Delaware board approves grant for housing study

Sarah Eames | The Daily StarFranklin Town Supervisor Jeff Taggart, second from right, addresses the Delaware County Board of Supervisors at its meeting Wednesday. Also shown, from left, are Deposit Town Supervisor Tom Axtell, Hamden Town Supervisor Wayne Marshfield and Kortright Town Supervisor George Haynes.

The Delaware County Board of Supervisors met in a hybrid in-person and Zoom meeting Wednesday, allowing the public to join in-person for the first time since the county office building was closed in March.

The board voted to accept a $50,000 grant from Empire State Development to conduct a housing study throughout the county.

The study will analyze the local housing market and assist in the development of a long-term strategy to meet the county’s housing needs with the goals of improving worker recruitment and retention, business development and community sustainability, according to Shelly Johnson-Bennett, director of the Delaware County Planning Board.

Several supervisors debated the practicality of conducting a housing study amid the coronavirus pandemic, when homes and properties may not be selling at the rate or the price they would under ordinary circumstances.

“It’s a skewed market right now,” said Betty Scott, Masonville town supervisor.

“It’s an uncertain time,” said Davenport Town Supervisor Dennis Valente.

Johnson-Bennett clarified that the county will have two years to complete the study, “but we wanted to get a contract going so we don’t lose the money.”

Allen Hinckley, supervisor for the town of Roxbury, which has a high concentration of second-homeowners, observed that many properties have not remained on the market for long, surmising that additional downstate and out-of-state residents are looking to distance themselves from COVID-19 hotspots.

“There are some places off the radar that maybe we don’t know about,” said Art Merrill, Colchester town supervisor. “This study could help with that.”

Hamden Town Supervisor Wayne Marshfield pointed out that the housing study would complement the upcoming development of the county’s comprehensive plan.

“The more knowledge you have, the better off you are,” Franklin Town Supervisor Jeff Taggart agreed.

Johnson-Bennett also provided an update on the county’s reopening progress. As part of the Southern Tier, Delaware County is slated to enter the fourth and final phase of reopening Friday, she said, but not every industry included in the initial plans will be permitted to resume operations.

Describing Phase Four as a “soft reopening,” Johnson-Bennett said that malls, movie theaters and spas will not yet be permitted to open. Gyms will be allowed to reopen, she said, but only for outdoor, socially distanced classes.

Other facilities will be allowed to operate at 50% of their fire code capacities, she said, “but it looks like it’s going to be a while for malls and movie theaters.”

Noting that the permitted capacity for outdoor gatherings recently expanded from 10 people to 25, Johnson-Bennett said “the governor is extremely nervous about mass gatherings” and has yet to issue a decision on the New York State Fair.

With the exception of graduation ceremonies, which will be capped at 150 attendees, Johnson-Bennett advised that local events and festivals will likely be put on hold for several weeks to come.

“They just won’t give us a straight answer, but I don’t think they know,” she said of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other state decision-makers.

“When you try to rationalize with the state, their answer is no answer,” said board chair and Bovina Town Supervisor Tina Molé.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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