- Property: Bella Terra Apartments
- Location: New Paltz, N.Y.
- Renovation Cost: $2.3 million, including soft costs
- Project Scope: Transformation of an apple cooler into a 32-unit apartment property
As developers and farmers from California to Maryland confront each other over land use and development, the challenge of balancing housing availability and affordability with agriculture has become increasingly difficult.
It's especially hard in places like New York's Hudson Valley, home to some of the country's most productive farmland and beautiful landscapes. But there are solutions that can benefit everyone, as the story of Bella Terra Apartments in New Paltz, N.Y., shows.
Fresh Fields The story begins several years ago, when Alan Goodman, a local businessman who owned and managed a small portfolio of apartment buildings, decided he wanted his next project to have a dual focus. Goodman, of Alan Goodman Associates in New Paltz, wanted to both help the hometown farmers and the community by turning an unused farm building into much-needed affordable rental housing.
In 2002, he discovered the Moriello Apple Cooler, a 60-year-old cold-storage facility named after the Moriello family, who had owned the 300-acre Apple Hill Farm since the 1930s. The structure was no longer used by farmer Tony Moriello, who was planning to consolidate his apple storage into a single, smaller facility. But it was perfect for Goodman, who wanted to purchase the 5½-acre parcel and turn the building into 32 affordable apartments.
Contrary to what one might expect, the apple cooler project encountered few obstacles during the approval process. Goodman knew the town was deeply in need of affordable housing. “Not one person came to the town meeting to object to this project,” says Goodman. “I wouldn't start a project where it wasn't wanted.”
Goodman also had no intention of destroying the building, which sat well with local grassroots organizations. “They all loved the idea, so we worked together to determine the best way to fit the building into the local zoning requirements,” says Goodman, who received a permit for an adaptive re-use building project in only seven months.
Core Challenges However, financing such a non-traditional renovation project was tricky. “It was difficult to walk into an apple cooler with big unattractive cinder blocks and envision how it was going to be turned into beautiful apartments,” says Nancy Feely, mortgage officer for The Community Preservation Corp., a private mortgage lender that finances low-, moderate- and middle-income housing in New York and New Jersey.
“It's very difficult to take the leap of faith that Alan would be able to do that,” says Feely. As a developer, he hadn't done anything on this scale.”
After reviewing Goodman's other multifamily projects and impressed by his management style, CPC provided construction and permanent financing for the $2.3 million project.
The project broke ground in November 2003, but that wasn't the end of its architectural and environmental challenges. The out-of-date edifice did not conform to existing codes, and the large box-shape lacked adequate lighting and ventilation and an adequate water supply. The building also lacked an adequate water supply for the residents.
“We had to take the big box and slice it into three smaller boxes,” says Robert Dupont of Robert J. Dupont Architects in Kingston, N.Y. “The building was redesigned into a U-shaped facility, based loosely on the Italian Uffizi, allowing open areas of light and ventilation for each residence.” In addition, Goodman raised the roof of the building to allow for better air flow.
Another issue, storm water regulations, was critical because a portion of the building had a flat roof, a potential danger zone for structural damage. To solve the problem, Goodman added a storm drainage system and built two ponds, at an additional cost of $60,000. Goodman also built the largest town water septic system that is monitored by computer and checked daily by the builder.
Good Harvest The final 26,000-square-foot complex includes 24 apartments with two bedrooms plus office, and eight three-bedroom apartments. Each apartment at Bella Terra has central air conditioning and heating, washers and dryers, and high-speed Internet access. All of the apartments were leased prior to completion of the renovation, with rents of $925 to $1,125 monthly.
Although Goodman's project doesn't solve the statewide farmland crisis, his project is a prime example of a possible solution. “This is a win-win situation,” says Goodman. “The community gets much-needed rental housing while a working farm with valuable open space is preserved.”
–Lisa Iannucci is a freelancer in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.