Villagers get a glimpse of Main Street's future

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Looking to the future, a Voorheesville resident, points to a master plan map of the village developed by Barton & Loguidice.

VOORHEESVILLE — About 50 village residents recently got a glimpse of what Voorheesville’s future might look like.

The Victorian village, which was largely built when the trains came to town, now is staking much of its hopes for the future on a newly opened rail trail, for hikers and bikers, that leads to South Pearl Street in Albany and is expected to be opened by fall of 2015 and largely paved by fall of 2016.

The Voorheesville firehouse was packed on March 31 as village officials and Barton & Loguidice, an engineering firm that does planning and landscape architecture, shared their proposals for revitalization of the downtown Voorheesville “triangle” that runs along Grove Street to Main Street and Voorheesville Avenue.

The village of about 2,800 residents covers 2.1 square miles and, while modern, suburban housing has grown up near the “triangle,” most of the buildings along Main Street, both business and homes, are over a century old.

Project manager Robert J. Murphy Jr. and Ted Kolankowski of B&L presented the committee’s preliminary ideas and asked for input from residents. Murphy told The Enterprise that the firm plans to present a draft version of the Main Street Master Plan to the steering committee at about the end of April.

The plan calls for beautification and updating of facades of business and residences around the downtown business triangle.

The firm used existing visual motifs from the village to create a kind of cohesive signature look that they suggested would help underline the sense of community throughout the area. Several of the motifs come from the gazebo park, said Kolankowski. He suggested that improvements could be made that echo park features such as the look of the clock, the style of the trash receptacles, and the “little low walls.”

Kolankowski also showed a photo of a “lovely little hitching post right on Main Street” that became a design feature that he said could be used in lighting décor. He suggested using white wooden latticework to screen Dumpsters or utility structures. He also suggested installing metal planter boxes on windows and the addition of  “street trees” that will stay small.

At some point along the line, if demand is there and the money can be found, Kolankowski said, it might be possible to build a museum near the parking lot that would play off the idea of the old Voorheesville train station.

The plan calls for increased “wayfinding signage” on public properties that would direct cars passing along Route 155 or through the village toward the businesses downtown and the start of the rail trail. The firm presented several different possible designs for these signs.

The Main Street Master Plan, developed by Barton & Loguidice, features parking lots for Voorheesville that would allow its business district to expand to maximum capacity.

 

Trustee Brett Hotaling explained to The Enterprise that once the plan — still in its preliminary stages — is completed, the village would apply for grant money that would be used to begin making some of these improvements. If the grant money is obtained, then businesses and residents could apply to the village to receive a portion of the funds to make improvements to their own properties that would conform to the plan.

One important element of the plan, residents were told, is the idea of extending the rail trail from the point where it currently ends — at Voorheesville Avenue in front of Voorheesville Self Storage. The extension would run across Voorheesville and parallel to Grove Street, along the entire length of Grove Street, according to Hotaling. There would be a new parking area built at the end of Grove Street, at the site of the old Voorheesville Grove Street Hotel. Current plans call for the new parking area to have 88 parking spaces.

B&L, residents were told, looked into how many parking spaces would be needed downtown if the area were completely developed — that is, if all commercial buildings in the South Main Street corridor were 100-percent occupied with ground-floor retail and second-floor spaces composed of 50-percent apartments and 50-percent offices.

The firm’s intent, Murphy said later, was “to show the magnitude of local parking requirements, and look at whether they could be a barrier to economic development, if the completion of the rail trail results in a significant boost to local businesses on South Main Street.”

Since the zoning code currently requires one off-street parking space for every 200 square feet of retail space, one space per 250 square feet of office space, and two spaces per residential unit, they came up with a total of 289 spaces needed in the event of complete development.

Murphy also said later that, since South Main Street is intimate in scale, B&L would recommend that the village and Main Street businesses consider shared parking as an effective way of meeting zoning code parking requirements. “This would require coordination by neighboring landowners,” he said, and might require a change in local zoning codes to allow for “off-site” parking to be included in site requirements.

Rail trail

Kolankowski cited an analysis of New York State rail trails, including the Adirondack Rail Trail, done by Camoin Associates, and said they found that, on average, rail-trail users spent $18 on “soft goods.” Kolankowski projected a possible total of users at any point along the trail from Albany to Voorheesville of 81,000 per year (this figure was the number of surveyed users of a trail that was similar to the Albany County Helderberg Hudson Rail Trail; that trail was a few miles long and connected suburbs and city, he said).

