Bump in the road for Sandidge Way developers

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Traffic engineer Wendy Holsberger of Creighton Manning told the Albany County Planning Board July 21 that her firm recommends that a short two-way left-turn lane be created on Fuller Road at Loughlin Street, through restriping. But even without doing that, she said, the site would still work. But by the traffic study her firm had done, without that lane, the experience for drivers turning into Loughlin Street at evening rush hour would be a D-level experience.

ALBANY COUNTY — The Albany County Planning Board on Thursday voted to recommend disapproving the proposed rezone of Loughlin Street and part of Fuller Road requested by Dawn Homes Management, which hopes to build there a complex of 173 apartments.

The developer’s plans for the 5.6-acre site on the edge of Albany include demolishing the 11 single-family houses now on Loughlin Street and renaming the road Sandidge Way. To go through, the zoning would have to be changed from single-family low-density residential to multifamily high-rise residential.

About 15 residents of McKownville — just over the Guilderland town line, which lies about 300 feet from the project’s site — turned out to express their opposition, citing concerns about increased traffic and stormwater runoff. The board noted before the meeting that it had also received 37 email comments from residents; it was not clear if some of the emails were from residents who spoke at the meeting.

The board and the McKownville residents alike both learned at the meeting that part ownership of the project — with Dawn Homes Management — recently changed hands, from Columbia Development to the Massry Family, owner of Tri-City Rentals. Board member Roland Graves said that this `was a welcome change, because, he said, “The Massry Family holds onto their properties and maintains them.”

Fred Wagner of Providence Street — three streets south of Loughlin— suggested that, if the city approves the rezoning, he would like to see the Massry family offer to buy out the remaining single-family homes in the area, at prices similar to those paid for the Loughlin Street homes.

As board member Sean Maguire pointed out just before the vote, Albany’s Common Council can still override the planning board’s decision, with a supermajority vote.

Spencer Jones of Dawn Homes Management  said Tuesday that the concerns aired at the planning board meeting will be “taken into account as we continue to move through the approval process.” He confirmed that Dawn Home Management does intend to continue through the process.

“We’re trying to build a new housing amenity for the city of Albany,” he said, “which will pay substantial taxes and meet the needs of apartment renters in that area.”

But the planning board’s decision is a “good first step,” said Michael Lawler, who lives on Warren Street — the street just south of Loughlin — after the meeting.


— From the developer’s application
This map shows the project site’s location relative to Fuller Road and Loughlin Street. The straight line down the middle of the site is Loughlin.


Traffic concerns

Lawler said during the public-comment period that the transportation study commissioned by the developer looked at traffic from Loughlin Street to Washington Avenue but neglected “the congestion that occurs daily from Loughlin to Western Avenue.”

He pointed out that the complex calls for 303 parking spaces, and says that the project would add 10 times the number of cars currently coming in and out of Loughlin Street.

Creighton Manning Engineering’s Wendy Holsberger responded at the meeting that the results of the study had not risen to a level that would suggest a need for a more detailed investigation or an expanded scope.

After submitting a Freedom of Information Law request, The Enterprise reviewed the developer’s application — which included a description of the results of the traffic study — at the Albany County Planning Board’s office.

The March 2016 study found that in 2020, after the project is built and fully occupied, cars leaving Loughlin Street and turning left onto Fuller Road would experience — in a grading system in which A is the best — a C-grade “level of service” at the intersection in the morning rush hours from 7 to 9 a.m., and a D-grade level during the evening rush hour, from 4 to 6 p.m.

The application goes on to say that this situation can be remedied somewhat by restriping the middle of Fuller Road at that spot. It is currently cross-hatched, and the application asks that it be repainted to provide a short center two-way left-turn lane that would allow drivers to “rest” in the roadway before merging into traffic in either direction.

The application states that repainting this lane would bring the morning level of service up from a C to a B, and the evening level up from a D to a C.

Board Chairman Dominic Rigosu asked at the meeting if there is room to add a “pickup lane” on Fuller Road by Loughlin Street.

Holsberger said, “Our highway designers say we do have space there.” She added that they were recommending repainting the road to create this lane, but that “Even without it, the site does still work.”

Resident Helen Bickmore, of Warren Street, said that Fuller Road was too narrow, as it is, to allow for restriping, “unless you take away either pedestrian sidewalks or graves.”

Jones of Dawn Homes Management said this week, “We are not trying to widen Fuller Road.”

Don Reeb, head of the McKownville Improvement Association, said that the project goes against the town’s recent efforts to make McKownville more walkable. He said that, since the apartments are being described as “workforce,” there will presumably be children living there, who will be walking, biking, and riding on schoolbuses. He expressed concern about school buses waiting at that corner to turn left into the street, and asked how they would turn around inside the complex.

