Developers grilled over ‘support’ apartment plan

MAHOPAC, NY – Developers of a 72-unit apartment complex project on Baldwin Place Road that would provide 36 affordable apartments and 36 supportive apartments were interviewed by planning council members last week on a litany of topics ranging from funding to whether such development is necessary.

The development, known as Fairhaven at Baldwin Place, is offered by Search for Change, a non-profit organization in Valhalla that has been providing rehabilitation services to the mentally ill for 46 years.

Ashley Brody, CEO of Search for Change, told the board that 36 of the units will be “affordable” apartments for those in financial difficulty. He said the remaining 36 apartments are designated “supportive”, for those who have suffered some type of trauma or are recovering from mental illness and are ready to live on their own, but with outside support.

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“It’s about people living fully on their own,” Brody told the board at an initial meeting last month. “[The supportive units are for] people who, at some point in their life, may have been hospitalized or suffered an accident or injury. This includes veterans, survivors of domestic violence, people who have suffered from anxiety or depression, as many do today, especially during a pandemic. It includes people from all walks of life, who may have struggled at one point, but who have progressed to the point where they can now live independently. The agency’s mission is to help people overcome the obstacles they face in order to be successful.

The developers’ goal right now is to take the proposal to the Zoning Appeal Board, where the project could require up to four variations, covering septic tank and well requirements, age restriction , parking and height of two floors.

But at its February 24 meeting, the planning board said it was not quite ready to pass the plan on to the ZBA because the county planning board has questions.

“As it is very unusual for us to hear from the county planning council, I would like to wait until we at least have a chance to see what they have to say,” said the chairman of the planning consultancy, Craig Paeprer. “I don’t think any of us are used to receiving letters from the county. They weighed quite a bit.

During last week’s meeting, Jeff Contelmo, senior senior engineer at Insite Engineering, who is designing the project, said that there have been no changes to the site plan since the last meeting, but the requester responded. to a list of questions and concerns set out by the city council and engineering department, as well as the county.

“We have submitted a detailed response to the county’s comments,” he said. “The county did not have the latest site plan or a full description of the project. And they didn’t have the parking study. We submitted a full response regarding the misinformation they had. “

Brody also answered questions from the board regarding funding for the project. He said funding to provide basic support services to occupants of developmental supportive housing units would be provided by the New York State Office of Temporary Help and Persons with Disabilities (OTDA). .

Tenants would also pay rent in accordance with established rent thresholds and income standards. Funding for capital development would be provided by the New York State Division of Home and Community Renewal (UNHCR); OTDA; a private equity investor (as is customary for developments benefiting from a tax credit); and a modest bank loan.

The board addressed the issue of bus transportation for children who may reside at the resort and Brody said his organization was ready to accommodate that.

“We keep an agency vehicle on site with which we provide transport for the occupants of the development and we would be prepared to use this vehicle to transport schoolchildren as well,” he said. “We would also be ready to erect a small bus shelters to accommodate them if necessary. We transported them to the bus stop where they would meet the [school] bus.”

Code enforcement officer Mike Carnazza said applicants need to work with the school to ensure the location is appropriate for a bus stop.

“Is this a good place for the bus to stop?” He wondered. “Contact the bus garage and see if it will work for them. They may prefer to enter [to the development] if they can. “

Board member Kim Kugler asked if there was even a need for more housing like this in the community.

“I’m still struggling with telling you there’s a need,” she told Brody. “What is this real, real need that [allows you to justify] the size of this facility? “

But Brody said study after study has found the need for more housing in Putnam and Carmel County and even a myriad of county agencies have said so. He provided the board with several of these studies.

“The facility proposes to house 72 people, half of whom would be considered tenants of the workforce, people who would be employed and earn up to 60% of the median income of the region,” he said. -he declares. “This encompasses a number of people who are employed in the local economy.

“All of the studies have shown that multi-family development rentals in Putnam County are extremely rare,” Brody continued. “There is a lot of data from multiple sources generated in Putnam County that supports this need. If we had the capacity, we could probably fill twice as many units. It’s not just our assessment; all the data we have examined confirms this.

Council members asked who would be the agency responsible for the development and maintenance of the property.

“My agency is the lead and has primary responsibility, but we have a whole development team that includes agencies that do this kind of work in the state,” Brody responded. “It would include a property management component and other stakeholders who would share the provision of services to tenants. This [system] is not something we make up out of nothing, hoping it will work. This has been proven and done for many years. It just hasn’t been done here.

Some council members expressed concern that placing residential development in an area zoned for commercial / industrial use could set a bad precedent. But Contelmo noted that those concerns were the purview of the zoning appeal committee.

“We saw very little happen [at the proposed site], as evidenced by the fact that this property is still vacant. The landowner has actively marketed this property and would like to see something go there, ”Contelmo said. “We are in the commercial area of ​​the business park, which in reality only allows housing in the form of senior citizens housing, on which we have modeled our development.”

Some members of the Town Planning Council noted that the city is in the process of reorganizing its master plan and that the revised plan could oppose such development in this area.

“Maybe the master plan should take the need into account,” Contelmo replied. “That’s what he should be doing. No one on our side ever said that we were a perfect match for your zoning and that we had a free pass until the process was completed. We’re just trying to get the zoning advice. We need to articulate our arguments about their use.

In documents provided to the Planning Council, Search for Change addressed a range of what it called the “myths” surrounding the project. Here’s a partial list and Search for Change’s answer:

Myth: Fairhaven is a “facility” or an “institution”.

Fact: Fairhaven is neither a “rehabilitation facility” nor an “institution”. This is a supportive and housing development for the workforce, and its tenants will be able to reside independently with very basic and minimal support services.

Myth: Fairhaven is “low income” accommodation.

Fact: Fairhaven is open to people with incomes up to 60% of the area’s median income (MAI). This is not “low income” housing, but affordable housing for those who qualify. The current MAI for a family of four living in Putnam County is $ 113,700. A family with annual incomes of up to $ 68,220 (60% of the MAI) would qualify, as would unattached individuals with annual incomes of up to $ 47,760.

Myth: Mixing supportive housing tenants and the workforce will not work.

Reality: Developments like Fairhaven at Baldwin Place are operating successfully across New York State. Most are fully occupied and many have long waiting lists. Occupants of supportive housing units are no different from occupants of workforce housing units. Renters in supportive housing simply have health issues for which they require minimal and basic support services.

Myth: Fairhaven tenants will represent a “risk” to the local community.

Reality: Renters in Fairhaven will be like renters in any other real estate complex. They will simply have health or financial needs for which supportive housing and labor services are required. People with these needs already reside in our community. In fact, Fairhaven tenants will be from our community. In addition, tenants will be subject to rigorous selection procedures to ensure their success and their ability to pay their rent.

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