In March, Mayor Kathy Sheehan released the final ReZone Albany draft — a long-awaited plan intended to simplify city zoning ordinance. Critics warn it could further deplete the financially strapped city's coffers.
Albany's zoning code got its last update in the late 1960's. The developing plan envisions a comprehensive overhaul of the city's patchwork zoning system and the associated challenges with vacant and abandoned buildings, both residential and commercial.
"We found the enemy and the enemy was us. In other words, our antiquated zoning was really driving business decisions and actually lack of ability to move forward with business decisions that would really help our neighborhoods. And so, that's one of the many challenges that we've been able to address in our new rezone," said Mayor Sheehan at the March ReZone Albany announcement.
Not everyone believes rezoning is in the best interests of the city. Conservative mayoral candidate Joe Sullivan fears it will trigger an exodus of homeowners from neighborhoods presently zoned residential. "Passage of ReZone Albany will put Albany on the fast track to becoming Detroit on the Hudson. Because once you destabilize the property tax base and you've got Albany being a sanctuary city, which is gonna cost in the furure federal aid, and Albany is going to remain to be insolvent."
The ReZone Albany draft requires approval by the Common Council. The panel was expected to vote Monday night on re-zoning, but did not. Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin is also a mayoral candidate: "Prior to the meeting in our caucus there were a couple of recommended changes made involving 'inclusionary zoning' and another particular issue that escapes me right now. But also prior to that last Wednesday there was a committee meeting. The committee meeting was noticed a little less than 72 hours so and there were a number of changes that were reviewed at that meeting. And those changes came about as a result of various recommendations that came from constituents, committee meetings, previous committee meetings and interactions with the public, and I believe there were about 20 of them. But those and so, when we got to the meeting on Monday we had all of this to deal with and review and vote on it Monday night. It was really wasn't in my estimation in the best interest to vote on it on Monday because so many changes had taken place."
That provision for "inclusionary zoning" mandates developers include a certain percentage of so-called "affordable" units in new residential developments. Under the plan, which would take effect six months after approval, rents cannot exceed 30 percent of the monthly income for a household making 100 percent of the city median household income.
Sullivan recommends holding ReZone Albany until after the November election, or at the very least until after Mayor Sheehan makes scheduled "city hall on the road" appearances in June at Mater Christi and Eagle Point Elementary School, which serve neighborhoods Sullivan believes would be significantly impacted by the re-zoning. "The committee can simply hold the bill. There are five members on the planning committee. If three out of five if they vote to table and hold the bill it'll stay in the committee, it won't go out to the full common council."
So, it's a "back to the drawing board" trip of sorts — McLaughlin says anyone with comments should plan to be at next week's committee meeting. "If individuals are going to have some real concerns about the pace at which this legislation gets moved, they should make an attempt to be at the meeting on Wednesday evening. On the 10th. Be at that meeting of the planning committee where it's gonna be discussed. Because if not, things will be moving ahead on Monday. I highly anticipate that there will be a vote on Monday unless people come and voice very strongly how they feel about. Because they had the votes on Monday, and I believe they still do have the votes to move it on next Monday."