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Proposed housing draws fire at hearing

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    Jeffrey Rovitz, president of The Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties.
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    Board Chairman William Zwoboda opens the public hearing Monday.
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    Catskill Village President Vincent Seeley talks to village residents about the proposed Catskill Gardens project during the public hearing Monday night.
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    Proposed site plan for Catskill Gardens.
November 14, 2017 - 11:30 pm

CATSKILL — A public hearing on Catskill Gardens, a low-income housing complex for adults with special needs, was held Monday night.

The project is being proposed by The Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties.

To kick off the meeting, several representatives associated with the project filled the audience in on where the proposed site plan stands.

Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties President Jeffrey Rovitz gave a background of the association; Richard Tompkins, vice president of the architectural firm the association is working with on the project, described the architecture of the project; Rodney Morrison, a civil engineer hired for the project, gave an overview of the architecture, water, sewer, traffic flow and other variables; Residential Division Director Susan Cody and Mike Newman, a program developer working with the association on the housing project, spoke about what Catskill Gardens entails.

Following the presentation of the project, village residents voiced their comments and concerns.

“I don’t think it’s a good place for it,” Angelo Balsano, a village resident living near the proposed site plan said. “Why does it seem like they’re building these things right in people’s backyards? The one in Hudson’s the same way. You got a row of homes and it’s right in everyone’s backyards.”

Balsano also made a comment towards the noise level and the potential of ending up with a lower property value if the project goes through.

“Is there not a better place to put this thing?” he said. “I have no problem with them building these things, but why in people’s backyards?”

Elton Vandermark, a village resident, said he isn’t against mental illness but is against this project.

“Some of these people in this housing are bad people,” he said. “It’s too close to the schools, too close to Captain Jack’s, too close the elementary school. I don’t think a project like this should be built in the village — put it outside the village.”

Vandermark made a suggestion that the entire village should vote on the project.

“If this goes in, I’m putting my house up for sale,” Vandermark said. “I don’t want it.”

Sean Meagher, owner of Creek Side Restaurant in Catskill, made a point about the safety of children who would be walking out of the property onto the street, saying that there’s no sidewalks or lighting there.

Meagher said the village has been taken advantage of in PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) programs before.

“I have a real concern about the tax implications of one of the last large developable pieces of property in the village of Catskill,” Meagher said.

The issue of stormwater was a huge concern for Meagher as well.

“I went to my neighbor’s house numerous times and had to help the woman across the street out because there was 10 inches of water coming across the road,” he said.

“The calculations for stormwater really need to be looked at,” he said. “Where’s all that water going to go — that’s a huge amount of water. If we get three inches of rain, I can tell you the village system can’t handle that amount of stormwater — there’s no way.”

Morrison talked about the plans for the stormwater on the site.“I haven’t witnessed the water since that pond was built,” Morrison said. “My understanding is that it doesn’t do the job yet,”

Engineers involved in the project are all in agreement that the stormwater is a huge issue, Morrison said.

“The village engineers made it very clear that we need to do a lot more than just what we’re supposed to,” he said. “We’re going to utilize the property that we have.”

Catskill Village President Vincent Seeley said a rough estimate for the PILOT would be about $20,000, but final numbers on it haven’t been determined yet.

“This project does not move forward without sidewalks,” Seeley said. “It does not move forward without adequate draining — there’s no way we’re going to sit here and let a project like this come in and ruin that particular area without having some of those safeguards in.”

Seeley assured the public that the project is still in the beginning stages and there’s still a lot to work through.

“This is a piece of paper on here — nobody as far as I know put any roads in, dug any holes, did anything crazy up there,” Seeley said. “So I think we’ve got a lot of time to talk this through.”

Michael Dehmler, another representative working with the Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties on the project said the PILOT would be somewhere around $20,000 to $25,000.

The overall funding for the project hasn’t been fleshed out yet but would be around $25 million including construction and everything else.

The project would be funded by tax credits, or either tax-exempt bonds of New York State Subsidy, Dehmler said.

“These people are your neighbors right now,” he said. “We picked Catskill, we picked Greene County purely on statistics and need.”

Dehmler responded to comments from residents about this building being in their backyards.

“I understand the backyard comments, it’s a concern in every community that we go to,” Dehmler said. “This parcel is already zoned multi-family, residential — you guys already heard that it went through this approval process once before.”

Cody assured residents that people who want to live in the building have to go through a specific process.

“There’s a lot of requirements that the people who are going to live in this building have to meet,” she said. “They have to be income-eligible — we do a credit check, we do a background, a criminal background check, we do all kinds of checks for everyone that’s in this building to make sure they’re really eligible to be there.

Catskill Gardens will function as a mixed affordable housing facility. It will have units for people with special needs related to mental illness and units for people who make less than 60 percent of the average median income for Greene County, Cody said.

The proposed site is on West Main Street in Catskill, on the opposite side of the street from Creek Side Restaurant. It’s an 18-acre parcel, with about seven or eight acres to be developed for the building, driveway, landscaping and parking, Tompkins said.

If built, Catskill Gardens would be a three-story, 90-unit apartment complex with options for one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.

There are about 54 one-bedroom apartments, 24 two-bedroom apartments and 12 three-bedroom apartments, Tompkins said Monday.

The facility will also include 3,700 square feet of office space for educational programs, community space, gymnasium and computer room.

The association is also finishing construction on a project similar to Catskill Gardens, called Greenport Gardens, off Joslen Boulevard in Greenport.

To reach reporter Anthony Fiducia, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2309 or email afiducia@registerstar.com.