Mill Hollow age requirement is lifted

GUILDERLAND — On Tuesday, the town board unanimously agreed to lift the age restriction for Mill Hollow, a project that languished because, the developer said, the market had soured for senior housing.

Town officials met with Mill Hollow representatives and concerned residents of the neighboring community, Twenty West, on Saturday morning to try to encourage dialog and edge both sides closer together before Tuesday’s vote.

In 2006, the developer had agreed that each unit would have at least one resident aged 55 or older. Owner James Verseput said the project would fail if the restriction were kept in place.

At the end of an April 5 public hearing, Supervisor Peter Barber called for Twenty West residents to meet with the developer so he could listen to their concerns, and postponed the board vote until after the meeting.

Some Twenty West residents are angry that the developer asked the town to lift Mill Hollow’s minimum-55 age requirement and open up the units to people of all ages. Further, they are angry that a project marketed for years as a senior condo development, with units for sale, is now to be luxury apartments, with units for rent.

At Saturday’s meeting, the developer was represented by Steve Buck of Buck Construction, owner  Verseput, and attorney Mary Beth Slevin, according to neighbor Tony Cresswell of Millingston Way; Barber and Councilman Paul Pastore represented the town.

Cresswell said that Verseput explained the reason for the proposed change from the original plan “in a pretty clear and orderly way.” Verseput “provided lots of detailed data about the current market and why the project is designed and priced as it is.”

Homeowners were mostly unconvinced, said Cresswell. None spoke in favor of the project, he said; some suggested that the project should be started over from scratch, while others asked for the buildings to be moved further from the luxury houses or for boundaries to be erected between the two developments. Cresswell himself felt, he said, that the developer’s position was reasonable, and that the developer could hardly be expected to start over from scratch or continue with an untenable condition that banks would not fund.

Barber told The Enterprise that, at the Saturday meeting, Verseput agreed that the town’s zoning inspector can require additional landscaping to address any impacts on existing or future residential properties. The developer also agreed, he said, to provide for town-approved maintenance plans for both common spaces and dwelling units that will ensure that the project remains in keeping with its stated goal of a luxury community. These amended landscaping plans and maintenance plans will be added, Barber said, as conditions to the project’s special-use permit.

At the April 5 meeting, the board issued a negative declaration, stating that the conditions that the developer sought — to lift the age requirement and to amend the requirements for building sidewalks — would not have any significant impact on the environment.

The developer has withdrawn his request for relief from sidewalk requirements and has said he will follow the original plan for sidewalks.

Barber, an attorney, wrote a resolution suggesting that the developer’s request be approved and the age limit lifted, because, among other things: the original local law did not ban school-age children or bar employed persons; the original law was adopted partly because it provided for a town senior center — which has been largely constructed already — at the developer’s cost; the apartments are designed with accessibility in mind and will tend to attract older tenants anyway; the compactness the apartments — two-bedroom maximum — will not be conducive to families; and records from the state’s Department of Transportation show, he said, that eliminating the age restriction will increase total peak traffic on Route 20 by only 3.5 percent.

After the board passed the resolution, Twenty West resident Annie Mirochnik complained to The Enterprise that the developer had received a special exception, in the original approval, for buildings to be just 50 feet from adjoining residences, rather than the usual 100 feet, because the buildings were planned as senior housing.

Asked about that, Barber, who had formerly chaired the town’s zoning board, told The Enterprise that variances from one-size-fits-all regulations on setbacks are sometimes granted when an applicant proposes landscaping, berms, or fencing to buffer the adjacent properties, and that, in 2007, the town’s planning and zoning boards had established the 50-foot setback based upon the earthen berms and extensive landscaping that were included in the plan.

Barber said that, with the town's senior center located within the project, the town has an additional compelling interest in ensuring that the Mill Hollow project is well maintained.

Slevin told The Enterprise that she thinks the town board did its best to address both the comments of neighbors and the request of the property owner.

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