Citizens’ group urges ‘responsible growth’ in Guilderland

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Waiting for their children: A diverse group of parents and siblings waits for the school bus to drop off elementary-school students Monday afternoon in front of Regency Park Apartments on Route 155 in Guilderland. Aruna Pampana and her daughter, Lydia, left, pass the time chatting with Madhuri Inuganty.

GUILDERLAND — A new citizens’ group is concerned about the number of apartment complexes currently proposed in Guilderland, which would add more than 1,200 units.

“I grew up in Guilderland. I’m used to it being family homes, not transient apartments,” said attorney Laurel Bohl, one of the core members of the group, who lives on Western Avenue near the proposed Winding Brook Apartments.

About a two-thirds of the town’s roughly 15,000 housing units are single-family homes; the rest are apartments or duplexes. And about two-thirds of Guilderland’s housing units are lived in by the owner; the other third are rentals.

Bohl, who spoke on Sept. 13 at the first informational meeting for Guilderland Citizens for Responsible Growth, said that residents need to be involved in a process of planning for the future, to answer the question of what they want their town to look like.

Frank Casey told the 35 people who attended the meeting at the Guilderland Public Library that the group, which he founded with about eight core members, including Bohl, is not “anti-growth.”

“We’re saying ‘responsible growth,’” Casey said. “Thought-out growth.” He said he believed that everyone present was there because of a shared love for the town.

The group discussed whether Guilderland residents should have more say earlier in the process of building-proposal approvals and whether the town needs to take a broader approach as it considers these proposals.

Group members are concerned the number of apartments could change the town’s character and they also questioned whether so many apartments — and so many senior apartments — are needed in an area they believe is already saturated with apartments.

Further, the group is concerned about the number of Planned Unit Development proposals currently before the town, which, if approved, skirt the existing zoning.

In addition, the group wants more turnover on the town’s planning and zoning boards, which it points out have enormous effect on Guilderland’s character, but have members who are appointed, rather than elected. The town board does decided on PUDs.

“There are already a good 1,400 apartments in that area, and they’re looking to add more,” said Casey of the route 20 and 155 corridor.

Many of the core members of the new citizens’ group live in the general area or routes 20 and 155, including in the long-established developments of Presidential Estates and Campus Club, both off Route 155.


The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Bill Betjemann, right, who lives in Presidential Estates, told those assembled at the Guilderland library on Sept. 13 that none of the large-scale projects currently proposed in Guilderland should be approved until the town looks at all of them collectively and considers the cumulative impact. Town officials say that they are already doing that. 


Housing stock

Guilderland currently has 10,257 single-family houses, 20 single-family houses with in-law apartments, and 351 two-family homes, according to Assessor Karen Van Wagenen.

Guilderland has 15,000 total housing units, including all types of housing, with 95 percent of them occupied, according to figures from a Community Fact Sheet for the town of Guilderland, issued by the Capital District Regional Planning Commission in January 2018 on the basis of 2010 census data.

Of the available housing units, 68 percent are owner-occupied, while 32 percent are rental units, the fact sheet says.

The vacancy rate for ownership units is less than 1 percent, while the vacancy rate for rental units is 8 percent, according to the commission’s fact sheet.

This week, Andrew Farbstein, a member of the firm, IUVC Inc., that Guilderland is consulting with for its town-wide revaluation, said that apartment dynamic in town has changed and the firm is currently using a figure of 5-percent vacancy.


The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Laurel Bohl, second from left, holding eyeglasses, said at the meeting of the Guilderland Citizens for Responsible Growth that she believes proposed projects should be considered in terms of their combined impact. She told The Enterprise that approving every rezone request — which she says Guilderland’s town board is beginning to do — thwarts the purpose of a town zoning code.


If an apartment building is in a struggling area, the firm will re-adjust the rate for that complex, Farbstein said.

