The Fulton County YMCA, thwarted by the city zoning code in its initial attempt to create single-room housing for the homeless, is seeking a special permit to convert the bottom two floors of its East Fulton Street building into full multiunit apartments.
YMCA officials, having obtained state approval to modify the $3.5 million grant awarded for the project in the fall of 2007, submitted an application this week and will make their presentation at the Feb. 2 meeting of the Planning Board.
Building Inspector D. Robert Robbins confirmed Thursday that the YMCA has applied for the permit, which he said is necessary when a property owner plans to add dwelling units to an existing housing complex.
If the Planning Board deems the application complete Feb. 2, Robbins said it would schedule a public hearing for its March meeting. It could also decide Feb. 2 that it wants more information from the applicant.
The YMCA’s “homeless housing” project and the $3.5 million state grant have been in jeopardy since early 2008, when the Zoning Board of Appeals ruled that the initial proposal constituted a boarding house or institutional housing and was therefore incompatible with the commercial zoning in place on East Fulton Street.
Under that first proposal, the project would have retained the YMCA’s existing housing format, which consists of 23 single rooms on the third floor with shared lavatory facilities and no kitchens, but more than doubled the number of units.
The city’s commercial zone does allow apartment complexes, but apartments must have bathrooms and kitchens and must be at least 600 square feet.
Anthony Farmer, spokesman for the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance — the agency that awarded the grant — said Wednesday that OTDA has approved modification of the grant. Farmer said it is his understanding that the new proposal is compatible with city zoning and can be constructed “by right.”
YMCA CEO Steven Serge confirmed Thursday that the new application has been submitted and that it will be presented to the Planning Board in February. He declined to discuss details of the YMCA’s plans.
In its first effort, the YMCA obtained a favorable interpretation from Robbins, who ruled the proposed complex would be similar to a hotel and therefore acceptable in the zone.
But the Planning Board became uncomfortable with the hotel interpretation and referred the project to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a ruling. The ZBA ruled the complex would be a boarding house; that decision was affirmed by a state Supreme Court judge when the YMCA appealed.
YMCA officials gave notice they would appeal to the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court but abandoned that option.
A number of downtown merchants opposed the project, contending that by more than doubling capacity from the existing 23 tenants to over 50, the YMCA would be introducing an even larger homeless population into the business district, to its detriment.
The YMCA’s third-floor housing section often caters to parolees, although Y officials have argued that the majority have ties to Fulton County and would likely be living somewhere in the city if not at the Y. YMCA officials also conducted a study demonstrating that tenants spend a substantial sum of money at downtown businesses.
One of the chief opponents of the project is South Main Street developer Susan Casey, who with her husband, John Casey, has converted two major buildings into apartment complexes. The couple also owns the clothing store, Beacon Wearhouse.
Casey said she will attend the Feb. 2 Planning Board meeting but said the revised project may be impossible to fight. “If it’s apartments, I don’t think there’s anything we can do,” said Casey, acknowledging that the commercial zone allows such a project.
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Categories: Schenectady County