DELMAR — As the Town Board considers extending the 12-month residential development moratorium by another six months, the developer of a proposed affordable housing project has returned to ask for a waiver.
NRP Group has resubmitted a waiver request that would allow the Town to continue reviewing its Selkirk Reserve development, a proposed affordable housing project last deliberated in May. The proposal for the 72-unit development was placed on hold when the Town instituted a moratorium last December.
The Town Board will host a public hearing, and is expected to act on a subsequent resolution, when it meets again on Wednesday, Dec. 8.
The Cleveland-based developer returned to the Town Board last week to resubmit its waiver request in order to save state funding it was awarded prior to the moratorium. The group was secured funding from New York state Homes and Community Renewal contingent on plan approval.
Chris Derr, of NRP Group, told the Town Board that the state service “reluctantly” agreed to keep funding available after it was approached by local legislators. However, he told Town Board members Wednesday that the state will pull funding if the review process is delayed beyond December.
Robert Leslie, the town’s director of planning, confirmed that should the Town Board approve NRP Group’s waiver request in its Dec. 8 meeting, the developer’s plan could continue to be reviewed by the Planning Board when it meets on Tuesday, Dec. 21.
The Town Board last hosted a public hearing on this waiver request in May, where residents were torn by the benefits of the project. Many others questioned the timing just prior to the anticipated approval of the Town Comprehensive Plan Update. A draft of the plan update is not expected to be before the Town Board before the end of the year, prompting town officials to consider another six-month halt on residential development. Nonetheless, Leslie cited the incomplete draft of the plan before the Planning Board when he voiced his recommendation in favor of granting the waiver two weeks ago.
“The proposed application is unique and has demonstrated an unnecessary hardship,” he said, adding that the project had received funding from NYS Homes and Community Renewal, now in jeopardy of going elsewhere since the moratorium was set in place. “The waiver will not adversely affect the purpose of the local law, comprehensive planning, and the health, safety or welfare of the Town since … statements in support of affordable housing are included in the draft Comprehensive Plan Update materials…”
Affordable housing has long been a concern in Bethlehem. It was first addressed in the Comprehensive Plan when it was completed in 2005. Selkirk Reserve is the first plan of its kind to present itself to the town in more than 15 years. The ongoing plan update assessed housing affordability, Leslie said, and it concluded that a quarter of Bethlehem households make less than $50,000 a year.
“While many Bethlehem households make enough money to support the cost of owning a home,” he said, “a sizeable percentage of the Town’s renters — 40 percent — are cost burdened as measured by spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs.”
According to the developer’s plans, Selkirk Reserve would cater to incomes ranging from 30 to 60 percent of area median income — or $21,000 to $60,000 per year.
The need for affordable housing was identified in a report the town commissioned in 2019. In the report, the Capital District Regional Planning Commission stated how the average county resident would find it difficult to purchase or rent property in Bethlehem. The town was identified as a housing opportunity area by the state Office of Homes and Community Renewal due to its high-performing school districts and as an area experiencing economic growth.
According to Realtor.com, the median listing home price in Bethlehem was nearly $310,000 in October. The real estate website states that figure has tended downward since a peak of $364,000 in March.
The price for an average home in Bethlehem is still high compared to neighboring communities. Asking prices for the average home in Guilderland, Colonie, and Coeymans are $299,500, $254,700 and $221,000. For all of Albany County, a single-family home is on the market for $264,900.
“While Selkirk Reserve will not meet all of the needs in Bethlehem,” said Peter Cook, executive Director of the New York State Council of Churches, “its completion will be a very powerful step forward and serve as a symbol for the positive work that can be done by the Town to build a diverse and a sustainable community for all.” The council, which represents 7,000 congregations across the state, also advocates for affordable housing.
Public opinion of the project was mixed when residents shared their concerns earlier in the year. Those who spoke out in May often prefaced their opposition to the project by acknowledging the need for affordable housing in town. However, they all pointed to several factors to which they felt the particular proposal appeared inadequate — lack of public transportation, no walkability, and its distance away from grocery stores. Even if sidewalks were to be installed from its location just south of the Jericho Drive In it would be nearly 3 miles away from the nearest grocery store in Bethlehem Center.
County Legislator Matthew Miller previously voiced concern over the prospect of having more affordable housing within the Ravena Coeymans Selkirk school district. The Selkirk Democrat, who is a teacher at RCS, said the district already has substantial affordable housing projects within it and has to provide more resources toward reduced and free lunch and special education programs as a result.
Slingerlands resident James McGaughan alluded to many problems surrounding the Town’s incomplete Comprehensive Plan update, including the “incredible push” for affordable housing, while speaking in front of the Town Board during last Wednesday’s meeting.
“We’ve seen nationwide how these bad policies at the city and town level can do a lot of damage,” McGaughan said. Prior to sharing how he grew up in town with a less fortunate upbringing before joining the military and earning a college education, he shared concerns over increased risks of drug addiction, crime and property damage. “I know what low income housing looks like. I grew up low income. The debate shouldn’t be about attacking or shaming concerned residents or business owners, it should be about finding the best ideas to truly move Bethlehem forward.”