The median monthly gross rent for renter-occupied units is about $1,100, the fact sheet says; the data for this information comes from the United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, and 2012-2016 American Community Survey.

Within apartment complexes near the intersection of routes 155 and 20 — Heritage Village, Regency Park, Brandywine, Fairwood, and Hawthorne Gardens — there are currently a total of 1,566 rental units.

In a total of 15 complexes in town, which includes Deer Valley, Seventeen Hundred Designer Apartments, Woodlake, Carpenter Village, Mill Hollow, and others, there are a total of 2,942 units in Guilderland.

According to the fact sheet, there are about 4,500 rental units in Guilderland.

Currently, Guilderland has 232 apartment units for older town residents, in these senior-apartment complexes: Omni Senior Living, Serafini Village, and Brandle Woods.

More than 1,200 apartments proposed

Apartment projects that are before the town or already approved and that would bring a total of 1,216 apartments to Guilderland include:

Hiawatha Trails Senior Living: This PUD proposal for 44 acres centered on the Hiawatha Trails Executive Golf Course would build 256 apartments for people aged 55 and older and would dedicate about 75 percent of the 44 acres to the town as open space. Town officials want to build a walking path through the property, which they hope would eventually connect to Winding Brook Drive. Daniel Hershberg’s firm is the engineer on the project;

Winding Brook Apartments: This PUD proposal is not yet approved but has been passed on from the town board to the planning board, to work with the developer on details. It would bring 52 units, in 13 buildings, to 27 acres of now-wooded land across from the YMCA and would designate 18 of those acres as forever wild. Hershberg’s firm is the engineer on this project as well; two members of Hershberg’s firm, Frank McCloskey and William Mafrici, are the developers;

Winding Brook Commons: This proposal, in its initial stages, is for a PUD for 71 acres on the south side of Route 20 near Winding Brook Drive. The proposal calls for 283 apartments in 24 buildings and about 80,000 square feet in commercial spaces. The developer is Tri City Rentals, which owns many of the apartment complexes in Guilderland. The current, initial, plan does not leave much open space. A different residential-and-commercial plan for this area, known as Glass Works Village, was granted a rezone to a PUD a decade ago, but then, amid the economic downturn, was never built. A new project on the same land must apply again from the beginning for the rezone, Kenneth Kovalchik, the new town planner, told The Enterprise earlier;

Summit at Mill Hill on Route 155: This PUD was approved 25 years ago but within the last year the law was amended to allow the developer to build not the 160-bed nursing home originally approved but a three-story, 92-unit senior independent-living apartment complex. This building is the only part of the development that is not yet built;

Pine Bush Senior Living, at 20 New Karner Road, near the intersection with Route 20: The town has approved a Planned Unit Development for this facility, which would include 96 apartments for residents aged 55 and older, and a total of 96 assisted-living and memory-care units. Hershberg is the engineer on this project, and the developer is Tim Cassidy;

Riitano Senior Apartments at 6232 Johnston Rd.: This 72-unit residential independent-living facility for people aged 55 and up has been approved. This is not a Planned Unit Development; required only a variance and special-use permit. The zoning board granted a request by Joseph and Deborah Riitano for a variance for building three stories, where two-and-a-half are allowed, and gave the owners a special-use permit;

Carman Ridge Apartments, near the southwest corner of the intersection of Carman Road and West Old State Road: This would bring a total of 32 apartments on either side of Carman Plaza. This project required a zoning change from local business to multiple residence. The planning board has approved a site plan for one building, containing 16 rental units, near Corner Ice Cream. The planning board is considering a site plan for another building, also containing 16 units, for the other end of Carman Plaza, where Korandace Pool Builders is now located;

The Preserve at West Creek, at the intersection of Vosburgh Road and Route 20: This project would bring 112 units. The zoning board approved a change from general business to multiple residence for this site in June 2017, and a site plan is before the planning board;

Intersection of Hague Drive and Route 20, directly across from Governors Motor Inn: A multi-use retail-and-residential building has been approved and will bring 11 units; and

— Seventeen Hundred Designer South: This building is under construction, behind Seventeen Hundred Designer Residences, at 1700 Western Ave. The total number of units in the new building will be 210, said owner Vincent Wolanin. This project is part of a Planned Unit Development approved years ago, when Kenneth Runion was town supervisor, said Jacqueline Coons, the town’s chief building and zoning inspector.

