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No Vote on Hudson Street

Planning Board postpones vote on Heart of the City project to September 8

Tuesday’s City Planning Board should have been the last hurdle for breaking ground on a project five years in the making for Heart of the City Neighborhoods, a West Side housing nonprofit geared toward development and rehabilitation. But after months of waiting, the Planning Board did not have quorum to make a vote.

In June, Heart of the City received a $1.5 million grant from New York’s Housing Trust Fund Corporation to build affordable, green housing on three vacant lots on Hudson Street between Plymouth and West Avenues. Stephanie Simeon, executive director of Heart of the City, says the organization is anxious to start building the two townhouse-style structures of four rental units each. Each apartment has two to three bedrooms and are designed to be green, featuring energy-efficient appliance and heat-saving windows.

Initially, a group of Hudson Street neighbors called for Heart of the City to return the grant money and discard the project. They objected to the development being rental units and also questioned Heart of the City’s ability to manage the properties. But at Tuesday’s meeting, their arguments seem to have changed.

Even though the public hearing period for the project had officially ended, Planning Board Chair James Morrell let the 10 opponents who came to the meeting speak. Morrell insisted that he only wanted to hear any new arguments or concerns. The 10 neighbors who attended the meeting raised issues about the placement of the driveway and proximity of the buildings to abutting homes. But they frequently returned to the initial arguments about the properties being rental units. “There’s no space for this amount of people in that area,” said John Stevens, who lives in an apartment next door to the proposed development. “I don’t understand why we’re building around these vacant homes that need to be restored.”

Morrell emphasized that the Planning Board must focus on whether the project fits city ordinances. “The Planning Board’s charge is to look at how this project fits into the city, not who goes into this development,” Morrell says.

Curiously, Niagara District Councilmember David Rivera attended the meeting and was called upon to comment on the project, though it is not in his district. “I’m very supportive of Heart of the City as an organization,” Rivera said “I think this is consistent with the character of the neighborhood and I would not speak out against this project.”

In fact, Hudson Street is in Ellicott Councilmember Brian Davis’ district, and several neighbors bemoaned the fact that Davis had been unresponsive to their calls. Simeon says that Davis wrote a letter of support for the project in 2006, and that she has since sent all project-related communications and meeting minutes to his office.

Morrell stressed that opponents of the project could only speak at the September 8 voting meeting if there were any new concerns related to city ordinances. “We’ve exhausted everyone’s concerns,” Morrell said. “The item must remain on the agenda until September 8.”

ellen przepasniak

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