Schenectady County

Bethesda House set to leave downtown

Bethesda House is moving out of downtown, away from business owners who say the center for homeless
Freddie Anderson of Anderson’s Black Top and Sealcoat sits at his office desk Monday evening at 838 State St. The city offered Anderson about half of what wants for his property.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Freddie Anderson of Anderson’s Black Top and Sealcoat sits at his office desk Monday evening at 838 State St. The city offered Anderson about half of what wants for his property.

Bethesda House is moving out of downtown, away from business owners who say the center for homeless and mentally ill residents is drawing undesirables to the city’s commercial center.

But the move comes with a new controversy — the proposed relocation site includes the 22-year office of Anderson Blacktop at 838 State St. Freddie Anderson has refused to sell for the city’s appraisal price of $75,000 and rejected an offer of $125,000, saying he deserves at least $150,000 for the trouble of relocating as well as losing his income-generating apartments. Now the Schenectady City Council is preparing to take the property through eminent domain.

Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden spent the last six months crafting a deal in which Bethesda House would move to 834-838 State St., in the Vale neighborhood. Executive Director Margaret Anderton had been adamantly opposed to leaving the downtown, but agreed to compromise after the Zoning Board of Appeals rejected her plan to build a new, larger facility downtown.

“That just wasn’t going to happen downtown,” she said.

City officials proposed the State Street site because the city owns three of the four parcels, which were abandoned by their owners. Anderson said he’s willing to sell them the last piece they need — but not for less than $150,000.

“They’re trying to take it with nickels and dimes,” he said. “I don’t mind selling it, I don’t mind leaving — but they’re going to displace me from all this apartment money I’m getting. I have to find another office. I should get paid.”

He hired his own appraiser — the report is due Friday — to fight the city’s claim. He said he thinks $150,000 is fair, arguing that he bought the building for $60,000 and recently spent $20,000 fixing up the apartments, including new windows.

Van Norden said Anderson raised his price when he learned that the city wanted the property. Negotiations are continuing, but Van Norden got the City Council’s approval Monday for an eminent domain hearing anyway.

“We want to keep the fire under the owner, make him sure we’re serious about this,” Van Norden said. “One way or the other, we will get it.”

A public hearing on the eminent domain issue will be held at 7 p.m. on Jan. 28 at City Hall.

A presentation on the Bethesda House project will be given on Tuesday, Jan. 22, during the council’s 5:30 p.m. committees meeting. The $4 million project includes a daytime drop-in center for the homeless and mentally ill and 15 bedrooms for the chronically homeless.

The project may get some opposition next week from neighbors who regularly oppose new social services in the Hamilton Hill and Vale neighborhoods. They say the neighborhood has too many such services, destablizing an already-vulnerable community.

But Van Norden said the facility is perfectly suited for Hamilton Hill and Vale, the poorest neighborhoods in the city, because Bethesda House helps the working poor. Anderton added that Bethesda House draws an equal number of people from the Hamilton Hill area as it does the downtown.

LONG DEBATE

The discussion may be the final step in a contentious, yearlong debate over whether Anderton’s facility is an appropriate part of the redeveloped downtown.

The drop-in center that Anderton runs on Liberty Street, near the heart of downtown gives the homeless and mentally ill residents a place to go so that they do not bother customers or congregate in public spaces, she said.

“There’s a part of me that thinks we serve the downtown businesses, and some of them will miss us. So there’s a part of me that believes we should be downtown,” she said.

Some business owners have supported Bethesda House on those grounds. But a group of owners, led by restaurateur Jack McDonald, went to the Board of Zoning Appeals in an effort to stop her from expanding her services. They said they were afraid residential services would draw the indigent downtown even late at night, possibly discouraging customers from walking through the area.

When Anderton did not back down, Mayor Brian U. Stratton cut her annual funding from the CDBG budget. It went to the Salvation Army instead.

Stratton said he didn’t cut the funding because Anderton was insisting on building a facility downtown. But he said she should move out of the heart of downtown, calling her project “counterproductive to what we’re trying to do; to be an attractive place [where] people want to visit, work and play.”

Anderton hopes to still have a presence downtown.

She wants to raise money for a driver who will shuttle residents between downtown sites — such as City Mission — and the new Bethesda House. The agency already owns a bus.

The proposed new site is also on the CDTA bus line and is three-quarters of a mile from City Mission.

Bethesda House would be responsible for demolishing three buildings on the proposed site, as well as paying the city however much it spends on Anderson’s building, Van Norden said.

The complicated agreement also deals with the Sons of Italy site on Liberty Street, which Anderton bought for $400,000 before learning that under zoning regulations, it was too small for a group home.

She said Monday that a deal is in the works with Metroplex Development Authority and an unannounced buyer. Although details were not released, she said Bethesda House would end up with the $400,000 it spent on the parcel. Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen had previously said that Anderton might have overpaid for the lot and predicted difficulty in finding a buyer who would take it for the same amount.

Categories: Schenectady County

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