The NIMBYist surcharge: Part 2, all this fussing and fighting, man
[Continued from yesterday's Part 1.]
By: David A. Smith
Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends
Joe Cocker, With a Little Help from My Friends, Woodstock 1969
Joe Cocker at Woodstock
Yesterday we dug beneath the surface of peace-and-love Woodstock, New York, profiled in a September 13, 2011 New York Times story (supplemented by two articles from the Woodstock Daily Freeman , March 5, 2010, and Daily Freeman, April 6, 2011), to find the hard exclusionary core that seeks to exclude affordable housing by any means necessary. As the Daily Freeman (March 5, 2010) reported it eighteen months ago:
Among concerns expressed about the project have been:
Lack of information about what the 12 residential buildings will look like
Poor sight distances for connecting driveways to state Route 212
The loss of wooded area
Developers’ landscaping drawing
The impact that drainage would have on adjacent wetlands, and
The effect on the hamlet’s character.
Every one of these putative objections has been answered, painstakingly and at some little cost, by the proposed non-profit local developers.
[To those in Woodstock who say they favor affordable housing, just not this property, I ask: what specific property would you support? – Ed.]
Remember the economics: every objection costs the neighbors nothing to raise, and costs the developer money to refute.
They have picked apart particulars, like the nonprofit developer’s claim that residents would be within walking distance of a nearby “grocery store” that is actually a high-priced health food store.
“Obviously that’s not a smokescreen – we absolutely want to protect these new residents from the terrible disappointment of having to walk too far, only to find it’s high-priced health food that you couldn’t afford (and wouldn’t appreciate anyhow).”
“It’s politically incorrect to oppose an affordable project, so you can’t even look at it,” said Robin Segal, who has a doctorate in energy policy and who moved to town two years ago in search of a garden and peace and quiet.
Previously Ms. Segal lived in New York City.
I’m gonna leave this city, got to get away
I’m gonna leave this city, got to get away
All this fussing and fighting, man, you know I sure can’t stay
Canned Heat, Going up the Country, Woodstock 1969
From that location, she authored a book, Commission Impossible: Being a Car Salesman in America, which sounds a fascinating read.
Not a description of navigating Woodstock’s approval processes, you understand …
She has since been consumed with writing a detailed blog about the project that has found errors and problems the planning process missed.
‘Consumed’ is the right word – Ms. Segal is on a campaign that verges on a crusade. My cursory review of her blog suggests a host of obscure technical issues (is something within 1,030 feet or 999?), many of them disputed by the incredibly detailed information available online, and in any case at best peripheral to the larger question: whether Woodstock should accommodate affordable housing.
“But,” she continued, “it’s the wrong project in the wrong place.”
While admittedly it is not the responsibility of a critic like Ms. Segal to offer an alternative vision, the fact is that people impact our environment, so if we want towns and cities to be more affordable, we have to build in them.
Hippies always welcome … just don’t try to build anything.
And that building requires either greater density or more land use, or both.
Woodstock’s lack of affordable housing has long been a public concern, though a low-level one, in a place where almost any building project — whether a cellphone tower, the expansion of a Buddhist monastery or solar panels at an animal sanctuary — can set off a nasty dispute.
In short, anything you do can be objected to.
The housing complex site is near Woodstock’s downtown.
Finally, an affordable housing committee selected a wooded site with sensitive wetlands –
‘Sensitive’ is the modern word for ‘marshy and hard to develop’ – and that’s no coincidence. The superior land is always claimed by the early movers, affordable housing is usually forced to build on inferior land, and then, when it comes time for the affordable housing, the early movers (homesteaders, squatters, or developers, depending on your history and perspective) suddenly discover their love of green space, their concern for the environment, and their sudden interest in Indiana bats, black bears, and ‘sensitive wetlands.
– behind the drab strip shopping center leading into Woodstock’s downtown –
[Random absurd fact; Google Bradley Meadows shopping mall and you hit America's Most Wanted, which shows a security camera of a holdup at the local bank of America branch:
Jahson Marryshow allegedly holding up the Bank of America in the Bradley Meadows Mall, Woodstock, NY]
Don’t forget, what exists now is often something that would never been built now. Building codes rise over time. Ideally, density and zoning requirements and building standards evolve in rough parallel with changes in building technology and customer desires.
– and, in 2003, invited the nonprofit Rural Ulster Preservation Company to design a plan.
If Woodstock was going to tolerate any developer, it would be one both local and non-profit, and that is RUPCO. No rookie in this community; it’s been in the area for thirty years.
Though when it started RUPCO undoubtedly knew it would face opposition, I doubt even RUPCO could have anticipated eight years of NIMBYism – and the endlessly mounting costs, all of which must be funded somehow, either by resident rents or by grants and subsidies from various government entities. Remember, these are your tax dollars – Federal, state, and local – at work:
The $13.4 million project will have a mix of funding sources, including private and public funding, as well as low-income housing tax credits, a federal program administered by the state.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have thus been flushed into the intangible ether of overcoming procedural and subjective objections from the vocal minority that is latent in every community.
Their first proposal called for 81 housing units and a community center.
The total site is 28 acres, and fully 21 of them are being reserved as green space, an enormous sacrifice to propitiate the gods and goddesses of nimbyism.
That was later changed to 63 units without the center, and still later reduced to 53.
As the site’s density drops, its effective cost per home rises. When the dust has settled, the total project cost (as of August, 2010) was slightly over $252,000 per apartment.
A Woodstock Commons plan, showing where the new property will go and comparing its density to existing uses (including the aforementioned Bradley Meadows Mall)
The current plans, with a green design and geothermal heating and cooling, would set aside some units for households making less than 30% of the county’s area median income (AMI) of roughly $70,000 for a family of four; other units would have income ceilings of 50% and 60% of the county median. Ten units would be set aside for artists and writers. The most expensive family units, with three bedrooms, would rent for $890.
Twenty units are designed for senior citizens, half of them for those making 30% of the median income that would rent for $325.
Disgraceful, isn’t it? What an eyesore!
Assuming the basic Brooke-Amendment affordability threshold of 30% of income for rent, a single elderly person will be eligible for the 30% AMI apartments only if she earns less than $13,000.
For some, the issue is not complicated. Jackie Van Kleeck, 75, had lived her whole life in Woodstock and has been a member of Woodstock Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 for 56 years.
What, I wonder, would Ms. Iris York (“It’s like if you can’t afford to live in Aspen, you don’t go to Aspen”) say to Ms. Van Kleeck: “If you can’t afford to live in Woodstock, you don’t go to Woodstock”?
After her husband died three years ago, she lost his septic company to bankruptcy and then her house to foreclosure. She now rents a second-floor apartment in nearby Saugerties, though she can barely manage the 17 steps.
It’s nice but it’s no Woodstock: Saugerties
“Woodstock, oh my God, no, I can’t afford it; I can’t come close,” she said. “What they have now is mostly city people who can afford it. Us little folks can’t. This project would be wonderful for people with no place else to go.”
Ms. Van Kleeck, lifelong Woodstock resident, has been market-evicted from her home town, and if some people had their way, she would have been kept out of town so that Indiana bats could thrive.
Proponents of the project say the town has shamefully ducked its obligations on housing.
Canned Heat, Woodstock
Speak out, you got to speak out against the madness,
You got to speak your mind, if you dare
Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Long Time Gone, Woodstock, 1969
[Concluded tomorrow in Part 3.]