Repair of the Dutch Reformed Church Becomes a Lens
Through Which the City of Newburgh’s Future is Viewed
By Michael Lebron
What to do about saving the Dutch Reform Church – a National Historic Landmark – has been a problem facing decades of cash-strapped Newburgh City Councils.
So, you would think that an the opportunity to apply for a $845,450 RESTORE New York State grant to underwrite repairs would have been greeted with open arms, since “…the city has not been able to do it alone…” as Deirdre Glenn, the city’s Economic Development Director, said.
But for the 100 or so residents of Newburgh who showed up at a three and a half hour public hearing on Monday, December 11, it was not so simple.
In November of 2016, the city sent out an RFP to restore the Dutch Reformed Church and the City Club. These properties were bundled together with 2 Montgomery Street, a prime 1.8 acre lot with expansive views of the Hudson River.
The city received three bids by the February deadline. Of these, the proposal by Alembic Community Development – with experience in affordable and supportive housing and community facilities – was selected as having best met the selection criteria. Alembic’s proposal, however, is controversial with many Newburgh citizens.
While the RFP proposal was said to be a separate matter from the RESTORE grant, the city accepted Alembic’s offer to help with the grant writing process.
The hearing was technically meant to provide the public with an opportunity to voice comment about the RESTORE grant. But because of Alembic’s involvement in writing the grant,it became a referendum on the Alembic RFP as well.
Those in attendance felt that Alembic’s proposal looked too much like the Mill Street mid-Broadway development project, which has been met with stiff resistance and lawsuits in large part due to its dependenceon what would be a decades long PILOT that will only further burden an already heavy tax load onhome and small business owners struggling with mortgages and payrolls.
Dozens of home and business owners got up to speak, but the story that Melanie Lang told seemed to best encapsulate this moment in Newburgh’s history. Both she and her husband Jerrod were originally from the city and then moved to the town. They loved the city and dreamed of moving back in, buying a property and starting a business. This year they made the dream real and opened the immediately popular “black vanilla” coffee shop on the corner of South Street and North Miller. Of all their mortgages and other expenses, taxes are by far more than any other cost that they face. She wants to be clear that, in her view, the choice is not between affordable and market ratable housing. “We are good people, doing the right thing” she says. “We are a grassroots business serving many customers who live in affordable housing”. Though the city says it wants to build its future with owner-occupiers and small businesses, the burden currently seems to hit these people the hardest given the dysfunctional city tax structure.
Her ask, and those of the others, was for the council to completely separate the Dutch Reform Church grant from 2 Montgomery, which she felt should be used for market rate development. “Even my mom, who grew up in subsidized housing, thinks this way”.
Others said that the city is entering an upswing but unlike those of the past, this one shows strong signs of having staying power. Everyone appreciated the need to move sooner rather than later on the needed repairs to the Dutch Reform Church, and said that they understood that city officials are working very hard and have the best of intentions.They asked that city officials raise the bar when writing future RFPs and to reach out to the public, who are there to help.
During the council member debate, Ms Glenn said that she understood the concerns. Torrence Harvey, an at-large member, proposed that the application be amended by removing any reference to the other two properties or any developer. The proposal passed.
The crowd went home feeling pleased that the city is better understanding the possibilities for the future.
(Photos by: Michael LebronCaption 2: A crowd of 100 people showed up for the hearing on grant funding for the Dutch Reform Church.
Caption 1: Melanie Lang speaking at the hearing on grant funding for the Dutch Reform Church.