With approvals from city’s Planning and Zoning Boards, the Fulton County YMCA can proceed with its planned $3.5 million housing expansion on East Fulton Street.
On Tuesday, the Planning Board approved the site plan and special permit for the project. The Zoning Board of Appeals voted 5-0 Wednesday to approve the variance necessary to place more than nine units in what city agencies have already determined is a rooming house and not, as YMCA officials insisted, an apartment complex.
The city’s downtown commercial zone limits rooming houses to nine rooms. The YMCA proposal would create 11 units, each housing three people.
In return for city approvals, Mayor Dayton King said the YMCA has agreed to drop lawsuits filed against the city in state and federal court following earlier permit denials.
Prior to Wednesday’s ZBA meeting, YMCA Executive Director Steve Serge said he and other officials were hopeful of a favorable outcome.
With final approval, Serge said construction might begin in the spring with completion possible by the end of 2011.
“It’s been a very long ordeal,” said Serge, alluding to an application process that began in 2008 and led to a series of denials and an eventual redesign of the project in an attempt to conform to the code definitions for apartments.
Apartment complexes are an allowed use in the commercial zone, but first the Planning Board and then the Zoning Board voted this year that the format constituted a rooming house because tenants would be assigned to rooms.
The project, which would supplement the existing 23 single units with the 11 new multi-tenant units, has been controversial. A number of downtown merchants contend the expansion will attract otherwise-homeless people, some of them on parole, to the business district.
The most vocal opponent, Susan Casey, owner of a number of properties including Beacon Wearhouse clothing store on South Main Street, said Wednesday city officials are compromising because of the lawsuits.
“The city is turning its tail between its legs and running … it’s unbelievable,” Casey said, predicting the city will pay consequences for the approval. “They’re shooting themselves in the [buttocks],” she said.
The lawsuits argued the city’s previous denials of the project jeopardized the $3.5 million grant awarded to the YMCA by the state Office of Temporary Disability Assistance.
The federal lawsuit contends the city and its agencies are manipulating the zoning code “for the purpose of excluding from the city low-income individuals and persons with disabilities, including individuals recovering from alcohol and substance abuse.”
The suit seeks $5 million and punitive damages on the basis of the Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the 14th Amendment and the state’s Equal Protection Clause.
The YMCA sought a new use for the first and second floors of the downtown building after moving its recreational programs to its new facility on Harrison Street in the town of Johnstown.
As part of the project, the pool and gymnasium will be removed and the parking lot expanded.
In a related issue, Mayor Dayton King said Wednesday the council will continue to review the proposal to amend the downtown commercial zone to allow dormitories. While such an amendment will come too late for the YMCA project, he said it may help the city find developers for the now-vacant YWCA and Jewish Community Center buildings.
With Fulton-Montgomery Community College continuing to grow, King said a developer may be interested in converting some city buildings for student living. An influx of students downtown would be an asset to the business district, King said.
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Categories: Schenectady County