Setting aside development proposal, Voorheesville to draft a master plan

VOORHEESVILLE — Faced with public outcry against a law that would have allowed a 40-unit apartment complex, the village board on Tuesday set the bill aside and said Voorheesville will develop a comprehensive land-use plan.

Last Wednesday, over 100 residents packed the firehouse, most of them objecting to the proposal for allowing planned unit development districts (PUD) in the village.

“We got the message loud and clear,” Trustee Richard Straut said at Tuesday’s board meeting, “that the community feels we should move ahead with a comprehensive plan.”

While Voorheesville had drawn up plans for the future of Main Street, Straut said, “We haven’t taken a step back to look at all the village.” He recommended forming a committee, with a consultant to guide the process.

The other two trustees present at Tuesday’s meeting — Florence Reddy and Richard Berger — readily agreed. Trustee Jack Stevens was out of town.

The village attorney, Richard Reilly, said the committee could also “look at other issues that have popped up” such as “how to define a front yard.”

Responding to some of the criticism that residents had lodged at the board during a three-part public hearing on the proposed law, Mayor Robert Conway said, “This board has always tried to act in the village’s best interest.” While he said last week’s exchange was “very helpful,” Conway also said, “This board has always operated, in my opinion, in a very transparent way.”

Conway said further he would like to see the committee’s work “done quickly, not rushed, but quickly” with a consultant “to guide the process and keep it on track.”

He went on, “We can’t have a committee of 2,700 residents. We would like a good representation of citizens.” Two of the residents at Tuesday’s meeting volunteered to serve on the committee.

Conway described a comprehensive plan as “a blueprint for village development.”

Straut elaborated that the master plan would outline what kind of businesses were welcome in the village and where, and what sort of residences and where. “If we determined we are short on senior housing, how much and where would it be,” he said. “The zoning would follow that.”

The four board members voted to “formulate a plan within the next several weeks to develop a comprehensive plan.”

Kenneth Connolly, who lives near St. Matthew’s Church and went door to door to inform neighbors of its plans for 40 apartments, told the board on Tuesday he agreed with developing a comprehensive plan but disagreed with tabling the bill on forming PUD districts.

“It’s just hanging out there,” he said. “People were pretty clear this week, they wanted this voted down...Leaving this hanging out does not do us justice, does not do property owners justice.”

Two other residents spoke in agreement with Connolly. Reilly said, since the State Environmental Quality Review had already started but was not completed, he didn’t know if the law could properly be voted down.

Ultimately, the board adopted a resolution, 4 to 0, “not to take any action whatsoever on a PUD proposal of any type pending the comprehensive planning process and comprehensive plan document, a nine- or 10-month process.”

“I can assure the public we would never do anything under the cover of darkness,” said Conway. “You wouldn’t stand for it and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”

Voorheesville resident Peg O’Conner told the board that she was “terrified” to speak at last week’s public hearing. “I was afraid I was going to be attacked if I didn’t have the same viewpoint as everyone else,” she said, adding, “I don’t think it would hurt to have senior housing.”

O’Conner said she loved Voorheesville. “I want to stay here till I die. I don’t know if I can afford to stay if I have to sell my house,” she told the board.

After the meeting, O’Conner spoke with Lynesta Osborne whose backyard abuts the field next to St. Matthew’s. Osborne had told the board about the PUD proposal, “For my family and other families, it’s the difference between staying and leaving.”

Osborne told O’Conner that her young family left a town in New Jersey that had been ruined by development. O’Conner told Osborne how her grown children had left Voorheesville because there were no jobs.

Another resident, who had spoken from the gallery, Richard Mazzaferro, hugged O’Conner and said, “As long as you want to stay in Voorheesville, if you need help mowing your lawn or shoveling snow, you can call me; I’ll be there.”

Packed hearing

The third part of a public hearing on the proposal for planned unit development districts was held Sept. 21 at the Voorheesville  firehouse. The number of people  drawn to discuss the issue was so immense that, before the meeting could begin, the fire department had to move its trucks from the bays where they were parked to allow the audience to move their chairs from the packed atrium to the bays.

Over a hundred people filtered into the bays as more and more chairs were brought in. Those hosting the hearing included Conway, Berger, and Reilly.

They stressed at the start of the meeting that the hearing had nothing to do with the plans St. Matthew’s Church has to build rental apartments on 7.7 acres of vacant land next to the church at 25 Mountainview St. in the village.

Rather, they insisted, the public hearing would go over a proposal of allowing the village to accept applications to set up mixed-use zoning districts of 7.5 acres for residential, commercial, or manufacturing structures. However, this did not prevent the audience from bringing up the proposed apartments at the hearing.

Village officials discussed the parameters of a planned unit development: no less than 7.5 acres, served by a public water system, with 30 percent retained as open space, consistent with the village’s zoning.

Seven areas could be developed as planned unit developments, said Conway. Two of those would qualify currently, as they have public water.

A decade ago, St. Matthew’s Church had a plan that never materialized to build an apartment complex for elderly residents. Christopher DeGiovine, the pastor at St. Matthew’s for two years, set up a committee to look into revitalizing such a plan. The committee, working with Paul Nichols of Paragon Real Estate Advisors,  first looked at subsidized senior housing. “Federal funds are drying up and hard to get for New Scotland,” DeGiovine told The Enterprise earlier, because of its “high income level.” Ultimately, the plan was to build 40 rental units of “market-rate housing” open to anyone, he said.

A St. Matthew’s parishioner at last week’s hearing expressed her opinion that the apartments — as a senior living facility as they were initially proposed — would respond to a concern she had heard in the parish from residents who couldn’t grow old in Voorheesville due to a lack of assisted living. There is currently senior housing in the village in the form of condominiums on the corner of Stonington Hill Road and Maple Avenue.

Others were concerned less about the proposed apartments and more about the process of allowing them. One resident expressed her desire to be able to vote on the matter or even partake in a straw vote rather than let the board of trustees independently decide. Another stated that the planned unit development districts were spot zoning and were illegal. According to a state publication on comprehensive plans, spot zoning is illegal when it is not in agreement with the village’s comprehensive plan and thereby does not benefit the community.

More New Scotland News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.