GLOVERSVILLE — The Common Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to set Jan. 1 as the public hearing date for an ordinance change to allow temporary Code Blue homeless shelters to operate in the city’s commercial zones, but not at the former YWCA.
City Attorney Anthony Casale introduced the ordinance change to the council. The change defines a temporary Code Blue homeless shelter as an acceptable use in any area zoned for commercial activity in the city of Gloversville, except in the city’s downtown form-based overlay district. The overlay district includes 33 Bleecker St., where the nonprofit Center of Hope operated a Code Blue shelter at the former YWCA by using a temporary certificate of occupancy between February and mid-April.
Third Ward Councilwoman Betsy Batchelor asked Casale why he thinks scheduling the public hearing for the council’s Jan. 1 organizational meeting is a good idea.
“Well, there’s been a lot of publicity and discussion in the community about there being a need for a Code Blue shelter, legislation allowing for a Code Blue shelter within the city of Gloversville,” he said. “There was a recent application brought to the city Planning Board that brought this to the service, and it’s important that if the council is going to take some action on this that it be done now, so that it could potentially be in place for this winter, in place for the beginning of January, so we can proceed from there.”
Second Ward Councilman Arthur Simonds sponsored the resolution to set Jan. 1 as the public hearing date and Batchelor seconded Simonds’ motion. Simonds, Batchelor, 1st Ward Councilwoman Marcia Weiss, 4th Ward Councilwoman Ellen Anadio, 5th Ward Councilman Jay Zarrelli and 6th Ward Councilman Wrandy Siarkowski all voted in favor of the resolution.
Mayor Vince DeSantis also indicated his support for the resolution.
“I would just like to say, this legislation will actually allow this use in the commercial zone, but would disallow it in the overlay zone, and there are lots of commercial zones all over the city, so it may end up being a Plan B in the event the Zoning Board of Appeals chooses not to issue [the Center of Hope a use] variance,” DeSantis said. “I think that we’re working very hard, at least I’m working very hard, at reaching out to different agencies to try to provide this service no matter what is done with Planning and Zoning, and I think this goes along with what we’re doing.”
DeSantis’ comments referenced the possibility that the Center for Hope may seek a use variance from the city’s ZBA at its Jan. 6 meeting. The ZBA voted 4-0 earlier this month to reject the Center for Hope’s application for the permanent certificate of occupancy at the YWCA building, which is owned by the Gloversville Free Methodist Church, run by Rev. Rich Wilkinson, who administered the shelter.
Wilkinson said he watched the Common Council’s meeting, which was conducted via the Zoom video conferencing program and streamed live to the city’s Facebook page. He said he has mixed emotions about the resolution.
“It’s good that they’re realizing that there’s an issue in the city that needs to be taken care of. Our building is in the overlay district, so, obviously, it doesn’t benefit us moving forward,” he said. “If the city wants to do it on their own, pay for it and get it set up, that’s awesome. I don’t want to see people on the street. The building we have is in the overlay district, so if they want it to be privately funded and privately managed they will have to think about doing this for the overlay district.”
Gloversville created the form-based overlay section of downtown after hiring the consulting firm LaBella Associates from Rochester in 2017 to help craft a downtown development strategy for the city. The form-based overly area has important differences from the rest of the city’s commercial zone, including a ban on adult entertainment businesses, a ban on “rooming houses” and other form-based rules that pertain to aesthetic elements of buildings and signage.
If the Common Council passes Casale’s resolution on Jan. 1, the city code for the form-based overlay district would then explicitly prohibit Code Blue temporary shelters. Currently, Gloversville’s city code has no language defining a homeless shelter, but the city ZBA agreed with city Building Inspector David Fox’s interpretation that the Code Blue homeless shelters were not allowed by the code.
Wilkinson said the Center of Hope Board of Directors will meet Wednesday and decide what it will do next, which may not be applying for a use variance from the city ZBA. He said his understanding of the use variance process is that a person or entity seeking a zoning code use variance must show an economic hardship without one, which would not be applicable in the case of the Center of Hope, which is a nonprofit operating through donations.
Wilkinson said another option might be attempting to file a lawsuit arguing the city and its Planning Board and ZBA have not fairly applied the law to the Center for Hope’s applications for a certificate of permanent occupancy at the YWCA.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2016 “Code Blue” executive order allows for the operation of temporary homeless shelters on nights when the temperature goes below 32 degrees. The order states it supersedes “all local laws, as well as any local directives, guidance, or policies to the contrary”, which Wilkinson said may end up a part of the Center for Hope’s argument in court. The Center for Hope is being represented by Gloversville-based attorney Ben McGuire.
DeSantis has suggested the Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit, located at 153 S. Main St., has a former rectory building adjacent to it that could be a functional alternative location for a Code Blue temporary shelter. Wilkinson has said that building would be too expensive to make operational for a shelter.
“We haven’t heard much from the mayor about working on another location or with other groups,” Wilkinson said. “Our building was built for this purpose. It was built to shelter people, to house people. Unless they have a building that was already built for that purpose, they would have to do some pretty major construction to have the bathroom facilities that we have, to have the bunk facilities that we have. I’m not sure there is another place in the city that would work for that.”