The attorney representing the YMCA said Tuesday he will demand the Planning Board move forward in its review of the Y’s $3.5 million apartment proposal “rather than continuing to delay the project.”
The project, which would expand the YMCA homeless housing complex from 23 to 46 beds, is opposed by a number of downtown merchants.
Gerard V. Heckler said he will notify the board by letter this week that it has no legal basis on which to refer the project application to the ZBA for it to decide whether the YMCA is proposing a 23-room apartment complex or a boarding house.
Planners voted April 6 to refer the application to the ZBA.
This the second time in two years the Planning Board has sought such a determination on the project, which has been stalled since early 2008. YMCA officials, thwarted by the ZBA on their first application, revised the initial concept to conform to the apartment format allowed in the commercial zone on East Fulton Street.
By city code, apartments have bathrooms and kitchens while boarding house tenants share those facilities. Planners questioned whether the Y’s plan to assign rooms and roommates is consistent with apartment living.
Heckler said his letter will present his argument that the Planning Board missed the 30-day window it had to overrule the late January zoning interpretation rendered by Building Inspector D. Robert Robbins. Heckler is also arguing that the city code defines apartments in physical terms and not by living arrangements.
The city’s special counsel on the application, Gloversville attorney Michael M. Albanese, said Tuesday he will research Heckler’s contentions. But, said Albanese, the YMCA may end up before the ZBA for the second time on this project. And, if the YMCA objects to the ZBA decision it has the option of filing suit in state Supreme Court.
YMCA officials took that option in 2008, but Supreme Court Judge Joseph Sise upheld the ZBA ruling that the proposal constituted a boarding house. The setback jeopardized the YMCA’s $3.5 million homeless housing grant, awarded by the state in 2007. Last fall, state officials approved the modified plan.
But, said Heckler, the new delay is “about to cause some serious harm to the YMCA and its funding.” Heckler said the Planning Board, which voted 3-2 to refer the application to the ZBA, should reconsider and rescind that vote.
Albanese was appointed special counsel because City Attorney Matthew E. Trainor is president of the YMCA board. Robbins deferred to Mayor Dayton King and Albanese for a response to Heckler’s arguments.
Though the city code does define apartments in physical terms and does not discuss living arrangements, Robbins said the concept of living arrangements may be implied in the code through its definitions of the various multiple-unit dwellings including apartment buildings, boarding houses, institutional housing, hotels and motels.
King said the review of the project is out of his hands, but added he would like reassurance that city boards are not holding the YMCA to a higher standard than would be required of a private developer.
King said he would prefer having the Planning Board resume its review and schedule a public hearing.
Albanese will have to decide whether Heckler is correct, King said.
While city officials want to avoid forcing the YMCA to expend more money on legal fees, they have a duty to ensure the project is allowed in the zone, King said. He cited the Canada Lake boathouse case, which tied up the town of Caroga for 10 years while the courts decided whether the property owner constructed an illegal lakeside home after receiving a permit to building a boathouse.
Planning Board Chairman Timothy Mattice could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
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Categories: Schenectady County