JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown Planning Commission has once again put up a roadblock for the proposed $31 million Gateway Lofts project at the Gateway Center building in Jamestown.
On Tuesday afternoon the commission met with representatives from Southern Tier Environments for Living (STEL) to discuss the updated project and also to consider a State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) assessment as well as approving the final site plans.
After an hour-and-a-half of discussion (complete audio available at the WRFA soundcloud page), the commission ultimately gave unanimous approval for a positive declaration of the SEQR assessment, meaning STEL would have to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the project before it could move forward. It was the second time the commission made such a declaration on the project. In October 2018, it also gave a positive declaration on the original plans, which resulted in STEL updating its plan in an effort to address concerns put forward by the planning commission.
Much of Tuesday’s conversation involved the number of new housing units the project would be bringing online versus the number of units that would be removed in an effort to ensure the project complies with the city’s 2010 Neighborhood Revitalization Plan. Among other things, the plan states that in order to ensure investment in neighborhood properties and prevent devaluation, an effort should be made to avoid adding any new housing development unless other housing is also removed.
The Gateway Lofts proposal calls for creating 110 total units, although 56 of them would be intended for homeless individuals who currently don’t have any other housing options available. That means a total of 54 units would be intended for renters, most of which would be on low or fixed income. In an effort to address the Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, the project also provides an estimated $315,000 in funding to help remove 21 housing units in other areas of the city through an agreement with the County Land Bank.
But commission members, including John LaMancuso, raised concerns not enough units were being taken off line to justify adding 54 new ones in a concentrated area.
“We talked about this before and I apologize for belaboring the point, but that’s where my concern comes from,” LaMancuso said while participating in the meeting via conference call. “As the planning commission, I think we ought to be very concerned about our plans that we’ve adopted in the city and that’s one of them. That’s the plan that we adopted 10 years ago to make our city better. I think a lot of the problems that the experts identified in that plan are still evident today.”
Attorney Steven Ricca from Bond, Schoeneck and King is working with STEL to get the project completed. He argued that while there isn’t a true one-to-one ratio for units being added versus those being removed, the commission should also be considering other benefits that the project brings to the table, which includes $6.4 million for Riverwalk development, preservation and beautification; Brownfield clean up; green space development; a brand new parking lot around the entire building; and facade improvements.
“This is a unicorn. This is a project that is not going to make everybody happy on every conceivable issue. But to suggest that the project would only be a win for the city if there was a one-to-one ratio, I think doesn’t give nearly as much weight to the many positive benefits that it will give. A one-to-one requirement as sort of a standard I think would be pretty challenging. So I implore the commission not to agree with everything I’m saying but to agree with the proposition that on balance this is going to benefit an awful lot of people,” Ricca said.
Despite Ricca’s request for the negative declaration and approval of the plans, the commission’s vote was unanimous on the positive declaration, meaning the EIS would have to be completed before any final site plan approval could be considered.
Following the meeting, City Development Director and Principal Planner Crystal Surdyk explained why she felt an EIS is necessary.
“It’s a lengthier process but it’s a much more in depth process that forces them to really justify all of the questions that we have. I understand that it costs money and takes time, but I think this is too important of a project, too big of a project, and it has too many implications on our entire community to not complete it,” Surdyk said.
In response, Ricca said the EIS won’t resolve the main issue that was discussed during the commission’s meeting involving the number of new units being put online versus those being removed. As a result, he requested that the project be brought back to the commission for further discussion during its next meeting.