ONEONTA — In a two and a half hour meeting, the issue of housing was forefront as the Common Council struggled to come to agree on the choice of an out-of-city resident as part of the housing commission on Tuesday, July 20.
This appointment was narrowly approved, 4-3, with Kaytee Lipari Shue, Len Carson and Scott Harrington being the dissenting votes.
The motion to appoint Audrey Benkenstein, with the addition of Oneonta resident Peter Friedman, was brought up for a second time after being voted down during the last common council meeting, something that Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig told AllOtsego.com last week was “mystifying,” since Lipari Shue had pushed for a non-city resident to be on the Arts Commission.
The main point of contention was that Benkenstein was not a Oneonta resident. However Herzig pointed out her appointment was voted down “only minutes after approving a Cherry Valley artist” for the Arts Commission.
Herzig said the Arts Commission held real power whereas the Housing Commission was an advisory position, and therefore those appointed to the Housing Commission were not considered officials with any kind capacity to approve anything.
COOPERSTOWN — More than 50 people packed the Cooperstown Central School cafeteria for a public hearing on the proposed Chestnut Crossing apartment complex at 10 Chestnut St.
The Cooperstown Village Board of Trustees moved the meeting to the middle/high school because of the public hearing, the first official chance for residents to speak for or against the 13-unit apartment complex proposed by Josh Edmonds and Francesca Zambello for two pieces of land they own on Chestnut Street and a third on Pine Boulevard.
The overflow crowd did not disappoint, with about 30 people speaking on the issue and two more speaking about a proposed licensing law for village-owned Cooperstown icons. Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh lifted the typical one-hour limit length for public hearings, gave each speaker five minutes to speak on each issue, and even allowed a handful of people to speak a second time or ask limited questions.
The public hearing portion of the meeting took more than two hours and the meeting itself wrapped up after 11 p.m, but Tillapaugh said she expected as much.
One would like to believe that Cooperstown, once referred to as “America’s Favorite Hometown,” is a thriving, dynamic community.
A walk down Main Street in July or August, with crowds of people swarming the streets and shops, would suggest that it is indeed as billed. The same walk in January or February, with darkened, shuttered store fronts and empty parking spaces, would offer a very different impression.
When the remarkable increase in the country’s taste for baseball and its memorabilia in the late ’80s and ’90s dramatically altered Cooperstown’s Main Street, with baseball-themed shops largely established and managed by non-local proprietors replacing the mixed-use, community-based businesses run by local residents for 200 years, Cooperstown’s business district turned a very unfortunate corner.
With the advent of the “Cooperstown” baseball camps, located in Hartwick and Oneonta, people began to buy, convert and even build area housing to cash in on an extremely lucrative weekly summer rental market. That housing is in many cases owned by non-local, absentee landlords who make enough of a killing in the summer to allow them to sit vacant for the long off-season months. In a few years, the availability of housing in and around the Village became as hopeless as a Main Street parking space in summer.
Moving? Whether you have changed countries or states or cities or streets you probably have some stories? Hearing a tale from a friend brought to mind some of the terrors.
One of the scariest moves I made was back to upstate New York after years working in cities — first in New Zealand, then London and, finally, in Manhattan. It was a frightening move from my big-time journalism job at NBC to work with my husband to start a business and to become a financial advisor. My friends worried I would regret abandoning that career to move from city life to country life.
We could make this work.
We had to buy a house upstate and simultaneously sell our house in New Jersey. Most everything we owned had to go to upstate New York, except for some things I needed for my last few months working in Manhattan, when I would share an apartment near Carnegie Hall.
ONEONTA — Housing and jobs remain high priorities for the city of Oneonta. Both are needed and, according to Mayor Gary Herzig, need to be gradually increased at the same time.
“You can’t have a thriving community, you can’t have a good economy, if you can’t provide people with good housing,” Herzig said.
According to Herzig, housing is “desperately” needed at all levels including low-income, middle-income and high-income.
One of the problems with housing in Oneonta is that it is hard to compete with student rentals if you are a family in need of rental housing.
