Two boards OK Habitat’s two-family home plan

VALATIE–The county chapter of Habitat for Humanity was once again in front of the village Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) last week to correct a variance granted in December to replace a two-family house the organization purchased on the corner of Main and New streets. The village Planning Board also attended the meeting prepared vote on whether to approve final plans for a new house Habitat hopes to start building this summer at the site.

The Planning Board had some concerns about the Habitat plan, which calls for new two-family house to replace the existing one. Each of the two attached homes will be about 1,400 square feet and will be owned by two separate families selected by Habitat.

The ZBA resolved its issues with the proposal at the double meeting held Wednesday, March 30. But at first, two of three Planning Board members present voted against having their board approve the plan. The Planning Board has five members but one was absent and one recused himself.

“It’s too small a lot to subdivide,” said acting Planning Board Chair Marilyn Huffman. Later in the meeting she said, “I whole heartedly support Habitat for a one-family house.”

Planning Board member Art Heins said that he didn’t like the proposed design of having the entrances with porches on the side of the house and he was also concerned that the lot was not large enough for a two-family home.

In response, Village Attorney Robert Fitzsimmons said that since the ZBA had already approved the zoning law variances requested by Habitat, the Planning Board could not legally deny the subdivision. “They are code-complaint now,” Mr. Fitzsimmons said of Habitat’s plan. “The zoning board made those decisions for you,” he told the Planning Board at the meeting.

Habitat Executive Director Brenda Adams, Board President Sara McWilliams and architect Marc Bailey, from BarlisWedlick Architects LLC, attended the meeting.

Mr. Bailey stressed that the plans were not final and said, “I’m confident that the building will look nice.”

He pointed out that if the building remained as a single-owner property but was rented out as a two-family house, Habitat would not need approval from the board. Habitat is subdividing the building so that each of the two families in the community selected for the project can purchase their own homes.

After the meeting, Ms. Adams said that Habitat plans to host an informational session in the village for the 65 families who have expressed interest in buying one of homes.

Habitat for Humanity builds homes in partnership with qualifying partner families and the community, and then sells the homes at no profit with 0% interest mortgages to partnering families. Each of the partner families must meet income guidelines and contribute 300 hours of work to the construction of their new home.

The local Habitat website, www.columbiacountyhabitat.org, says that Habitat volunteers have built “safe, affordable housing” for 18 families in the county, adding, “We make home ownership possible for lower-income working families through no-interest mortgages.” Habitat has already built one home in Valatie.

“We want to bring families to the village,” Mr. Bailey said.

Ms. Huffman worried that if the Planning Board allowed Habitat to put a two-family house on the site the decision would set a precedent.

“In terms of precedent, that’s really on us,” said ZBA member Tom Puchner.

After two rounds of voting, Mr. Heins and Ms. Huffman finally approved the plan with reservations.

Ms. McWilliams said that anyone concerned with the plan is welcome to become part of the process. “Anyone who wants to swing a hammer, come see me,” she said.

After the meeting, Ms. Adams talked about fundraising for the project. Habitat will host a fundraiser at Winding Brook Country Club on Route 203 on May 14.

She said that because Habitat now has the approvals it need for the project, “everything that’s been on hold for the last 90 days will kick in.”

Habitat plans to demolish the current structure and start construction this summer.

“We’re really excited about getting started,” she said.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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