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.
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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.
Joan Grabe says
The town of Webb is all too typical of the Adirondacks. Local businesses need more workers, local schools need more student, residents need more medical care facilities and personnel, sewerage systems are aging and inadequate and while a partial answer is affordable and adequate housing for current and potential residents, NIMBY rises and local officials retreat to a less contentious position. Such as voting before community input on the subject because they have already been through this while attempting to deal with STRs. I am currently renting in a place that would frighten most Adirondack residents. A place that also faces adverse weather conditions for almost half the year and is filled with seasonal owners. – Indian Wells, California. Large housing developments built around tennis or golf or both, high density with either ground level or high rise construction, magnificent scenery, great resorts, great restaurants, great shopping, great culture, great weather. The Adirondacks went the other way and continues to do so even tho there are lessons to be learned from each other. More people are not bad ! Everyone would benefit, businesses, schools, religious institutions and the people themselves ! New neighbors , new businesses, more services. It is truly a win/win situation and the town of Webb should at least discuss it.
Narrow-minded “leadership” by the Town of Webb is the type that will lead to a hollowed-out community. Wouldn’t want those “others” living here.
Douglas DiPaola says
Thank you for this comment. I feel the same way.
Pam DiSanto says
The Van Auken hotel, thinking outside of the box, already has 12 rooms with private baths, three dining rooms, two bars, and a speak easy room in the basement. This hotel could be re-purposed into units to help establish at least half of what is needed. There needs to be a clever investor who knows exactly how to re-purpose the remainder of that hotel to make this a landmark for new housing.
There is also the railroad track and trains that go to Utica that could provide some transportation to people that live in Utica to also come work here in Old forge, and the possibility of them living here to rent and work. Have an open house community week for people to come to Old forge from the surrounding towns to meet and greet the owners of the businesses that are in town, and at the same time are able to apply for work at their establishments during that visit. There is absolutely no incentive to have people live here so it’s about time, thinking outside of that box, that this begins to happen in order for a brighter future for all.
Outside of the housing concerns, there needs to be a community of health care resources as well. We have one community doctor, One nurse practitioner, and possibly an LPN or a medical assistant( not sure though about any nurses). That is a large responsibility to take care of an entire Old forge community for few people that are qualified. That sounds absurd to think we are capturing good health for an aging community that lacks in healthcare resources. The Mohawk Valley Health System that runs our small community clinic should provide healthcare professionals such as travel nurses, Nurse practitioners, M.D positions to be able to help the residents who currently live in Old forge, and the surrounding towns. We need to have more health care especially when those are in need during the tourist busy seasons, as well as, when there is not. When we wait for when ” The time is right”, or “When the budget is right”, or “not enough people move here first before we propose an idea to the town’s Board men and women along with the towns residents”. With those excuses we already have lost so much opportunity to turn this beautiful town around!
For those who rent in the Old forge camping resort, rental of hotels during their vacation stays etc, could help out with the shortage of workers. Once again, thinking outside of the box with something a little more creative, offer to those who are spending the night or such as those long-term people in the Old Forge Camping resort, who live there or who just are there during the seasons or any of the hotels in Old forge for that matter give them an option, prior to the renting, to literally help clean their own rooms for a small discounted price. Or when you stay at this hotel for so many visits and you clean your own room you will get a bigger discounted price. People are always looking for bargains those who live here and those who visit.
Let’s give those people who want to live in Old Forge a sense of security of good work relationships, great health care resources, a way of transportation if they do not have a vehicle, such as our train system, and great advocates of our town, The board members, to ensure longevity of those who live here and those who will want to move here. Communities need to work together STRONG! It takes a VILLAGE to accomplish great work.
As I said, we have an entire train system that goes from here to Utica. How wonderful would it be to have a well thought-out plan to engage those community members of Utica to travel by train to work here during the day and leave at night? Or to be able to visit during the day as a tourist which will help the businesses when they spend their well-earned dollars here because they’re enjoying our town.
Let’s get some fresh young minds in here to work along side the more seasoned minds to gain a plan so Old forge will continue to thrive for years to come.
Good points but the health care workers and the “young minds” you call for both need places to live.
Nearly everyone agrees the Adirondacks needs more housing for full time residents. Yet it seems every project to expand such housing faces NIMBY opposition for the most spurious of reasons.
People like to blame Albany for all their problems. But small-minded fears of expanding housing because of “who might move here” shows that many of rural America’s problems are self-inflicted.
Glenn L. Pearsall says
Interesting that today’s Almanac e-mailing includes a story of a controversial plan in Old Forge to provide affordable housing to low income workers and a story wondering how to re-purpose old prisons. The locations are not the same, but with upgrades and state funding, the latter may ultimately be the answer for the former.
John Wilson says
Just progressive Joe Biden and hochul pushing his program of destroying urban areas the way they did big cities with public housing projects.good for you BOARD MEMBERS who saw through the B S! How many people have left NY, and these fools think we will buy the line of housing shortage. Wasn’t it 300k left upstate?
Neat trick. Blame Democrats for people leaving the state while opposing efforts to provide affordable places to live for people to be able to stay in the state. You prefer blame Democrats for all your problems and the bad weather and oppose steps to actually make things better. You object to towns doing something for themselves because it would deny them the victimhood the fascist right so desperately needs, since it has nothing positive to offer anyone. Your comment is a perfect illustration of that.
The “line of housing shortage” in Webb was not peddled by your governor. It was identified by people who actually live in the town of Webb.
So this project would address a housing and worker shortage identified by the locals themselves AND improve the property tax base. And the locals sabotaged this? When the town continues to struggle because businesses can’t find workers, I look forward to locals insist that this is Kathy Hochul’s fault.
I’ve read a few articles on this and have not heard a coherent argument against the project. So what if the units go to people who don’t already live in the town? GREAT! The town’s population would expand. (Oh wait, then you wouldn’t have population decline to blame the Democrats for)
I love small towns in general but this fits into every urban snob’s stereotype of rural small-mindedness. They would rather struggle and be victims than adapt.
John Wilson says
Obviously u missed Hochul grand program for housing in the state, and read why people say they leave, DEMOCRAT controlled teacher union, Democrat high taxes, Democrat trying micro manage business regulations, people fleeing Democrat states, open your eyes and read!
This project would be a way to create housing at a local level, initiated by local developers, planned by local officials and would increase the property tax base. It would help several of the problems Republicans always whine about.
This project is private enterprise being sabotaged by Republican government. Not Kathy Hochul’s woke unicorn fairies. No wonder Democratic areas of the state like the Capital District and Hudson Valley are doing better than Republican areas of the same state.
The real problem with the project? It might bring in legal immigrant workers from Utica… non-white immigrants.
Let’s call a spade a spade. Opponents of the project are afraid that the workforce housing will be filled by Bosnian immigrants who’ve settled in Utica.
Mike Thompson says
People wake up! These houses do not become available to local residents! People from out of town purchase these houses as a secondary home. Stop renting … Figure out a way to own your future… Don’t allow dictators to control you…
John Wilson says
Read today Google it EQUITY RULES new housing by Biden