Webb Town Board to utilize town-owned property in the creation of Railroad Ave housing development
By Jamie Organski
The need to establish affordable housing in Webb has been a hot topic for decades, however the issue seems to have reached a tipping point. The vast majority of housing in Webb is classified as second homes, seasonal homes, and vacation rentals, and only one affordable housing development exists in Old Forge, a 19-unit complex called Moose River Commons, built in 2015 by owners Mike and Karen Mitchell.
Town of Webb Supervisor David Berkstresser and the Webb Town Board are partnering with Herkimer County officials and LivingADK (CAP-21) leaders in a united approach to help improve housing options, including the creation of a second housing development in Old Forge.
The housing complex will contain 35-40 units situated on approx. 8-acres of town-owned property on Railroad Avenue in Old Forge and would be owned and managed by the town. The land includes the site of the former highway garage, and the current town ice rink, which will be relocated elsewhere in town. The development will be made up of a combination of market housing and voucher housing for those who need rental assistance.
The town board has hired Don Hall, CEO/Consultant of Opportunities For Upstate, to help guide them toward the right resources, and apply directly for funding for specific purposes. Hall encouraged the board to create or partner with a public housing authority to maintain as much control as possible throughout the duration of the project.
“You own the land and are in the driver’s seat. There is $125 million in [funds] in the state budget that only municipal housing authorities have access to [for projects of this sort.]”– Don Hall, CEO, Opportunities For Upstate
The average median income (AMI) in Herkimer County is $71,700, Hall said, adding that the golden rule is that 30-percent of an AMI defines the maximum amount families should pay for rent, including utilities. This housing development would be best suited for young families and middle income service workers who need housing in close proximity to their jobs, according to Hall.
A portion of a county road which intersects Railroad Avenue (town road) will need to be readjusted to allow access to a prime section of land for the development, a project that Berkstresser said the Herkimer County Highway Department agreed to engineer with construction being done by town workers. The site allows easy access to utilities including electric and town water, Berkstresser said, noting that a sewer pump station will need to be installed at the site.
At this time the land has been deemed usable by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Environmental Conservation, according to Berkstresser. The board is waiting to meet with a site engineer who will determine the boundary lines for the best use of the property, after which a survey and an appraisal will be conducted. An experience Berkstresser labeled both exciting and daunting, he said he was pleased that the town board had identified this site to fulfill an urgent need for additional housing.
“We are hoping to be ready to go to the next step by late spring, and how that goes will determine the completion date,” Berkstresser said. “I am anxious and excited to get going on it and to see it through.”
Town of Webb Councilwoman Barb Green said the town board is currently weighing the pros and cons of forming a local housing authority or working directly with Robert Calli, the Executive Director for the Utica Municipal Housing Authority known as People First. Green expressed thanks to John Piseck of the Herkimer County IDA for his interest in helping the town of Webb with its housing needs, including having an initial housing feasibility survey done with assistance from consultant Hall. Green said the board’s primary focus is the Railroad Avenue housing project, however they are researching other ways to secure funding for existing home improvements for veterans, seniors, and more.
“We are also looking at a possible countywide mobile home replacement program that could impact a small number of local residents,” Green said. “It is my hope that we can expand into other areas, including Eagle Bay, to work toward revitalization of properties for both housing and retail.”
Green said the town board is aware of the need for housing solutions in the area, and that they are now armed with the resources and direction to move forward.
“This is no easy feat, and the housing problems will not disappear with one development of workforce housing,” Green said. “This will be (should be) a priority for future boards to stay on task to continue to address the continually changing housing environment we are experiencing throughout the north country, and the nation. Working collaboratively with [our] partners, and others, can help to further that priority.”
Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before the Nov. 2 election. According to Wednesday’s election results, Bonnie Baker won the town of Webb supervisor’s race.