Webb Town Board withdraws support of People First project, ahead of scheduled informational meetings
By Jamie Organski
Despite an ongoing shortage of affordable and workforce housing throughout the Adirondacks, the Webb Town Board has pulled its support of an approximately 52-unit workforce housing project before a planned public hearing.
The Webb Town Board and People First, a housing authority based out of Utica, have been discussing the development on 55 acres of land situated on North Street in Old Forge, near the George T. Hiltebrant Recreation Center.
During a Feb. 14 Webb town board meeting, local resident Diane Kull read a letter/petition against the proposed People First workforce housing project. The petition was signed by approx. 300 “Old Forge concerned community members” including several local/area business owners, many who have struggled or continue to struggle with a shortage of workers.
A heated exchange ensued in which several attendees expressed concerns with the proposed housing development, including what would happen if all units were not filled with local families/workers as well as concerns over whether the town’s aged infrastructure (including the sewer system) could handle an influx of users, etc.
During the discussion, Town of Webb Supervisor Bonnie Baker made a motion to withdraw town support from the proposed People First workforce housing project. During a roll call vote, council members Kurt Gardner, Tom Greco, and Mike Ross, and Supervisor Baker all voted in favor of the motion. Council member Barb Green voted against.
This decision came as quite a shock to many, considering two public informational meetings are scheduled for the end of the month.
Green said she urges residents and community members to attend one of the upcoming informational meetings to ask questions pertaining to the project.
“I believe that everyone should have a voice in the housing conversation and I don’t agree with shutting it down prior to the information sessions on [Feb. 28,]” Green said.
Old Forge resident Linda Weal, owner of Gallery 3040, said she believes everyone who lives in the town of Webb agrees there is not enough available housing to support the needs of the community.
“We all know people affected by the lack of long term rentals,” Weal said. ”The proposed People First project…has caused strong feelings, [like a] fear of who might be moving here and [the] strain it may put on town services. I am more afraid of a future where people have nowhere to live, and less people live here.”
How the town of Webb got here:
- AN INITIAL PROJECT FALLS THROUGH, FALL 2021: the Town of Webb considered building workforce housing on 8 acres of town-owned land on Railroad Avenue/Joy Tract Road in Old Forge. That location was deemed unfit because it was too small (with room for about half of the proposed units) and funding would be needed to reroute a portion of a county road which intersects Railroad Avenue.
- HOUSING CRISIS, SPRING 2022: the Webb Town Board issued a statement declaring a housing crisis in the Town of Webb. The Town of Webb listed information on Facebook in June of 2022 of two public hearings with Robert Calli of People First addressing the housing crisis in the Town of Webb.
- REGULATING STRS, OCTOBER 2022: The Town of Webb adopted legislation during an Oct. 11 town board meeting, taking an initial step in regulating short-term rentals (STRs) after years of draft laws, revisions, and public hearings.
- EXECUTIVE SESSION, DECEMBER 2022: The town of Webb also called for a special meeting on Dec. 8, which took place in executive session to discuss future negotiations with People First.
Over the last two census cycles we have lost 300 residents, according to Weal.
“Our population is shrinking and aging,” Weal said. “I worry about school enrollment, participation in volunteer emergency services, civic groups, [and] volunteer organizations. In a tourism-centered community a typical ratio of renters (vs. home ownership) is between 50 and 60-percent. Only 4.5-percent of our properties are currently available as long term rentals.”
Pulling support for any project before learning the facts is poor leadership, Weal continued.
“The town supervisor mentioned she had a list of people against the project, not a list of people for it,” she said. “I don’t think there will be a list of people ‘for the project’ until we learn more. If [the board is] not willing to support this project, I hope they are seeking other solutions for our housing emergency [declared a few months ago.] They have been unwilling thus far to limit short term rentals, [and] form a local housing authority.” Baker could not be reached for comment.
LivingADK Executive Director, Robin Hill, said LivingADK (an organization that has worked closely with the town in helping to bring housing solutions to the Town of Webb) is withholding any further comment on the proposed project at this time.
“I believe our Letter to the Editor provided by the Board of Directors speaks to our position in that we support the process of sharing information and hearing the presentation,” Hill said. That letter is posted on the Adirondack Almanack website.
People First Executive Director Robert Calli wished to reserve comment until all the information is shared and discussed with the community at the informational meetings.
What: Two informational meetings regarding the proposed subsidized workforce housing development on North Street in Old Forge
When: 2p.m. and 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28
Where: View, located at 3273 State Route 28 in Old Forge.
Who: Representatives from People First, including Executive Director Robert Calli, will be on hand to present a proposal regarding the housing development and field questions from the public. Adirondack Diversity Initiative representatives have also been invited to attend the informational meetings.