Auburn City Council August 15

The Auburn City Council Thursday night voted to table a proposed land sale to turn the former Dunn & McCarthy into affordable housing for those recovering from addiction.

AUBURN — The Auburn City Council Thursday tabled a proposed land sale that would allow a Syracuse health care provider to build affordable housing, with councilors saying they wanted time to explore concerns from the community.

Syracuse-based Helio Health, which provides an array of services — including housing — to people with substance abuse and mental health disorders, presented at last week's council meeting a plan to build affordable housing at the former Dunn & McCarthy shoe factory.

The site, at 41-55 Washington Street, was acquired by the city in 1994 after the factory infamously burned down in 1993, and city officials have been looking for a buyer ever since.

On Thursday, Councilor Jimmy Giannettino Jr. introduced the motion to table, saying he had been contacted since then by a number of community organizations involved in similar recovery and housing work who he said had a number of concerns about how the project would fit in with local efforts.

Giannettino said he was excited about finding a positive use for the site and for Helio to have a presence in the community, but felt it was important to address the concerns of major local players in the field.

"I appreciate the fact they want to create a presence here, I just want to make sure it's a presence that fits in with current efforts," Giannettino said.

At last week's meeting, Giannettino made a similar point. He said he didn't want local groups like Nick's Ride 4 Friends to be edged out by larger organizations when they had worked hard to address addiction locally, where state and federal resources were absent.

Some of the questions Giannettino said were brought to his attention included those on Helio's pricing model, what kind of recovery services would be offered, and where funding would come from. He declined to say which groups had approached him, as he felt they had done so in confidence.

The rest of the council agreed and voted unanimously in favor of tabling for two weeks.

"I think we can make everyone happy if we just get all the questions answered," Councilor Terry Cuddy said.

Helio President and CEO Jeremy Klemanski said the vote came as a surprise as it was his understanding the project had the support of many relevant groups.

On Monday this week, he said, he had met with Cayuga County Director of Community Services Ray Bizzari and Nick's Ride founder Joel Campagnola, both of whom had expressed support, he said.

Although the organization would have to think about it, Klemanski said the delay did not mean they would pull out of the project, adding that Helio is committed to providing affordable housing to those who need and that he would work to try and address the concerns.

"We didn't propose this on a whim and we're not going to walk away on a whim because of a delay," Klemanski said.

Hopefully, Giannettino said after the meeting, the local groups, city staff, and Helio could all come to the table to work together to find a way to ensure that Helio could not only disrupt but ideally enhance local efforts.

The proposed land sale resolution would have sold approximately three and a half of the seven acres at the site to Helio for $130,000, conditional upon the development of the property within four years from the execution of a purchase offer.

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Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or ryan.franklin@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin