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  • Lohud | The Journal News

    NY plans to give former Dutchess County prison site to developer to build 1,300 homes

    By Chris McKenna, New York State Team,

    30 days ago
    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3UaiLC_0tz50chm00

    A giant housing complex with as many as 1,300 homes could be built at a closed prison site off Interstate 84 in Dutchess County under redevelopment plans announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday.

    The state plans to give the former Downstate Correctional Facility in the town of Fishkill to Conifer Realty, the Rochester-based company chosen from a bidding competition to redevelop the 80-acre site. The deal is contingent on the developer fulfilling a commitment to keep at least 20% of the homes affordably priced.

    The project combines Hochul's push for new housing with another state goal: finding new uses for closed prison sites around the state. Stymied last year in her plans to set housing targets for every community, Hochul has taken up less controversial strategies to spur growth ‒ including the sale or lease of unused state properties to build up to 15,000 total homes.

    The Downstate Correctional plans will be an early test case for that approach. In a statement on Thursday, Hochul said that project would offer "affordable new homes and vibrant community space" and fulfill the recommendations of a state commission that studied potential new uses for former prison sites.

    "The former Downstate Correctional Facility represents an incredible opportunity to build the housing New Yorkers need, revitalize this community, and reimagine what’s possible on state land,” Hochul said.

    The plans raise an important question for local officials: whether the development plans must comply with their zoning laws and undergo a local planning review. Downstate Correctional is in an area zoned for single-family homes, meaning no more than 80 houses could be built there without a zoning change or variance, town Supervisor Ozzy Albra told the USA Today Network last year.

    Albra was skeptical then about whether the site could support a large housing complex.

    In an interview on Friday, he blasted the newly revealed plans as a bad deal for state taxpayers and a potential problem for the surrounding community because of the project's large size. Briefed by state officials on it one day earlier, Albra said it could clog Route 52 and other roads with traffic and spike enrollment in the Beacon City School District, likely forcing a new elementary school to be built.

    "Who's going to pay for the new school?" he asked.

    Giving away valuable property ‒ and offering Conifer Realty $8 million in state grants for demolition ‒ would be a "huge gift to developers," he said.

    He and fellow Town Board members are set to approve their own vision for how the Downstate Correctional site should be used. Their plan says they prefer commercial development, but support senior and workforce housing and want two thirds of any homes built there to be reserved for Fishkill and Dutchess County residents, Albra said.

    State officials confirmed on Friday that Conifer's plans are subject to Fishkill's zoning rules and planning board oversight. That means they will need zoning changes and must undergo the usual environmental-impact studies done for other development plans, said Kristin Devoe, a spokesman for Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing the transfer of the prison site.

    Conifer plans to raze the 34 empty prison buildings and fill the property with two- and three-family homes. The project would take 10 years to complete, starting in January 2026 with the construction of an initial phase of 375 apartments, state officials said. At least 20% of the homes ‒ 75 for the first phase ‒ would be priced for people earning up to 80% of area's median income.

    State officials promised to get local input on what gets built in the second and third phases, saying Conifer will "engage with local governments and the community to determine the housing plan for the next two phases."

    Housing push:NY struggling to spur affordable housing growth. What are the newest ideas?

    Only rental units would be built in the first phase. In the subsequent phases, Conifer will consider including homes that could be purchased, according to the announcement.

    Conifer, which specializes in affordable housing, has built and now manages more than 300 apartment complexes with 21,000 total units, according to the state's announcement. Those properties span at least four states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

    New plans:Hochul wants to build 15K homes on state land to stem shortage. Which locations targeted?

    Downstate Correctional, a maximum-security prison built to hold up to 1,221 inmates, closed in March 2022, the latest in a cascade of closures as the state's inmate numbers have steadily dropped for at least two decades. Soon afterward, the state solicited bids for the property and led a delegation of interested developers in a tour site.

    The city of Beacon supplied water and treated sewage for the prison while it was open, and would be expected to provide the same services to Conifer's planned housing complex, Albra said.

    Chris McKenna covers government and politics for The Journal News and USA Today Network. Reach him at cmckenna@gannett.com.

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