Town requires developers to map trees but not to preserve them

Winding Brook Drive

The Enterprise — Michael Koff 
Townhouses to come: Land on Winding Brook Drive was recently cleared to make way for a 52-unit planned unit development, Winding Brook Townhomes. Just over seven acres were rezoned for the project while the remaining 19.4 acres of the property were rezoned as open space to be conveyed to the town. 

GUILDERLAND — Tree-cutting at several properties in Guilderland — one on Winding Brook Drive and the other directly across from the town hall — has some town residents asking whether developers are within their rights.

A developer has recently cleared 7.2 acres at the site of the approved planned-unit development Winding Brook Townhomes on Winding Brook Drive, across from the Guilderland YMCA. This land was formerly zoned RO40, or single-family residential-overlay district with properties of at least 40,000 square feet.

The approximately 26.6-acre parcel was subdivided into two lots. On the recently cleared 7.2 acres, 52 townhouses will be erected in 13 buildings. Another 19.4 acres, or 73 percent of the parcel, has been rezoned as open space that will be permanently protected.

The entire parcel had been forested. The land has steep slopes, and the townhouses are to be built on a plateau at the top of the slopes.

Frank McCloskey and William Mafrici of Hershberg & Hershberg were the owners of the property through the application process, but have now sold the land to Rosetti Properties of 427 New Karner Road, according to McCloskey. Owner Richard Rosetti said that the company will build and own the development; the townhouses will be available for rent rather than purchase, he said.

The town’s zoning code states, “Major modifications to existing landscape, such as extensive grading, clearcutting of trees, or other similar activities, should be avoided.” Site plans, according to the zoning code, must show any trees on the property that have a diameter greater than 12 inches, a factor that “should be preserved to the maximum extent practical.”

The code also says that site-plan review will take into consideration factors including “retention of existing trees and vegetation for protection and control of soil erosion, drainage, natural beauty and unusual or valuable ecology, and whether the impacts to sensitive environmental areas have been avoided or minimized to the maximum extent practicable.”

“We understand there’s a lot of tree removal needed for this kind of work,” Kenneth Kovalchik, Guilderland’s town planner, told The Enterprise about the tree-cutting on Winding Brook Drive.

“Just because we ask an applicant to identify those trees, doesn’t mean those trees aren’t going to be cut,” Kovalchik said. “They’re going to be planting a significant amount of shrubs and trees, as part of their improvement of the site,” he said about the Winding Brook Townhomes project.

A developer is allowed to cut any trees within the limits of disturbance for a project, Kovalchik said. Those limits are part of what the planning board and the zoning board consider as the project makes its way through the approval process, he said.

 

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair
Property directly across from Guilderland Town Hall was recently clear-cut with the stumps left in place; the town asked the owner to leave the stumps for now, according to Kenneth Kovalchik, Guilderland’s town planner. The owner has not yet submitted to the town any proposal for use of the land, which is in a local-business zoning district.

 

 

After approval is granted, Kovalchik said, and when site-work begins, a developer marks the  limits of disturbance using orange flags or orange construction fencing.

Laurel Bohl, an attorney who heads the Guilderland Citizens for Responsible Growth and whose Western Avenue property borders the Winding Brook Townhomes property, told The Enterprise: “The town should be looking seriously at the grand-scale negative effects and loss of the environmental resources in Guilderland when these huge projects come up for review — as many provisions in the code direct — instead of just approving these projects and treating the natural environment as ‘collateral damage.’

“The natural environment and the ecosystems it supports, are themselves a very valuable resource and essential part of the town that must also be considered and protected,” she said. “Once these forests are destroyed, the damage cannot be repaired.”

Developer’s view

McCloskey said this week that he does not want to be involved in any projects he does not consider to be responsible development. He considers the Winding Brook project responsible, he said.

This project makes Guiderland more walkable, he said, since residents will be easily able to walk to the YMCA, the public library, the elementary school, and a tennis club, and eventually will be able to use sidewalks to walk to the shopping mall and banks at the corner of routes 20 and 155.

McCloskey said that, while some people have shown up at meetings to express their opposition to the project, “The vast majority of people are extremely interested in when this project’s going to be completed, because they want to live there.”

