February 27, 2024

Affordable Housing Project Divides Woodstock

Instead, a protracted battle over a 53-unit affordable housing project is dividing this still-crunchy town where mellow ’60s vibes and liberal politics coexist uneasily with real estate prices increasingly out of the reach of the humbler classes.

When workers finally began clearing land for the Woodstock Commons project in July, it looked as if the uncomfortable dispute might finally be ending. Instead, new issues kept popping up: the plight of black bears and endangered Indiana bats threatened by the construction; a botched permitting process; uncertainty about water service.

In some ways what is playing out in this Ulster County town is a more colorful microcosm of affordable housing controversies elsewhere. Still, the collision of environmental, neighborhood and social justice issues is making people squirm in a place where the only thing more important than making the world better can be keeping Woodstock the same.

“Nobody would tell you they don’t want these people in our town,” said Jeff Moran, the town supervisor, who has been a conflicted supporter of the rental project. “Instead, they talk about the effect on the quality of life, ramping up the costs of services and those kind of things. But there’s a joke in town that the reason The Woodstock Times costs a dollar is because people don’t want change. People come here and they think they have an investment in the town being a certain way.”

Opponents, particularly in neighborhoods near the project site, said the issue was not Nimbyism or opposition to public housing but practical objections based on Woodstock’s small size (population about 6,000), charmingly Brigadoonish downtown and creaky infrastructure. Among their complaints: the project is too big, it is at a dangerous bend for traffic and the site should remain green space. They have picked apart particulars, like the nonprofit developer’s claim that residents would be within walking distance of a nearby “grocery store” that is actually a high-priced health food store.

“It’s politically incorrect to oppose an affordable project, so you can’t even look at it,” said Robin Segal, who has a doctorate in energy policy and who moved to town two years ago in search of a garden and peace and quiet. She has since been consumed with writing a detailed blog about the project that has found errors and problems the planning process missed. “But,” she continued, “it’s the wrong project in the wrong place.”

Woodstock’s lack of affordable housing has long been a public concern, though a low-level one, in a place where almost any building project — whether a cellphone tower, the expansion of a Buddhist monastery or solar panels at an animal sanctuary — can set off a nasty dispute.

Finally, an affordable housing committee selected a wooded site with sensitive wetlands behind the drab strip shopping center leading into Woodstock’s downtown and, in 2003, invited the nonprofit Rural Ulster Preservation Company to design a plan.

Their first proposal called for 81 housing units and a community center. That was later changed to 63 units without the center, and still later reduced to 53. The current plans, with a green design and geothermal heating and cooling, would set aside some units for households making less than 30 percent of the county’s median income of roughly $70,000 for a family of four; other units would have income ceilings of 50 percent and 60 percent of the county median.

Twenty units are designed for senior citizens, half of them for those making 30 percent of the median income that would rent for $325. The most expensive family units, with three bedrooms, would rent for $890. Ten units would be set aside for artists and writers.

For some, the issue is not complicated. Jackie Van Kleeck, 75, had lived her whole life in Woodstock and has been a member of Woodstock Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 for 56 years. But after her husband died three years ago, she lost his septic company to bankruptcy and then her house to foreclosure. She now rents a second-floor apartment in nearby Saugerties, though she can barely manage the 17 steps.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 13, 2011

An earlier version of this story reversed the captions for two of the attached photographs.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=b6bdd6389a317001ad338aa655eb69bd

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