The non-profit Adirondack Gateway Council held a series of meetings this week in its efforts to put together a region-wide economic development plan focusing on infrastructure, housing, and healthy communities.
The AGC, made of more than 20 municipalities and organizations, is being supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to produce a regionally based economic development strategy for Northern Saratoga, Warren, and Washington counties.
AGC CEO Ed Bartholomew said the meetings are to share initial findings on agriculture and healthy communities, housing and transportation, wireless communications and broadband, and infrastructure with the public.
“And most importantly, seek input on these important issues collectively as the AGC wants to continue to grow our area in a planned and sustainable area,” said Bartholomew.
When completed, each of the studies will be used in longterm planning and obtaining grant funding.
Developing broadband communications for the region has been a priority for the AGC. Again, Bartholomew.
“People in the urbanized areas in the City of Saratoga, Glens Falls, they want increased speed on broadband," said Broadband. He added that in North Country and in Washington County, many are still without adaquete cell coverage.
At Wednesday’s meeting at the Moreau Community Center, housing and transportation needs were a topic of discussion.
Senior Program Director Jeanne Guthiel spoke about the need for subsidized housing for low-income seniors, with access to public transportation and amenities including elevators.
“It is a big need in South Glens Falls, in the Town of Moreau, to have affordable, safe housing for our seniors where they can walk out their door, get public transportation, and be able to get to places where they need to be."
Dr. Ann Ruzow Holland, a consultant studying the housing and transportation needs of the region, said a lack of public transit and adequate taxi service continues to be an issue for the region, but she is also taking into account area residents’ preference to drive themselves.
“This independence that we have up here in the North Country about driving our own cars...and when does that become inconvenient, unaffordable, or having other options available to us?"
On agriculture and community health, the AGC’s research focuses beyond healthy food and food access to include community walkability, recreation, and connectedness.
Initial findings found that affordability of food is not a significant issue in the region, but residents can be better connected to locally grown food through farmers markets and other retail.
The stakeholders say work can be done to promote and strengthen the agricultural economy. Washington County leads the region in agricultural production, while Warren County has potential to expand its niche farming operations, including cheese and maple syrup production.
Meanwhile, business development in the region is hampered by aging sewer infrastructure. An assessment on the operating wastewater treatment and collection systems in the region found $102 million in probable upgrade costs.
Naomi Freedman, Outreach Coordination for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said the AGC is one of 143 grantees across the country that received seed money to conduct planning assessments.
“This is not our agenda, it’s really the community agenda. The community decides what they want to talk about, how they go about solving their problems, and one of the things that is really critical to this work is public engagement," said Freedman.
Public meetings were also held this week in Hadley, Chester, Fort Edward, Salem, and Granville.