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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 24, 2008

Severson Manor II undercuts the required lot size

By Zach Simeone

VOORHEESVILLE — Plans are in the works to add 10 more senior-housing units to the village, but they are still in the earliest of stages.

From January to April, the zoning board of appeals heard requests from Troy Miller, owner of CM Fox Real Estate, for variances that would allow for the construction of Severson Manor II, right next to the already completed Severson Manor.

“We’re still getting final approval from the planning board,” Miller said this week. He anticipates a final vote at the next planning board meeting. “We’re theoretically shooting for the spring time to start construction.”

The proposed lot size for the new housing units was 1.16 acres; Voorheesville’s zoning law requires a minimum lot size of 4 acres. This meant that a 2.84-acre variance was needed. Miller also asked for six setback variances.

At the zoning board’s April 2 meeting, his requests were granted. Before the vote, board member Francis Person Jr. listed reasons for the approval, like the fact that senior citizens face accelerating costs to maintain single-family dwellings, and that those with close family ties in the village prefer to stay nearby.

Person also reminded attendees of the 48 units of senior housing that Omni Development Company had planned to build on the property of St. Matthew’s Church a few years back. Since these were never actually built, the village was left without housing adapted to the needs of its senior citizens, he said.

One villager has spoken out against the plan.

“Whether there’s a need for this kind of thing, and whether it has to be built in Voorheesville, are questions that I don’t think have been answered yet,” said Steven Schreiber, a Voorheesville resident. “There may be another place in Voorheesville where this could be done. And, even if one determines that there is a need for such housing in Voorheesville, will that need be met by the housing?”

“Well,” Miller told The Enterprise, “we’re dealing with a demographic who in some cases don’t even have a car, so being centrally located where you can walk to the grocery store, walk to the park, and walk to the post office is essential. People in Severson I, eighty-plus years old, walk to the library.” Putting them even a mile or two away, Miller said, would eliminate those possibilities. “You’ve got to remember this is the first year of baby boomers turning 62, so over the next 10 years, that market is going to increase substantially.”

Miller added that, with more land than the .61 acres of Severson I, Severson II will be able to have garages for its inhabitants’ vehicles. “Garages are mandatory for some people, so we think Severson Manor II will sell out quickly.”

“I think they’ve been slow to [sell] the first housing — they’ve got six occupants now,” Schreiber said of Severson Manor I, where three of the nine units are still for sale. He had voiced his opposition of Miller’s variance requests to the zoning board, but to no avail.

It’s not that Schreiber is opposed to the idea of more senior housing, he said. “It’s the process that bothers me, when the zoning law gets stood on its head like this. One exception is reasonable,” said Schreiber, in reference to the fact that Severson Manor I also falls below the 4-acre requirement. “Now they want to do it twice? Even if everyone collectively feels that there is a need for more housing, I think the law should be amended.”

Mayor Robert Conway disagrees with Schreiber, pointing out that this would essentially invalidate the existence of a zoning board.

“That’s what the zoning board of appeals is for to entertain those exceptions to the law. If you change the law to reflect those exceptions, you’d be changing it constantly,” the mayor said. “Precedent does play into it, but the zoning board handles everything on a case by case basis.”

Schreiber believes that once the new housing units begin to take shape, there will be more of a reaction from the public. “People don’t pay attention to stuff here in Voorheesville, but they see something happening and say, ‘How did this come about?’” he said. “Frankly, I think when people see the second unit going up there going to have some real questions.”

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