ADDITION: Kevin Witt wasn’t there because he was quite sick.
Tuesday night, Middletown’s Common Council re-passed a controversial law that will, in three years, phase out most three-family or bigger homes in residential areas.
The “amortization” law was first passed in 2009; last June, a judge struck it down on the grounds that the city should’ve notified the Orange County Planning Department first, so the city moved to re-pass it, holding public hearings in August and again in January.
Alderman Jerry Kleiner moved Tuesday to table the law, saying it should be put back in committee and reviewed since the current Council hasn’t discussed it — three members are new this year and one was appointed at the end of last year.
The Council split 4-4 on this, with aldermen Joe Masi, Paul Johnson, Joe Masi and Jude Jean-Francois joining Kleiner; a split vote means a resolution fails, so the vote proceeded. Alderman Kevin Witt was absent Tuesday.
When the law itself came up, Kleiner and Masi were the only ‘No’ votes.
In contrast to the crowded public hearings on the law, only one person appeared to have been there for the amortization vote. He went up to Mayor Joe DeStefano after the meeting, and they had a brief, angry exchange.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves!” the man yelled as he walked out, gesturing toward the Council.
The law’s supporters cite statistics that say multifamily buildings are responsible for more than their fair share of crime and code problems, and say the law will improve the city’s quality of life by addressing that.
Over 100 buildings will be affected, although some will be able to stay multifamily for five more years with a hardship waiver or permanently with an exemption on the grounds that the building is “structurally unreasonable” to convert.
How many apartments will actually be eliminated remains to be seen. Since a building could stay a rental if it goes down to two-family, city officials have estimated that only 139 to 179 apartments would go away; some landlords have argued the number will be much higher, saying they won’t be able to keep paying for their buildings with their rental income so reduced and they’ll end up abandoning them.
DeStefano, who supports the law strongly, questioned why Kleiner would oppose the law when he voted for the original one in 2009, and said that there have been more hearings on it than any other law in the city’s history that he’s aware of.
“This will have a significant positive impact,” he said.
Alderwoman Kate Ramkissoon said most of the constituents she has spoken to support the law.
“I don’t work for landlords,” she said. “The vote that I cast today, it’s what the people who put me into this position want me to do.”
Kleiner said the opposite — most of the people he talked to during the campaign opposed the law.
“There are seniors who’ve been there half their lives, and they’re going to have to move,” Kleiner said. “These are the people we’re punishing and hurting because we have some absentee landlords who are a problem.”
Masi was upset with the landlords, saying that if they policed themselves better, this wouldn’t be an issue. But, he said, he didn’t think it was fair to take people’s investment.
“Many people purchased these properties with the understanding these were multiple dwellings,” he said.