More public hearings, but no votes
By Jeff Simms
More than a year after the proposal first appeared on a Beacon Planning Board agenda, the debate over the 307-unit Edgewater development on the waterfront shows no sign of slowing down.
The City Council on Monday (April 16) held two public hearings, one focused on Edgewater and the other indirectly related. Both will be critical in determining how the project proceeds.
Gross versus buildable
As part of its nearly citywide zoning review, the council in December adopted changes to the Fishkill Creek development zone, including a provision to use “buildable,” rather than gross, acreage to calculate the density allowed on parcels for development. The clause removed steep slopes, floodways and other environmentally sensitive land from the equation.
In the creekside zone, the council did not exclude (or grandfather in) projects presently under Planning Board review. The same provision is on the table for most of the city’s residential districts and, if passed, Edgewater attorneys have estimated it would force them to remove 71 units from their plan.
Peg O’Leary, the director of the nonprofit Hudson Valley Housing, told the council on Monday that changing gross to buildable in the code would have a “direct and crippling” impact on affordable housing in the region. The city requires 10 percent of developments of 10 units or more to be set aside for affordable housing, so Edgewater, if built as planned, would add about 31 apartments to Beacon’s below-market-rate stock.
O’Leary called the zoning proposal “arbitrary and capricious,” and argued that the Planning Board’s environmental review process already protects sensitive landscapes. Edgewater received environmental approval from the Planning Board in December after a protracted debate over its potential impact on the Beacon City School District.
A Beacon resident, Arthur Camins, countered that raising the affordable requirements by 10 to 20 percent would be a more effective plan to diversify housing. “However, I don’t think the intent of the zoning law is that if half of your property is unbuildable that you get to build twice the density on the remaining portion,” he said.
The second, and longer, hearing was to discuss a request from the Edgewater developers for a special-use permit, which is required by the code because the development would include multi-family housing.
Among other criteria, the council must decide whether Edgewater would be “more objectionable” than another use for the site that would not require the special-use permit, such as townhouses.
Melissa Buerkett, a resident, argued that the City Council members should deny the permit and fulfill their campaign promises of controlling development.
“Edgewater is the epitome of too much at a crucial time in Beacon’s history where we have the opportunity to shape it into a truly livable community for everybody,” she said. “How on earth is this keeping with a healthy vision for Beacon?”
But Rodney Weber, the project’s developer, asserted that Edgewater is “what is right for Beacon economically and for the people.” Weber said that because many young people are unable to afford rent in the city, Edgewater’s studio and one-bedroom apartments would give them “that edge to get forward, to start something new.”
Christian Campbell agreed, saying that people are “falling in love” with Beacon “but right now they don’t have an entryway,” while Dan Aymar-Blair cautioned that “in a couple of years, when you’re on the other side of the river, you’re going to look at Beacon and say, ‘What did Beacon do to itself? It used to be so beautiful there.’ ”
A vote had been scheduled on the density calculation for that night, but City Attorney Nick Ward-Willis recommended that the council discuss the proposal further. If the council grants the special-use permit, the developer would return to the Planning Board for site plan approval.