Pyramid’s plans for future growth revealed

— From the draft EIS on file with the town of Guilderland
Pyramid plans: This drawing, part of Pyramid’s draft environmental impact statement, shows the three sites that are being considered in the DEIS. Site 1 is a proposed complex of 222 apartments at Rapp and Gipp roads. Site 1 may also house an additional 90 apartments. Site 2 is a proposed Costco with fueling stations; this site extends from Rapp Road east to Gabriel Terrace and would involve the demolition of a “ghost neighborhood” of former homes on four streets. Site 3, located between Site 2 and Pyramid’s hotel, would include a mix of retail space, office space, and 48 apartments.

GUILDERLAND — Pyramid — owners of Crossgates Mall and acres of land around it — has drafted a plan for future development that is now available for public review. On Feb. 12, the Guilderland Planning Board accepted the plan as being complete and scheduled a public hearing for on March 11 at 6 p.m.

The document currently posted online is not the final draft of the draft environmental impact statement, because, since posting it, planning board members and town-designated engineers have been expressing their concerns and questions to Pyramid, and the company has been addressing those in the DEIS, town Planner Kenneth Kovalchik said at the meeting. 

The document currently online — which he called “a draft of a draft” — has changed, and those changes are not yet posted online, Kovalchik said.

The next step will be for Pyramid to file the final documents with the town and for those documents to be posted online. Once that happens — “probably next week,” said Kovalchik — a 30-day public comment period will start.

The March 11 public hearing will be within that 30-day period, which by law must continue for at least 10 days after the public hearing, board Chairman Stephen Feeney and Kovalchik explained at the meeting.

The town required the plan. Kovalchik told The Enterprise earlier that Pyramid will not need to do a full State Environmental Quality Review for any project that is part of what is approved in the EIS.

The DEIS is intended to outline the scope of all, or nearly all, potential future development in the area around Crossgates Mall. The draft looks at three sites within the Transit-Oriented Development District, or TOD. Considered in the draft are a site where Pyramid has proposed an apartment complex, another where it hopes to build a Costco, and a third where commercial and residential buildings are anticipated.

Malls throughout the country are struggling as shopping trends change from in-store to online, and Pyramid is looking to continue to diversify into new areas. It opened a new hotel on Western Avenue last fall, in front of the mall. The offerings in Crossgates Mall have also changed dramatically, with retail establishments giving way to dining and large-scale entertainment venues.

The draft includes, among other documents, a 133-page main text, an 839-page traffic study, a 252-page stormwater management plan for the proposed Rapp Road apartment project, and a 429-page stormwater management plan for the proposed Western Avenue Costco. 

Site 1, which is 19 acres, is of a proposed complex of 222 mid- to high-end one- and two-bedroom units at Rapp and Gipp roads. Site 1 also includes a “potential future development area” where Pyramid says it has no current plans but where the company has analyzed an additional 90 apartment units “for purposes of the DEIS.”

Site 1 had been proposed as apartments and townhouses, but is now proposed as only apartments, because the sole type of residential units allowed in the TOD west of Rapp Road is “multifamily.” “The 30 units in the 2-story buildings are townhome style, but not townhomes because no lot lines are being created for each unit,” said Kovalchik when asked about the distinction between townhouses and apartments. “No changes have been made to the site plan.”

Site 2, where a Costco and fueling stations totaling 160,000 square feet are proposed, is a 15-acre parcel on Route 20, Guilderland’s major thoroughfare, extending from Rapp Road east to Gabriel Terrace. Building a Costco at Site 2 would involve demolition of the “ghost neighborhood” of homes Pyramid bought over the past two decades on four streets near Crossgates.

Site 3, which is 11.3 acres, is to include a mix of retail space, office space, and 48 apartments, each with one or two bedrooms. Site 3 is between Site 2 and the hotel on Western Avenue that Pyramid built last year; it contains a handful of houses in the ghost neighborhood that lie east of Gabriel Terrace. 

The three sites are within the Transit-Oriented District that the town created in 2018 for the area around the mall to encourage a mix of commercial and residential development conducive to walking and use of public transportation. Pyramid owns about 90 percent of the land in the TOD.

What’s in the DEIS 

Snapshots of some of the new information contained in the currently-posted “draft of a draft” include: 

Town services 

Police and fire protection, as well as ambulance services, are all “anticipated to be adequate to meet the additional demand generated by the proposed projects,” according to the DEIS. “The Town will receive substantial tax revenues from the project that will more than offset any increased service demands,” the document says. 

