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City Plans Fix on Bad Buildings

April 4, 2013

The Albany community has made it clear that it wants a plan in action to deal with urban decay. A well-attended meeting was held Wednesday evening at the Main Albany Library on Washington Avenue  to address the city-wide issue of vacant and foreclosed properties, and ideally find a solution to this suffering  aspect of Albany’s urban landscape.

Michael Yevoli/Lauren Halligan

A plan to redevelop Albany’s hurting housing stock was presented to the public Wednesday to encourage feedback from the community, something citizens were more than willing to provide.

Particularly concerned with the Pine Hills, Virginia Hammer of the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association told the panel at the meeting “I don’t want to see new, ugly housing that takes away from the character of what makes Albany special.”

Although County Legislature Majority Leader Frank Commisso made a proposal titled Albany County Land Redevelopment Program, specifications and a schedule fr this plan still need to be set.

“We need to cut the red tape,” said County Executive Dan McCoy. “We need to make it happen sooner than later.”

The panel discussion, titled “Best Outcomes for Vacant Buildings” was hosted by The Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations. Affordable Housing Partnerships’s Louise McNeilly moderated the discussion in front of a standing-room-only auditorium full of citizens, local politicians, and legislators all interested in hearing the city’s plan to address the issue of unused buildings.

Panelists at the meeting included  Commisso, who explained and proposed his plan to the audience, McCoy, and Michael Yevoli, the city’s commissioner of development and planning, who spoke of a pilot program entitled Blight to Betterment, through which a dozen buildings would be redeveloped with available funds, and Jeffrey Jamison, Albany’s new commissioner of the department of buildings and regulatory compliance.

A crowd April 3, 2013 at Albany Public Library/Lauren Halligan

Commisso said that his plan is still in draft form, and is open to revision. Commisso drafted a pamphlet, which was presented at the meeting, because “it was time that we step up to the plate and take action,” mentioning that vacant buildings are often “heavens for crime.” Yevoli later said that they often become unauthorized shelters for homeless, or at the least, eyesores for the community.

“We’re undercapitalized,” McCoy said. One essential element that Commisso admitted the plan needs is “more involvement from developers with the know-how.” Commisso’s current plan would involve Habitat for Humanity and Touhey Associates as potential partners for redeveloping problem properties. A long time coming, Wednesday night’s proposal to eradicate decaying properties is Commisso’s intitiative to get a movement in action, understanding that “This is not something that happens overnight.”

McCoy said that there are currently 202 foreclosed properties in the city of Albany, and a total of 302 in the county, and that “most are in disrepair.” Albany Legislator Virginia Maffia-Tobler, who attended the meeting, and will eventually weigh in on the future of the plan said before the meeting that Commisso’s Habitat-for Humanity-sponsored plan “seemed to be that it was the best way to go for the land bank.”

Feedback on Commisso’s plan was offered in abundance during the question portion of the evening. Carmela Triolo, a South End native on the “grassroots” Board of South End Improvement Corporation, said “we’re looking into different ways to get private money to leverage” rather than using all public resources. Triolo also made it clear that more than just one or two private organizations should be obtaining properties to redevelop properties under this new plan.

Commisso said the city has not ruled out eminent domain as a way to solve some of the building problems.   The final portion of the meeting was devoted to planning the community’s next steps in making this plan a feasible and agreeable reality.

The consensus was to create a forum for public participation in specifying this plan to meet the needs of a citizenry that wants to be involved. That forum should soon exist on the Web, but a domain name has not been established. A potential plan in which Albany County would appoint a local development corporation to act as a land bank was proposed in January. Under this corporation, foreclosed, abandoned, or blighted properties would be quickly overturned for redevelopment.

Once a more specific plan is written up as a resolution, it will the go before the Audit and Finance committee, before being voted upon in Legislature.-30-


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