A sitting-room-only-on-the-floor crowd Monday, June 24, at the Cooperstown Village Board’s monthly meeting had a point: Why put an apartment house in the middle of one of the village’s finest single-family-home neighborhoods?
There it is. That said, who doesn’t have some mixed feelings, given that the developer, Josh Edmonds, intends to build a complex that is supremely energy efficient, as is his new home at 45 Delaware St., and to price it so young families with incomes in the $54,000 range can afford it?
Nonetheless, don’t village trustees have a stewardship responsibility: to preserve Cooperstown as it is known and loved? Do they have to destroy the village to save it?
With some emotion, Sherrie Kingsley, co-proprietor of the Inn at Cooperstown with her husband Marc, read a letter he co-signed that contained a chilling conclusion: Concerned about “our quality of life as well as the value of our properties,” the couple had met that morning with Altonview Architects to discuss how they might convert two houses they own, 12 Chestnut and 180 Main, into apartments if necessary.
Who knows how many others would do the same?
500,000 visitors a year. The baseball camps and the Hall of Fame may be the foremost magnet, but cultural attractions – The Fenimore and Farmers’ museums, Hyde Hall, the Glimmerglass Opera, Linda Chesis’ Summer Music Festival – are in some ways more important, in addition to Otsego Lake’s recreational attractions.
Coincidentally, the hubbub over The Grove emerged the same evening that a housing committee presented its findings of a year-long review of the zoning code aimed at creating more housing in the village.
The blue-ribbon panel, chaired by Deputy Mayor Cindy Falk, included key players like Planning Board, Zoning Board and H-PARB chairmen Gene Berman, Susan Snell and Liz Callahan respectively. It grew out of the revised Comprehensive Master Plan, which concluded more in-village housing is needed.
One proposed revision would allow two-family homes and apartment houses, not just in the least restrictive R-3 zone, but – by special permit – in R-2 and R-1 zones as well. In combination with newly authorized PPDs (planned development districts), that opens the possibility that a two-family home or apartments can be located on any vacant lot in the village.
You might say a combination of special permits and PDDs comprise a powerful way to get around any of the village’s zoning restrictions.
Wouldn’t a better solution be to create a zone that identifies optimum sites for multi-family housing and apartments – Railroad Avenue, for instance? The empty CVS on Main Street is another opportunity mentioned in this space.
To require the battle to be fought site by site: That seems a lot of wear and tear on neighborhood serenity.
This is not strictly a challenge to Cooperstown. In Oneonta, a 66-unit low-income apartment complex, including 12 units for people in recovery, has been temporarily stalled for lack of funding in the Sixth Ward, arguably the city’s most intact neighborhood.
You have to ask, wouldn’t a single-family development there make more sense?
At the same time, plans to redevelop the D&H railyards to give families a chance to move up the income scale are running into rough sledding from no-gas activists. Isn’t enabling family to afford moderate-income homes a better alternative to building them low-income housing?
Happily, that isn’t Cooperstown’s dilemma. In part, the blue-ribbon panel was reacting to a Bassett Hospital housing study that found employees at all levels – administrators to doctors, nurses and staff – would like to live closer to work: They just can’t find homes in the Cooperstown area.
“Area.” That’s the key word. There’s not that much space in the village itself, and zoning restrictions are also tight in the neighboring towns of Otsego and Middlefield. (Dominic Reisen’s “Middlefield and the Settling of the New York Frontier”, published in 2009, reported not a single new home had been built in that hamlet since the Civil War.)
But the Town of Hartwick has plenty of land, increasingly convenient retail along Route 28, and a town government more friendly to development. (The town Planning Board, in a closely reasoned conclusion, approved a new Hampton Inn next to the Dollar General in March.)
The Bassett study would be a great marketing tool: The demand is there; all the Hartwick town fathers have to do is identify sites and recruit developers. Downtown Cooperstown would benefit from the proximity.
A final point: Under current zoning, even with a 50-foot setback, a developer could put three, perhaps four single-family homes on the 10 Chestnut property. Why not go that route? It would increase the village tax base and preserve the single-family neighborhood.
When you think of it, wouldn’t three or four of Josh Edmonds’ energy-efficient, futuristic homes be just the thing?