By TIM HAYES • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Housing. Housing. Housing. Housing. Housing. Housing. Housing. Housing. Housing. Housing.
For those who are counting, that’s one “housing” for every year since I served on the Cooperstown Village Board’s Subcommittee on Economic Sustainability, where housing became a primary recommendation. Since then, the physical manifestation of village policies has been parking, parks and pavement. Hardly housing.
Why housing? Because, historically, housing nearly always accompanied economic prosperity in this village…
Most housing expansions in our one-square mile village have been out from a lakeside core. When the troops returned home from World War II, we built atop green fields to create housing in this village. Walnut Street to Susquehanna Avenue? Bulldozers
created that extension and The Freeman’s Journal at the time referred to this development as progress.
Housing soon followed. Lakeview Drive, north and south? Those are mid-century modern homes following the post-war boom. Fernleigh Drive from Mill Street to Estli Avenue? Only after Bassett Hospital had two major expansions and we needed more places for our newly recruited medical professionals and staff to call home, especially when on call.
That all stopped in the 1990s when people thought we had lost our historic village. What we lost was our ability to make (and re-make) history … and we lost friends and neighbors to the ex-urbs. What areas received the most building permits in the 1990s and 2000s? The towns of Middlefield and Otsego. These places are proximate to the economic hub of Cooperstown, but with huge-acre zoning intended to save open space and agrarian life.
There have been some limited examples of growth on the second way: in, or in-fill development where the density of housing increases adjacent to existing village homes. Schoolhouse court. Cooper Lane Apartments. Grove Street. Beech Street. Walnut. Delaware. These are more difficult for systemic reasons, as seen by the public deliberations over proposals between Chestnut Street and Pine Boulevard, or the demolition and sustainability-conscious rebuilding of existing homes on Walnut and Delaware. In-fill is also more difficult in our northeast community. If our homes are too close together, where do we pile all that snow and what happens during spring melts and summer rains?
Housing developments appear even more difficult. We have a ladder truck and municipal systems capable of reaching the top of multi-story structures that are regional economic engines, yet we have lacked the desire to support multi-story concepts or homes for people at heights greater than 35 feet above grade.
Our marshy soils and high water table likely lack the geologic integrity for massive residential towers, but a plethora of one-story detached structures could give rise to even more multi-story dual-resident homes – styles that already exist historically – or additions to apartment complexes already aesthetically acceptable and popular beyond their waiting lists.
When the market demands housing – and it does – and we have zoned out expansions of supply (which on, legal disputes, and subsequent creation of the Glimmerglass Historic District and HPARB), the impact on price is artificially upward. My family was lucky. Between family property, an economic anomaly, and sweat equity, my household could afford to own and maintain a home in the village. But my story is unique and, unfortunately, uncommon.
Preference for country living aside, the demographics and economics are positive for expanding housing in the Village of Cooperstown.
First, demographics: excluding tourists, the village’s daytime population change due to net commuting is nearly plus-200 percent from 1,800 residents, or an additional 3,800 people every day. University of Notre Dame students picked up on this influx, too, over a decade ago, writing in juxtaposition to tourism: “The fact is that more people come to town as patients at Bassett Hospital or as employees.”
And remember that most of the people working in Cooperstown had to come from other areas of our state, country, and world. The education required for most direct-service healthcare jobs simply is not available at scale in Otsego County. Affordable, quality housing is key to attracting and retaining these year-round, daily neighbors – people who live elsewhere right now. We are both losing people and leaking paychecks.
For those who question this potential, here is a back-of-the-napkin calculation based on publicly available data. A recent IRS filing from Bassett Medical Center lists it as having annual revenue of over $500 million, that’s a half-billion dollars. On the expense side, Bassett pays about $300 million to its employees. Most of them do not spend it living in Cooperstown.
For comparison, the village municipal budget is $5 million. The National Baseball Hall of Fame revenues are about $14 million and overnight accommodations county-wide (including Oneonta) that reported “bed tax” generated about $43 million in total sales ($1.7M in tax collected divided by 4-percent tax rate).
And yet in-village housing for some of the thousands of automobile commuters and their families – which would also impact declining enrollment at our local school district, a key component of any community (that, and healthcare) – is barely mentioned in any municipal comprehensive plan and or in any of the multitude of committee and sub-committee meetings within this village.
This village IS prosperous – and it continues to be prosperous when you consider the economic and demographic expansions already mentioned. The problem is that we are not making it easy for people to choose to invest their lives here. Not all of the commuters or transplants will – or want to – live in the village, but a ridiculously low number of them presently can.
I’ll close with a excerpts from a 2017 New York Times article covering a study of American boomtowns: “What’s drawing people there has more to do with [affordable] housing than high wages… The larger problem is that [people] are blocked from moving to prosperous places by the shortage and cost of housing there. And that’s a deliberate decision these wealthy regions have made in opposing more housing construction, a prerequisite to make room for more people.”
So, in addition to upgrading the necessary municipal services needed to maintain a prosperous community like ours – especially clean, consistent water; environmentally sound effluent treatment; human-scale transportation systems; and storm-water and snow removal – I urge the village to update its stance on year-round housing so that more colleagues, co-workers, and friends can enjoy their brief walks home rather than hour-long commutes from a shuttle to a parking lot to a car to a county road to a driveway at a far-away place.
Please change our outdated zoning law soon; and then remember to re-examine it again in time and then shortly after your next comprehensive plan.