Cobleskill okays college housing law


By Patsy Nicosia

The Village of Cobleskill adopted its controversial R1 law, drafted to protect neighbors against college housing, Tuesday with only Trustee Kathy Johnson speaking out against it.
Or trying to.
Ms. Johnson's remarks at the podium-where speakers were asked to make their remarks--were interrupted by the Washington Avenue residents who led the fight for the zoning change.
Trustee Tim Snyder, who lives at 108 Washington Avenue, supported the local law at the podium, as did Neil Law, a SUNY Cobleskill professor who lives at 106 Washington Avenue.
It was Mr. Law's new neighbors at 104 Washington, Helena and Joe Maxwell, who started the uproar after posting signs advertising "For Rent-Student Rooms."
Even before the law was passed, student housing was prohibited in R1 districts, but existing student housing was allowed as a non-conforming use.
The new law defines student housing, sets parking requirements, and requires grandfathered property owners to register.
The Maxwells, who haven't attended any of the village meetings on the law-a fact neighbors pointed out Tuesday-have called the law discriminatory.
But Mr. Snyder said zoning, by nature, is discriminatory and a way for villages to shape neighborhoods.
He also said his research into the Fair Housing Act, which some have said could prohibit restricting R1 housing, is only intended to protect families with kids under 18.
"The fact that it [student housing] would be allowed in nearly every zone but does exactly what zoning is supposed to do," he said, adding that one of those things is safeguarding property values.
"In the mid-80s, we had two student residences on our street. It was an absolute nightmare. Now families have moved in. It's a nice area," he added, drawing applause from the crowd.
Ms. Johnson disagreed, arguing that the law is discriminatory and said the Maxwells said they were never approached by anyone from Washington Avenue-something the neighbors said isn't true.
"Every time someone moves in, are we going to change the zoning?" she asked.
Neighbors in the audience spoke up to say they intentionally bought homes in R1 so they could live in a neighborhood; Mr. Law said SUNY Cobleskill professors looking to live in the village will buy somewhere else without the law.
"We want R1 neighborhoods," said Mayor Linda Holmes, who lives on Overlook Drive, also R1, and she called them the backbone of the village
"The problem on Washington Avenue is that they're non-comforming," she said. "They shouldn't be there. This helps close the loopholes."
In her last remarks, Ms. Johnson called for Mr. Snyder to recuse himself from voting on the law, because "he has a wicked personal interest in this," drawing laughter and easing the tension just a little.
Amanda Hantho, another Washington Avenue resident, also suggested Mayor Holmes rescue herself because she lives in R1.
The law passed in a voice vote.