Town tries to keep track of the affordable housing saga

MILLERTON — Although the affordable housing project, Millerton Overlook, is proposed for the heart of the village, the issue is just as important to those governing, working and living in the town of North East. The project, and the actions of the applicant behind it (Housing Resources of Columbia County, Inc.), were again brought up for discussion at the monthly Town Board meeting, held on Thursday, April 8.

Resident Pamela Michaud, also a member of the recently reorganized Concerned Citizens of Millerton-North East (a group that has spoken out against the project), submitted a petition to the board in March, with 102 signatures. The petition reads:

“The following citizens and/or taxpayers of the town of North East request that the Town Board appoint an independent attorney to review the actions of Millerton Overlook and advise the Town Board of its rights for the following reasons:

“1. The town cannot afford to lose $108,000 in grant funds.

“2. In any litigation, the attorney for the town may be a witness to occurrences and a witness to representations made by the Millerton Overlook respecting subordination of the town’s mortgage to another lender in the amount of $400,000. These occurrences and representations may lead to the loss of the $108,000 grant.�

During public comment last Thursday, she asked the board to “act as requested� in a timely manner.

“It’s better to put an end to it now,� she said the next day. “We would like the town to be able to protect itself financially in that process and we feel we have the full support of most of the community in doing this.�

Back at the meeting, during public comments, resident Dave Shufelt rose to address town Supervisor Dave Sherman. Shufelt said when the town signed up for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), which provided the $108,000 to help Housing Resources purchase the 3.7-acre site on North Elm Street to build the 20-unit workforce and senior housing complex, it was “blackmailed.� He expanded on that sentiment.

“You’re signing us up for something that has never been revealed,� he said. “Now this town is obligated under law to provide affordable housing. Is that correct?�

“I’m not sure,� Sherman responded. “Now you’re raising the issue of what is the responsibility of the municipality.�

Shufelt continued to question the supervisor.

“Is it low-income housing [that’s being proposed]?� he asked. “The Village Board is being chastised by people who say it isn’t low-income housing. You have an agreement with the county for affordable and senior housing.�

“What the town applied for benefits people of low and moderate income — both. That’s the verbiage used by HUD [the Department of Housing and Urban Development],� Sherman said, adding it’s also for senior housing. “And moderate income is 80 percent of the county’s median.�

Michaud then spoke again, reinforcing her group’s right to oppose the project and Housing Resources’ tactics.

“We’re the community responding to this [project],� she said. “If we need to do more [to prevent it from happening], we will. We’re not going away. We love our town and village and we will protect it.�

“I love my town and I will protect it as well,� said resident Sam Busselle, adding that much of the talk against the project has been uncivil and untrue. “The idea that 90 people will be living on this property is untrue. There’s no way to, in 20 units, especially with seniors, get 90 people in there. It’s an untruth. Let’s back off.

“The survey that was incited was a legitimate process, but we need to get back to an even-handed approach,� he added. “Informative and even-handed.�

Michaud responded the following day.

“Citizens are engaging in their right to assemble, petition, ask tough questions and hold elected officials accountable and that cannot be characterized as incivility,� she said, adding that she has a personal issue with the project as well. “I don’t believe this was the result of an initiation by local residents, although there was an attempt to make it appear that way.�

Meanwhile, at the Town Board meeting, Attorney to the Town Warren Replansky said he would like to “tentatively schedule� a meeting with Housing Resources and the county for May 27 and asked the board to reserve the date. He did warn they may or may not have the meeting. Despite that uncertainty, he timed it to occur after the Millerton Planning Board has another meeting with the applicant so the Town Board then as a better idea of where the project stands with its environmental review.

Replansky also spoke with the county’s planning department, which said it would prefer a private meeting; the attorney said it must be public, to which the county agreed as long as there was no public interaction. Replansky also said he spoke with Housing Resources’ attorney, Scott Longstreet, about attending the meeting; Longstreet did not commit to attending. Additionally, Replansky advised the Town Board not to have HUD at the meeting, but did suggest to have representatives from both the Village Board and the village’s Planning Board.

Meanwhile, Housing Resources’ Executive Director Kevin O’Neill responded with surprise to last week’s news that he was not on the April 14 Planning Board’s agenda due to an unpaid escrow account. He said that he was not notified that escrow payments are now due two weeks prior to scheduled meetings, nor was he sent a bill stating as much. He sent a letter to the Planning Board and its chairman, Lance Middlebrook, requesting he be added back onto the April 14 agenda.

“I must respectfully request that we be put back on the agenda; and in the future, that we be provided with proper and timely notice of required escrow payment,� he stated. “No one can be expected to pay a bill if they are not provided with one.... It is neither fair nor accurate to state that we have failed to make any payments. It is not fair to continue to unnecessarily extend the review of this application.�

Meanwhile, Housing Resources was placed back on the agenda for the April 14 Planning Board meeting, as its escrow account was replenished to the village’s satisfaction.

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