JAMESTOWN – More than 80 people showed up Tuesday night for the Jamestown Planning Commission’s public hearing on the proposed Gateway Lofts housing development.
At the start of the two-hour hearing, representatives from Southern Tier Environments for Living (STEL) went over the updated details of the project proposed for the Gateway Center on Water Street in Jamestown, which is the site of the former Chautauqua Hardware building.
The proposal project is now an estimated $31 million with a total of 80 housing units. Of these units, 39 unites on the 2nd floor would offer affordable housing options by Community Helping Hands, 16 units on the 3rd floor would go to single-parent families assisted by the YWCA of Jamestown, and 25 units on the 4th floor administered by STEL would be designated for non-violent individuals who are homeless and have a serious mental illness or a substance use disorder with a history of criminal offending or are at risk of offending.
STEL attorney Steven Ricca with the law form Bond, Schoeneck and King also announced that after the Planning Commission expressed some concerns over the project during its September meeting, the developers are now committed to purchasing two additional adjacent properties to create more green space opportunity for residents, especially children, who would be living in the development. They also said that they would increase the number of parking spaces to bring the project closer in compliance with city code.
The group also re-emphasized why the location was selected, saying the Gateway Center project is in a centrally located area where several other social service organizations are based – including Community Helping Hands, Love Inc., BOCES, the Mental Health Association, and St. Susan’s Soup Kitchen.
“The whole point of leveraging all the community organizations and resources is to be efficient and make the best use of taxpayer dollars – which in this case would be limited to state and federal dollars – and to leverage centers of critical mass as is encouraged in the 1998 city comprehensive plan,” Ricca said.
As for the public comment, 27 different people offered comments related to support or concerns for the project, as well as asking questions focusing on issues related to the site plans and environmental review, as well as general questions about the need and cost for the project.
“My vision for this program is to have single parents and families come out of the third floor, have people on the second floor and the fourth floor become citizens of the city that raise their children to not be in the same place that they are in. My vision for this program is to make this a reality for all of us and I know that we all want that,” said YWCA Executive Director Jacqueline Chiarot Phelps.
Andrew O’Brien, who had worked at UPMC Chautauqua prior to retiring and also served on the county’s Opioid Addiction Task Force.
“A couple years ago the county’s task force on opioid addiction visited a model program in Canandaigua similar to this and shared details of the transitional housing program being developed at UPMC Chautauqua and the executive director of that program asked what are you going to do about permanent supportive housing, rather than just transitional housing. He was emphasizing that if you’re going to have a comprehensive approach, particular to mental health problems and substance abuse problems including the opioid epidemic, you need to have the right levels of care in place and not just bits of the system to help resolve the issues,” O’Brien said. “So I need to point out today that is still one of the more substantial needs that we have in Chautauqua County and in Jamestown.”
“Safe, quality, affordable housing and all the supports that are needed to empower those living in those housing are the most basic determinants of public health,” explained County Health and Human Services Director Christine Schuyler. “Gateway lofts project provides an incredible opportunity to improve the overall physical and mental health of our community. ”
“Is this funding secured? Because if it’s not, then what are we talking about? If it is, is this the best place to put $34 million?”asked city resident and at large councilman Andrew Liuzzo. who was also concerned with the amount of toxic chemical residue that could still be in the building because it was once a manufacturing plant. “If this comes from a Brownfield grant, then why don’t you take something like the building on Harrison and Willard that’s already half fallen down? Knock that down and building something new. I’m not saying that this is not a good intended project but I think there’s other ways to do this, especially if the money’s not there.”
“We have to decide where are we going to go and what direction are we going to lead the people of Jamestown? Are we going to lead people back to work or is this going to be the beginning of more big government, more social services in the city of Jamestown that has been cultivated by the present administration for the past 17 years?” asked city resident Anthony Toda, adding, “Once the cost of this rehab goes through, what’s going to sustain the ongoing costs of this operation?”
In all a total of 14 different questions were asked and the developers did their best to address each one, explaining that if the project hadn’t been proposed for the current location, it’s unlikely the brownfield site would see any environmental remediation. Developers said the project would be covered primarily through state and federal funding and tax credits that it wouldn’t be able to receive if it were proposed elsewhere.
According to the developers, support for the project has been given by several local officials, including: Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sen. Catherine Young, Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, County Executive George Borrello, Deputy County Executive for Economic Development and IDA director Mark Geise, Sheriff Joseph Gerace, county Health and Human Services Director Christine Schuyler, and the Homeless Coalition.
Planning Commission Chair Greg Rabb told WRFA after the hearing was over that he was impressed with the turnout.
“I’m always heartened when I see this many people. Even if I don’t agree with people, I’m always happy to see this many people turn out, especially if they are residents from the city. I welcome our friends from outside of the city, but as soon as somebody tells me they live in this city I pay particular attention,” Rabb said “And it was a beautiful day. I think there were record-breaking temperatures today, so for folks to give up their evening to come and talk to us makes me feel good because that means a lot of people in Jamestown care about what our next steps are.”
Rabb said that the planning commission will likely consider the revised site plans for the loft project when it holds its monthly meeting next Tuesday at 4 p.m. in City Hall.