Town Board OKs two zone changes, drawing ire

A car wash and bank that developer Richard Hameroff plans to propose to the town are outlined in this sketch. The entrance to these parcels would be at the existing traffic light, across Route 20 from SEFCU and Market 32. Northwest of the parcels is Prospect Hill Cemetery.

GUILDERLAND — At its meeting on Jan. 15, the Guilderland Town Board passed two new local laws within about the first 25 minutes, to allow developers to proceed.

Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber let town Planner Kenneth Kovalchik speak about the two projects but did not accept any comment from residents prior to the votes, saying that public hearings had already been held, and that nothing had changed since then.

Later in the meeting, several residents spoke with Laurel Bohl receiving resounding applause from the onlookers. Bohl spoke after an application for a third rezone was discussed, this one at the Great Oaks office complex at Church Road, where The Rosenblum Companies want to add two apartment buildings. The developer has requested a Planned Unit Development, which would also require a local law from the town board.

Bohl said, in a nutshell, that Kovalchik said, in his Dec. 18 presentation on the many proposed or approved apartment projects in Guilderland, that the town must approve projects that conform to the code. He said his hands are tied, Bohl reiterated.

So then, when the town is asked to suspend the code for a developer, why doesn’t it say that its hands are tied and it needs to follow the code? “You can’t have it both ways,” Bohl concluded.

Kovalchik responded through The Enterprise this week that Planned Unit Development districts are allowed, and even encouraged, in Guilderland’s zoning code.

New zones

One new law rezones the property on which the Winding Brook Townhomes will be built, from R40 — for single-family homes with minimum lot sizes of 40,000 square feet — to Planned Unit Development.

This project, formerly referred to as Winding Brook Apartments, is proposed by two members of the engineering firm Hershberg and Hershberg — partner Francis McCloskey and principal designer William Mafrici — who will bring 52 townhouses to land that is currently wooded across Winding Brook Drive from the Guilderland YMCA facility. The application for the Winding Brook Drive Townhome PUD went to the town over a year ago, in November 2017.

This project also conveyed almost 20 acres of land to the town as open space.

The other law rezones as General Business two parcels on Western Avenue directly across from Market 32 and SEFCU, where a developer plans to build a car wash and a bank, two uses that were not allowed in the former Business Non-Retail Professional zone. General Business is the town’s most intensive commercial zone. The developer requested the rezone but has not yet formally proposed the project to the town.

The property at 2115 and 2123 Western Ave., now rezoned as General Business, would allow a convenience store with gas; a medical clinic; a theater; or a shopping center.

The developer — Richard and Sandra Hameroff, owners of Broadway Auto Clinic, an auto-repair shop and car wash in Menands — say they want to apply to build a car wash at the site, as well as another commercial use such as a bank.

This rezone request first came before the town board on Nov. 8, when it voted, 5 to 0, to schedule a public hearing for Dec. 4.

On Dec. 4, attorney Greg Mountain, partner with the West Firm, spoke on behalf of the developers, saying that steep slopes behind the parcels create a natural separation between the land to be developed and the Foundation of New York State Nurses north of the parcels, and Prospect Hill Cemetery to the north and west.

Barber told Mountain that the DOT will likely encourage the developer to consolidate the driveways.

Mountain told the town board that consolidating the driveways near the light would clean up the intersection; the driveway for 2115 Western is not currently aligned with the light. The intersection would become four-way rather than three-way, and the state’s Department of Transportation might require the addition of left-turn arrows, the board heard; those decisions would be made by the DOT.

Developer Richard Hameroff also spoke on Dec. 4 and said he had had discussions with the Foundation of New York State Nurses, and that representatives of the organization had said they had no problem with consolidating driveways at the light, but had no intention of helping to pay for it. Currently, the foundation’s driveway, is about 100 feet east of the driveway at 2115 Western Ave.

Mountain noted that the developer wants to add a second driveway further to the west that would be used exclusively for right turns out of the car wash.  

