Schenectady County

Hamilton Hill housing proposal raises concerns

A developer’s plan to build new housing for low-income families, veterans and senior citizens in Sch
Two vacant homes at 716-720 Stanley Street in Schenectady.
Two vacant homes at 716-720 Stanley Street in Schenectady.

A developer’s plan to build new housing for low-income families, veterans and senior citizens in Schenectady’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood has come under fire from at least three organizations in the community.

The New Independent Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association, the Schenectady chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Council and the Higher Ground Worship Center are asking the city to hold off on any approvals of a multimillion-dollar redevelopment plan they say is inconsistent with “the needs and requests of the community,” according to letters addressed to the city’s Department of Development, which will be reviewing aspects of the project this month.

The Community Builders, an Albany-based nonprofit that builds and manages affordable housing in more than a dozen states, wants to convert two old school buildings on Craig Street into affordable housing and renovate, demolish and reconstruct nearly a dozen homes nearby. The former Horace Mann Elementary School at 602 Craig St. has been vacant since 2005. The former St. Columba’s School at 400 Craig St. will soon be vacant under a plan by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Schenectady to relocate its clubhouse.

One of the groups opposing the $17.5 million project says the developer is ignoring the wishes of residents who have long called for less low-income housing in the neighborhood and more projects that create jobs. Low-income housing will only attract more “high-conflict” individuals to the already troubled neighborhood, said Fred Lee, president of the New Independent Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association and past president of Schenectady United Neighborhoods.

“You think you’re taking care of the poor and that’s a good thing and that is wonderful,” he said. “Except what they’ve been doing is filling every empty space on Hamilton Hill they can possibly find with high-conflict individuals, people with substance-abuse issues or mental illness. So we have all of these people amassed together because people think Hamilton Hill seems like a great place to put them all. But we need to achieve a balance, a mix of people with different lifestyles.”

Lee said the association would like to see vacant buildings filled with job-creating projects instead. Neighborhood residents expressed the wish for more family-supporting jobs back in 2006, he said, when the city was gathering community input for its Schenectady Vision 2020 plan.

“The general consensus of the attendees from our neighborhood was what we needed now was jobs — so that when people moved into the neighborhood without a vehicle they could walk to their job,” he said. “There was little voice for more low-income housing.”

Hamilton Hill is home to two neighborhood associations. The New Independent Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association splintered off from the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association in 2005 after some residents expressed concern about the number of nonprofit representatives within the group. The new group wanted a membership of residents only, Lee said — people who wouldn’t have an affiliation with one of the many nonprofit groups in the neighborhood.

“We said, OK, life’s too short, we’re not going to keep fighting this battle against these agencies trying to run the show,” he said. “Residents no longer had a voice anymore.”

Darlene Lee, first vice president of the group and Fred’s wife, said she’s also concerned about bringing “high-conflict” individuals to the Craig Street corridor, which is the main thoroughfare for children on their way to schools in the neighborhood.

Olivia Adams, of the local Southern Christian Leadership Council, also submitted a letter to city officials objecting to the project.

“We are just learning of this plan and have many questions,” she said.

Robert McDougald, a pastor with the Higher Ground Worship Center right across the street from the Boys & Girls Club on Craig Street, said in a letter to city officials that he has “serious concerns” about the projects and their potential impact on the community.

All three groups are calling on the city to table or reject its review of the proposed project.

Meeting tonight

The Board of Zoning Appeals will meet tonight at 6:30 to review the developer’s request for area and use variances for some of the smaller parcels it wants to redevelop at 716 and 720 Stanley St., 310 Craig St. and 807 Emmett St.

The City Planning Commission will meet Nov. 19 at 6:30 to review the developer’s site plans for the Boys & Girls Club building at 400 Craig St. and the smaller parcels listed above.

The Community Builders said Tuesday it has considered the input of residents and other stakeholders in the community when developing this project since at least 2012. So far, it has met with the New Independent Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association, the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association, The Schenectady Foundation, Schenectady Bridges, Capital District YMCA, Schenectady YWCA, Boys & Girls Club, Girls Inc., Schenectady Community Action Program, Minority Contractors Technical Assistance Program, the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority and the city’s Department of Development.

It has regularly attended meetings of the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association, where it learned of the community’s wish for “quality, affordable housing” and senior housing, said Susan McCann, director of development for New York and New Jersey for The Community Builders.

The median household income and the high percentage of distressed properties in the neighborhood also demonstrate the need for quality, affordable housing in the community, she said in an email.

“We are working towards this end, as we believe that everyone deserves to be able to live in quality housing that they can afford,” she said. “In terms of ‘high-conflict’ individuals, this development will be targeted toward providing housing for seniors, veterans and families.”

“That being said, we do believe that it is important to provide our residents with services to address any needs they may have outside of housing, and are working to build partnership with area service organizations to achieve this.”

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