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GLENS FALLS — After nearly 6 months of debate, a proposal to build an apartment complex for the homeless and people living with mental illness has received the green light to proceed.

The Glens Falls Planning Board on Tuesday voted 5-1 to approve the Warren-Washington Association for Mental Health’s plan for the 29-unit Cooper Street Apartments at the former site of Mullen Iron Works.

Executive Director Andrea Deepe said the agency is “ecstatic” about the decision.

“We’re very pleased by this outcome, and happy for the community support we received,” she said.

The delays in the approval process set the organization back a couple of months. Construction should take 18 to 24 months, according to Deepe.

John Farrell, director of facilities, said he would like to have construction start in late October, so some internal work can be done over the winter.

The project is being funded by grants totaling about $9.2 million.

The public review process started in March with a community meeting. Then it went before the Planning Board for a workshop in May, followed by formal site plan review over the summer.

The Warren-Washington Association for Mental Health also had to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals in May after Nathan Hall, who represents businesswoman Elizabeth Miller, filed a challenge to the city’s interpretation that the land is in a light industrial zone, where multi-family housing is a permitted use. The board upheld the city’s interpretation of the code.

Miller had wanted to buy the property to expand her business.

Hall was at the meeting. When asked if Miller planned any challenge to the decision, he said he is not sure, but would have to talk it over with his client.

Neighbors have expressed concern about the type of people that would be living at the site and the loss of industrial property.

Stefanie DiLallo Bitter, attorney for the Warren-Washington Association for Mental Health, said the project would improve the area and address a vital need.

“Homelessness exists in this community. If we stop and look around, it’s among us,” she said.

Fourteen of the units are set aside for people leaving with mental illness, six for the chronically homeless, four for youth homeless, four for domestic violence victims and one family unit.

The Planning Board had tabled the request from last month because members wanted more time to review a lengthy environmental assessment for the property. The report found that the site poses no environmental health risk to the public. The site has limited semi-volatile organic compounds and metals. However, it would be covered with the building and blacktop once the project is completed. New soil will be brought in for a landscaped berm.

“There will be no risk associated with what’s being proposed,” Bitter said.

Board member Rachel Murray said she appreciated the extra time to go over the environmental report.

The board approved the project with conditions including that the building only be used as a multi-family residence, stormwater is managed on site, vegetable gardens are in raised beds, lighting is on dimmer switches and security cameras are installed. In addition, there has to be bike racks and 16 parking spaces provided on site, with another 16 to be constructed if needed.

Members of the crowd broke out in applause after the decision was made.

Board member Peter Accardi was the sole “no” vote.

He worried about having two driveways at the site and said large garbage trucks would be crossing over an area where children will be playing.

Tom Jarrett, engineer for the project, said the driveways were designed to respond to the city’s engineers comments about access to the site. There still would be a main entrance primarily used by the residents, and another entrance that would be for emergency vehicles.

Accardi also expressed concern about the contaminated soil.

Jarrett said there would be a fabric envelope underneath the play area to be built as part of the site.

“Kids would not be able to really dig through the fabric unless they cut it,” he said.

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Michael Goot covers politics, business, Glens Falls and Lake George. Reach him at 518-742-3320 or mgoot@poststar.com and follow his blog at http://poststar.com/blogs/michael_goot/.

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