Letters 1: Opposed to housing project
I would like to thank Dave Frederickson for the column he wrote that was in the July 10 edition of the Banner regarding the proposed housing project on Silver Street. I thought his article was highly informational and I will be at the Firehouse Meeting to continue the dialogue. As a Realtor for many years here in Bennington I am opposed to this project at any location in Bennington. I believe that we have more than our share of subsidized housing and we have become the catch basin for all of Bennington County and parts of New York State as well. The situation of young adults walking our streets during the day, obviously unemployed and many with baby carriages is my everyday view from Main Street and the nighttime traffic is even more disheartening. Enough is enough -- hope to see you at the Development Review Board meeting being held on Tuesday, July 15, at 6:30 p.m. at the River Street Firehouse.
Select Board chair on Shires Housing
There is a segment of the community that is clearly upset about the Shires Housing proposal for the abandoned property on Silver Street. For the benefit of those not clear on the details, Shires Housing is an independent non-profit organization that has a specific mission to provide affordable housing. They identified the property in question as an desirable site for their mission. The parcel is zoned for multiple dwelling homes and permitted for 41 units from the previous owner. Shires decided to purchase the property and build 24 units. In attempting to fund the project estimated at $5 million dollars, they applied for a grant of $700,000. To qualify for the grant the Select Board had to agree to accept the grant and pass it to Shires if it were awarded. The Select Board agreed to that after a public hearing on June 9.
If the grant were not an issue there would have been no public hearing, as the Town of Bennington is not involved in the project. In the event that the grant were not awarded, Shires would have to find the $700,000 elsewhere, but would not be required to abandon the project. The reason is that Shires owns the land and the project complies with the current zoning. The only entity that can stop the project is the owner of the project, as with any other. The merits of affordable housing can be debated many ways, but the fact remains that Shires is a legitimate organization and is proposing what, so far, is a compliant project for the site. If a landowner wants to build something on their property that is allowed by the current laws, the municipality cannot stop them based on factors like who will live there, how much money they make, where they came from, etc. That is discrimination.
Arbitrary zoning is a violation of property owners rights. The fact is, even if all seven Select Board members were ideologically against a compliant project, we do not have the legal authority to stop it.
My recommendation to people concerned with the project is to get involved in a constructive conversation with Shires Housing. I cannot speak for the other four members of the Select Board who approved the fund transfer. My decision was heavily based on the past performance of Shires Housing and the track record of their properties, which is exemplary.
GREG VAN HOUTEN
Bennington Select Board-Chair
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