SCHENECTADY — The city plans to sell 29 vacant lots and abandoned properties in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood to a private developer with plans to invest $30 million to build a mix of apartments and commercial/retail space.
Sales of the foreclosed or abandoned properties to The Community Builders for $17,012 was approved earlier this week by the City Council's City Development and Planning Committee. The City Council will vote on the sale agreement Monday.
The Community Builders, a non-profit developer with regional offices in Boston, is already building the first phase of the Hillside View project in Hamilton Hill, a $20 million project that is turning the former St. Columba's and Horace Mann schools, both on Craig Street, and other properties into 58 apartments for families and senior citizens. Work began on those projects began last winter and is expected to wrap up in the spring.
That project received $2.2 million in state funding from the New York State Homes and Community Renewal program, and the developer is likely to seek state funding and/or tax credits for the new phase, as well.
The parcels being sold are targeted for what is being described as Phase II of Hillside View project, which Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen said will include 94 additional apartments, as well as the commercial and retail space, spread among several new buildings. Most of the lots are on Albany, Craig, and Paige streets and Germania Avenue.
Gillen said the project will bring The Community Builders' total investment in the neighborhood to more than $50 million.
"This is the biggest private-sector development ever on Hamilton Hill," Gillen said at the committee meeting.
The project would also clean up a chemically contaminated former dry cleaning property at Albany and Craig streets. The Community Builders plans to apply for assistance from the state Department of Environmental Conservation's brownfield cleanup program as soon as the property sales are finalized.
Under the agreement that will be put before the council, 17 vacant lots will be sold for $1,000 each, and another 12 properties, which Gillen said contain buildings that are abandoned and/or badly deteriorated, will be sold for $1 each.
"This is going to save the county over $800,000 in demolition costs," Gillen said.
Councilman Ed Koziur, who chairs the City Development and Planning Committee, said the pending sales show the success of the city's redevelopment efforts.
"We get criticized for just investing in downtown, but we're moving out into the neighborhoods," he said.
One frequent city government critic, however, said the city isn't getting enough money for the properties, which she believes could be sold in their current condition for more that the city is receiving.
"They sell their own property for peanuts," said Mary McClaine, who attends nearly every council meeting and said she plans to speak out about the sales at Monday's meeting. "I think they should get more money."
Gillen responded that the buildings currently have a negative value, and there's no money set aside for their demolition.
"These buildings are liabilities now for the city," Gillen said. "The city avoids $800,000 in demolition costs, and we get these buildings back into productive use. It will put them back on the tax roll, and they're not paying any taxes right now."
He said The Community Builders has been doing community redevelopment projects since 1964 and has a strong track record.
"We're lucky to have them here," he said. "This is going to build on the investment they've already made."
Assuming the city planning review process goes smoothly, work will start next year, he said.
As construction of Hillside View continues, there's another new affordable housing project on Hamilton Hill: The Joseph L. Allen Apartments, a roughly $18 million project at 780 Albany St., opened in October and is providing 51 apartments for low-income residents.