“The Grove” developer Josh Edmonds did the right thing Wednesday, July 17, in withdrawing his application for a 12-unit apartment building between Pine Boulevard, one of the Village of Cooperstown’s finest streets, and lower Chestnut.
It promised to be a long fight, with no certain end.
As reported here before, Edmonds has figured out the home of the future – energy efficient, bright, supremely comfortable – and has built a half-dozen of them already in northern Otsego County, including one for his family at the end of Delaware Street.
This guy understands the future; but feeling pushback from residents – some prospective customers, no doubt – he sensibly pulled back.
No matter: His inevitable success won’t depend on a particular site. Besides, there are plenty of opportunities elsewhere in the village, for him and for others.
For instance, just days before his announcement, the former CVS at 100 Main, vacant for two years, went up for sale. It’s one-story, but zoned for two more stories of possible housing. What’s more, the concrete basement may be easily adapted for parking.
Now, THAT would be a showpiece for whatever Josh Edmonds might do.
The impetus for more apartments is to revive downtown Cooperstown year ’round. More residents, more vitality, more business and entertainment, more community.
But Village Hall’s role is not, per se, to solve Bassett Hospital’s housing shortage, because it doesn’t have to. Hospital employees driving from Middleburgh or Ilion or Sidney would no doubt be delighted by apartments as close as Hartwick Seminary or Richfield Springs or Oneonta.
Former mayor Jeff Katz has said that, when he came to town, what impressed him most were well-tended houses. That’s the brand, to be enhanced, not sacrificed.
Further, apartments, properly sited, don’t have to degrade it.
First, Village Hall needs to get serious about redeveloping the second and third floors downtown for housing. That requires designated parking; lack of it creates downward pressure on rents until it makes more sense for property owners to use the space for storage.
Second, there are a number of suitable sites for apartment units as envisioned by Josh Edmonds that would not impinge on single-family neighborhoods.
In addition to CVS, there’s the huge and sparsely used parking lot behind the NBT Bank on Pioneer Street, just a few steps from Main Street. Next door, there’s the little-used Verizon building that could be relocated anywhere outside the village.
Take a look at Grove Street between Glen and Main. There’s the former Bassett laundry, now a utility building – big building, side lot that are tucked away from all but a couple of residences.
At Grove and Main, there’s Jim Florczak’s “Where It All Began” warehouse, empty for years.
And for years, Richard Blabey, the village Planning Board member, has envisioned a high-end retirement community just above that, in the Red Lot, on the hill above Grove.
There are plenty of sites.
Pine-Chestnut is simply a bad one.
There’s a parallel conversation, also troubling, that continues: Zoning revisions under consideration would allow PDDs (planned development districts, a vehicle The Grove depended on) in all residential districts, from plush R-1A to R-3. And, thus, on all streets: Lake, River, upper Pioneer, Eagle, Spring, you name it.
No single-home owner is safe.
Village Hall will tell you the new Comprehensive Plan found the community wants apartments. Let’s face it, though, community input was meager: a two-night charrette, a couple of open houses at the fire house over 2-3 years, and “informational meetings” when the new comp plan was,
in effect, done.
Who can argue with a straight face that the document was guided in any profound way by an understanding of what the community wants. This isn’t to dis the efforts of dedicated individuals, it just is what it is.
What now? To recap:
• Protect single-family neighborhoods.
• To enliven downtown, identify parking so upper stories are rentable.
• Try out one apartment complex, then another, on available land close to the downtown, and sheltered from single-family neighborhoods.
• Figure out where apartments could be built with the least impact, and identify those sites in the zoning map.
• Walk away from the PDD/
special permit combination. As the saying goes, it will end in tears.
No, Village Hall doesn’t have to buy land or do this itself. It should recruit responsible developers to do so, people like Josh Edmonds.
A final note: let’s not hear the acronym, NIMBY, from village officials’ lips. It undercuts discussion in honest efforts to guide Cooperstown’s development toward a future that will benefit everyone.
There don’t have to be winners and losers.