Resident John Barnum, who lives on Fuller Road, said that CDTA buses stop regularly on Fuller Road at Loughlin Street, adding to the congestion there. The developer’s application also states that four different CDTA bus routes regularly stop at Loughlin Street.

Reeb said that when drivers come out of Loughlin, they can’t see if there are cars in the roundabout. “There is a little hill there,” he said, adding, “You have to guess.”

The Enterprise went to Loughlin Street at 2 p.m. on Wednesday and looked up Fuller Road toward the roundabout, to test the sight lines. Cars could be seen coming out of the roundabout onto Fuller. It does take a moment to ascertain whether cars seen in the roundabout are coming down Fuller or simply continuing through the roundabout.

By The Enterprise’s unscientific sampling method, from the moment that it becomes clear that a car is coming down Fuller Road, the driver wishing to turn left out of Loughlin has between 7.5 and 9.5 seconds to look both ways and complete the turn before the oncoming vehicle arrives at Loughlin. This length of time might be shorter at morning and evening rush hours, when people might drive faster.

Water worries

Lawler also spoke at the meeting about water, and said that he has spent thousands of dollars to fix flooding in his basement that began after SUNY Poly moved in nearby and that he worries about the effect such a high-density residential project would have on flooding in the area.


The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair
“It’s a good first step,” said McKownville resident Michael Lawler about the Albany County Planning Board’s decision to recommend disapproval of a developer’s requested rezone of Loughlin Street and a portion of Fuller Road. The developer wants to build 173 apartments there.

Judi Kavaney, also of Warren Street, said during the meeting that she had to make “a significant investment” in her basement. “Ten thousand dollars later, I don’t have water,” she said.

Engineer Daniel Hershberg, a consulting engineer who prepared the full environmental assessment form for the developer’s rezoning application, said at the meeting that all of the pavement would be porous asphalt and would bring water down to recharge basins. He said that the amount of water coming into the county’s catch basins would actually be reduced by 30 percent.

The day after the planning board meeting, Maguire, who is the Director of Economic Development of the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, said that he thought that the 30-percent reduction predicted by Hershberg was reasonable, given the plan to use pervious pavement. He said that in his experience this type of pavement would likely reduce or at least maintain at the current level the stormwater runoff on the site.

Donald Csaposs, Guilderland’s grant writer, reminded the board, “You folks are stewards of the county’s investment in Fuller Road,” which he said is currently more than $32 million.

In making his motion to recommend “disapproval without prejudice,” Maguire spoke of the “limitations of the infrastructure” of Fuller Road and Loughlin Street.

He said that one of the responsibilities of the board is to protect the county’s investment in Fuller Road. He noted that that road “isn’t going to get any wider.”

“Pause button”

In discussing their decision, board member Yomika Bennett said that in the future, “If this goes through, someone will try to put in a traffic light there.” She continued, “Someone will try to widen the road,” despite the presence of both pedestrian sidewalks and Beth Abraham-Jacob cemeteries bordering the road. At some point, she said, someone on some board needs to stop passing along these issues to other boards to grapple with in the future, and “put the pause button on.”

Calls to Beth Abraham-Jacob officials to ask their thoughts about the proposed rezoning were not answered. Jones of Dawn Homes Management said at the meeting that the developer had met with officials of Beth Abraham-Jacob, to listen to their concerns, which he said were about screening, buffering, and any damage that could occur to headstones and gravesites.

Jones also said at the meeting that Historic Albany Foundation had sent the developer a list of concerns, with which it plans to comply. Executive Director of the foundation Susan Herlands Holland sent to The Enterprise a copy of a letter sent to the Albany Common Council prior to its July 7 meeting.

She wrote in the letter about the neighborhood’s historic importance as a “mixed race but primarily African American haven for growing families during the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s and into the 1970s” when many African American families were, she said, “being redlined out of Guilderland and other neighborhoods by the banks.”

The name “Sandidge” is the surname of the first African-American family to move onto Loughlin Street. The house where the Sandidges lived would be one of those demolished.

The foundation’s letter asked that, when the developer requests a demolition permit, the planning board request these measures: “photographing and measuring the buildings as well as a drafting of the narrative history of the neighborhood’s story so that it will be readily available to the public and not lost forever in a landfill.”

At press time, the Albany Common Council had not yet decided when it will next consider the matter.

The McKownville Improvement Association is taking a petition door-to-door to all the 140 households on Providence, Mercer, and Warren streets and on Fuller Road — the houses that would be most directly affected by a rezone — and hope to present it to Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan.

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