COXSACKIE — Greene County officials discussed on Monday developing a property near the new county jail into a homeless shelter.
In order to maximize the development potential and compensate for the cost of bringing utilities to the site, the county is considering developing four sites on the 32-acre property. Monday’s workshop meeting was conceptual in nature and no decisions were made on the plans.
Dubbed the “south campus,” the property is to the south of the new Greene County Jail on Route 9W.
“The reason why we bought the south campus is just that — to create a campus with a single entry point from 9W,” Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said. “We own the property, we bought it to expand, we know the hotel version of homelessness does not work. We can’t control the residents. We get many violations because they’re alone, they’re unsupervised and they break the law a lot — it’s just a lot of headache.”
The shelter would use barrack-style housing, not individual rooms, which would encourage residents to seek alternatives, Groden said.
“They would seek alternative housing if this was their only option,” he said. “Our homeless rate would come down.”
The county paid $725,000 in 2020 to house transient individuals in local motels, averaging from about 32 to 65 individuals per day, Groden said.
The proposed shelter would be funded by grants and operated by Catholic Charities, Groden said. The shelter would house both men and women and have designated areas for families and for sex offenders, Groden said.
“[The shelter] would be designed by Catholic Charities at their expense with their architect,” Groden said. “The county would be responsible to bring utilities to the site,”
Catholic Charities of Columbia-Greene Counties Executive Director Theresa Lux could not be reached for comment.
Like the county jail site, development of the property will be limited by environmental constraints, Deputy Administrator Warren Hart said.
Because the jail project used approximately 21.2 acres of habitat occupied by the short-eared owl, an endangered species, and the northern harrier, a threatened species, the county has to pay more than $12,000 per year for raptor surveys.
Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, asked if the $12,000 raptor surveys for the jail site could be combined with the south campus.
“Probably not for $12,000,” Groden said.
The county is proposing to construct four sites where buildings could be constructed so it can go through the evaluation and permitting process once, Groden said.
“We maximize whatever development on paper even though you may never develop the fourth pad, but if you want to in the future, you have the authority to do so,” he said.
It would be easier for the county to get approved for four sites and not use all of them, than to get approved for two and try to add others later, Groden said.
Other county departments on the drawing board for a relocation to Coxsackie include the Mental Health Office in Cairo and the Records Management building in Catskill.
“We know the condition of the Mental Health building,” Groden said. “It’s a 100-year-old building. We got a lot of trouble out there.”
Legislator Matt Luvera, R-Catskill, proposed rehabbing or reconstructing the Cairo office.
“We as a body have to figure out the best bang for our buck,” Luvera said. “Where is this going to serve the best? I’m not sure if Coxsackie is the best location. Cairo would really be the best because it’s in the middle of the county, especially for our mountaintop residents.”
Rehabbing the Cairo office would cost $2 million to $3 million, Legislator Harry Lennon, D-Cairo, said.
The county could also run into snags tearing down the building because of its age, Groden said.
“We’re probably going to go through another historical building sequence with certain people in the community that feel there’s value to that old building,” he said.
Route 9W is on a bus route, which could aid mental health patients and the homeless population, Groden said,
If the office did relocate to Coxsackie, Luvera suggested a satellite office remain at the County Office Building in Catskill.
County government will have to consider whether recreating the 22,000-square-foot building will be necessary, when many of the services are now being offered remotely, Groden said.
“Could we shrink the building and shrink the construction cost?” he said. “Is the insurance world going to continue to allow telemedicine after COVID goes away?”
The size of the aging records management building must also be evaluated, Groden said.
“Do we need 13,000 square feet of boxes stacked to the ceiling with paper storage?” he said. “Should we go through a massive digitization?”
The process of digitizing paper records could cost about $750,000, Groden said.
Luvera proposed that the records management building remain in Catskill.
“Is there space at 411 [Main Street?]” Luvera said. “Catskill is the seat of county government. We have other departments those records are going to and from. It should most likely stay somewhere there.”
The county could tear down and reconstruct the current location, Groden said.
Another idea was to combine the records management building with a new mental health office.
Only two buildings on the site may not be worth the investment, Hart said.
“The cost to develop the property with only two pads on it may not be effective to do,” he said.
“What’s driving this really is the homeless shelter,” he said. “If at the end of the day we do not go beyond the homeless shelter, I would not go with the south campus for the cost to bring utilities over to operate a single building.”
Another building in need of repair or reconstruction is the Building and Grounds Department on Allen Street in Catskill, Legislator Jim Thorington, R-Windham, said.
The department’s close proximity to the village is convenient for storing materials, Groden said.