Pyramid plans five-story hotel next to Crossgates

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Hotel proposed: Pyramid Management wants to build a hotel on Western Avenue near the mall. The proposed site is the wooded area to the left seen here from the cemetery across Western Avenue.

GUILDERLAND — Pyramid Management hopes to build a 200-unit hotel on Western Avenue, at the entrance to Crossgates Mall. The company is requesting a rezone of a 12.7-acre area, between Gabriel Terrace and the existing entrance, that includes the proposed hotel site.

Pyramid appeared before the planning board Wednesday night and, after substantial discussion, the board decided to recommend that the town board consider rezoning — to general business — not the entire site, but just the 6.5 acres that would contain the hotel and its parking lot. Planning Board Chairman Stephen Feeney said that he thought it would be better to proceed on the smaller area for now, rather than consigning all 12.7 acres to “our most intensive use.”

Several residents spoke for and against the project, including Albany County Legislator Bryan Clenahan, who represents Westmere and urged caution because of concerns about traffic, especially given that another developer is building a 210-unit luxury apartment nearby. Cheryl Lasher, president of the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce, said that the project would create jobs. (See related letter.)

Feeney said last week that he thought the proposal was a good use of the location. Town Supervisor Peter Barber also said last week, “For planning purposes, hotels are low-intensity use; it’s not like a large medical building or a supermarket.”

Crossgates Mall Hotel would sit directly next to and west of the current main entrance to the mall on Western Avenue, sandwiched between the entrance and an existing small and largely unused parking lot, across Western Avenue from the Beth Abraham Jacob Cemetery. Ted’s Fish Fry at 1645 Western Ave. would be demolished, as would the brick house at 1637 Western Ave., the public heard Wednesday night.

The hotel would include two separate wings, one for long-term stays and the other a full-service hotel, with a shared lobby in between. The hotel would have a direct pedestrian connection to the mall.

The site plan also includes a bike path.

The 12.7-acre area includes all of the buildings that front on Western Avenue that are owned by Pyramid, said Feeney last week.

That area, which Pyramid hoped to rezone to general business, currently encompasses parcels zoned general business; business non-retail professional, or BNRP; local business; and R-15, or residential, with a lot size of at least 15,000 square feet.

A lot of the zoning in that area “probably predates the mall,” Feeney said.

Pyramid plans to ask the town to relocate Lehner Road — which Feeney said currently “doesn’t really serve anything” — 150 feet west, to align with a traffic light on Crossgates Mall Road. This will provide another point of access from Western Avenue; the hotel will also be accessible from the mall’s main entrance.

Relocating Lehner Road will accommodate internal traffic flow more efficiently than would the road’s current site, according to the consulting firm Maser, which provided comments to Pyramid’s attorneys, Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna, in a letter contained in the file.  The relocated Lehner Road will lead directly to the central part of the mall, the new transit center, and the food court, Maser wrote.

 

— Site plan from the Guilderland Planning Department
The site of the proposed Crossgates Mall Hotel on Western Avenue would be sandwiched between the main entrance to the mall and the existing small, separate parking lot west of the entrance. Some of the homes to the west of the 12.7-acre shaded area are owned by Pyramid and have been vacant for years.

 

Transportation

Crossgates Mall is currently the busiest bus stop on the Capital District Transportation Authority regional bus-transportation service map, Maser wrote to Pyramid’s lawyers. He said that CDTA plans to develop a new express line, to be known as the bus rapid transit, or “BRT,” line, from downtown Albany to a new transit center at Crossgates. This bus route would cut through the Harriman and the university campuses, with fewer stops.

A Westmere corridor study from 2016 that looked at needed transportation and access improvements for the area noted that the rapid-bus route project would also involve creating bike and pedestrian paths through both university campuses. Barber has often said that making the town more easily walkable and bikeable is a priority.

The transit center — which is a separate project that the Capital District Transportation Authority is planning — will include a climate-controlled passenger waiting area connected to the food court, a 10-bus parking deck on the south side of the mall, a relocated ring road, and two new roundabouts planned for the ring road.

The two planned roundabouts on the ring road, also part of the CDTA project, would help ease traffic, says another letter in the file, from engineering firm Creighton Manning to the state’s Department of Transportation. One roundabout is planned for the intersection of the mall’s main entrance and the ring road, and the other for the area of the entrance and exit ramps for the Northway. Crossgates has its own ramp from the Northway and draws patrons from well beyond the Capital Region.

