By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Monticello’s village board has begun increasing its focus on Broadway, as the thoroughfare’s $16 million reconstruction will largely end this year.
A committee on the corridor was tentatively formed at Tuesday’s board meeting, to be chaired by Mayor Gordon Jenkins and Trustee Carmen Rue and involve village-oriented groups and possibly more than two dozen volunteers who signed up at a recent Sullivan Renaissance community forum.
“That way we’ll all be on the same page,” said Jenkins.
Also, Village Manager John Barbarite recommended modifying the B-2 zoning district along Broadway stretching from Bank to Liberty streets to allow for limited residential uses.
No one is currently permitted to live in the commercial buildings along the route, unless a special use is granted for an “artist’s loft.”
Barbarite said landlords are seeking more flexibility.
“The consensus of the property owners in the district is that the current zoning is too restrictive and has been a deterrent to renovating and occupying the buildings,” he told the board.
In addition to the merchants themselves, Barbarite said he’d like to attract young professionals and senior citizens to the floors above the Broadway shops.
Noting the lack of yards and the potential busyness of Broadway, he didn’t feel families with children would be a good fit. Plus he doesn’t want to create significant competition for existing landlords in a village where 70 percent of the housing consists of rental units.
However, both Rue and Deputy Mayor TC Hutchins cautioned against violating any fair housing rules.
“Some have proposed allowing residential use of second-floor apartments, but restricted to building or business owners and their families,” Rue wrote in her blog a day before the meeting. “Defining who is ‘connected’ to a building or business owner could be hard, or result in a law so narrow as to be ineffective.
“We cannot pursue a public policy designed to keep out ‘substandard tenants’ or prohibit Section 8 residents, or we risk running afoul of the Fair Housing Act,” she noted. “Yet we want to elevate the economic condition of Broadway.”
She suggested tying Broadway residency to business ownership via incentives like low-interest loans and grants.
“Let’s be conscious of the restrictions we do put on there,” said Hutchins at the meeting, advocating for keeping the housing open to those who, for example, work at Wal-Mart and ShopRite. “I think competition is good.”
He postulated that activities for kids could make it possible for families to live safely and harmoniously on Broadway.
Trustee Victor Marinello wasn’t a fan of the idea, recalling the days when residency was allowed.
“People turned blankets into curtains, smashed windows and hung their underwear out to dry,” he stated. “I’m sorry that’s completely unacceptable!”
Hutchins pointed out that one building’s second floor already features curtains that look like aged newspapers and suggested that properly enforced regulations could resolve such issues.
Barbarite replied that with renovations costing landlords $250,000-$1 million, rents would be high enough to automatically ensure the type of tenants who would take pride in their homes.
As for parking concerns, he envisioned converting underused municipal lots (like the one behind TD Bank off Lakewood) into secure parking for tenants, and ensuring no all-day parking on Broadway itself through modern metering methods.
The matter seems headed for further discussion, and Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Jeremy Gorelick, himself a Broadway property owner, promised the Chamber’s help, along with that of the Monticello Business Association.
Barbarite recommended the planning board weigh in, followed by workshop meetings.
“The main goal is to try to get those vacant buildings used for something in the village,” said Mayor Jenkins.
One business owner not too enthralled with Broadway’s future is Bob Fleischman of the Monticello Bagel Bakery, a 40-year institution in the village.
Broadway, he contended, is no longer pedestrian-friendly, thanks to the state Dept. of Transportation (DOT).
“In my opinion, they designed it faulty,” he charged, pointing out “bumped-out” corners with poor visibility, steps (though handicapped ramps are provided), planters contaminated by road salt, less parking and poor drainage.
He’s bugged the DOT about his concerns but said the reply was simply, “We work with the topography.”
Fleischman likened the job to a marriage, saying it may look good at first but then you have to live with it day in and day out.
“We need to have a divorce here,” he said.
Rue said village talks with the DOT yielded limited fruit, with the state outright refusing to add parking spaces in front of the post office.
Jenkins said Binghamton officials even warned him that they’d back out of the job if Monticello gave them too much trouble.
“It’s a state project,” he said, noting the village is not paying for the project. “We have to learn to live with what we have here.”
Besides, he added, “I like the project.”
“We’re lucky we got it now,” agreed Rue, recalling the years of wrangling over the plans.
Some issues, like the drainage, will be resolved this year when the final layer of asphalt is put down, and other situations like the split-level sidewalks and parking reductions were conditions of both the geography and federal requirements, state officials have said in the past.
“The state told us we had too many parking spaces in the village,” recalled Marinello. “... Does it make sense? It doesn’t make sense to me. ... But let’s give it a chance, to see what happens.”
“Look at Broadway now how much worse can it be?” Jenkins remarked. “... I bet this summer you are going to be happy.”
“We should not be bullied by the state,” Fleischman replied.
One concern he raised was shared by Sullivan Renaissance’s Helen Budrock, who is working with the DOT on landscaping Broadway. She worried, too, that the areas available for planting along Broadway could be less than ideal if road salt and other contaminants get into them.
In the meantime, Renaissance is holding a meeting for those interested in a range of beautification projects around the village. Volunteers are welcome at 7 p.m. on March 10 at the Crawford Library on Broadway.