I guess, just floating through the world. I think that’s another thing that we need to reduce a lot more and I don’t know just how to do it. That’s it.
Mr. Rabb: Thank you.
Mr. Ald: I think that you’re probably right. There are a lot of parents who have serious problems and are probably harming their children more than helping them by retaining custody of their children and I know from my experience as a law guardian is it’s very difficult to get children taken away from parents even though the parents are showing obvious signs of being detrimental to the children. To be honest, what the third floor is really going to help is with taking in these parents who are, let’s say, bad parents. They’re not good for their children and they giving them – they didn’t want to turn their lives around, but they want to keep their children and we give them the tools, the education and the support to allow them to do that and thereby we save both the parents and the children.
Mr. Jeff Nelson: Those are very important aspects of what you’re proposing to do.
Mr. Ald: Thank you.
Mr. Rabb: Any other questions or comments?
Mr. Tom Nelson: I would just add – it’s kind of been said already, but the public hearing, over 20 people that I counted that are in favor of this. So, the need is there and I think so much good can be done by this. But I have some of the same concerns that John raised and I agree with Greg, this is a group of people who we are concerned about. We have some serious concerns, but to listen to volunteers stand up and speak at a meeting saying this is something we’ve got to do; that’s pretty compelling. I’m not a member of the Planning Commission, the liaison to the council, so I wanted to make that known. That’s all I have.
Mr. Rabb: Thank you. Any other questions or comments? Would you state your name and residential address, please?
Mr. Grieco: Sure. Charles Grieco, Bond Schoeneck and King. I live in the city of Buffalo at 12 Claridon Place. Just with respect to the SEQR, I think it’s still not clear to us at least, where that stands with respect to how the city intends or the Planning Commission intends to proceed and we think that’s a decision that obviously needs to be made at some point before we proceed further obviously. There was a discussion earlier about how much work is going into this project and frankly we don’t think you should do more work than you need to. I totally appreciate and understand the job you folks do. After I leave this meeting, I’m going to work at one of my planning boards with one of my municipal clients tonight for a meeting. I do that all the time and I know how much hard work goes into this. But, as I believe the board is aware, the commission is aware, my partner, Steve Ricca did send an email to one of the individuals in the Corporation Counsel’s office, I’m not sure how many attorneys work in the city of Jamestown…
Mr. Mazgaj: Marilyn.
Mr. Grieco: Marilyn, yes. Laying out our position that we think clearly this project constitutes a Type 2 action under SEQR as a reasonable location in kind project and as far as I know to date, we don’t know what the city’s position is with respect to that or what the Planning Commission’s position is with respect to that. As was mentioned earlier, STEL is certainly willing to participate in a coordinated environmental review if that’s how the board thinks it’s most appropriate to proceed. But we do think, for the reasons that were set out in Steve’s email to Marilyn, is that this project is a Type 2 action, exempt from SEQR, and therefore we don’t think that the board needs to make this job any more difficult than it has to. I would also just point out that there are – to the extent that there is any question about whether or not a project like this should qualify as a Type 2 action as a replacement in kind, there is a court decision called Manhattan Valley Neighbors for Permanent Housing for the Homeless vs. Koch, that involved a very similar project where; in this case it was a project to renovate city-owned buildings and to use those for transitional housing for homeless people and provide social services for those people and against a challenge that that was not a – that that was subject to SEQR, it was determined that that was a Type 2 action in a lawsuit and the court upheld the determination that it was a Type 2 action as a replacement in kind. The court noted that they would not be constructing new buildings and the only significant alteration would be for the purposes of setting aside portions of the existing premises so as to provide facilities for social services relative to the transitional nature of the residences. As such, the city properly classed the project as a Type 2 action since it represents a replacement of the facility in kind on the same site, rather than the Type 1 that the petitioners urged. So, we think it’s essentially the same facts here, the same type of project, and therefore, since it’s a Type 2, and also as Mr. Ricca’s email pointed out, the Brownfield Cleanup component of this, by statute, is also exempt from SEQR. So again, while we’re more than happy and willing to participate in whatever SEQR process the city ultimately determines is necessary here, we think the project clearly qualifies as a Type 2 action for that reason and frankly we think the commission should focus its efforts on those other issues that you’re concerned about and that are reflected in the site plan criteria – approval criteria. But I think it’s important for us to know, one way or another, both for you and for us how this is going to proceed from a SEQR perspective.
Mr. Rabb: Understood. That’s why we’re here. To come to that decision.
Mr. Grieco: Do you need a copy of the email?
Mr. Rabb: Thank you. I appreciate the email, but I guess one of the questions, while it’s appropriate that you sent it to Corporation Counsel, is there a reason why it wasn’t initially sent to me as Chairman? I don’t think I see my name on the distribution list. I’m just raising that as a concern.
Mr. Grieco: As I understand – and I didn’t draft the email – it was my partner, but as I understand, it was a follow up to a conversation that Steve had with her. I assume that she either asked for it or he asked me to send it to her. And we certainly weren’t trying to hide the email.
Mr. Rabb: I wasn’t suggesting it. If there’s no other comments or questions from the commission, I believe there’s a recommendation to come from the staff, is that correct?
Ms. Surdyk: There is.
Mr. Rabb: Would you like to state that please?
Ms. Surdyk: Sure. It’s our opinion, our professional opinion, that it has been determined that the proposed Gateway Lofts Project does not comply with the spirit or intent of the Neighborhood Revitalization Plan adopted on December 27, 2010 by a vote of 9 to 0 and the plan as proposed will create a significant impact on the environment that will perpetuate the cycle of devaluating, disinvestment, neglect and abandonment identified in the Neighborhood Revitalization Plan. Therefore, a positive declaration is made.