Target renters are young professionals and empty-nesters, the DEIS says, and therefore “it is not anticipated that there will be a significant amount of school-age children added to the Town of Guilderland.” 

Using statistics from Rutgers and the National Association of Homebuilders, the DEIS estimates that the 222 units at Site 1 could yield 64 new school-age children when the complex has reached stabilized occupancy, which the DEIS expects in three years. 

The DEIS does not mention anything about potential schoolchildren in the 138 additional units that are analyzed for the purpose of the DEIS but not yet proposed; these are 90 additional units that could be built alongside the 222-unit complex, or the 48 units analyzed at Site 3. 

Demand for water service at Site 1 (the 222 units) and Site 1A (the 90 additional units) will be  met by new connections to existing water mains, the DEIS says.

“Based on information supplied by Town officials, the Westmere Water District has adequate capacity to meet this additional demand,” the draft says. Site 1 will generate between about $53,740 and $72,270 in water fees, the DEIS says; this, like the other water-service calculations here, are based on New York State Design Standards for Intermediate Sized Wastewater Treatment Systems. 

Costco would be a relatively low-demand user of water resources; the existing pipe network will be used to supply water, and the capacity is adequate to accommodate the needs at the site, according to the DEIS. Site 2 will generate about $6,900 in water district/use fees, says the DEIS. 

At Site 3, with its 115,000 square-foot commercial space, 50,000 square-foot office space, and 48 one- and two-bedroom apartments, water service would be supplied by extending water lines from the hotel to the existing infrastructure to create a loop, the DEIS says, and Site 3 will bring about $25,320 in water district/use fees. 

The Westmere Terrace sewer-collection system has adequate capacity to cover Site 1, says the DEIS. The single-family homes in the four local streets that will be demolished to make way for sites 2 and 3 have existing connections adequate to cover sites 2 and 3, it says. 

Tax revenues

Tax revenue would be greatly increased by developing the three sites, according to a report titled “Economic and Fiscal Impact” done by Camoin Associates for Pyramid. Currently the three sites generate a total of about $236,000 in property and school taxes for the town, Guilderland School District, and Albany County, the report says. They generate no sales tax, since they currently involve no sales.  

Camoin estimates that the development on the three sites would generate more than $2 million in new sales tax because of people traveling to the town to visit Costco and coming to live in town in the residential complexes.

Only a portion of sales-tax revenue generated in the town goes to Guilderland. With the 8-percent sales tax, 4 percent goes to the state and 4 percent to the county; the county keeps 60 percent and distributes the remaining 40 percent to the county’s municipalities according to their populations.

Guilderland gets 12 percent of the 40 percent distributed by the county, the Camoin Report says. So, for instance, the report says that Site 3 would bring Guilderland an additional $9,592 per year in sales-tax revenue from household spending, on-site sales, and on-site employee earnings. 

Site 1 would generate a total of $444,000 in taxes to the town, county, and school district, according to Camoin, with $61,506 going to the town and $331,861 to the school district; Site 2 would generate $141,707, with $19,630 of that going to the town and $105,917 to the school district. 

Development on the sites would also generate jobs: 1,175 construction-related jobs, 189 permanent full-time jobs and 133 permanent part-time jobs. The DEIS says the median worker at Costco was paid $38,810 last year. 

The Camoin Report says Site 3 alone would bring 144 new jobs, over $10.3 million in new wages, and over $19.1 million in new sales in the town of Guilderland;

— Traffic

Pyramid has agreed to convey to the Rapp Road Historical District five properties that it had purchased within the district. The Rapp Road neighborhood is a rare intact neighborhood of homes built by African-Americans who came north from Mississippi during the Great Migration.  The properties could be used as open space for the development of a cultural center that the association has stated it hopes to build, according to a cover letter accompanying the DEIS.

Residents of the Rapp Road Historical District have expressed at meetings of various town boards in Guilderland and to the Albany County Planning Board their concern about any increase to the amount of traffic passing along Rapp Road; they say the traffic on the road, which connects Western Avenue to Washington Avenue Extension, is already terrible.  

Pyramid will “continue to work with the Rapp Road Historic District and local government to mitigate broader traffic comments that have been raised,” the company wrote in a cover letter.

