Laviano seeks zone change for project across the street from his liquor store

— Map from Kennth Kovalchik’s memo to Guilderland Town Board

Christopher Laviano plans to keep his two lots on Hanes Street residential. He is seeking a zoning change, to Local Business, for the adjacent lot, which fronts Western Avenue.

GUILDERLAND — Christopher Laviano wants to change the zoning on a half-acre property on Route 20 in Westmere from Single-Family Residential to Local Business.

The Guilderland Town Board, on May 16, asked Laviano many questions before accepting his application, which will now be reviewed by the planning board before the town board, which decides on zoning changes, sees it again.

Earlier this year, Laviano, who owns a liquor store across the street, proposed building an 8,500-square foot complex next to Laviano Wine & Liquor at 1871 Western Ave. that would have two offices and a retail tenant on the first floor and four apartments on the second floor.

Laviano sought four variances for that project and the planning board in its report to the zoning board urged that the plan be changed to better conform to the 2016 Westmere Corridor Study and avoid the need for variances.

“The Planning Board does not see that the desire of the applicant to maximize the size of the building and push the limits of what the site can physically accommodate outweighs the adopted plans and codes of the Town,” the report states.

The zoning board ultimately approved the proposal on April 19.

Laviano’s application for the property across the street, at 1854 Western Avenue, says the lot was part of a three-lot minor subdivision approved by the planning board in October 2022. All three lots are currently in a Single-Family Residential zone.

Laviano wants to rezone just the .45-acre lot on Route 20 and leave the other two, located on Hanes Street, as residential.

The town planner, Kenneth Kovalchik, supports the zone change because the single-family zoning designation is an “anomaly” since that part of Route 20 is largely commercial.

Kovalchik writes in a memo to the town board that the 2016 Westmere Corridor Study “characterized this segment of Western Avenue as small-scale retail and offices flanking single-family residential neighborhoods   … The zoning for this segment is generally ‘Local Business”, reflecting the small-scale commercial strips and converted single family homes.”

The 2016 study, Kovalchik notes, recommended any further development “should be required to maintain the existing character by capping the size of individual structures and massing at a compatible scale.”

Because the property is on a state route, the application will be reviewed by the Albany County Planning Board.

“Would it be more prudent,” asked Councilwoman Amanda Beedle at the May 16 meeting, “given I’ve seen some of the history with this project, that we wait till we hear from Albany County to make the decision?”

Kovalchik responded that the county planning board’s recommendation would likely be in before the Guilderland Planning Board meets to review the application.

Councilwoman Christine Napierski asked Laviano why he was seeking Local Business zoning rather than Business Non-Retail Professional, or BNRP, which she thought would be more appropriate for a half-acre lot.

Laviano said that, since COVID, it’s tough to rent out office space. He also said, “I plan on building two residential homes on the backside.”

He said he had not yet decided if he would build single-family homes or duplexes in the lots not on Route 20.

“But either way, it’s going to work for the neighborhood,” he said, adding, “Obviously, you don’t want to build a half-million-dollar home in a residential neighborhood where there’s Cape Cods; it doesn’t really make much sense.”

Responding to Napierski, Laviano said, “BNRP, you’re only allowed to put two apartments …. LB allows you I want to say up to potentially eight ….”

“I would defer to our town planner,” said Napierski, “but how would you fit eight apartments in half an acre?”

She went on to say that she was concerned about the traffic on Route 20 and had driven by the site during rush hour. “I literally sat there in dead traffic … because traffic at rush hour is backed up all the way from [Route] 155 almost to Gipp Road every night.”

Napierski said she didn’t know how apartment dwellers at the property would get in and out during rush hour.

“I think it’s actually much easier from that side of the road than it would be from my other property across the street,” responded Laviano.

Councilwoman Beedle said, “I know on your last project, there was a disregard for the Westmere Corridor Study … Have you taken that into account now, especially since the comp plan is under review?”

Laviano said he didn’t think the engineering firm that did the corridor study was local and that he works with local firms “that would have probably done a better job.”

He said bottles in his liquor store shake because of speeding trucks on Route 20 and that big glass windows in stores along the route “consistently crack” because of the vibrations, which was his “big, big hesitation” for putting his proposed building up front next to Route 20.

Councilman Jacob Crawford noted he had been on the zoning board, reviewing several of Laviano’s projects, and said, “You’ve done a phenomenal job … to improve many sections of the town. So I thank you.”

Laviano said, “I’m looking at what the residents that have lived in the town for 30, 40 years asked me to do and it was not to do what the planning board recommended.”

Laviano described himself as a “Guilderland guy looking to invest his money into Guilderland.” He called that “a huge positive because I could have sold a lot and been done with it. And a New York City guy could have came in and got a zoning variance and put apartments up there, like everything else.”

Laviano concluded, “I was born and raised in Guilderland … This is where, you know, I like to grow my businesses and keep moving along …. I think the planning board didn’t really get to understand my point of view with that. The zoning board, luckily, was great, and they did understand my point of view and they approved the project.”

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