Public blasts YMCA plan

The YMCA’s $3.5 million plan to add another 30 beds to an expanded downtown housing facility was gre

The YMCA’s $3.5 million plan to add another 30 beds to an expanded downtown housing facility was greeted at Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting by stinging public criticism and a wall of questions from the board.

Though YMCA Executive Director Steven Serge assured the board its questions — including a full analysis of housing needs for the homeless — can all be answered quickly and that he remains optimistic this project will proceed, board member Timothy Mattice questioned whether existing zoning permits the use at the proposed site.

The board took no action Tuesday after reaching a consensus that the YMCA must provide the additional information requested. Serge said that may be possible by the board’s March 4 meeting.

In addition, Building Inspector D. Robert Robbins was directed to conduct a new review of zoning compliance. His determination could then be appealed to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a final ruling.

Mattice also questioned whether the short environmental impact form will be adequate for this project. He suggested YMCA officials file an expanded short form to cover a variety of community impact issues he raised, including an analysis of all services that would be provided to the 53 residents the building could accommodate and place in the middle of the city’s business district.

When Mattice concluded his commentary on the YMCA proposal, a group of project detractors, including downtown business owners Susan Casey and David Gibson, applauded.

Pam Flint, manager of the Fulton Book Store, read a prepared statement opposing the project.

“How is this an improvement to Gloversville?” she asked, adding, “do not allow this expansion to happen.”

She called the proposed facility a homeless shelter and suggested it would drive out the few remaining businesses.

Ralph Sammarco of Saratoga Boulevard said expanding the YMCA housing facility would be “driving the nail into the coffin that is downtown Gloversville.”

Casey, owner of Beacon Wearhouse, an apartment complex of her own and other properties in the business district, did not address the board but said later she was pleased to see the opposition to the project. She said city officials should consider that she and her husband, John, have already invested $3 million in the business district and the YMCA project could jeopardize the revitalization effort they and others have begun in Gloversville.

On the issue of zoning, project engineer Steven Smith reminded the board that the YMCA filed its application for $3.5 million in state housing money on the basis of a 2005 determination by city officials, which found the zoning is appropriate.

In comments after the meeting, Serge said the YMCA completed a homeless housing needs study as part of its grant application.

“You don’t get $3.5 million from the state without documenting the need for this service,” Serge said.

He said he was not disappointed by the board’s response Tuesday.

“I think the Planning Board is just doing its job. … We respect the process,” he said.

The housing proposal became possible after the YMCA started construction of its new $7.5 million recreational facility on Harrison Street. It will move those programs there this summer, after which work on the housing facility was to proceed.

Serge reminded the board that when the YMCA was built in 1913 it was solely for housing. The YMCA is a charity, he said. As recreational programs developed over the ensuing decades, the housing mission was curtailed and the 23 single rooms for men were relegated to the third floor.

Under the proposal, the pool and gym — built in 1958 — would be demolished and parking for 21 vehicles created along with new handicapped access of the lot.

The facility would be staffed 24 hours a day.

While residents with criminal backgrounds are accepted, Serge responded to critics Tuesday by citing the YMCA’s requirement that those with violent or abusive backgrounds be rejected.

Categories: Schenectady County

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