A large housing project proposed for Poughkeepsie’s Main Street and generally known as the Wallace Campus is now the subject of a lawsuit in Dutchess County Supreme Court. The proposed development won planning board approval on January 19 despite deep misgivings about the project aired by Chair Robert Levine even minutes before the five to two abstentions vote and sustained chorus of concerns from affected businesses.
The new development would transform virtually an entire city block, demolishing buildings at 319, 325, 327-329 and 331 Main Street, and replacing them with two new five-story buildings adjoined to a rehabilitated historic landmark – the former Wallace Department store – as well as redeveloping existing off-street parking on Mill St., yielding 14,235 square feet of retail commercial space, as well as some publicly accessible open space.
The 187-unit project, which still may need a significant tax abatement to proceed, is considered a keystone project for achieving the administration’s aim of creating population density downtown. “We welcome this project,” says Mayor Rolison. “The city needs to grow; there is clearly a housing shortage…[and] no one project will define this diverse city, nor should it.”
The project enjoys wide support from affordable housing advocates, but critics say it threatens to doom the central business district, which is already wracked by quality-of-life assaults and crime.
There are several main concerns, which persisted through a year and a half of board consideration and eight public hearings, including the possible impact on the neighborhood of 30 ‘supportive housing’ units reserved for people with major life challenges, with the rest set at very affordable rates and no market-rate apartments that most successful affordable projects have.
And while there is near-universal appreciation of the desperate need for affordable housing, many citizens have raised concerns about the concentration of low-income housing in a fragile block where some small businesses depend on drawing customers from outside the City.
The most consequential aspects of this project – tenancy, local fiscal impact, and the long-term stewardship of the building – the Planning Board generally insisted were outside its role to assess site plans and architectural matters. Public criticism aired at its meetings did compel the developers to make some mostly marginal modifications.
But these were not enough for a group of local petitioners who filed the lawsuit last week to try to invalidate the planning board’s decision claiming that “the application included false, misleading information and unsubstantiated claims about the project meeting the needs of the city.”
“My clients’ position is that the Planning Board did not do the appropriate diligence …[including that it] did not take a hard look at the potential significant adverse socioeconomic impacts presented by the project,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Colby Creedon. “My clients are asking for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to understand those impacts and ensure such impacts (if any) are mitigated.” The project, which seems likely to be hugely consequential because of its location and size, is one of the City’s biggest new gambles for its future.