Riitanos get green light to build 72 units in 3 stories for seniors

GUILDERLAND — The zoning board of appeals unanimously granted a special-use permit and a variance in July for Riitano Senior Apartments, a planned 72-unit residential independent-living facility for people aged 55 and older at 6232 Johnston Rd. in Guilderland.

Neighbor Jeffrey McLauchlin asked the zoning board on July 18 why the planning board had encouraged owners Joseph and Deborah Riitano to decrease the building’s footprint by making it three stories, when the town’s zoning code allows only two-and-a-half stories.

“I don’t believe the zoning board should be considering economic viability as a basis for granting a variance,” McLauchlin wrote in an email, answering Enterprise questions. “I’m not aware the planning board is responsible for doing any economic viability studies and I don’t think one was done in this case. Either way, that’s the responsibility of the property owner and developer. If it’s not viable at 48 units, then find another location.”

McLauchlin’s position is that a 72-unit independent-living facility for senior citizens is not needed, especially since another — a three-story building with 92 units — is planned for the Mill Hill development on Route 155 in Guilderland.

He called the apartments commercial, rather than residential, and said the project should not be allowed in a residential zone, code aside.

“This zoning has eliminated residents’ protection from commercial development,” he added.

An earlier version of the plan had called for setbacks of just 39 feet on one side and 51 on another, where 100 feet were required. The developer had taken steps to address that problem — coming in with setbacks of 100 feet on one side and 40 on another where the nearest house was 240 feet away.

Guilderland’s planning board chairman, Stephen Feeney, had suggested the Riitanos try a three-story design, since that would also create less impervious surfaces; runoff is a concern, he said, in the Westmere-McKownville area.

Before coming to the zoning-board meeting on July 18, the Riitanos and their engineer, Joseph Bianchine of ABB Engineers, had lowered the height of the building by changing the height of the second- and third-floor ceilings, making them each eight feet tall instead of nine. Also, the pitch of the roof was reduced to make the overall building height 34 feet, 11¾ inches — just under the 35-foot maximum.

Before that, a height variance for 37 feet where 35 was permitted would also have been required. Plans had also reduced the height of light poles from 14 feet to 10 feet, although Bianchine told the zoning board they would need eight more poles “to get the balance of light throughout the site.”

Because of those changes, all the Riitanos needed from the zoning board were a variance for three stories and a special-use permit for a “residential facility, independent living,” which is an allowed use in an R-40 zoning district. The term R-40 refers, in Guilderland’s zoning code, to single-family residential, with lots that are a minimum of 40,000 square feet.

McLauchlin asked the zoning board why the planning board had recommended three stories, when that is against the town’s own regulations.

Zoning board Chairman Thomas Remmert said that it was in order to get better setback and less stormwater runoff.

McLauchlin again asked: But why not recommend that it stay at the 35 feet, without being three floors? “Unless their object was to try to create more units,” he said.

Remmert replied that, if the project had gone from three floors to two, it would have lost about a third of its units. “Which may make the project not viable,” he said.

McLauchlin asked what he meant, and Remmert said the project wouldn’t generate enough revenue to pay the mortgage.

McLauchlin persisted, asking who had done that analysis. He asked: Did the planning board do it?

No, Remmer said; that would be up the applicant.

Concerns about water, noise, privacy

The board agreed, in response to another of McLauchlin’s concerns, about noise, to require that five- or six-foot evergreen trees be planted every 20 feet along the building, for additional buffering.

Stormwater was discussed at length. A full stormwater pollution prevention plan will be necessary and has not yet been received, said Jessie Frained of the town-designated engineering firm, Delaware Engineering.

McLauchlin said his children attend Westmere Elementary School nearby and that there are now wooden bridges on the school grounds, over standing water, as the result of building activity in the area.

Neighbor Patricia Stott, also on Johnston Road, said she, too, worries about water issues. She said, “We will discuss it with you when the water shows up.”

Board member Jacob Crawford said he, too, was concerned about water and said, “I don’t want to hear in two years, or next spring, that water is pooling on a neighbor’s property because, for some reason, the draining isn’t working.”

The board required that the town-designated engineer and the town’s stormwater officer, Buddy Darpino, monitor throughout construction to ensure that no more water than the current amount runs offsite.

Crawford also indicated that he was concerned about privacy “when you suddenly add a three-story building to this neighborhood.”


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