City of Newburgh to Hold Community Meeting
on Controversial Development
By Michael Lebron
The City of Newburgh is inviting the public to a community meeting about the development of The Dutch Reformed Church, The City Club, and the lot on 2 Montgomery to be held on Wednesday, February 21, at the Newburgh Activity Center, 401 Washington Street, from 6PM to 8PM.
A notice has been posted on the city website at https://www.cityofnewburgh-ny.gov/sites/newburghny/files/news/revised_flyer_feb21.pdf and everyone concerned about the future development of the city is encouraged to attend.
An RFP sent out on November 25, 2016 for proposals to develop the 3 sites together resulted in three responses by the February 1, 2017 deadline. Of these, Alembic Community Development’s was deemed worthy of further exploration.
This RFP comes after the Mid-Broadway RFP. The city awarded development of lots on Broadway between Lander and Johnston to Mill Street Partners, who proposed construction of 91 units of affordable housing and a grocery store. After winning the bid, Mill Street asked for a decades-long PILOT. Opposition to this project emerged with the PILOT as a flash point. A successful lawsuit filed by Newburgh residents revealed the existence of a deed restriction to one of the lots. This restriction has tied up the project, and Mill Street has filed a notice of claim against the city, alleging a violation of The Fair Housing Act, among other claims.
This controversy is shaping the reception for Alembic’s proposal, which includes a mix of supportive, affordable and market rate housing with some commercial space at the 2 Montgomery site. It comes in the midst of a steadily increasing response to the city planning department’s successful efforts to encourage families to become owner-occupiers of the many distressed and abandoned city-owned residences, especially within the attractive East End Historic District, a positive development. A coalition that includes these people – together with small businesspeople that have been in the city for decades as well as new business owners setting up shop – has been emerging. They see a Newburgh renaissance that may finally stick.
But for that to happen, they feel that the city must free itself of a vision of development encumbered by its past, one that is dependent on outside government subsidies and grants, and needs instead to embrace rational market rate development, at least for its most valuable assets. They claim that this site – with its unobstructed and spectacular river views – is capable of working harder, generating much more needed tax revenue to pay for fire, police and infrastructure, and alleviating the high tax rates that city property owners are burdened with. They also question why the city even needs more affordable housing, claiming that the city has 7% of the county’s population, yet has approximately 35% of the county’s affordable housing projects and units. They propose that the 2 Montgomery site be severed from the Dutch Reform Church and City Club projects and be allowed to stand on its own.
Benjamin Warnke of Alembic http://alembiccommunity.com/, however, claims that the “housing component of the project is not constrained by the inclusion of the DRC and the City Club” and that it is “conversations with lenders and investors (that) suggest that ‘market’ for the neighborhood is at the affordable or subsidized level, or approximately 60% of Area Median Income”. But he adds that nothing is currently set in stone, and that a series of community meetings – of which this is to be the first – are designed to allow the community to help shape the final outcome, and is an essential part of their process.
To help with this process, Alembic partnered with Hester Street Collaborative hesterstreet.org, an “urban planning, design and community development nonprofit working so that neighborhoods are shaped by their people”. But the “people” of Newburgh comprise diverse communities of blue and white collar workers, as well as a growing contingent of tech and art workers. They are of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. They are tenants, and the property owners can no longer be described as being dominated by slumlords. As each group does not participate in the political process in equal measure, Hester Street will need to bring a sizeable amount of outreach and sincere listening skills with them.
Does Alembic’s considerable success make them the right candidate for this project? Or does their specific expertise in subsidized development necessarily limit their vision of what is possible? Will Hester Street be able to shape a consensus out of this diversity without unfairly tipping the scales in one of any directions? Will the community meetings allow for true input, or try to steer opinion to an already determined outcome? What is certain is that all sides will need to come armed with their visions, measurable data to back them up, open minds, big hearts and a positive attitude if the trust that will be needed to move forward is to develop. The Orange County Post will continue to follow this conversation as it evolves. Stay tuned.
Full disclosure: Michael Lebron and his wife Liz are restoring two distressed residential properties in Newburgh’s East End.
PHOTOS by Michael Lebron
1 – 2 Montgomery Street Lot
2 – Dutch Reformed Church