Rapp Road redux: Pyramid again asks to table a decision likely to go against its plan

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Juanita Nabors, who lives in the historical Rapp Road community near Crossgates Mall, told the board about how crowded Rapp Road already is. She said there were 1,200 multi-family units on Pine Lane, a dead-end street accessible only from Rapp Road.

GUILDERLAND — Pyramid, which hopes to build 222 apartments and townhouses on Rapp Road, adjacent to Crossgates Mall, asked the Albany County Planning Board on March 21 to put off making a decision as the board looked certain to accept the chairman’s recommendation to “disapprove without prejudice.”

Pyramid had done much the same thing on Jan. 28, when it asked the Guilderland Industrial Development Agency to table its vote about whether to grant the apartment complex $1.2 million in tax breaks.

The county planning board had been reviewing Pyramid’s application, to make a recommendation to the town. Pyramid built Crossgates Mall and recently added a nearby hotel.

Chairman Dominic Rigosu had said, “Crossgates has gone through many phases, tenants. Last thing was the hotel. I don’t see any improvements done, except building, building, building.”

Rigosu said of traffic in the area, “At some point, you have to say enough is enough, let’s deal with the problems we have and then talk about building.” He added, “At some point, you have to say you have to mitigate it.”

He noted that 60 percent of trips generated by the proposed apartments are expected to go onto the ring road around the mall and the ramps from there to the Northway and Thruway.

A number of board members had commented that traffic is already congested on the ring road and complained that the traffic study completed for the Rapp Road apartment project was incomplete because it did not analyze use of the ring road or the highway ramps.

Traffic studies

Pyramid representatives at the March 21 meeting said that those elements were studied in a separate, 2016 Creighton Manning study, and so the company did not ask Maser Consulting, when it did the study for the Rapp Road apartments project, to repeat that same work. Instead they elected to focus on areas that had not yet been studied, they said.

The Pyramid officials said Rapp Road could be closed, but didn’t specify how that would be done. They said that there is currently a “heavy volume of traffic using Rapp Road,” but that most of it is not from the mall, but “from other city streets.”

The new traffic study concentrated on various intersections along Rapp Road and Springsteen Road.

Pyramid representatives had not brought a copy of the earlier, Creighton Manning, study, they said. They told the board the earlier study had included recommendations that improvements must be made at the ramps, changing them to roundabouts.

Speaking for Pyramid were attorney Tom Shepardson of Whiteman Osterman and Hanna, attorney for Rapp Road Development, and John Collins of Maser Consulting, who drafted the traffic study.

The earlier study had estimated projects built within Guilderland’s Transit-Oriented District, known as a TOD, would bring 1,000 extra cars in peak hours, taking into account projects that could be built in the TOD. The hotel, which Pyramid had not yet proposed to the town, was taken into account in the study too, the board heard.

By contrast, Pyramid officials said, the proposed apartment complex would generate only 120 cars during peak hours.

One board member said, “I travel that ring road. Six o’clock in the morning, it’s jammed. I know you had a study done; it’s always jammed. There’s a lot of volume. I don’t think that road was designed for that volume. It just seems like it’s highly, highly congested.”

A board member asked if the improvements planned for the ring road were “totally a go.”

Collins of Maser Consulting replied that the Capital District Transit Authority had put in an application.

 

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
James Soos, Pyramid’s director of development, in foreground, prepares to re-enter the meeting room of the Albany County Planning Board after failing to reach a Guilderland planner to ask him to pull Pyramid’s application for a month. Behind him is Michael Gately, general manager of Crossgates Mall.

 

Chairman says, No postponement

Shepardson, Pyramid’s attorney, asked the board to table the matter for a month, stating, “There’s been a lot said today, and I think there’s a lot we have to do, particularly with regard to traffic.”

Chairman Rigosu responded that Pyramid could not table the application.

“You’re not the applicant. That’s the problem. The town of Guilderland is the applicant,” Rigosu said, adding that the applicant is the only one that can pull an application.

Rigosu said the Albany County Planning Board had just 30 days to act on the case, and that the town of Guilderland had given it all the information it had. “As far as Ken Kovalchik is concerned, it’s complete,” Rigosu said, referring to Guilderland’s town planner.