Herzig said there are “not a lot of incentives” for familyrentals. “We have to be creative with what we do.”
However, there have been some steps taken on the housing front in Oneonta. Most notably, the artist lofts being created on Dietz Street and, more recently, the pending purchase of the Ford Building by Springbrook to create 22 to 24 market rate apartments, which Herzig called a “very exciting project” that he said was certain would be approved by the Common Council.
COOPERSTOWN — About 50 village residents gathered Monday, June 15, at a residential space at 20 Lake Street to hear a detailed presentation and ask questions about a debated proposal to build a 13-unit rental apartment on several pieces of property on Chestnut Street.
Josh Edmonds, a Cooperstown native who is the owner of Simple Integrity Construction, and Francesca Zambello, the artistic and managing director of The Glimmerglass Festival, detailed their private partnership and its plans to develop the three pieces of property they own—two on Chestnut and one on Pine Boulevard, behind it—into one housing project.
Affordable and available housing remains an issue in Otsego County in general, but particular issues have come up recently in both Cooperstown and Oneonta.
However, both areas are doing their part to amend this issue. Although there has been some backlash, elected officials acknowledge the necessity of creating affordable housing in the area.
A planned development at 10 Chestnut St. in Cooperstown is being considered by the village’s boards.
Francesca Zambello, who partnered with Josh Edmonds of Simple Integrity on the Chestnut Street project, described herself as a “concerned citizen” who was worried about the “really dire housing situation.” Zambello and Edmonds own three connecting lots and have formed their own company, not associated with Glimmerglass or Simple Integrity, to build on the site.
To ALL Cooperstown Villages Residents regarding the 10 Chestnut Street project:
Zoning laws are to protect one’s investment and quality of life in a community. When zoning laws are allowed to be exceeded with “special permits,” it weakens the law.
The 10 Chestnut Street project is zoned residential and historical.
Does this project qualify for the quaint small town atmosphere that residents and visitors from around the world expect? The project exceeds the zoning laws in several categories.
It is a nice façade to a behemoth building in that space? Consider: 13 apartments with 21 rooms on 0.33 acre and 0.14 acre, 21 parking spaces, with no visitor parking and no place for children to play.
Have those that have written or are voicing their support of the project considered the quality of life and investments of others?
This is a slippery slope. Where will the next project be? In what neighborhood?
Let us make it clear. We are not opposed to development of this property within the zoning laws which were rewritten just two years ago!
We would enthusiastically welcome this!
We are for zoning laws that protect our quality of life and investment AND YOURS!
Mayor Gary Herzig relaxed the mask ordinance in downtown Oneonta during the Common Council Tuesday, June 1. Masks will no longer be required on Main Street.
Also a motion on a payment to Springbrook to build a walk way connecting Main Street to Water Street and the parking garage was passed unanimously. Springbrook is planning a development on Main Street for professional housing.
Otsego Outdoors to offer
summer activities challenge
Otsego2000, the Otsego County Conservation Association and the Otsego Land Trust will offer another outdoor activities badge, this one geared to summer activities.
The activities include hiking, kayaking, cycling, canoeing and more.
Those who successfully complete eight of the 16 activities will be awarded an Otsego Outdoors Summer Octet badge.
That the aristocratic Village of Cooperstown and funky City of Oneonta are so different adds texture and richness to the experience of living in Otsego County.
Different as they may be, it turns out they are united by the same challenge: Both lack sufficient housing to thrive.
Cooperstown’s school and downtown are suffering from a declining population. Oneonta’s colleges and institutions attract young professionals, but many have to commute from afar.
Thinking people understand it: More housing is needed. Still, community opposition and lawsuits have stymied development in both places.
Housing doesn’t mean despoilment. In Oneonta, does market-rate housing have to include a dozen units for residents in rehab? In Cooperstown, do apartment complexes need to be jammed into streets lined with elegant homes?
Yes, build we must. For two views from the trenches, look below, to columns by consultant Alan Cleinman, who envisions Oneonta as a community of high-paid, low-maintenance “knowledge workers,” and Tim Hayes the SUNY Oneonta development officer and brainy president of the Cooperstown Central school board.
