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Friday, 20 January 2017 10:56

Tale of Two Cities: Varied Welcome for $90M in Workforce Housing

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Tale of Two Cities: Varied Welcome for $90M in Workforce Housing

BALLSTON SPA/MECHANICVILLE — A combined $90 million in apartment developments are receiving widely varied receptions in Mechanicville and Ballston Spa. Both projects are considered “workforce” housing, generally targeting tenants with household incomes ranging from about $35,000 to $80,000 annually. One town has been welcoming of workforce neighbors and community investment, and the other has not. Brian Donato, senior project director at Conifer Realty said the combined two-phase Blue Heron Trail project located in Ballston Spa totals about $35 million. The 142-apartment complex on 17 acres has already broken ground on Route 67 near East Line Road and expects to start leasing this fall with a goal of completing both phases of the project in Spring 2018.

“We really appreciated working with the Town of Ballston,” said Donato. “They were really helpful throughout the process. We’ve gone through the approvals and the Town was very supportive of it. There is a lot of market rate development in the area and very little of the workforce housing income range, and really, it’s been very well supported.”

Donato said that Conifer Realty is also proposing a similar project in Malta on 16 acres along Route 9, but it is in very preliminary stages. He said that so far, the Malta site has also been well received. The story is not so smooth in Mechanicville, according to Bill McNeary, president of Logistics One and owner of the 11-acre property where the $55 million, 227-unit Hudson Riverview Apartments development has been proposed. The rents would range from $760 to $1,275 per month and are targeted to an average household income of $47,461.

“This kind of development is a savior of affordable housing,” said McNeary, “because funding with tax credits allows a developer to build a high quality project and build it at half the price, so working class people aren’t overburdened with spending over 30 percent of their income on rent.”

McNeary said there are 28 units set aside for veterans and victims of domestic violence, both populations that already exist locally and are in need of quality, affordable housing. But the remaining 200 units would house people in the targeted income range, such as teachers, nurses, police officers, retail workers, and hundreds of other careers that fall in that range.

McNeary said there originally was support from the mayor and other locals, and he was very surprised about the change of heart as local officials began pulling their support.

“The opposition to the project is from those who don’t want housing on the site,” said McNeary. “Some have been led to believe there would be Section 8 there, but there wouldn’t be. People who work at DiSiena Furniture could live there. People are saying they want development that creates jobs, but that property isn’t zoned for commercial – it’s mixed use. We aren’t going to build a factory or mall here, so why not use it to the advantage of the community and bring in people? Employed people who could shop in the town?”

The developer, Chris Dirr, Vice President of the NRP Group, has decades of experience in this type of housing across the country. He said he had initially looked to put high-end units at that location, but could not find any investors – which is the same problem McNeary had when he first tried to look into high-end development there.

“We discovered for the most part that unless there’s somebody specifically drawn to Mechanicville, there aren’t a lot of strategic benefits to locating there,” said Dirr about the investors. “For trade and distribution, its proximity to the interstate. It’s just too far from the Northway. There are too many other parcels readily available closer to the interstate. And there is not enough population at all for retail. For national big box retailers, there’s not enough density of population, and they like to be close to interchanges and interstates as well.”

McNeary pointed to the Ellsworth Commons development in Malta. “That’s a four-lane road there right off exit 12,” he said, “and if they can’t get that filled, how can we do it in Mechanicville?” Dirr said that Malta Town Supervisor Tom Richardson has been a great advocate for the City of Mechanicville. “If it were not for his efforts, we would not have made the time and energy to come up with something to compliment those efforts. I actually looked at and passed on the site in Ballston that Conifer is doing because I didn’t think it had that same synergy, the green field development adjacent to a historic, walkable community. I thought this site had a more compelling story, and it makes sense to use housing to engage community revitalization.”

The project had applied for a PILOT, but with the opposition, Dirr decided not to continue that application.

Supervisor Richardson said in a statement, “After meeting with Chris Dirr of the NRP Group and property owner, Bill McNeary, about some community opposition to the proposed 227 unit, multi-phase, Hudson Riverview Apartments project, The NRP Group has announced that it will not seek IDA assistance, otherwise known as a PILOT – payment in lieu of tax agreement. We believe this is a step in the right direction to provide affordable, workforce housing. I look forward to further conversation with The NRP Group and support its decision to postpone the Planning and Zoning Bard meeting schedule for January 9 to allow the company to continue dialogue with concerned residents and plan for a formal site plan review meeting.” Dirr intends to keep moving forward with the project, working in partnership with the community as he has done on all of his prior projects.

“For all of the folks that have been naysays to the development,” said Dirr, “nobody has offered a credible alternative to redevelopment of that site. The city has never seen a $50 million developer. The development would pay taxes, it would introduce 227 units of people, living there, spending money, walking in community. I am committed to continue to work with Bill, the owner of the site, and the community to develop something that will be an asset to the community, and at the end of the day if my development doesn’t happen, the city and community will have a vacant site that can’t really be developed for any other purpose.”

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