Town board sets density for 254 dwellings in ‘Country Hamlet’ and mulls moratorium

— Plan from the Albany Country Club application

Plan for a Country Hamlet: The solid black line encompasses lands owned by Albany Country Club while the dotted red line marks the zoning boundaries. Green indicates buildable areas while red indicates wetlands.

GUILDERLAND — About a year after the Guilderland Town Board accepted a request to rezone some of Albany Country Club’s property into a “Country Hamlet,” the board on Tuesday set density requirements, pending review of the town planner.

Albany Country Club wants to rezone around half of its 800-plus acres from rural agricultural and residential to that of a Country Hamlet District. Guilderland’s Country Hamlet zoning requirements include a minimum of 160 acres to be included in any development proposal of which 60 percent must be preserved as open space.

In its review of the project last February, the Guilderland Planning Board had commented, “The proposed density of 254 units … seems to be balanced with the proposed 121 acres of open space to be preserved within the development area and approximately 400 acres outside of the development area.”

The town board is the lead agency and will make the ultimate decision to approve or deny the application; the board has yet to begin the State Environmental Quality Review process.

A total of 254 units are proposed within a development area of about 192 acres:

— 88 single-family lots on 26.9 acres;

— 116 townhome units on 22.8 acres; and

— 50 multi-family units on 4.3 acres.

At the Jan. 16 town board meeting, Supervisor Peter Barber went over the calculations for density, explaining that, for single-family homes, it would be 3.27 units per acre; for townhouses, it would be 5.08 units per acre; and for multiple-family units, it would be 11.6 units per acre.

“Each of those per-acre calculations are below the density set forth in the various relevant zoning districts,” said Barber. 

“Board members, do you feel comfortable?” asked Barber.

Deputy Supervisor Christine Napierski was the only board member to respond with questions. She said that the town’s planner, Ken Kovalchik, had told her “we’re giving a 25-percent density bonus.” She asked why the developer was entitled to the bonus.

An engineer for the developer answered, “We have a much greater open space.”

Napierski went on to say she was concerned about what “seems like a disclaimer” about pedestrian pathways, that they “are subject to change based upon a final detailed review.”

The engineer said that he would be working with a traffic engineer on the project but that he did not foresee substantive changes in the final design.

The vote to set the dwelling-unit densities was unanimous.


Planning ahead

Later in the meeting, Barber suggested the board may want to “consider having some legislation that allows for Airbnbs and Vrbo in our town.”

On Nov. 15, the town’s zoning board sided with the town’s code-enforcement officer about an Airbnb on Becker Road, finding it in violation of town code.

“I think there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered,” said Barber.

He noted that short-term rentals are an issue throughout the state. Barber said he’d looked at a sample law but said, “It really has to be tailored to our town.”

Napierski said the board had received a memo on the topic from Robyn Gray, who chairs the grassroots citizens’ group, Guilderland Coalition for Responsible Growth.

Napierski credited the way the town’s building department is handling the issue. “They act upon neighborhood complaints, not a general complaint. So for the most part, we don’t look for problems,” she said. “We wait for problems to come to us.”

Napierski said that Gray’s point was, “We want to be fair; we don’t want to just single out one person to violate them for not doing this. Either we violate everybody or we change the law. So I think our efforts are better going towards drafting a new law.”

In  Dec. 15, 2023 editorial, The Enterprise had called on the town board to draft legislation to make clear Guilderland’s stance on short-term rentals.

Barber said he’d also heard concerns about a proposal for a halal market in town. Imran Hassan, who wants to open a shop at 1648 Western Ave. ,made a proposal to the planning board this month.

“I know people refer to it as a slaughterhouse, which I think is an unfair characterization,” said Barber. “‘Halal’ means it’s an Islamic Muslim meat market. ‘Hala’ means permissive or legal. I’m not an expert on it, but basically it means food has to be prepared in a certain way.”

Barber noted the operation would have to be certified and inspected by the state. He said poultry would be slaughtered “by appointment.” “It has to be done a certain way … which is no blood being spilled,” Barber said.

The board also again briefly discussed enacting a moratorium once it is ready to encode the not-yet-received recommendations from the committee updating the town’s comprehensive plan.

Referring to a proposal for a $55 million cancer center near Crossgates Mall on property owned by Pyramid, Barber said he didn’t think the board would issue a moratorium “to stop an office building.”

Councilman Jacob Crawford noted the concern seems to be more on large-scale apartments.

“You just don’t put a moratorium in place without reason,” said Barber.

He said a reason would be if the town’s water superintendent said, “I don’t have enough water to provide for any more single-family homes in a certain area or I don’t want any water-district extensions until we have an opportunity to really do a study of that.”

However, Barber said the thought that “a blanket, no-build moratorium” would be ill advised.

“It’s not like there’s a lot of building activity in the town occurring right now anyway …,” said Barber. “The Conservation Advisory Council hasn’t met in seven months … that means there have been no subdivision applications in seven months.”

Napierski said the committee updating the comprehensive plan has “a vision for the town.” The town board needs to make sure, while it is enacting legislation, she said, that development doesn’t take place that would violate those visions.

Barber said he agreed 100-percent but noted the town board governs planned-unit developments while a moratorium would stop the zoning and planning boards.

“We could say, let’s not proceed until we hear more about the current plan,” said Barber.

“But,” said Crawford, “there are still a couple of parcels in town that could proceed with current zoning that wouldn’t require necessarily a PUD.”

Barber responded, “I don’t think that is completely accurate.” He said that Kovalchik, the town’s planner, “put together a map that showed where were the vacant lots, and there really aren’t any.”

Crawford asked for an update from the water department on “where we are on infrastructure for water.”

Barber agreed water is a concern and said of the superintendent of Water and Wastewater Management, William Bremigen, “The last thing I want is Bill to show up at a meeting one night and sayd, ‘We need you to stop now.’”

Napierski and Crawford agreed the town should be proactive.


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