In addition, but just over the border of Guilderland, in the city of Albany, the proposed Sandidge Way apartment complex would bring 252 apartments to Fuller Road. This is not included in the tally, because it is not in the town, although McKownville residents are concerned about its effect on traffic.


The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Geoffrey Van Epps, who owns the Hiawatha Trails Executive Golf Course, grew emotional as he said he loves his property and is proud to think that, if the Planned Unit Development rezone request proposed for his property is approved, 75 percent of his land will be dedicated to the town as open space. 


Varied views

Among those gathered at the library to listen to what the group had to say on Sept. 13 were Guilderland’s town supervisor, Peter Barber, Kovalchik, and Hershberg.

The group formed in response to the Hiawatha Trails project, said Casey who lives across the street from what is now a golf course. He believes that taffic and the character of the neighborhood would be adversely affected by the addition of 256 apartments there, directly across from Farnsworth Middle School.

The developer plans to work with the New York State Department of Transportation to install, and will pay for, a traffic light at the entrance.

Geoffrey Van Epps, who owns the Hiawatha Trails Executive Golf Course and raised his children in a house on the property, said he fully supports the Planned Unit Development proposal because it would leave 75 percent of the land, which he loves, open. He thinks this is preferable to seeing a builder cover all 44 acres with single-family homes.

“I love this property. If I could afford to keep it, I would,” Van Epps told the crowd. “Millennials and Gen-Xers don’t play golf any more. If my hand wasn’t forced —” he said, trailing off.

With a catch in his voice, Van Epps said, “I’m proud the town is getting half of this golf course. All these walking pathways. I just want you guys to know that I’m passionate.”

Van Epps told The Enterprise later, “I’ve had lucrative offers for a development of single-family homes. I turned them down. When this came along, this was what I wanted. It’s what’s right for the land. I want to leave an impact on the town, a land-conservation impact.”

Robert Mason said he had lived in the town for 39 years and raised his children there. He said that giving friends coming to visit him directions to Route 155 and telling them that it’s the corner with four pharmacies on it is embarrassing.

“Where’s the planning in that?” he asked. (See related story.)

Mason also named the recent building of a Cumberland Farms at the corner of routes 146 and 20, directly across from Stewart’s as another example of bad planning. “Do we really need another gas station on that corner?” he asked. Guilderland residents are now seeing the same type of “replication,” he said, with senior housing.

Mason added that he believed that, if it weren’t for “the town’s own huge golf course,” he thought maybe Hiawatha Trails Executive Golf Course could have survived.

Casey urged innovative thinking at Hiawatha Trails and asked if the developer had considered “flipping” the design — putting the development at the back of the property and maintaining the green space in front. Van Epps told The Enterprise later that this would not work, because the houses would be too far from the road, and it would be inconvenient for residents.

Casey also suggested considering other locations for senior apartments, such as the ring road around Crossgates, which would bring seniors into walking distance of the mall.

Van Epps said that malls are having financial difficulties nationwide and said that town residents can’t rely on Crossgates always being there.

Erin Coufal asked what guarantee residents have that developers will keep the apartments, once approved, as dedicated for older residents. She mentioned the example of Mill Hollow, a development in western Guilderland, near the town hall, that was originally proposed as senior condominiums but which eventually became apartments without any age restriction, after the developer told the town it was unable to get financing for any project geared toward seniors.

Coufal said that apartments for general residents would bring in families and children, and that the school district could not handle an influx of children living in apartments.

