A public hearing on a plan to build apartments for low-income senior citizens on the Saugerties property belonging to the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill drew sharply conflicting views, with people living close to the property opposing the proposed development’s impact on traffic and many others citing the need for such housing and the excellent plans and location.
More than 40 people were signed up to speak, and several more who had not signed up also made comments after all those on the list had spoken. Total attendance was close to 100.
Town supervisor Fred Costello said that the purpose of the hearing was to help the town board reach a decision on the development, in particular on zoning changes that would be necessary. The property is currently zoned for low-density residential use.
Sister Nancy Richter of the Dominican Sisters recalled that over the years, the site has provided vacation accommodations for nuns and for lay visitors, and as a conference center capable of accommodating up to 90 people. Commenting on the Sisters’ commitment to preservation of the land, she cited the easement, and later sale, of 150 acres to Scenic Hudson.
However, the Dominican Sisters are no longer able to enjoy the 29 acres that remain in their possession, and in seeking a better use for it, they decided on housing for the elderly, which is necessary, Sr. Nancy said.
Ben Wechsler of the National Development Council, which is a not-for-profit company working with the Sisters on the development, said that the Sisters will seek a zone change from low- to high-density development for the property. The Sisters will make payments in lieu of taxes based on the development, while up to now they have not paid taxes.
Architect Rachel Ehrlich described the existing buildings on the site, and the wetlands that limit development of portions of it. The plans call for two buildings with a covered walkway between them. The developed area would occupy about four percent of the property: far less than the 30 percent a high-density zone would allow.
The developers are proposing 121 units of senior housing in two buildings, which would also contain amenities such as laundry facilities, gyms, library, a computer room and storage spaces. The plan includes natural landscapes and trails that would connect to the Scenic Hudson trails along the river, Ehrlich said. The planning board completed its State Environmental Quality Review on June 20. Its finding was that the project would not impact the environment, she added.
Supervisor Costello said that some 40 people had signed up; each would be limited to three minutes to enable all to have an opportunity to speak.
Speaking for herself and her husband Barry Benape, Judith Spektor asked, “What could be more important for all of us than this project? It is for senior citizens who have worked hard their whole lives and deserve a decent place to live in their retirement. It is affordable, and everyone in Saugerties knows how living costs have skyrocketed. Nothing on the real estate market is available to most people, who have worked hard but not earned enough to make market-rate housing affordable.” She pointed out that Sparling Road is a public road, accessible to all; however, residents of the proposed project will be unlikely to drive their cars every day. Many would not drive at all.
On the other hand, Cara Anderson of Spaulding Lane was one of several speakers who cited the Lasher House, an assisted living facility on Spaulding Lane, which would be impacted by the development of apartments directly across the road. Construction vehicles would be navigating and often blocking the narrow lane, she said. The view for the residents includes woods, animals and birds, and this would be taken from them. She deplored the idea of cutting down 162 trees and putting a parking lot next to their deck. For all the people along the narrow lanes bordering the proposed project “to have three-story buildings looking down on them is beyond upsetting,” Anderson said. “The neighbors are seniors, too, and they are living a more difficult life than any of you can imagine,” she said of the residents of Lasher House.
Savannah of Lasher House said that her family had lived there a very long time. “This is a long-term residence where we provide total care to eight individuals who have an average of eight to nine disabilities.” She described the many disabilities from which the residents suffer, and said that the view from the porch is the only real enjoyment they have. She cited the number of trees that are prosed to be cut down and said, “The parking lot is going to be right on their deck.” The proposed development would add to a heavy load of traffic coming to their house already, with vehicles taking residents to activities or therapies, supply vehicles as well as the traffic already on the road.
Mark Miller, an attorney, said that the environmental review “is not a Negative Declaration case.” He also said that there are also questions about the land boundaries along the entrance. “We will be looking into that, because we will be looking into what they are, because it may be that there are questions of possession.” Miller asserted that the project will not end up being affordable.