Extending the rail trail would bring users of the trail more directly into the business triangle. It would bring in revenue, Kolankowski said, when users stopped to buy drinks or food. Several residents suggested that users’ options for buying food or drinks are currently quite limited, and Kolankowski said that there might be a need for other businesses to develop in response to demand at some point.

The Enterprise asked Mark King, executive director of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, if people would indeed be able to bicycle all the way from Voorheesville to Albany this year. He replied, “I wish I could say with certainty when such a ride will be possible, but I am certain the ride from Voorheesville to downtown will happen.”

He pointed out that the project, in many areas, is not just a simple paving, but requires a “great deal” of fencing “for safety on steep slopes” as well as bridge rehab and signs.

Bill Anslow, a civil engineer with the Albany County Department of Public Works, laid out the three phases of the rail trail project for The Enterprise. The plan is to pave all of Phase 1 and Phase 2 by the fall of 2016, he said; the town of Bethlehem will help with the paving and the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency has contributed funds.

With much of the trail currently unpaved, Anslow said, “You wouldn’t want to take a 10-speed out on it. But you can take a trail bike, a mountain bike. And you can certainly walk it.”

The first phase starts at Voorheesville and runs to Font Grove Road in Slingerlands. When the trail is adjacent to Font Grove, hikers or bikers can get off the trail, take Font Grove Road to travel to Route 85, to Toll Gate Ice Cream, cross at the traffic light over to Mangia Restaurant, and then get back on the trail behind the Village Deli.

Near the New Scotland bridge, a property owner has an encroachment onto the trail, so that piece is taken out of the different phases. “We’re working on that,” said Anslow. “But you can get around that area.”

In the second phase, hikers or bikers pick up the trail behind the Village Deli and follow it to Veterans Park in Delmar. “This whole area is currently open,” said Anslow. “There was some work done on a sewer project, but I believe they’re done with working in that area.”

The third phase runs from Veterans Park to South Pearl Street in Albany. 

“In this phase, we’re going to redo some bridges, put a new deck on the trestle over the Normanskill, and do some other work where needed, including drainage work,” said Anslow, adding that three miles of the trail will be paved. The third phase is scheduled to be completed in October 2015.

King lauded Voorheesville’s efforts to build up the amenities related to the rail trail and said that he hopes the municipalities along the route will also look at the opportunities for enhancements including parking, new access points, new parks, and historical interpretation.

Susan Sheridan of Voorheesville told The Enterprise that she and her family are currently enjoying the trail for riding, running, walking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing, and that she is “excited about the trail’s ultimate completion.”

A pensive crowd listens intently to a March 31 presentation on a plan for Voorheesville's business district. The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

 

She also said that she has lived at 31 South Main for 11-and-a-half years. Twelve-and-a-half years ago, she “had a vision of Voorheesville” and was getting ready to purchase the old Severson farmhouse that has since been replaced by a condo complex, on the corner of Maple and Stonington Hill. She had a verbal contract with the owner, she told The Enterprise, and got a change in the zoning law to allow for a bed-and-breakfast inn on the site.

“Unfortunately, the owner backed out of the sale and I was left homeless and the community was left B&B-less,” said Sheridan. It’s easy to imagine, she said, why the owner backed out, given how much more money he probably made.

Sheridan noted that she sees a lot of potential for the rail trail to be used by “healthy energetic folks” as their route for commuting, by bicycle. It’s shorter, she said, nine miles one way on the trail compared to 12 to 16 to drive. She mentioned that she can imagine this use filling up “a good portion of those 88 parking spots” in the parking area on weekdays all summer long.

Sheridan said that at one point she looked into the possibility of starting up a bike rental business at the Albany end. “It would be very doable for the right person,” she said.

She suggested that there was too much emphasis placed on additional parking at the presentation. “Fact is, it’s a bike path,” she said.

Sandra Dollard, a resident of Guilderland whose children attend Voorheesville schools, said, “The bicyclists are already out there.” She said that people come in large numbers from Albany and other areas to bike in Voorheesville because of the “challenging hills” and “wide roadways.”

She thinks that the rail trail allows people to “come up from Albany easily and safely and then cycle in Voorheesville.” Dollard supports “anything for downtown” Voorheesville and added that she would like to see “a decent restaurant” and “a few other services” there.

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