Woodstock’s Housing Committee prepares a plan

Woodstock’s Housing Committee has adapted to COVID-19 and continued to engage with hundreds of local citizens to assess housing needs and possible solutions. The group summarized its accomplishments in a year-end report presented to the Town Board at its regular meeting December 14.

Since the town adopted a moratorium on short-term and transient housing construction this summer, the Housing Committee has been working with the Zoning Revision Committee and others to come up with more opportunities for affordable homes. Committee member Deborah DeWan identified planning consultant Nan Stolzenburg and helped the town secure a grant to retain her services. Stolzenburg will be writing code language to help update the town zoning law.

Under Supervisor Bill McKenna’s recommendation, a group made up of members of the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Zoning Revision Committee and the Housing Committee was formed. “So members from those from those various committees were brought together, and we created a task force that is responsible for working with Nan Stolzenburg and Deborah DeWan and I are the co-chairs of that,” said Kirk Ritchey who is also Housing Committee Co-Chair. “And we’ve been working for the past six months on this effort and we’ve made great headway.”

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The housing task force will update the Town Board on January 11 on their work.

Funding is important

“This year, the opportunity presented with the American Rescue Plan funds was just a great surprise, and will we hope be very useful in supporting the goals of the Housing Committee to plan for infrastructure so that we can build into next year,” Housing Committee Co-Chair Susan Goldman said. 

The Town Board has so far earmarked about $100,000 in Rescue Fund money to affordable housing programs, but Goldman stressed the importance of having continual funding in the town budget. “And so we proposed during this year’s budget hearings to have a line for housing going forward. Not just this one-time American Rescue Plan money, but other funds,” she said.

“And to that end, Deborah and Bill… have been talking with (State Sen.) Michelle Hinchey’s office about developing a Community Preservation Act for Woodstock that would include housing funding…and these are funds that would come down from the sale of properties and would be applied in Woodstock in ways that Woodstockers decide they should be applied.”

Goldman said the committee is also in touch with Congressman Antonio Delgado’s office.

Taking stock of available land

An inventory and site group is looking into land readily available to build affordable housing, Ritchey said. “Initially, we were looking at town-owned land, and we were doing feasibility studies. There was a list floating around social media a few months ago, the same list that we were using, and it was a list of some 33, 36 sites, and if you go and look at the details of that list, most of it is in use. It has a water tower on it or a parking lot…There’s very few sites that…could be possibly slated for building.”

But continued exchanges between the Housing Committee and Housing Task Force revolve around mapping of buildable land, he noted.

Outreach adapted to COVID outbreak

“We know what happens when people propose housing. Suddenly, people come out of the woodwork opposing it. We want to have a group of people who feel positive about housing going forward, and that we can call on and so we had a great outreach plan. And then there was COVID, and we had to change,” Goldman said. “We ended last year with a brand, Woodstock Community Homes. We have the little house on the corner (of Mill Hill and Rock City roads) and the banner, and we were going to do outreach through lots of events…“We pivoted. We started in February with a great Zoom event that was co-sponsored with the Land Conservancy, Woodstock Transition, and Woodstock Jewish Congregation. It attracted over almost 400 viewers and we got a lot of people on our mailing list at that point.”

Social media posts kept people engaged throughout the year.

“We had over 100 people take their photograph with one of our signs at both Library Fair and at Farm Festival events, and it was a great thing, and then we posted them on social media and people bring their friends and it created a lot of traffic for our social media page,” Goldman said. Those photos got 1.6 million views.

“We had to get into social media as again, COVID prevented us from being face-to-face and holding community meetings,” said Ritchey. “We had a whole community meeting we were planning in the spring at the Community Center, and it was like this whole thing, and it just evaporated right in front of us.”

Ritchey credited Housing Committee member Urana Kinlen for taking charge of social media, posting on Facebook and Instagram. About 3400 people read a post on state legislation on accessory dwelling units, a presentation on uses for the Lasher Funeral Home property got 3100 viewers and an interview with a local business owner got 1700 views.

A housing plan for Woodstock

Catherine Tegan, a new Housing Committee member, has begun drafting a plan that incorporates housing inventory, demographics, where the town is now and where it is going. It will also address what steps have already been taken, including a recently launched home-share program.

“Because [home share is] existing inventory in our town. That’s housing that we could tap and expand the opportunity and low hanging fruit as you might call it, and connect people to that. And there’s other initiatives like ADUs (accessory dwelling units) and such that that we’ll be able to do. But the thing about the housing plan is that it will be an extension of the Comprehensive Plan,” Ritchey said.

Three main goals

“We are guided by three main goals as a committee…to create a permanent avenue to varied housing initiatives is one, to facilitate the creation of new and refurbished homes that are sustainable, both for rental and purchase, and to increase the impact of our work and our resources by collaborating with the county,” Goldman said. “So in the beginning of next year, 2022, we’re focused primarily, initially on the housing plan, gathering data.”

The committee has an intern assisting in gathering the data and may need additional help.

“Because there’s a lot of data, the comprehensive plan data, the inventory from that is from eons ago, 2016, 2017, and we need to update everything in that both the demographics and the inventory of housing,” Goldman said.

“We’re also exploring the possibility of a rental registry and what that would bring to the town, and maybe the county would do that. This, of course, involves collaboration with the assessor’s office.”

McKenna thanked the committee for its efforts. “It looks like we’re making great progress here,” he said. “I appreciate the efforts and I’m looking forward to working with Senator Hinchey and Assemblyman (Kevin) Cahill on getting that funding stream in place, which I think would be very beneficial to the community,” he said.

“I’m very impressed with the work of the Housing Committee, not a surprise, knowing who all is on it, but very impressed at the vision, the direction, the progress,” Councilwoman Laura Ricci said.

“Our town is so lucky. We do really have some great volunteers and this committee is an example of that,” Councilman Reggie Earls said. 

“And I love that you all work well with each other and I just wanted to say thank you.”

Councilman-elect Bennet Ratcliff also praised the committee for its work.

“I just wanted to say to the committee, what an outstanding job you’ve done with the process of being a committee. I’ve been to several of your events. I have participated in your social media and every single time it’s clear, and it’s focused.”