The development is a reasonable size, McCloskey said, at just 52 units spread over 13 four-unit buildings, and cannot be seen from any single-family house.

He called the planned townhouses “unique and quality living,” and said that they are different from what is currently available in the town.

“Isn’t this responsible development?” he asked.

McCloskey said that rentals in Guilderland have a very high rate of occupancy, which he said suggests that more rental units are needed.

“If you have that occupancy rate, that shows that people want to move into the town,” McCloskey said.

Assessor Karen Van Wagenen told The Enterprise that the town used, in the townwide revaluation it is currently undertaking, an occupancy rate for apartments of 92.5 percent, which she said was a very conservative figure. That percentage, Van Wagenen said, doesn’t mean that 7.5 percent of Guilderland’s apartments are sitting empty, but takes into account renters who are not paying or apartments that are briefly empty between renters or for maintenance.

McCloskey cautioned residents not to put up “imaginary walls” around the town that would seek to keep new residents out.

Black Creek Estates

A neighbor recently called the town to complain about a different project, the Black Creek Estates single-family-home subdivision between Hurst Road and Route 146, at the edge of Guilderland Center.

That resident thought that the developer might be cutting trees beyond the limits of disturbance, Kovalchik said.

Kovalchik went out to verify that the developer wasn’t cutting trees outside the tree-cutting limits, he said, adding that the surveyor placed stakes to show the location of the centerline.

At the entrance to the subdivision, he said, the developer was allowed to cut up to 60 feet across, or 30 feet out to either side of the centerline. And he was allowed to open the interior up to a total of 100 feet, 50 feet to either side of the centerline.

In the case of Black Creek Estates, Kovalchik said, “We are working with the applicant to retain a large maple tree and a medium-sized hickory tree that we think we’re going to be able to retain, to maintain some type of canopy at the subdivision entrance off of Hurst.”

The developer of Black Creek Estates got permission from the town to cut down these trees before getting final plat approval for the project. The project is within an area designated by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation as a habitat for the northern long-eared bat.

DEC regulations prohibit tree-cutting in these habitat areas between April 1 and Oct. 31, when, according to the DEC, bats might be in the trees. The population of northern long-eared bats in New York has declined by 98 percent since 2005 because of White-Nose Syndrome, according to the DEC.

Protecting bat habitat is also affecting the construction of a Guilderland sidewalk.

The town is planning to install a sidewalk from Mercy Care Lane to the State Employees’ Federal Credit Union on Route 20 near Route 155. That work will likely not be completed until next spring or summer, Supervisor Peter Barber told The Enterprise earlier.

Last week, Barber told The Enterprise that, not only is the process of federal approvals long and complicated, but, in addition, there are two trees within the sidewalk area that are designated as northern long-eared bat habitat. So, he said, the trees cannot be cut between April 1 and Oct. 31, meaning work on the sidewalk can’t start until after that.

Twenty West and Route 20

It’s important for people to realize, Kovalchik said, that property owners can cut down their trees if there is no active land-use application being reviewed by the town and provided that they leave the stumps in place.

Removing the stumps of one or two trees is usually acceptable, Kovalchik said. But removal of stumps is considered “land disturbance,” he said, and could trigger the need for stormwater practices that are typically required of construction activities. He added that DEC generally does not require a permit or have any issues with “tree-harvesting” unless the logging activities require crossing certain classified streams or take place in certain designated wetlands.

Construction activities that will result in land disturbance of one or more acres require completing a stormwater-management plan, said Kovalchik. The DEC defines construction activities as building roads, houses, offices, or industrial sites, or clearing, grading, and excavating, Kovalchik said.

A 1.82-acre site across from the Guilderland Town Hall has been cleared except for some stumps. The property is on Twenty West Drive, but does not have a number, said Leah Oliver of the town’s building department; it is not part of the upscale housing development nearby known as Twenty West.

The property is owned by a limited-liability corporation represented by Michael Davidson, who lives in Washington State, according to Oliver. Davidson could not be reached for comment.

Davidson has been cutting trees on the 1.82-acre site, but leaving the stumps intact as the town requested, Kovalchik said.

Davidson has been talking with the town about developing the site for commercial purposes, said Jacqueline Coons, the town’s chief building and zoning inspector.

The land is in a local-business zone.

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