The City Council is proposing a local law that places a nine-month moratorium on the construction of multiple-unit dwellings within zoned residential areas.
The moratorium would grant the city time to “investigate the present zoning codes and ordinances and evaluate the damage done by Kinderhook Development,” said city attorney Tony Casale, referring to a controversial multi-unit housing project that has been the subject of court battles between the developer and city.
At the end of the moratorium, the city may change some of its zoning ordinances, he said. “The idea is to hit the pause button to evaluate the damage and to consider what could happen in the future with city codes and ordinances,” he said.
Casale said since the construction of Kinderhook Development, an $11 million, 48-unit apartment complex, earlier this year on the hill above Lee Avenue and Northern Terrace, “there has been damage to the neighborhood and the necessity to reinforce one city street.”
Fifth Ward Councilman Jay Zarrelli said the local law’s intent is to “prevent Kinderhook or similar things from happening.” He said the city does not need additional multiple-unit buildings, as it has an overabundance of housing stock.
“We want to get rid of housing stock that absentee landlords don’t maintain,” he said. “It is difficult for us to get at these owners, who live out of town. They do not respond to summons.” He called the local law “steroids on top of the county’s program” that tears down about a half-dozen vacant homes annually.
City and county elected officials and residents of the Lee Avenue and Northern Terrace neighborhoods mounted an effort to derail the Kinderhook Development project almost from the moment it was announced in 2009, saying the apartment complex would affect drainage in the area and change the character of the neighborhood.
When the project went before the city Planning Board in May 2010, the board rejected it on the grounds it would change the character of the secluded residential neighborhood. However, the same board, while serving as lead agency on the project for purposes of a required state environmental impact review, had already determined the project would not significantly “impact either community character or traffic safety.”
Kinderhook then filed suit, and state Supreme Court Justice Barry D. Kramer in September 2010 ruled the Planning Board acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” way when it denied a permit for the project. The state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division on Oct. 27 upheld Kramer’s ruling. The city then appealed to the highest court in the state. In February, the state Court of Appeals denied a motion by the city seeking to overturn earlier court decisions, which allowed the project to proceed.
In other business Tuesday, the City Council adopted a resolution that reduces the minimum penalties for property maintenance offenses from $50 per day to zero.
Casale said the new penalty gives his office more room to negotiate with property owners in obtaining compliance with city codes. “First and foremost, the city looks for compliance with property maintenance,” he said.
He said the current fine structure can be counterproductive to the city’s efforts to resolve a case. “We can either withdraw the charge or the owner is found guilty and has to pay a fine for every day of violation,” he said.
The proposed penalty schedule “gives me more options in negotiating cases and gives the court more options in imposing sentencing,” Casale said. It does not mean the city is becoming more lenient in the handling of blight cases, he added.
“It would be a misnomer to say we are becoming more lenient. We are amending it to make it more workable for negotiations after compliance,” Casale said. He said the statute retains the potential penalty of $250 per day for each offense.