The company has evaluated the potential impact of existing traffic conditions on the district and on residents of Gipp Road in Guilderland and Pine Lane and Wilan Lane in Albany, including several alternatives to traffic patterns in the area, the DEIS states. The alternatives include construction of north-south bypass roads to the east and west of Rapp Road, and closure and partial closure of a section of Rapp Road. 

The DEIS also says, “Based on the cumulative review of traffic, regardless of the potential transportation alternatives, the Traffic Study determined that level of service B will be maintained on Rapp Road during the AM and PM peak hours and will not result in significant traffic impacts to this area”; 

Environmental issues

Pyramid proposes to give a total of 8.4 acres of land to the Albany Pine Bush Commission that the commission has identified as “of particular value to its efforts to preserve and manage the Pine Bush Preserve.” These acres, on the north side of Crossgates Mall, adjacent to Rapp Road, would be conveyed as full-protection Pine Bush lands.

 The commission has agreed, the DEIS says, that this would mitigate potential impacts resulting from development of Site 1.

About Sites 2 and 3, the DEIS says: “The proposed redevelopment Sites 2 and 3 are located to the south of Crossgates Mall and largely previously developed. These areas were evaluated by B. Laing Associates and no identified endangered, threatened, special concern species and/or significant habitat areas were present. While these sites are technically within the Albany Pine Bush Study Area, they are located on the periphery and are not identified in the Pine Bush Management Plan for protection”;

Managing stormwater

The apartment complex at Site 1 is located over the Albany Pine Bush aquifer, says the report written by the Chazen Companies, which designed the plan. The nearest natural classified water body into which runoff from the project will discharge is a tributary to the Normans Kill, the report says.

Chazen compared the pre- and post-development watershed conditions for all design points and storm events, and found, for all of them, the peak rate of runoff was not increased by the proposed development, the report says. 

The project will not have a significant adverse impact on the adjacent or downstream properties or receiving water courses, the company wrote. 

Some of the plans for mitigation at Site 1 include infiltration basins, an underground infiltration system, and bioretention filters. 

The Costco site stormwater management plan, for Site 2, provides reductions in peak flows for all storm events studied, as well as runoff reduction and water-quality mitigation that meets the required standards, said a report by Maser Consulting P.A., which designed the plan. 

“There should be no adverse impacts due to storm water, on-site or off-site, as a result of the proposed development,” Maser wrote. 

Plans for mitigation at Site 2 include a 1,400-gallon-capacity hydrodynamic oil/water separator and an underground system of chambers that would store 201,665 cubic feet of volume and discharge it through multiple orifices that reduce the peak rate of discharge to meet the peak-rate requirements. 

Still a draft 

Feeney had told The Enterprise on Friday that, if it were up to him, the draft wouldn’t yet be posted “because there are still changes being made.” Studies such as the analyses of traffic impacts and stormwater plans will not change, he said, but changes are being made to the main written document.

Initially the town had not placed the draft EIS on its website or made it available to the public. Attorney James Bacon, who declined to identify his client, told The Enterprise that he filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the town to release the draft, and had been denied.

Kovalchik had written Bacon to say that the draft EIS was considered “intra-agency documentation,” not subject to FOIL. Bacon appealed that denial in late January. The town posted the information on Jan. 30, which Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber told The Enterprise “mooted the appeal.”

The document was posted online in response to Bacon’s request, even though the state’s Freedom of Information Law is at odds with DEC regulations, Kovalchik said at Wednesday’s meeting; an environmental impact statement should not be posted until deemed to be complete, he said.

At this point, the DEIS is probably 90 percent complete, Feeney told The Enterprise on Feb. 7. 

“I would be hesitant to base comments on what’s there,” Feeney said, referring to comments from the public. “I would wait for the newer one,” he said. 

He also declined to comment at this point about his own thoughts about the draft EIS. 

Public comment will be accepted once the town has deemed the DEIS to be complete and Pyramid has filed the final documents, Feeney said.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Lynne Jackson of Save the Pine Bush asked if town officials would consider extending the public-comment period beyond 30 days, because of the scope of the documents and the project. Feeney said he thought an extension might be appropriate. 

If, in the future, Pyramid wants to build anything not covered by this environmental impact statement, Feeney said, the company would need to apply for that, possibly with a supplemental EIS, he said.

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