There might be someone in Schenectady’s Stockade neighborhood who supports turning the historic Stockade Inn into apartments.
I haven’t talked to every single person who lives in the Stockade, so I won’t rule out the possibility that someone, somewhere, thinks this project is a good idea.
What’s impressed me is the neighborhood’s overwhelming opposition to the project – the residents who expressed their concerns at a recent Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, the petition that’s garnering signatures, the signs starting to pop up in windows.
“Save the Stockade” states one such sign. “Stop apartment overload” states another.
In mid-June, the Zoning Board of Appeals voted 3-1 to approve the use variance requested by Redburn Development Partners for the apartment conversion. That was one vote short of the four needed, and temporarily put the project on hold. But the proposal is back on the ZBA agenda, and could be approved Wednesday night.
That’s frustrating to Stockade residents opposed to the project, who feel that an unwelcome development is being foisted upon their neighborhood, in an area where multi-family dwellings are not permitted.
They’re right to feel that way.
If the use variance is granted, it will stand as an example of a developer being allowed to move forward with a project despite lingering questions and concerns about its impact on the community.
At heart, those against conversion believe that adding more apartment units to a neighborhood already saturated with rental properties is contrary to the Stockade’s longterm goals, which include increasing homeownership in the neighborhood.
They also maintain that the burden for being granted a use variance is high, and that Redburn – described in the petition as a company “with no ties to the Stockade which seeks to chop up an historic edifice for quick profit” – has not met it.
Perhaps the biggest factor, though, in the Stockade’s near-unified front against Redburn is the company’s poor reputation in the neighborhood.
About a year ago, Redburn acquired 23 rental properties in the Stockade from Robin White, for a total of 96 units.
Suzanne Unger, president of the Stockade Association, said there were concerns at the time about the deal – “Strong, stable neighborhoods have a diversity of property owners,” she wrote, in her letter to the ZBA opposing Redburn’s variance request – but that residents generally haven’t been impressed with Redburn’s property management – or lack thereof.
Talking to residents, I got the sense that they lacked confidence in Redburn’s ability to take care of the Stockade Inn.
One Redburn tenant I spoke with, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the company has been slow to respond to complaints, which include leaky faucets and a shattered glass, from a window that fell out of the building, in the backyard.
“We cleaned that up,” said the tenant, who submitted a letter to the ZBA opposing Redburn’s proposal. “We notified them, we sent them a picture. They didn’t do anything.”
The tenant added, “We’re in a beautiful historic home and they’re just letting it decay.”
Jeff Buell, principal at Redburn, told me that the backlash to the Stockade Inn proposal was something “I never saw coming.”
“I get it,” Buell said. “I get the concept of being upset. I totally understand the nostalgic perspective of wanting the Stockade Inn to remain an inn. We have the opinion that it’s not viable as an inn.”
Redburn has become a major player in Schenectady development, converting a number of buildings downtown into apartments. Last week, the city Planning Commission approved a new Redburn project: a 49-unit apartment building at the site of the former Citizens Bank building at 501 State Street.
The Stockade Inn project represents something new for the company – an apartment conversion in an area with an established neighborhood association and residents who feel invested in the community.
Buell objected to residents’ concerns about Redburn’s property management, saying that the Robin White properties were in worse shape than the company anticipated and that Redburn has already spent $75,000 on upkeep.
“Then we ran into this buzzsaw called COVID-19,” Buell said. “We made the decision in early April that we were not going to put our employees or tenants at risk, and we suspended our upkeep and maintenance.”
That’s certainly reasonable – although it’s worth noting that complaints about Redburn’s property management predate the pandemic. One tenant told me that “Redburn hasn’t done anything since they took over. They haven’t raked, shoveled properly or vacuumed the hallways.”
Project opponents dismiss Buell’s assertion that the Stockade Inn isn’t viable as an inn.
They say that the property functioned for many years as a successful inn and was mismanaged by Lake George resident Robert Gregor, who purchased it in May 2019, operated it for just six months and closed it after a kitchen fire in January.
One Stockade resident, James Addison, told me that he didn’t think enough effort had been made to come up with alternative proposals for the property.
His idea: a partnership with the SUNY Schenectady School of Hotel, Culinary Arts and Tourism, where the Stockade Inn serves as a lab for students learning their trade while also remaining a functional boutique hotel.
“You don’t give a variance until all the other options are explored,” Addison said. “I don’t think we as a community have taken enough time to fully explore what the options are.”
I don’t know whether an inn is viable or not, but I do know this: Rushing the Redburn proposal through without adequately addressing the concerns of the Stockade Association or exploring other options would be a grave mistake.
The group’s misgivings are valid, and deserve to be taken seriously.
The Inn controversy is about more than an inn.
It’s about a neighborhood’s ability to determine and shape its own future, and have a say in projects with the potential to alter its essential character. The city needs to put the brakes on the apartment conversion, and consider what’s best for the people most impacted by it.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.