At the public meeting of the Village of Penn Yan’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) Local Planning Committee (LPC) Tuesday, Jan. 22 at the Penn Yan Fire Hall, about 60 members of the public witnessed the process of paring down the over $30 million in application requests to near $20 million. Under the terms of the DRI, the LPC must work to form a final slate of recommended projects, totalling no more that $15 million, for submission to the state by March.

The full list of proposed projects included plans for 75 apartments, 18 single family condominiums, three new restaurants, one improved restaurant, a speakeasy, a brewery, 19 new or improved commercial spaces and improvements to parks, trails, streetscapes, signage, and public conveniences.

The committee has been charged with selecting projects that are transformative and meet the majority of the goals established from the downtown Penn Yan vision statement. Those goals include leveraging the area’s natural and historic assets, promoting locally produced foods, beverages, products, goods, and services downtown; stimulate a vibrant year-round downtown arts and culture scene; and provide access and opportunity for all residents to be part of Downtown Penn Yan’s revitalization.

Chris Bauer of the Dept. of State, reiterated rules for committee members to recuse themselves from projects in which they or the organizations they represent, have an interest. He further stated that all projects are being looked at equally by the LPC. Bauer also mentioned that other funding may be available for projects that do not make the Project Slate submittal.

Ed Flynn of Labella Associates, the planning consultants for the DRI, presented highlights from the public survey which found:

• A large number of younger people took the survey, compared to baby boomers.

• Only 30 percent of the respondents do not use trails.

• Recommendations for other towns and cities to emulate: Hammondsport, Geneva, Canandaigua, and Skaneateles.

Flynn also presented an evaluation spreadsheet of the projects with four categories of consideration, each rated green, yellow, or red for each project. Each application, some being dozens of pages of information, was reduced by Flynn’s firm to a single page summary presented in hard copy and in a slide presentation. Many had been reduced after the last meeting, some remained the same, and a few actually increased.

In the discussion, several LPC members were surprised by the results of their combined evaluations in regards to the Sampson Theatre. They believe the theatre to be more transformative than the evaluation shows.

Some talk centered on the need for housing, existing housing projects already underway, and the current price of housing. It was also mentioned that two proposed projects, Liberty Lofts and Water Street Townhomes, create residential units, but do not preserve any historic structures, while there are proposed projects that do both.

Many LPC members agreed that Milly’s Pantry project for an elevator could be a catalytic project, despite the evaluation results.

Based on these evaluations and the discussion, the LPC reduced the list of projects to:

- The Sampson Theatre $3.75 million

- The New Knapp on Main $1.75 million

- The Struble Arcade $2.3 million

- Liberty Lofts $4 million

- Downtown Parks & Trails $2 million

- Downtown Parking, Circulation, and Visitor Services $1.97 million

- Water Street Townhomes $1.5 million

- Opera House Apartments $1.08 million

Smaller requests under the million mark:

- The Belknap

- The Laurentide Inn 

- Milly’s Pantry elevator

- 126 Main Street

- Birkett Commercial Buildout

- Restore 107 Main Street

- 114-116 Main Street

- The Barron House

- Little Elm

- Building Improvement Fund

- The Village Bakery

In the public comment portion, concerns were raised that important projects were left out that should be reconsidered. Mike Clancy of Pinckney Hardware spoke in favor of the Opera House Project. Concerns were also raised over figures that had been altered by the consultants without the applicants’ knowledge or consent. Owner Jim Long says that his total project cost for the Opera House was raised by 50 percent, from $1.4 million to $2.1 million, and that nowhere in the summary does it mention the apartments he hopes to build in the space.

In the review of his figures, Long also reminds us that by law, any grant money given to private enterprises is subject to 35 percent federal tax and 7 percent state tax; meaning that 42 percent of any award not given to public or non-profit uses will be forfeited back to the government.

Jeff Arnold and his partners in Liberty Lofts and Lake & Brown Development, say that they want to bring considerable investment to Penn Yan, but the denial of the  Lake & Brown request means that will not go forward.

This reporter, speaking as an advocate for the Sampson Theatre, referenced other projects done with historic theatres in the area that have been successful; and reiterated that the construction of the annex will generate funds for the renovations to the theatre and its continued success. 

Based on the public input, the LPC and the consultants will review project budgets and discuss changes for The Sampson Theatre, Water Street Townhomes, 114-116 Main Street, and the Opera House. Steve Griffin of the FLEDC says a special public meeting may be scheduled for applicants to present information directly to the LPC, or LPC members’ questions and requests for fuller information might be able to be addressed by email. It may also be possible for concerns over the revelation of private financial information to be addressed in executive session with the LPC.

“Part of the problem is the extremely aggressive timeline imposed by the state,” says Griffin because Penn Yan was announced months behind the other communities in this year’s DRIs. Griffin reminds us that ultimately, the decision making belongs with the state. “This is their train, we’re just passengers.”

The next public meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11 at Penn Yan Academy.