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Albion residents speak against plan to turn daycare into 10-unit housing

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 May 2013 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – John Williams, a member of the Elks Lodge in Albion, opposes a plan to turn a daycare next door into 10 efficiency units.

This former childcare center is eyed for 10 apartments.

ALBION – A proposal to turn a former child care center at the end of West State Street into 10 apartments has riled neighbors, including the Elks Lodge, which is next door to the former Agri-Business Child Development site.

“It’s not a good thing,” John Williams, a member of the Elks, told the Village Planning Board. “You could have sex offenders in there and ex cons. It’s no good.”

Williams and other neighbors said the site, if turned into 10 apartments, would bring down the property values in the neighborhood.

Linda Smith of Albion wants to buy the site from the state and turn it into 10 “efficiency units” that would be about 550 square feet each with their own bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. She said she does criminal background checks on all applicants for her apartments.

“If I think they are a danger, I can refuse them,” she said about applicants.

The efficiency units wouldn’t be a “flop house” or boarding house, and residents would stay for at least a month. Smith said the project would improve a building that has sat empty for at least three years and would return the site to the tax rolls.

“I take pride in them,” she said about the properties she owns in Albion. “I keep them up. I try to put good people in them.”

The building is in a residential neighborhood. Village Code Enforcement Officer Ron Vendetti said it’s highly unlikely the building would be converted into one- or two-unit housing.

He wrote a proposal for adaptive reuse overlay districts that would target buildings older than 1996 that are vacant with more than 5,000 square feet of space. The zoning would provide some flexibility for reusing the properties, but also provides conditions for the Planning Board to consider the project’s impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

Planning Board Chairman Dan Gleason said there are many vacant or underutilized sites in the village that need creative solutions. The Planning Board and Village Board would need to adopt the adaptive reuse zoning for the building before Smith could proceed. The Orleans County Planning Board also would need to weigh in on the proposal.

Several neighbors said they didn’t want a 10-unit site in their neighborhood. Matt Passarell, a member of Town Board, said the proposal is contrary to the recently approved Albion comprehensive plan, where community members they wanted less rental properties in the village.

“We established a vision in our comprehensive plan and we should stick to it,” Passarell said.

Village Code Enforcement Officer Ron Vendetti is looking for creative ways to reuse vacant buildings that are bigger than 5,000 square feet. He has proposed an adaptive reuse overlay district for those properties.

His parents, Jim and Barbara Passarell, both addressed the board and said the West State Street neighborhood has sharply declined in their 30 years on the street. Mrs. Passarell said the street has turned into “a slum.”

She also told Vendetti he should be neutral in enforcing codes, not working to create new zoning.

Vendetti said he was asked by the Village Board to draft a proposal for reusing some of the larger vacant buildings in the village that don’t lend themselves a one- or two-unit housing.

“It’s a hard thing to figure out,” Vendetti said about the properties.

The village’s tax assessed value has been shrinking in recent years. Gleason, the Planning Board chairman, said the village would benefit if sites were reused, rather than sitting vacant or being torn down. He said the board wouldn’t make a decision soon on the adaptive reuse zoning or on Smith’s project.

“It gives you an idea of what we’re up against,” Gleason said. “If you look around Albion, there’s a lot of empty buildings. We’re looking for ways to reuse some of those buildings and increase our tax base.”