By Christine Graf
It’s been 10 years since First Fairfield Associates, a social enterprise investment firm, announced plans to redevelop a vacant property at 53 Putnam St. in Saratoga Springs.
Now an ownership group, Putnam Resources, LLC, is proposing construction of a 60-unit mixed-income condominium building called Putnam Commons. More than $3 million has already been invested to acquire, manage, and clean up the site.
Local author Jason Letts is among the partners.
The property is located across the street from the Saratoga Springs Public Library. A dilapidated one-story building that sat on the property was built in 1905 and once housed a dry-cleaning business. The building was razed and several underground petroleum storage tanks were found on the 0.3-acre property.
Soil testing revealed significant ground contamination that resulted in the property being declared a Brownfield site—a parcel contaminated by low concentrations of hazardous chemicals. The contamination likely resulted from a combination of petroleum and dry-cleaning chemicals
After five years of chemical remediation, cleanup of the site is complete. It is now certified as a successful state Brownfield cleanup project.
“Without DEC’s guidance and support, this would have remained a toxic waste dump forever,” said Letts.
A third or more of the units in the proposed six-story Putnam Commons building will be designated affordable housing units, Letts said. These units are expected to be priced below $200,000. The other units will be offered for sale at market price.
Former Saratoga Springs mayor Joanne Yepsen, a public affairs specialist at Yepsen & Pikulski, has been enlisted to assist with various facets of the project. She said the ownership group feels very strongly about making the condominiums inclusive and affordable.
“In this case, we are very lucky because we have impact investors as the private landowners and developers. They have the mission of being socially just and environmentally efficient as part of their business plan,” Yepsen said. “They see this project as benefitting the community, and they are willing to take a hit on their ROI as long as they are fulfilling the mission of the project which is to help bring affordable units to a downtown, core, prime location—units that will be for purchase–and ensuring that everyone has equal access to those units.”
It is because of Putnam Resource’s commitment to environmental stewardship that the building will be energy efficient and carbon neutral.
“That is a huge environmental plus for the city of Saratoga Springs,” said Yepsen.
Putnam Resources has partnered on the project with two local nonprofits, Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together Saratoga County. While Habitat for Humanity is known for building affordable housing, Rebuilding Together focuses primarily on repairing homes and revitalizing communities.
“The nonprofit partners will be helping to secure funding. There are certain grants that require a nonprofit to be the applicant because they want to make sure that the nonprofit is driving the mission of the project,” said Yepsen. “The nonprofits will also be the ones approving the eligibility status for the affordable units.”
According to Letts, Putnam Resources has applied for a grant from the New York Empire State Development (ESD) Restore NY Communities Initiative. The grant money would enable them to increase the number of affordable housing units within the building.
“We really want to have at least 50 percent that are affordable. We’re looking at under $200,000. Our goal is to have as many of those units as possible. Without the grant, we won’t be able to have as many affordable units, but it’s still going to happen.”
The grant application was submitted at the end of January after receiving unanimous support from the City Council. In a press release, Saratoga Springs Mayor Ronald Kim voiced support for Putnam Commons and described the project as “a welcome answer to the city’s chronic need for more affordable housing, and a positive end to a long Brownfield cleanup journey for the property owner/developers, as well as put the property back on the city property tax rolls.”
Letts said that the city’s support is integral to success of the project.
“We’re so glad to have the resolution from the city council as well as their very authentic and outspoken support. We feel like we are going to have good luck with the planning board as well.”
Now that the application has been submitted, Letts said they will move ahead with the architectural and approval process.
“I did this to get involved in the community, and I really hope that as we get to the later stages of the project that it will inspire other people, regardless of their backgrounds, to also get involved in their community and make a difference in whatever way the can.”