JAMESTOWN – The effort to convert a former factory and current community center into a 110-unit housing project has cleared a major hurdle.
During Monday’s Jamestown City Council meeting, councilman Tom Nelson announced that the city Planning Commission had approved the site plan for the $31 million Gateway Lofts project, which is being sponsored by Southern Tier Environments for Living (STEL), the YWCA of Jamestown and Community Helping Hands.
Nelson who serves as council liaison to the commission – said the unanimous approval was given one week ago, on June 23, during a special meeting of the commission, which was conducted online via zoom due to COVID-19.
No public notice regarding the special meeting was going to be held was sent to local media or the general public, which is why the approval of the housing project wasn’t reported on, until now.
The latest action by the planning commission comes after it had denied approving the project site plan on two past occasions – once in October 2018 and again in February of this year. Both times the planning commission had called for a complete Environmental Impact Statement to be completed, in order to address environmental concerns with the project, including that it would go against the city’s 2010 Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, which calls for a stabilization in housing within the city, due to a declining population that has led to a glut in the housing stock.
Following the February meeting, the law firm representing the project – Bond, Schoeneck & King – requested the commission rescind its positive declaration for a full environmental impact statement, saying it would require too much time to complete and jeopardize the project from moving forward. In response, the planning commission rescinded the positive declaration and also created a task force to work through all concerns.
“Chairman [Greg] Rabb asked for volunteers from the Planning Commission to participate in a small task force charged with developing a mutually agreeable mitigation plan that would address the concerns that the Planning Commission had regarding the introduction of additional housing units into an over-saturated housing market,” explained City Development Director Crystal Surdyk.
Surdyk said an agreement was soon made that STEL and other organizations would acquire, abate and demolish 96 bedrooms in units elsewhere in the city to help offset the addition of the new units provided by the Gateway Lofts.
“An important distinction between the new and existing housing is that there is an overwhelming number of substandard and/or deplorable condition that is uninhabitable, that would be offset by the new housing options created by the Gateway Lofts project,” Surdyk explained to WRFA via email. “The mitigation plan lays out a strategy for the city to coordinate with the Gateway, STEL and Chautauqua County Land Bank to undertake a program to acquire, abate and demolish 96 bedrooms in vacant and uninhabitable housing units elsewhere in the city that also supports STEL’s prioritization of a future project to include a scattered site infill development in Jamestown, with the assistance of the land bank and similar to STEL’s Dunkirk Renovation and Ownership program.”
Surdyk also said the Planning Commission approval is contingent on two area variances that will be reviewed by the city zoning board on Wednesday, July 1. One variance is regarding the number of proposed parking spaces and the other is regarding proposed automotive use setbacks. The zoning board meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Wednesday and will be streamed live at the city website.
Anyone will be given an opportunity to be heard for or against the granting of the variances by submitting their comments in writing via U.S. mail to the City Clerk’s Office, 200 East Third Street, Jamestown, NY 14701 or via email at clerk @ cityofjamestownny.com.
The Gateway Lofts project calls for creating 110 total units, although 56 of them would be intended for homeless individuals who currently don’t have any other long-term housing options available. That means a total of 54 new units would be intended for renters, most of which would be on low or fixed income. Project sponsors say the project will be beneficial to residents because of the various human service agencies that also operate in the building. However, some concerns have been raised regarding the concentration of so many residents in a relatively small area, as well as the lack of fresh, healthy food sources being available – with the nearest supermarket nearly a mile away at the Foote Ave. plaza.
The $31 million price tag to renovate the former Chautauqua Hardware factory would be covered through a combination of state and federal tax credits that can be sold to investors, along with community investment funds and grants.