The project would bring these parcels back into productive use, Mountain told the board. He said that the parcels don’t currently have any stormwater-management plans, which the applicant would create. The parcels currently are on private water and sewer, and the project would bring in public water and sewer, he said, to just these parcels.

The applicant has submitted a sketch plan as part of the rezone, but no formal application has yet been submitted, Kovalchik said this week.

“It’s my understanding the applicant will be submitting a site plan for both the car wash and bank in the same application. It is the Town’s preference to review both uses together in one application,” Kovalchik wrote in an email this week.

Kovalchik told The Enterprise that, for proposed projects on these parcels, the zoning board of appeals would be the lead agency, since a special-use permit would be required. The ZBA would refer the site plan to the planning board for review, and the planning board would make a recommendation to the zoning board, he said, but the zoning board would make the ultimate decision.

The parcels together now contain three buildings — two offices and one residence, Kovalchik said, adding that he thought one of the office buildings might be empty.

Hameroff and Mountain said on Dec. 4 that all three buildings would be torn down.

Prospect Hill Cemetery to the north and west zoned R15, for single-family homes with minimum lot sizes of 15,000 square feet. To the north and east are properties owned by the state, some of which Kovalchik believes are lands that were conveyed to the Pine Bush Commission by Pine Bush Senior Living.

Pine Bush Senior Living has received approval to build a multi-stage senior-living complex at 20 New Karner Rd. and, as part of its application, agreed to convey about 40 acres of land to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. Pine Bush Senior Living will include independent-living apartments, assisted-living units, and memory-care units.

Across Western Avenue are SEFCU and the Price Chopper shopping plaza. A General Business zoning district would be a “logical extension” for the property, Mountain told the board.

The only resident who spoke during the public hearing was Michelle Viola-Straight, president of the Guilderland Chamber. She said that she believes that this project would be a perfect fit with the location. She added that the developers are “wonderful people” and “proven business owners.”

Are the town’s hands really tied?

Bohl, the head of the Guilderland Citizens for Responsible Growth who works as a lawyer with the State Attorney General’s Office, said that the grassroots organization she belongs to is now “several hundred members strong and growing every day.” It is nonpartisan, she said, and made up of Democrats, Republicans, and independent voters.

She said the town board, in approving the two rezones and being “poised to approve another” was sending a loud and clear message to developers. The message, she said, was: “This town board is willing to do anything to accommodate them, including rewriting the law just for them.”

Bohl reminded the town board that she had asked, in November 2018, for it to consider a pause in development to create an area master plan for the center hamlet area, where Winding Brook Apartments was located and where two other projects are currently proposed — one that would bring 283 apartments and the other, 64 apartments.

Bohl called a rezone the most extreme request a developer can make. It allows developers, she said, “to get around the code completely and build something that is otherwise totally prohibited by the code.” It was never intended to be granted to every developer that asks for it, “given out .... like candy on Halloween.”

Kovalchik said this week of Bohl, “I think she misquoted me a little bit.”

He explained that what he had said at the presentation was not simply that it was difficult for Guilderland to say “no” to developers.

At his December presentation, he explained this week, he had said that, if a project is a permitted use in a zoning district, and if the developer goes through the State Environmental Quality Review process and incorporates comments from the town-designated engineer, the planning board, and the public, it is hard for any municipality to say no.

Kovalchik added that Planned Unit Development districts are encouraged in Guilderland’s zoning code. Approving a PUD application does not mean lifting the zoning code, he said.

The code defines the Planned Unit Development this way: “The PUD District provides for flexible land use and design so that small- to large-scale neighborhoods can be developed that incorporate a variety of residential types and nonresidential uses, and which may contain both individual building sites and common property which are planned and developed as a unit. The PUD District shall include preservation of trees, natural topography and geologic features; efficient use of land resulting in smaller networks of utilities; interconnected streets; and a plan supportive of transit service and consistent with smart growth principles.”

 

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