Former Breneman site inches toward construction

Above is a conceptual drawing of the Lock 7 complex, an 80-unit apartment building proposed on the former Breneman Co. fabic and window shade factory at the corner of East Utica and East First streets.

OSWEGO — The 80-unit apartment complex proposed at the former Breneman Co. site on East First Street is inching closer to fruition, with developers expecting to close on the property purchase later this year and start construction shortly thereafter.

The so-called Lock 7 project — named for the neighboring portion of the Oswego Canal — is a proposed four-story structure with a combination of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments for lower-income individuals and families.

Located at 220 E. 1st St., the structure would be built on the former Breneman Co. site — deemed a state brownfield due to environmental contaminants — that was home to a fabric and window shade factory for more than 100 years before its 1981 closing and demolition in the late 1990s.

DePaul Vice President Gillian Conde said the organization is planning to close on the property purchase in September following completion of ongoing environmental remediation, and begin construction later this year. Conde said DePaul is excited to bring “needed new housing that is affordable” to the Port City.

“With a large number of students living in rental housing, Oswego is in need of more new housing options that can support local people’s needs,” Conde said, noting offering the housing with views of the Oswego River will make it more special. “We believe housing is the cornerstone to health, wellbeing and strength of a community. We feel very excited and proud to join Oswego in its continued community building.”

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow said the development — in addition to the East Lake Commons complex at the former Midtown Plaza, Oswego Health’s renovation of the former Price Chopper and the addition of a water park—would create spillover investment on the city’s east side.

“It’s always great to see an underutilized, visible piece of property developed,” the mayor said of the Lock 7 project.

DePaul Properties, based in Rochester, has developed and operated a dozen affordable housing facilities across the state. The project has already gone before the city Planning Board for an environmental and site plan review process, but due to slight alterations to the footprint of the project, the city Planning Board is scheduled to revisit the project this month.

The revised site plan approval is on the agenda for the board’s upcoming July 7 meeting.

Conde said the alteration is related to the location of first–floor parking, which required adjustment due to where the foundational footers would be located.

Barlow said companies such as DePaul and the state of New York wouldn’t invest in the area if there weren’t a significant need for such housing.

“We need real affordable housing, which means quality housing at reasonable prices, something the city really hasn’t has because landlords for decades price gouged and let their properties crumble for the most part,” Barlow said. “This property fills a void, will be managed properly and controlled and will offer proper housing at a good location for people who need it.”

Not everyone is welcoming the development with open arms, however, with some objecting to the location. Councilor Shawn Walker, R-4th Ward, who represents the area in which the project would be located, said Friday he did not support the project, but noted it was ultimately a decision for the planning board.

“I don’t agree with it because it’s going to be just like City Line Road,” Walker said, referring to the Champlain Commons development in the town of Scriba. “It’s going to be just like that and we do not need it in this part of the city.”

Walker said the location of the project right in the heart of the city, in an area that has existing neighborhood issues, is not appropriate.

The 2.1-acre site housed the fabric and window shade factory from 1834 to 1981, and DEC officials called the contamination typical for a former industrial site, noting subsurface soil samples revealed metals such as mercury, lead and barium.

Contaminated soil and groundwater at the site have halted development in the past, but cleanup at the property — which was once tapped for a hotel — is expected to be completed in the coming months.

Paints, dyes, oils, organic solvents, plasticizers and other contaminants used in the manufacturing process were disposed of on the site, according to the DEC. An environmental assessment discovered volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were present in soil and groundwater samples taken from the site.

Cleanup activities are aimed at protecting public health and the environment, according to the DEC, which indicated one of the primary issues at the former Breneman site is portions of soil and groundwater that contain elevated levels of petroleum byproducts.

The mid-market housing would be designed for individuals with a roughly $31,100 annual income, increasing to a family of four with annual income around $44,450.  Conde last year said quality housing is often out of reach for the individuals and families within the designated income ranges.

As part of the housing project, DePaul plans to allocate 20 apartments to individuals or families with special needs and another 20 apartments to seniors. DePaul would give preference to seniors and veterans for the remaining 40 apartments.

Conde said last year the Lock 7 project would also provide an extra level of support for the occupants, with additional staff to connect them with community services. Residents with medical issues, a desire to change jobs or other issues can connect with staff for assistance.

One of DePaul’s main objectives, Conde said, is to create “beautiful” housing that fits in with the surrounding community. She said Oswego has shown a strong network of community service providers, and DePaul feels the housing development would be a perfect addition to their efforts.

Conde said the project is fully funded after receiving an award from the state Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) office. She said DePaul is anticipating an 18-month construction timeline, and could open as soon as spring 2022.

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