Public Planning Projects Need To Educate The Public

On their face, the Jackson Springs housing project on Jamestown’s north side and the Gateway Lofts project in the Gateway Center on Water Street are similar projects.

The Jackson Spring project was being planned to be constructed along North Main and Spring streets, which would have been two building complexes. One building would have been 36 units, with 28 one bedroom and eight two-bedroom apartments. Across the street would have been a second complex with seven town houses, five with two bedrooms and two with three bedrooms. The apartment complex was also proposed to be the new home for Southwestern Independent Living Center, an organization that helps individuals with disabilities to reach maximum independence to improve their quality of life. The Jackson Spring project would have come with the added benefit of demolishing blighted homes on the north side.

The Gateway Lofts proposal would have two of the four floors of the apartment building being used to house non-violent offenders going through addiction treatment programs. The second floor of the apartment complex will be quality, affordable housing for families, with 39 two- and three-bedroom apartments. The third floor of the renovated building will be for YWCA case management clients with 16 apartments, with one, two and three bedrooms. Finally, the fourth floor of the building will be operated by STEL for people in treatment programs. The 25 one bedroom and studio apartments on this floor, which will also be secured and staffed by STEL, will be for nonviolent offenders with mental health or drug addiction issues.

Both sought to bring housing options for people who struggle to find safe, affordable housing. Both came with price tags largely borne on the backs of taxpayers through the form of state and federal programs. Yet, the Jackson Spring project engendered extensive community opposition and support from city policy makers. Community opposition to the project and from some foundation officials likely played into the state’s decision not to fund the Jackson Spring project. Public comment on the Gateway Lofts project has largely been positive, but it received disapproval from the city Planning Commission, which recently said the project should be classified as a Type 1 action under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, which means a SEQR must be done to determine the potential for significant adverse environmental impacts.

We’re not saying one project is better than the other. We’re not even saying that either project should move forward as last constituted, especially considering their hefty price tags that are largely paid for largely by taxpayers through state grants. We are saying, however, that it is easier for the general public to wrap its collective head around the Gateway Lofts project because the issues it seeks to solve are easier to comprehend than the issues at play with the Jackson Springs project. It’s time for some sort of public planning process that educates the public about the need for such projects and creates a community discussion that solves the myriad issues that the organizations working on the Jackson Spring project and the Gateway Lofts project are trying to solve. It is just the type of thing a reputable non-profit without a financial stake in the issues should take on.