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Amityville Artspace housing project would help revitalize village, supporters say

Representatives from Artspace give a presentation and answer

Representatives from Artspace give a presentation and answer questions at a public meeting for Amityville residents on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014.

Amityville boosters say a proposed income-restricted development with apartments and studio space for artists could bring new energy and much-needed commerce to the village's sleepy downtown. But the specter of an artists colony on the Great South Bay has stirred criticism among some residents.

The two sides faced off last Wednesday at a meeting at Amityville Memorial High School. It was attended by about 500 residents of the village and nearby hamlets and by representatives of Artspace. That's the nonprofit arts developer that village leaders hope will act as a partner.

An $18 million, 45-unit Artspace project opened in Patchogue in 2011 and is credited by that village's mayor with aiding a villagewide revitalization. A $52 million, 89-unit East Harlem development opened this year. Both projects are full with waiting lists, Artspace representatives said.

They also said the developer generally works on projects of 35 units or more. Significant details such as the location, design and size of an Amityville project, and how much if any of the development costs would be shouldered by village taxpayers, have yet to be filled in, Artspace said.

The Minneapolis-based developer, which operates 37 similar projects around the country, won't finish a village-funded feasibility study until the end of the year. If the results are positive, a survey gauging the interest of potential tenants will follow.

Artspace typically uses federal tax credits for project financing that limit tenant income to 60 percent of the area's median, which would be a $49,000 ceiling for Amityville. The developer does 15 to 20 feasibility studies a year, with two to four leading to completed projects, according to its website.

"Nobody expects this to be a golden goose," said Warren Cohn, co-chair of the village's Downtown Revitalization Committee and owner of the Amityville Men's Shop, one of its oldest businesses. "It's the ancillary services that will take place. . . . Services will come to Amityville to supply the artists and other people who come to enjoy what these people do."

Critics -- who were a distinct minority at the meeting -- say that optimism may be fanciful. "These people who move into the apartments, who are subsidized, paying minimal rents, what are they going to contribute to the economy?" asked William Lauder, the village historian.

Former school board president Stephanie Andrews warned that new families would swell an already burdened local school system and questioned whether some of what Artspace's tenants do properly can be called art. Anna Growcott, a consulting associate who represented the developer at the meeting, said her colleagues have a broad understanding of the term that includes tattooists and natural healers.

"This is a word [art] they put next to subsidized housing and the middle class accepts it," Andrews said.

Artspace would not impose designs on the village, said Stacey Mickelson, the developer's vice president for government relations.

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