The Saugerties Town Board does not have the power to stop the proposed Dickinson’s Keep housing development from going forward, state Assemblyman Pete Lopez said last week.
Speaking to a crowd of about 25 people, who stayed at the Malden Firehouse following a rally called by opponents of the project, Lopez said state law encourages housing for the poor and restricts the ability of municipalities to refuse to allow them. More than 50 people attended the meeting, which was breaking up when Lopez arrived.
Lopez promised to work to amend the law, “to make it a more intelligent statute that responds to the needs of the communities.” The law should consider the effect on the tax base, the needs of the people living in the town and a mechanism “to make sure the people have a voice in saying what fits their community.”
“What they were trying to do was provide housing for people who don’t have the means on their own,” Lopez said. “Albany is trying to take a one-size -fits-all model and apply it to Saugerties and other communities.” While understanding the need for housing for those who can’t afford market rates, he added, “we want to make sure that it fits in the community, and that one community isn’t asked to carry everyone’s water on social issues like this.”
In the meantime, if the project is approved by the local Planning Board and receives funding through the federal Housing and Urban Development department, “we’re stuck, because of the way the law reads now,” Lopez said.
Several members of the audience asked whether the Town Board’s encouragement of the project makes it less likely that the funding agencies would continue to turn it down for state and federal funding.
“If your Town Board hears the message clearly enough, they can write back and say ‘we’ve reconsidered it, we would rather not have you award the application.’ It boils down to whether the Town Board hears and agrees with your point. I can’t control what they do, they are good people trying to do their best, but on this issue I disagree with them because I understand your point.”
While Lopez said he sees the board as acting in good faith, Donna Greco was not so sure. “They won’t rescind it, and no matter what we say it seems to fall on deaf ears,” she said. “Is there some kind of conflict of interest? Are they padding their pockets? I don’t know.”
“Every day, when I walk in the door, I’m judged 1,000 times,” Lopez said. The Town Board believed when it approved the project that it would be good for the town, and it seems unfair to judge their motives without knowing the facts.
While Lopez will go back to Albany and try to get legislation passed to change the law, “it won’t affect this project,” he warned. “They use the term grandfathered – this project is in, so even if the statute were to change it’s not going to affect this project.”
Deputy Supervisor Fred Costello offered another reason the Town Board could not refuse this project, or indeed any project that meets the town’s zoning. The Planning Board considers applications and can request changes to make them more palatable to the town, he said, but that board is also required to approve projects that meet the town’s zoning. In general, the board has done a good job of laying out zoning districts and setting requirements, Costello said. “It isn’t perfect, and we can’t foresee everything,” he acknowledged.
Costello and Councilman Jimmy Bruno did try to get the town to rescind its support of the project and a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with the developer, but the attempt failed.