Nancy Defan of East Bridge Street said that she sympathized with the residents who live near the proposed project, and that she hoped the difficulties could be resolved and the project go forward. “I know the Dominican Sisters; I know they are intelligent and caring people, and I am very anxious to see this project go forward. We need it because of the affordability and because it respects the humanity of the people who are going to live there.”
Sister Mary Buckley was one of several members of the order who spoke. “We have done our studies relative to saving the Earth, trying to provide for our neighbors, and we hope with this project to bring affordable housing to seniors.” The project would be open to seniors in Saugerties, but it would also be open to seniors in other parts of Ulster County, she said.
Marjorie Leopold said that she supports the housing development because she sees the need for senior housing in Saugerties, “and the need for affordable housing.” Forty-nine percent of people renting in Saugerties can’t afford their rents, she said. With the Smart Communities Task Force and with Ulster County agencies, Leopold has worked to increase the availability of affordable housing in the community, she said. As the population ages, people are forced to sell their homes and move out of the community “because we can’t afford our taxes. But if we had our druthers, many of us would like to protect community growth as healthy communities do, with people of all ages, and we would have an alternative place to live.”
Leopold said that the developers plan to plant more trees, and that they could minimize the number of trees they cut down. She expressed a hope that the Sisters and the neighbors could get together and work out their differences so a much-needed project could go forward.
While many of the speakers concerned about the proposed project expressed worries about increased traffic, Ruth Hirsch of Ann Street said that she had been concerned about the possible increase in traffic in that area because of The Mill, with 82 units of senior housing on nearby Bridge Street. “To my amazement, we have had no traffic issues,” she said.
Speakers opposing the project also cited wetlands on the site and the fact that a religious order is tax-exempt. Supervisor Costello said that the Sisters, like other developers with tax abatement, would make payments in lieu of taxes.
A local firefighter described the difficulty of trying to get firefighting apparatus through the narrow winding road into the property and warned that it could be nearly impossible to deal with a fire in the proposed housing development.
Several members of the Dominican Sisters emphasized the charitable impulse behind the development.
After the last speaker, Costello announced that a second public hearing on the proposed zone change will be scheduled, and residents will have a further opportunity to speak at that time.
Saugerties mulls detached flats in residential zones
Detached second residences, sometimes called “granny flats,” are not allowed in the R1 and R2 residential zones in Saugerties, and special projects coordinator Alex Wade has proposed a change in the zoning law to permit them. Wade referred to the law, and to possible funding for such dwellings from Ulster County. Trustee Andrew Zink asked about the suggested changes at the village board meeting on September 5.
While mayor Bill Murphy said that the law now allows accessory apartments above garages, it also allows accessory apartments attached to the main dwelling. Zink wanted to know whether the board had taken a vote on Wade’s suggested change.
In his report to the board dated September 5, Wade stated that he has proposed amending the zoning law to allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in the R1 and R2 zones. In response to Zink’s question about whether the board had voted on the suggested change, members said that it has not.
The change in zoning to allow detached accessory dwellings to a property should be part of an extensive zoning change, as the board has discussed. Rewriting extensive sections of the code could be expensive, Zink acknowledged, but while Saugerties has not joined the Ulster County Smart Housing initiative, one of the services that the county offers through this initiative is free help from county planners for towns and villages amending their zoning. Zink said that he would be willing to reach out to the county to ask for tips on how best to update the village zoning.
Trustee Terry Parisian suggested that the village look into possible grant money for the cost of a zoning upgrade: “The number that was thrown at me was $85,000.” Board members encouraged Zink to ask about county funding and report back.
— David Gordon
New village employee will multitask
A newly hired village assistant building inspector and park supervisor, Kevin Brown, can also offer skill as an electrician, Village of Saugerties mayor Bill Murphy said at the village board’s regular meeting on Tuesday, September 5. “He just started today, and he’s working with George [Terpening, retiring parks department supervisor] getting ready for the Mum Festival,’ Murphy said. “He’s really excited to be here, and we’re happy to have him. And when he isn’t doing apartments, he’s an electrician. We’ll let all the departments know there’s no reason to go out and hire an electrician.”
Brown is the former Town of Saugerties assistant building inspector; he was still listed in that position as of Friday, September 8.
— David Gordon