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Schenectady council to vote on halfway house regulations

Schenectady council to vote on halfway house regulations

The Schenectady City Council has finally come up with regulations for halfway houses.

The Schenectady City Council has finally come up with regulations for halfway houses.

After more than three years of moratoriums, started when a halfway house was proposed and city officials realized they had no zoning rules for it, the council is poised to vote on legislation.

The vote will be Monday at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

City Council members have hesitated to approve zoning rules for years, instead choosing to extend a moratorium that blocks any halfway house from coming to the city.

But it’s not legal to continue a moratorium forever, and recent news debunking the city’s supposed “concentration” of halfway houses seemed to reassure council members.

It turns out there aren’t any halfway houses in the city, Assistant Corporation Counsel Frank Salamone said.

There are rehab facilities, including a facility to help released prisoners go to college and prepare for a career.

But a halfway house is legally defined as a facility specifically to help prison inmates re-enter the community. It is not a facility that trains, treats or houses those who have already been released from prison, even if they are on parole or probation, Salamone said.

Under the proposed rules, new halfway houses can set up only in mixed-use commercial zones or business districts, zones C2 and C5. They also can’t operate in any building contiguous to a residentially zoned property, a park, a child care facility or a school, and they can’t operate within 250 feet of another halfway house, according to the legislation.

Also, new halfway houses must be within 1,200 feet of public bus routes, according to the legislation, and must not have more than 15 residents.

Each applicant proposing a halfway house would have to notify City Hall, which would notify nearby property owners and charge the applicant for the cost. That way the City Council would know immediately when a halfway house is being considered.

The organization would also have to develop a safety plan, which would be filed with the Police or Fire Department.

In other business, Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo proposed adding a deputy fire chief back into the budget. The position was removed from the 2014 budget and replaced with an assistant chief.

Perazzo had argued hard to keep the position, and other council members had said they would reconsider it this year.

So she brought it up at the first meeting of the year.

“With our chief retiring, we cannot afford to weaken the infrastructure of our Fire Department,” she said.

But she could not convince her colleagues.

“I know that we need a deputy fire chief,” said Councilwoman Marion Porterfield. “Our concern was, where do we have the money to fund this? That’s still the concern.”

Councilman Vince Riggi proposed waiting until March, when the city will have the final figures for the 2013 self-funding insurance costs. He said he’s convinced the cost will be lower than expected, allowing the council to lower the budget estimate for the 2014 costs.

“That was the argument, that we didn’t have a baseline,” Riggi said. “When we get the actual health figures, if there’s some extra money in the 2014 budget, which I think there will be, we can encumber the funds.”

Perazzo was opposed to that proposal last year. On Monday, Finance Commissioner Deborah DeGenova also spoke against it, cautioning Riggi that health expenses could vary from year to year.

The council ended the discussion without any agreement.

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