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Ogdensburg to explore rezoning in some neighborhoods

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OGDENSBURG — With approximately 70 percent of the property in the city tax-exempt, officials are considering a major zoning change that could make it easier to market and redevelop several sites of former public schools.

There are former school buildings scattered throughout the city, some shuttered completely and others underused.

In the past year, the Ogdensburg City School District has closed Sherman Elementary School on Franklin Street and Lincoln Elementary School on Knox Street. The district recently sold the Sherman building and is attempting to sell Lincoln.

Another soon-to-be-vacant school property with an uncertain future is St. Marguerite D’Youville Academy, a Catholic elementary school that graduated its last class in June. It occupies the 300 block of Gates Street.

While the former Sherman Elementary School has been successfully sold and will become a bed and breakfast and community center, there is concern that rehabilitating the other vacant schools may not find such a fast track to renewal and reuse, according to Andrea L. Smith, Ogdensburg director of planning and development.

In the case of Lincoln Elementary School, she said the campus not only takes up most of a city block, but is also located in a residentially zoned area. And without a major overhaul of the city’s zoning code, it may prove difficult or impossible to market to developers.

“Lincoln School is a good example. That’s single-family zoning,” Ms. Smith said. “What’s the likelihood that somebody is going to buy that school with the idea of converting it into a house?”

To help alleviate the problem and move the property back on the tax rolls, Ms. Smith said her department is proposing a new district tentatively called an “institutional zone.” She said the zoning district would not exclude single-family homes, but would also allow a variety of mixed uses like office space and multiple-family units.

Ms. Smith said she will broach City Council with the idea at its meeting July 14, and if council members think it’s a good idea, her office will take a more comprehensive look at the subject. To avoid the illegality of spot zoning, she said, properties like schools, churches and other nonconforming businesses will be examined to see if they might fall under the auspices of a new institutional zone. After that, she said, there would need to be public hearings on the proposed change, with final approval resting with the City Council.

“We do have a number of pre-existing, noncomforming uses that range from churches to schools to office buildings, and they exist throughout the community, but specifically in residential and predominately residential neighborhoods,” Ms. Smith said”

City Councilor Wayne A. Ashley said he will welcome the discussion over zoning in the city, and predicted Ms. Smith will find little resistance to looking at how rezoning areas of the community could be beneficial. With almost three-fourths of the municipality’s property tax exempt, he said there are few alternatives.

“We just can’t keep laying taxes on the homeowners,” Mr. Ashley said. “We’ve got to do whatever it is we have to do to get more property on the tax rolls.”

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