The City of Newburgh often has to struggle to preserve its past, which makes the story of the house at 260 Liberty St. inspiring. Local architects, city departments and a potential buyer worked to keep the rare and deteriorating 19th-century woodframe house from being demolished.
Now, the city could use the same spirit of cooperation and vision to help save some other historic structures and, even more important, fill some of those vacant lots where anything historic is long gone, and coming to a consensus on plans to fill them is elusive.
Two ambitious plans to revive two areas in the heart of the city a few blocks apart have stalled. One would develop vacant land on Montgomery Street, stabilize the historic and fragile Dutch Reformed Church on Grand Street and restore the neighboring City Club. The other would turn a long-vacant lot on Broadway into affordable apartments and a grocery store. That developer has filed a $31.5 million federal lawsuit against the city claiming violations of an agreement and federal law.
All over the city individuals and businesses are reclaiming neglected buildings and blocks, especially those off Lower Broadway which were on glorious display during the recent Newburgh Illuminated festival. Habitat for Humanity continues its house by house, block by block success creating the kinds of properties that will help stabilize the city tax base. The Newburgh Community Land Bank continues to invest with admirable results, having acquired more than 100 properties and sold 60 since its founding in 2012.
While there are differences of opinion about those who proposed these troubled developments, nobody seems to disagree that the areas in question are places where Newburgh can provide housing and retail while getting some much needed tax revenue in return, or that for the city to continue on what everyone feels is a positive trajectory lately, that more developers need to come in to work on more sites.
The question, then, is whether the city is ready and able to deal with this challenge. It is trying with the continuing work by the Planning and Development Department on updating the master plan which the department points out is an advisory document that guides decisions on zoning. The public workshops and survey associated with the update have provided a clear picture of where those in Newburgh want the city to be in the near and far future with general goals on water quality, safe streets, a vibrant downtown business community and an increase in home ownership.
What the plan does not do, however, what it is not designed to do, is identify the ways that Newburgh can get from here to there. That means when the department is finished and presents its findings to the council, there is one important task ahead.
Will the council make a commitment to those goals and outline the steps necessary to achieve them? Will the council welcome people who know how to get that done and give them the support they need?
If not, we are likely to see more hit-and-miss attempts at development which will threaten the momentum that has taken so long to build.