COOPERSTOWN – Matt Phillips, CCS ’02, shared a poignant story of his family’s affection for Redskins (now Hawkeyes) football, and the 200 fans in the CCS high school auditorium applauded.
“If not for football,” said Phillips, today Clark Sports Center’s Activities & Group Reservations director, “I wouldn’t have come to school.”
Cooperstown varsity football has had bad years, for sure, but always rebounded. “My senior year,” he said, “we won one game. My senior year, we were undefeated.”
Today, his daughter Leah plays with the team, continuing a family tradition. “She even talks about playing in the NFL someday.”
The term “Life Births” – a term that floated through the room as the school board contemplated a wide round of cuts to the 2020-21 budget; the budget vote and school elections is May 19 – could trump the fans’ and others’ concerns.
“We are forced to make decisions that don’t feel great,” Superintendent of Schools Bill Crankshaw said that evening: In 2007, there were 1,048 K-12 pupils; today there are 850, a 19 percent drop.
“Life Births” are compiled annually by ONC BOCES Superintendent of Schools Nick Savin for all 19 school district in his purview, nine in Otsego County. Based on the number of births in a district any one year, he projects those numbers forward: for instance, babies born in 2015 will enter kindergarten this fall.
If fewer seniors are graduating in June than kindergarteners are arriving in September – and this goes on year after year – a school district is headed for trouble.
For the 2019-20 school year, CCS has 79 students graduating, and only 50 kindergartners entering, a 37 percent drop, by far the largest among the ONC BOCES schools.
“At base, if you want a school, you have to build housing,” CCS board President Tim Hayes said in an interview, “affordable, quality housing … Until we start to create places for people to live in the community, I’m worried about the future of the community.”
Hayes served on the task force that created the Village of Cooperstown’s new Comprehensive Master Plan, approved last fall, which – to some community concern – allows larger homes to be broken up into apartments.
If there are no exterior changes, sufficient parking and other standards are met, village Zoning Enforcement Officer Jane Gentile can simply issue a permit; a project doesn’t have to go through the H-PARB, planning or zoning boards, said Deputy Mayor Cindy Falk, who has played a central role in the comp plan and resulting zoning code.
Apartment houses – the Railroad Avenue neighborhood, in particular, is designated as appropriate – still require a special permit from the Village Board, she said.
It’s only been a few months since the new zoning was approved, but Falk said she’s unaware of any house conversions or apartment complexes being proposed.
In the 1970s and ’80, Hayes said, homes were being built in the district, but in the 1990s “preserving open space was more important than building houses for people who wanted to live here.” Much of the surrounding towns of Otsego and Middlefield requires three-acre lots, he said.
That may be changing, Hayes said. In addition to Cooperstown’s new zoning, the Town of Hartwick has contracted with Delaware Engineering for a Route 28 study. The study wasn’t focused on housing, Falk said, but as survey results began coming in, housing needs were frequently mentioned.
With the largest employer in the county – Bassett Hospital, “a half-billion-dollar medical center” – just three blocks from Cooperstown Elementary, things should be different.
“Every day I see ads for employees at this medical center,” Hayes said. “We definitely don’t have enough housing for people who want to live here.”
At last week’s meeting, Hayes and Crankshaw repeatedly said no firm decisions have been made about football or anything else. The next of a series of “open budget discussions” is planned 6-6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, in the high school library.
Savin, the BOCES superintendent, said that while CCS’ situation is the most dire this year, it’s not alone. “In Oneonta,” he said, “they seem to have some growth in the younger grades. Every other school in our region: They’re either staying flat or losing students.”
He continued, “In more schools, because we have declining enrollment, the school boards and communities are looking at more collaborative ways of keeping their teams. It’s appropriate, in my view.”
“That’s what the data does,” he said: “It causes the right kinds of conversations.”
ALBANY – A bill authorizing the City of Oneonta Common Council to provide tax exemptions for those investing in the city’s housing stock received final legislative approval today, state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, the bill’s sponsor, announced today.
The bill now goes to Governor Cuomo for his consideration.