Albany Country Club seeks rezone, which would allow 290-unit development

— From Albany Country Club’s submission on file with the town of Guilderland 

In for a penny, in for a pound: The Albany Country Club in 2019 requested that the Guilderland Town Board withdraw the planned-unit-development zoning designation for the 82 acres of property the club owned on Relyea Road, reverting the zoning back to residential. The club is now seeking to change that zoning to Rural Agricultural because that’s the only way to then change the zoning to Country Hamlet for a development project. 

GUILDERLAND — A project stuck in the rough for the past year appears to have found the fairway.

During the Albany County Planning Board’s meeting on Thursday, the board discussed rezoning 89 acres owned by Albany Country Club, which the club needs in order to go back to the town of Guilderland to ask that the property receive another new zoning designation. 

James Harris, the club’s president, and Rocky Staples, its general manager and chief operating officer, did not immediately respond to an Enterprise request for an interview.

The country club has been building housing near its golf course for decades.

Albany Country Club first applied to the town for the zone change in January 2020. In February of last year, the town board set an April 2020 public hearing on the rezone, which never took place. The planning board had made a favorable recommendation on the rezone in March.

County planning board member Gerry Engstrom commented during the Feb. 18 meeting that there had been “some obvious public opposition to this submission,” likely referencing a number of people who called into the meeting specifically to hear what the board had to say about the rezone. 

Engstrom said that the long-form State Environmental Quality Review Act review submitted with the application was “quite simplified,” in his view — it addressed only the zoning change, it did not reflect the maximum build-out scenario post-rezone.

Engstrom said that the long-form environmental review should be amended to reflect the maximum build-out potential of a Rural Agricultural 3 (RA3) Zoning District. The parcel is currently zoned R20, a residential zoning designation that allows for density six times greater than RA3 zoning. 

“There seems to be some questions as to what’s going on with this parcel,” he  said. “I’m a little concerned as to what’s going on potentially behind the scenes.”

Engstrom continued, “It’s gone from planned unit development to [R20] to RA3. It’s a pretty big change. So what’s the rest of the story? We’re not getting it. It’s not included in the submission.”

The county planning board said it would table the action until next month, and ask the applicant to provide an adjusted long-form SEQR and more information on its proposal.

A proposal has been in place for some time. 

The project was first proposed to the Guilderland’s development planning committee in November 2019

At the time, the Albany Country Club proposed changing the zoning of 549 acres from Rural Agricultural to Country Hamlet for a 290-unit development consisting of 100 single-family homes, 100 townhomes, and 90 multi-family units. The proposed development area would consist of 104 acres with the other 445 acres remaining open space.

But the club has to change the property’s zoning multiple times to get to its intended proposal.

Planned-unit development zoning, known as a PUD, for the Weatherfield development was granted in 1973. In 2005, plans were withdrawn to develop the 82-acre fourth phase of the Weatherfield PUD. The club in 2019 requested that the town board withdraw the PUD zoning-designation for the 82 acres of property the club owned on Relyea Road, which the town board did in November 2019, reverting the zoning back to R20.

The 82 acres approved by the town board has since become 89.


Country Hamlet

Once the PUD zoning was reverted back to the original R20, the club could then apply to change the zoning to RA3 because to change the zoning of a parcel to Country Hamlet it has to already be zoned either RA3 or RA5.

Country Hamlet is a fairly new zoning district in Guilderland. It was created within the past decade, when the town began making changes to its zoning code, Jacqueline Coons, Guilderland’s chief building and zoning inspector, said during a November 2019 development planning committee meeting

The zoning code says that the Country Hamlet District “provides for the development of land consistent with the design principles of traditional neighborhoods, including: compact, pedestrian-scale design; a mix of uses (limited-scale commercial, residential, civic, open space, etc.); a mix of housing styles and types; interconnected streets with sidewalks, multipurpose pathways and other amenities to encourage pedestrian and bicycle use; and links to existing and future developments, community centers, parks and recreation resources.”

The code continues, “These hamlets conserve rural landscapes as natural areas, working farms and forest lands providing substantial benefits and open space amenities to the residents of the hamlet and the greater community.”

A Country Hamlet District can only be in an RA3 or RA5 district, which are rural-agricultural districts with a minimum of two and three acres, respectively, per lot.

Country Hamlets must be at least 160 acres, and must have frontage on and access to a county or state highway. Route 155 is a state highway.

If the rezone were completed, the country club would not act as the developer; it would sell the land to be developed, The Enterprise reported in 2019; it would however retain ownership over the open space and allow the town an easement.

There are currently 280 homes in Weatherfield, along Route 155 on the Voorheesville side. Adding 290 units would more than double the neighborhood’s density. 

Residents at the November 2019 development planning committee meeting were worried about traffic, which they said was already bad, and some of the roads, which they said were unsafe, had drop-offs, no shoulders, and S-curves.  

Among the comments made by the town staff about the proposal were that the “addition of almost 300 units to the area will have impacts on the surrounding roads.”

Town staff also said that “pedestrian safety issues along Relyea Road and Wormer Road should be analyzed as part of the formal submittal,” and consideration should be given to “making Relyea Road safer by eliminating the ‘S’ turns on the lower section of the property.” The proposal also had too many multi-family residences. 

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