Need for study of combined effect?

Bill Betjemann, who lives in Presidential Estates, said he thinks that none of these projects should be approved until the town looks at all of them collectively and asks, “‘What’s the impact?’”

Planning Board Chairman Stephen Feeney told The Enterprise last week that neighborhood plans are meant to look at specific parts of town with that broader view, and that the Guilderland hamlet neighborhood plan is “not that old.” It was completed in 2007.

He said that, in terms of traffic studies, projects that are approved but not yet built are taken into account. So, for instance, if the Winding Brook Commons developer were doing a traffic study and the Winding Brook Apartments had been approved — or even just proposed — those 52 units would need to be taken into account.

“If there’s something proposed, we wouldn’t ignore it,” Feeney said.

He said that the Riitano apartments were far from the hamlet and would probably not be taken into account when considering a project on Winding Brook Drive.

Feeney emphasized that, unless the zoning code is changed, the board cannot make a judgment about a project and say, “‘Oh, we have too many of those already.’”

If something is an allowed use in the zoning district, it’s allowed, he said, adding, “You can’t regulate competition.”

Bohl wrote in an email to The Enterprise about what the group sees as a proliferation recently of PUD rezone requests, “When a property owner goes to the town and requests a rezone of their parcel in order to, for instance, create a PUD in a zoned residential area, what they are doing is asking the town NOT to enforce the current zoning code as to that property owner, and to allow them a special exception from the law.

“Once you start granting every request for a zoning change (as I believe the town board is beginning to do) you thwart the whole rationale behind having a zoning code to begin with, and the exceptions soon swallow the rule and you end up with a town that is no longer planned, but is a conglomeration of uses in an unattractive, illogical patchwork with no character or forethought, overstressing the infrastructure, and often ending in urban sprawl.”

She concluded, “The town itself loses its identity.”

Senior housing

Douglas Bauer said at the Sept. 13 meeting that older residents of Guilderland who want to downsize but also want to stay in town are limited in their options, since regulations prevent them from building in-law apartments or two-family homes.

“If you can’t do those things,” Bauer said, “I think it adds to the pressure for seniors to have to rent.”

“The only way middle-income people can afford to move here is to move into existing homes,” said Barber at the meeting. He said that the segment of the town’s population that is aged 55 and up is growing, and so is the demand for downsizing to smaller residences, for moving out and selling to “families trying to start.”

Barber sent The Enterprise figures from the Capital District Regional Planning Commission that he said showed projected increases in the numbers of older residents.

The numbers predict a spike in residents aged 55 to 64 between 2010 and 2020, from 5,045 to 5,478, but then a drop between 2020 and 2030, to 4,186.

The figures for people aged 65 to 74 are expected to spike between 2010 and 2020 from 2,414 to 4,242, but then to rise more gradually between 2020 and 2030, to 4,526. They are then expected to drop, over the next decade, to 3,525 by 2040.

But the 75-plus age group, Barber pointed out, is expected to grow from 1,940 people in 2010 to 2,384 people in 2020, and then to 4,398 people in 2040. In other words, the number of Guilderland residents who are 70 or older is expected to nearly double over the 20 years, from 2020 to 2040, he said.

Adam DeSantis is vice president of Summit Senior Living, the company that will own and operate the 96-unit apartment building for older residents at Mill Hill on Route 155. He said this week that the company currently owns and operates three facilities in the Capital District, two with a minimum age of 55, and one with a minimum of 62. He said that there are very few people in their 50s or 60s in any of the projects. Residents’ average age, he said, is in the middle to late 70s.

Trulia released a study earlier this month comparing the housing situations of homeowners 65 and older in 2016 with those of a decade ago. It revealed that the age at which seniors decide to downsize has shifted to later in life as seniors are working longer; over 19 percent are working past the age of 65. The average age for moving to multifamily residences has increased to 80.

More Guilderland News

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