Other board members said to Rigosu, “We can’t table it if it’s complete.”

Rigosu told the Pyramid officials that he would table the matter until the end of the meeting, and he suggested that, in the meantime, they should try to reach Kovalchik, to ask him to table it.  

Rigosu also said the traffic study done for the apartment project was incomplete, because it did not study traffic on the ring road around Crossgates Mall, or on the highway ramps that link the mall to the Northway and Thruway.

Kovalchik told The Enterprise this week that he did not yet have a copy of the earlier study, which he said was completed for a proposed transit center.

TOD

Rigosu said Pyramid’s plan is not in keeping with the Transit-Oriented District that Guilderland established in Westmere around Crossgates Mall in 2018. The Westmere Corridor study of 2016 had recommended creating a TOD.

Goals for the TOD included getting traffic congestion away from Route 20 by building on the ring road so people will actually use the ring road, rather than Western Avenue, Supervisor Peter Barber told The Enterprise earlier.

The areas within the TOD include the mall itself, the town-owned southern portion of the ring road around the mall, vacant land on Gipp Road to the west, and former residential streets with homes Pyramid bought over a number of years: Lawton Terrace, Gabriel Terrace, Rielton Court, and Tiernan Court.

The Westmere Corridor Study had said that the compact development that comes with a TOD would “better support walkability and transit.” The Capital District Transportation Authority, together with mall management, is seeking to build a new transit center at Crossgates Mall, which is the transit company’s busiest stop.

Pyramid’s plan for the apartment-and-townhouse complex calls for far more parking spaces than are required by the TOD, Rigosu said, and therefore doesn’t encourage walking or use of public transportation.

Historic neighborhood opposes more traffic

Other comments made by Rigosu include that parallel parking on Rapp Road should be discouraged and that additional traffic generated by the Transit-Oriented District should be discouraged from going through the historic Rapp Road community.

The Rapp Road community is a neighborhood of small wooden homes built along Rapp Road and Springsteen Road between 1930 and 1960 by African-American families that had come north from Mississippi to escape the violence and racism of the Jim Crow South. Many of the homes are now lived in by descendants of the original settlers.

At the March 21 meeting, Rigosu confirmed with Beverly Bardequez of the Rapp Road community that the neighborhood is listed on both the national and the state registers of historic places.

Between Fuller Road and Route 155, there are two ways to get between the major thoroughfares of Western Avenue and Washington Avenue Extension. One is to use the ring road and the mall entrances and exits onto those two roads. The other is to use Rapp Road.

Juanita Nabors said at the meeting that she lives on Rapp Road and is part of the Rapp Road Historical Association. She asked the board, “How many of you at the end of your driveway when backing out wait for 10 or 15 cars to go by bumper-to-bumper, to get out?”

Nabors said there are 1,200 units already on a dead-end street that feeds onto Rapp Road. There are several condominium subdivisions on Pine Lane, which is a dead-end road accessible only from Rapp Road.

Bardequez told the board she had met with Pyramid’s James Soos and had told him that she just wants to protect the historic neighborhood. She said the ring road is congested and people seek to avoid congestion, which means they will tend to head for Rapp Road.

“Come up with a plan where the traffic does not impact our end of Rapp Road, and I’m good to go,” Bardequez said.

Postponed after all

The representatives of Pyramid — who also included James Soos, Pyramid’s director of development; and Michael Gately, general manager of Crossgates Mall — headed into the hallway outside the meeting room in the Cornell Cooperative Extension building on Martin Road, where they huddled, talking, throughout the rest of the meeting.

When the officials went back in, they told the board that they had been unable to reach Kovalchik. They had left a message but had not gotten a call back, and the town-hall offices had since closed.

At that point, the board members began to discuss whether, from their perspective, the application was not complete, since the Creighton Manning study was not included.

Rigosu asked if Kovalchik had a copy of the study.

Shepardson, the attorney, said, “He should, and if he doesn’t, we can provide it.”

Board members asked Pyramid to get the study to them by April 8 so that they would have time to read it before their next meeting.

This week, Kovalchik told The Enterprise that he did not currently have a copy of the Creighton Manning study but that he would ask CDTA and Pyramid for it. Kovalchik began working for the town less than a year ago.

 

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