Mr. Rabb: So, your recommendation is that the Planning Commission vote in favor of the positive declaration with respect to the environmental assessment falls under SEQR? Is there any question or comment about that?
Mr. Jeff Nelson: I may have gotten lost for a minute. So, this project that we’ve been talking about or for something else?
Ms. Surdyk: No, that is for this project, yes. Our recommendation is that a SEQR is necessary.
Mr. Rabb: As Chairman, I concur with that recommendation, but it’s still up to the commission to make that decision. Let me again ask if anyone has a question or a comment with respect to the staff recommendation.
Mr. Grieco: Mr. Chairman, can I ask a question about that recommendation? Just so I understand it?
Mr. Rabb: Sure.
Mr. Grieco: It’s not clear to me how the staff determined what the classification of the action is.
Ms. Surdyk: It would be an unlisted action.
Mr. Grieco: And why – what is the basis for determining that it’s not a Type 2 action.
Mr. Rice: It’s a change of use. You have to modify the site to make it work.
Mr. Grieco: Okay. But how is that – the rehabilitation in kind, Type 2 classification, has nothing to do with it.
Mr. Rice: It’s an unlisted action.
Ms. Surdyk: We respectfully disagree; that’s it’s an unlisted action because it is changing the use. We don’t agree that it is a replacement in kind.
Mr. Grieco: We obviously disagree with that. I just want to make sure that we understand the basis of this.
Mr. LaMancuso: Mr. Chairman, may I ask a question? I’m sorry, I didn’t get your last name.
Mr. Grieco: Grieco.
Mr. LaMancuso: Mr. Grieco with respect to your position that it’s a Type 2 action, what category, I’m sorry I missed it, but what category of the designation do you think it falls under?
Mr. Grieco: The replacement in kind.
Mr. LaMancuso: That’s what the regulation says, exactly?
Mr. Grieco: Yes. It is 617.5C2, which is replacement, rehabilitation or reconstruction of a structure or facility, in kind, on the same site, including upgrading buildings to meet building or fire codes. Unless such action meets or exceeds any of the Type 1 thresholds in Section 617.4, which this project does not; meet or exceed any of the Type 1 thresholds. And that is the only exclusion. Again, there’s no discussion in that classification that changes use or the type of use. I do acknowledge that there is a Type 2 classification in the city’s code that talks about usage issues, but that is a separate issue as to whether or not it qualifies as a Type 2 under the state regulations, which are binding on all agencies in the state, including the city.
Mr. LaMancuso: But that talks about in kind. And it’s a change of kind, isn’t it?
Mr. Grieco: The case law, and again the case I cited before, they were absolutely changing how those buildings were being used.
Mr. LaMancuso: They were changing it from commercial to residential?
Mr. Grieco: Well, they were changing it from various uses, because it was a number of uses, to transitional housing. The law is also clear, and the case law that discusses that makes it clear, that the in-kind language does not require the project, or the structure to be identical. The placement of a historic bridge with a modern bridge was determined to be a replacement through rehabilitation in kind.
Mr. LaMancuso: But it’s still a bridge.
Mr. Grieco: It’s still a bridge, sure. This is still housing.
Mr. LaMancuso: Well it isn’t housing right now.
Mr. Grieco: Well, it’s mixed – and other mixed uses. So again…
Mr. LaMancuso: I understand.
Mr. Grieco: It talks about rehabilitation of a structure.
Mr. LaMancuso: That’s all I had, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
Mr. Rabb: Anything else from anyone on the commission? If not, I would ask for a motion to accept the recommendation of the staff.
Mr. Lehman moved to accept the recommendation of the staff. Seconded by Mr. Jeff Nelson.
Carried: 6 – 0
Mr. Rabb: Thank you very much. It’s my understanding that we then can’t proceed with consideration of the site plan.
Mr. Mazgaj: Mr. Chairman, can you give us some direction as to the preferred site plan as to the additional parcels that we acquired? Just the feeling of the board?
Mr. Rabb: I would suggest that once we get past this issue of the SEQR that you work closely with the staff on any possible site plan.
Mr. Mazgaj: Wouldn’t the SEQR review require us to have a site plan that identifies which alternative we go with?
Mr. Rabb: Yes, with a site plan. Rather than the C and D. It’s not our job to choose which one is appropriate. It’s ours to pass on approval of a site plan that has been worked out with the staff, so I would recommend working on any site plan with the staff.
Mr. Ald: With respect, Mr. Chairman, if this project is going to positive declaration and an environmental impact statement is required, actually part of that process is going to have to be a consideration of alternatives. So, we will not be by necessity be required to propose, including a no-build alternative, other alternatives. Then it will be the job of this commission to determine which of those alternatives has the least impact on the environment.
Mr. Lehman: I’m not sure we’re to an either/or yet. We’ve just received these, they lack a little bit of detail…
Mr. Ald: I’m just saying, if we do – to Matt’s point, if the project is going to proceed, subject to SEQR and a positive declaration, that will be part of the process is going to be consideration.
Mr. Lehman: Again, you need to sit with staff and massage this a little bit. I think we all want the best plan possible.
Mr. LaMancuso: Mr. Chairman, could we ask Mr. Ald to let the commission know the extent to which STEL is in a position to contribute to a fund that would allow the city to demolish existing housing?
Mr. Chairman: Would you like to ask that question, rather than ask if we can ask it?
Mr. LaMancuso: He’s probably not in a position to answer that tonight, but if we could just make that request. I didn’t want to step on your toes and make the request on behalf of the commission with you being the chairman.
Mr. Rabb: I think your request is perfectly reasonable and I appreciate the request. You probably can’t answer that right now, but I think that’s an appropriate question. Thank you, John. I appreciate you not wanting to step on my toes, but that doesn’t usually stop most people.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.
Director of Administrative Services/ City Clerk