Proposed sale of land at Foundry and Western falls through

— Enterprise file photo by Michael Koff

The Concordia Senior Housing Residences project at Western Avenue and Foundry Road would have involved tearing down several long-abandoned buildings on the town of Guilderland’s main thoroughfare and rebuilding.

GUILDERLAND — On the brink of approval, a developer for senior housing is backing out, concerned over the cost of pollution cleanup.

Ronald DeVito of The Genitor Organization in Melville, New York, the developer who had been interested in buying the derelict properties at the southeast corner of Foundry Road and Western Avenue, says that the total cost of cleaning up the soil and groundwater was not made clear enough by the current owner, Charles Bohl Incorporated. The process of cleaning the groundwater in particular could take a prohibitively long time, DeVito added.

He said that he remains interested in the property, including the former dry cleaner’s at 2314 Western Ave., but cannot take on financial responsibility for all the steps involved in preparing the land for development, without knowing how much the cleanup will cost.

The environmental attorney for Charles Bohl Incorporated, Gary Bowitch of Bowitch and Coffey in Albany, said that he provided DeVito with a conservative range of estimated costs based on a preliminary study, and that it is not possible to give a more precise estimate until a work plan is approved by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and then “you go and do the work.”

Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber said that the developer had completed most of the town’s approval process and had received favorable recommendations at each step. Also, Barber said that he had met with the New York State Department of Transportation, and the DOT had also signed off on the project — specifically on getting some right-of-way space for a potential future turn lane on Western Avenue at Willow and Foundry.

The DOT had also signed off on the developer’s plan to widen Foundry Road, and Steve Oliver, the town’s highway superintendent, had OK’d it as well, said Barber.  “I think we all thought it was heading towards an approval,” he said.

Barber believes, he said, that the only steps left were going before the planning board one final time and then having the town board pass legislation to rezone the property into a Planned Unit Development district, or PUD, in which several properties can be planned and developed as a unit, Barber said.

He thinks the agreement fell through because of a private dispute between buyer and seller, Barber said, adding of the town, “We have no role in that.”

Charles Bohl Incorporated bought the 0.43-acre Master Cleaners property in 2011, according to the brownfield application; the purchase price was $200,000, according to a deed listed in the online records of the Albany County Clerk’s office.

The brownfield application estimates that Master Cleaners was in operation from about 1956 through 1996 and had, at the time of purchase, been vacant “for many years.”

Federal regulations since about 1980 have treated dry-cleaning solid wastes as hazardous waste, Robert Cozzy of the DEC told The Enterprise last fall. But the owners of these small businesses have not always known about the regulations, he said, and have often simply thrown the old machine filters, saturated with toxic chemicals, into Dumpsters or onto the ground behind the businesses, resulting in many years of leakage into the ground.  

A preliminary study in 2015 by Property Solution of Hudson Falls involved soil borings and field soil samples. The company found indications of concentrations of volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs, in the soil and groundwater in at least three of four soil-boring sites.

The report also says that “the detected VOC compounds appear to consist of formerly-used dry cleaning fluid impacts and/or breakdown constituents.”

Sites previously used by cleaning companies typically have soil and groundwater contamination in the form of perchloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), and associated breakdown products.

These are linked to an array of health effects including various types of cancer, depending on when someone is expposed and for how long and the type of exposure.

Charles Bohl Incorporated’s attorney, Bowitch, said that a brownfield agreement was signed with the DEC on Dec. 29, 2016. The property owner is going ahead with brownfield cleanup on its own.

The process of submitting and getting approval for a work plan to clean the property is well underway, Bowitch said, with a tentative work plan submitted for the next step, which would be a “full-blown, DEC-approved remedial investigation.” The property owner has received comments from the DEC and the Department of Health more than once on that proposed work plan, and made revisions in response. Bowitch said he hopes to have the second round of revisions back to DEC shortly and believes the plan will then be approved.

The work plan, Bowitch said, is based on the preliminary study, as was the initial estimate given to DeVito.

The site was to be an enhanced assisted-living facility, providing continuity of care up to but not including the highest level of care: around-the-clock skilled nursing care. It was to have independent-living residences, an enriched housing program, enhanced assisted-living residences, and special-needs assisted-living residences, according to the application on file at Guilderland Town Hall.

DeVito told The Enterprise this week that he has had clients who found that it took 10 years to clean contaminated groundwater. He said that there were many extra expenses that he took on, including widening Foundry Road to make it accessible to more traffic and large trucks, and asbestos remediation, among others.

“Even if the cleanup were to take, say, two years,” DeVito said, “who knows what interest rates would be then?”

“Certainly we are interested to have any party that’s willing to work with us on the redevelopment of the property,” Bowitch said when asked if the door was still open with DeVito.

DeVito had been discussing the project with building and zoning officials since 2010, he told The Enterprise earlier, and the project became active again in 2016 because Charles Bohl Incorporated had finished cleanup of the properties other than Master Cleaners.

 

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