Currently, there are a few accidents every month on the ring road, according to Curtis Cox, deputy chief of the Guilderland Police. Feeney mentioned at the planning board meeting that he thinks the Department of Transportation believes that the roundabout at the Northway ramps would keep things moving and help prevent traffic from getting backed up on the Northway near the Crossgates exit.

One improvement that may occur in the long-term future is a flyover that would allow both cars and pedestrians to move between Crossgates Mall and Stuyvesant Plaza on a flyover bridge that could be built near the existing Northway ramps at the ring road, Capital District Transportation Committee Executive Director Mike Franchini told The Enterprise earlier.

 

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Ghost neighborhood: The vast majority of the houses in the small, self-contained neighborhood made up of Gabriel Terrace, Lawton Terrace, and Rielton Court, just west of the 12.7-acre area where Crossgates wants to build a hotel, are vacant. This vacant house is on Lawton Terrace.

 

Site review

“I don’t want to prejudge it, but the use seems to make sense,” said Feeney of the hotel project last week. “It has good mass-transit access,” he said of the site. He continued, “And when the new mass-transit center comes in, it will have even better access.” Feeney noted that good public-transportation access is important not only for guests but also for employees.

“Obviously there are site-plan issues that need to be worked out,” Feeney said.

The site on which Pyramid hopes to build the land is a ravine, far below the level of the roads adjacent to it. When asked if Pyramid plans to fill it in, Jacqueline Coons, the town’s acting chief building and zoning inspector, said that she had not seen a formal site plan yet, but that she was sure that stormwater management would influence what the company proposes and would be reviewed by the town-designated engineer. Referring to Pyramid, she said, “They’re going to have some substantial site work either way,” she said.

Five stories is not the maximum height allowed for hotels in a general business zone; six is, said Coons. “So they could build it higher, but they’re not asking to,” she said. In zones for local business, she said, hotels can be no more than three stories.

Guilderland does not currently have much by way of hotels, especially since the Best Western at 1228 Western Ave. was approved for conversion to an assisted-living facility, Feeney added. The applicant for that project, Promenade Senior LIving LLC, received final approval from the zoning board of appeals on Jan. 18.

Crossgates Mall Hotel is expected to be under development in 2017 and to open in 2018, says the application.

Other agencies that would need to give approval or funding are, according to the application, the zoning board of appeals (a special-use permit); the highway superintendent (abandonment of a town road); and the state’s Department of Transportation (a highway work permit).

Michael Shanley, a partner in Pyramid Management, did not return several calls.

History

Crossgates Mall opened in 1983 with about 875,000 square feet. In 1994, it added 650,000 square feet, and,  in 1997, an 18-screen theater was added, bringing the total number of screens at the mall to 30.

Between 2013 and 2014, another addition was put on where the comedy club Funny Bone is now, and the entrance was moved out to the end of the addition, said Coons. This addition was two levels, with 20,000 square feet on each level.

In 1998, Pyramid had plans to build a hotel and a recreation facility at Crossgates, more than doubling the mall to about 3.6 million square feet. The company bought up residential properties in the area at twice or even three times their assessed value. Massive citizen protest of the expansion project led the town to turn down Pyramid’s request for changes of zoning.

Coons said that the last time building inspector Dennis Mason went out to the neighborhood, which was in the fall of 2016, he said that Gabriel Terrace seemed largely empty. There was just one home there, he said, that looked occupied.

Coons said that Crossgates demolished one house in the neighborhood, at 3 Lawton Terrace, last fall.

Donald Csaposs, the town’s grant writer and a resident of McKownville, was one of the leaders of the opposition to the expansion about 20 years ago. He said about the new proposal, “For me, the jury is still out. I’ve seen kneejerk reactions on social media already, both for and against. Kneejerk reactions are often wrong.” He said, “Ask me after we’ve had a couple of meetings.”

More Guilderland News

  • The new local law is subject to a permissive referendum, meaning a petition can be submitted to the board requesting the issue be put to the voters in a special election.

  • The town of Guilderland is opposing a request from Crossgates that the mall’s 2020 and 2021 tax certiorari cases be consolidated into one lawsuit in part because the circumstances surrounding the valuations “were completely different.” The 2021 case would be based on a July 2020 valuation — when malls were closed for three of the year’s six months — compared to a 2020 tax hearing, which would be based on numbers from July 2019.

  • Guilderland school district residents passed a $21.8 million capital project on Thursday with nearly 64 percent voting in favor.

    “After what our kids have been through, this is awesome,” said Superintendent Marie Wiles on Thursday night just after the results were in.

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