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What you need to know for 02/26/2017

Schenectady land bank eyes Eastern Ave. revitalization

Schenectady land bank eyes Eastern Ave. revitalization

The City Council unanimously endorsed a plan Monday to focus on the Eastern Avenue neighborhood for
Schenectady land bank eyes Eastern Ave. revitalization
This building on Eastern Avenue is among the sites the city of Schenectady targeted in its effort to clean up the street. The local land bank hopes to build on that effort by targeting more structures on the street.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

The City Council unanimously endorsed a plan Monday to focus on the Eastern Avenue neighborhood for revitalization.

The local land bank is applying for a $3 million state grant to demolish 31 properties, all owned by the city, and offer small facade grants to homeowners.

But the grant application required the support of the council, and council members gave it without hesitation Monday.

It does mean that the city has chosen one neighborhood over the others for its first big redevelopment push, but Councilman Ed Kosiur said council members were satisfied with the land bank members’ rationale.

Eastern Avenue was chosen because of its proximity to downtown and Union College, he said.

“This is another gateway,” he added. “This is the first true example of Metroplex going into our neighborhoods, by partnering on this grant with the land bank.”

He was delighted that any neighborhood had been chosen.

“To finally get into our neighborhoods, . . . it’s all great stuff. We’ve been talking about this since 2004. It’s taken a long time.”

County Legislator and land bank member Robert Hoffman said focusing $3 million on one neighborhood would make a real impact.

“We want to do as thorough a job in that neighborhood as we can,” he said.

In addition to the removal of blighted, boarded-up and abandoned buildings, homeowners will be able to apply for facade grants of up to $5,000 for exterior work.

The land bank and Metroplex will also work on marketing the vacant lots after demolishing them. Some might be sold for very little to neighbors who want to build a driveway or add a side yard. Others may be considered for community gardens, and many could become new commercial developments, Metroplex Development Chairman Ray Gillen said at a recent council committee meeting.

“As more gets done on Eastern, more developers and investors will be interested,” he said.

He added that Metroplex and the land bank are already working on plans for Elmer Elementary School, which is slated to be closed in September 2016.

Kosiur wants the building turned into housing for veterans or seniors. The older part of the building must be torn down, he said, because of roof and foundation problems, but the newer portion could be reused.

“We don’t need another empty building,” he said.

Gillen said Metroplex is in “preliminary discussions” with the school district about the building.

And while he declined to describe the options he was considering, he said reuse is a “great idea” for the school.

If the land bank’s application is funded, it will come from money turned over to the state through foreclosure settlements. The state Attorney General’s Office just announced another settlement with banks for their role in the housing crisis, and some of that money will be made available to land banks for revitalization.

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