By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – RSS didn’t get the state funding for its controversial Riverside Apartments, but that doesn’t mean it’s giving up.
The state Office of Homes & Community Renewal didn’t approve the 64-unit complex for low-income housing, but Altamont-based Rehabilitation Support Services still plans to move forward, said Ed Butz, RSS managing director.
“There are many more applications than there is funding available,” he said. “It’s not un-typical. We plan to meet with HCR and get more advisement, then submit for the next round.”
In the meantime, residents of the Sixth Ward Neighbors United are breathing a sigh of relief.
“I am so relieved that tax credit funding was not approved,” said Monica Calzolari. “My husband and I just bought a home in the lovely Sixth Ward on Aug. 1, 2018, only to find out in October that RSS wants to build a two lane entrance on the property right next door!”
On Friday, May 17, Governor Cuomo announced six organizations in the Southern Tier that received $21.3 million in tax credits and low-interest loans, but RSS was not one of the six.
“I was not surprised RSS did not make the list,” Mayor Gary Herzig said. “Oneonta does need affordable funding, but unfortunately, the way RSS went about it was not the right way.”
RSS submitted its state application without support from the City of Oneonta.
Opponents of the project worried that the project – which included 14 units of housing designated for people in recovery from substance abuse – would lower property values, and expressed concern over state audits that allegedly showed excessive spending for entertainment and other unallowed expenditures.
Fran Colone, who has spearheaded Sixth Ward Neighbors United, wrote in an email, “RSS’ proposal had no benefit at all to our fair City…I doubt they will ‘fold’ and walk away. My personal goal is to continue to fight to improve our City by finding ways to attract development that will enhance rather than detract from Oneonta.”
Herzig also expressed concern that RSS had not met publicly with the neighborhood to address their concerns.
“I had recommended at that Planning Commission meeting for RSS to hold off a year, build community support and good will, listen to what the community would like, and make changes, and resubmit their plan after that,” said Herzig. “But they didn’t do that.”
Instead, he said, “They chose to pursue state funding without the Planning Commission’s approval or further dialogue with the community.”
However, Butz said meetings have been held with community and religious organizations. “There is a lot of support for this project,” he said. “It just hasn’t been as vocal as the people who do not support it.”
“Despite a need for affordable housing in Oneonta, the RSS project was not right for the Sixth Ward,” he wrote in a text. “I remain committed to working collaboratively to encourage collaboratively planned housing development in the City.”
Joining Lapin in opposing the housing project were Oneonta’s Common Council’s Sixth Ward Council member Russ Southard, Assemblyman John Salka, and State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford.
While Herzig did not support RSS’ plan, he said, “I do want to emphasize that Oneonta does need affordable housing and I support affordable housing development.”
Julie Dostal, executive director of LEAF, which helps people with substance addictions get the resources and support they need, including housing, to recover from them, echoed the mayor’s statement.
“I hope sometime in the near future we’re going to be able to have affordable housing,” she said. “For people in recovery, they do better and feel more successful in their recovery if they have housing.”