Thomas presents plans for Helderberg Retirement Community

BERNE — Elderly Hilltowners who no longer want to maintain their own homes may, in another year or two, be able to rent apartments in a modern complex just outside the hamlet of Berne.

Developer Jeff Thomas and his architect presented plans last week for the Helderberg Retirement Community to an eager group at the Hilltown Senior Center. Thomas has more elaborate plans for senior complexes in Guilderland — one at the site of the old Bavarian Chalet off Western Avenue and the other just outside of the village of Altamont on Brandle Road.
"The idea up here is very affordable," said Thomas. "We feel we can get grants...We’ve cut down on a lot of amenities to keep price down."
For example, he said, "A lot of people said they like the pool idea but don’t want to pay for it...It never gets warm enough up here."
He also said, "We didn’t get too fancy with the outside; it’s economical."

Prices for the 96 units are expected to range from $500 or $600 for a one-bedroom, up to $890 for a two-bedroom apartment, Thomas said.
"If you don’t want it, we won’t build it," he told the group at the senior center last Thursday.

Thomas said that, depending on what the town decides, those 55 and over will probably be eligible to live in the complex.
He is hoping to draw from all four Helderberg Hilltowns and said, "All of the supervisors are glad we’re doing it."
Thomas also said, when asked about geographic limitations, "We’re not going to be able to keep anyone out."

The center, to be built on Route 9 across from the firehouse, is designed for independent living; it will not offer services such as nursing or meal preparation.
Thomas said he has been working on the project "pretty much non-stop" for a year. He has a contract to buy the land which he said he can’t back out of.
"They won’t go below the Hill"
"I think it’s just great," said Linda Carman after the meeting. "He builds really nice places." She said of Thomas.

Carman has been pushing for senior housing in the Hilltowns ever since her mother had trouble finding a place to live.
"My mother was unable to stay by herself in Berne," recalled Carman. "We tried to find somebody to stay with her. She didn’t want that."
Her mother ended up in a nursing home in Guilderland Center. "She hated it from day one until she passed away three years later," said Carman. "She just wanted to come home."
Carman lives just down the road from the site of the planned center, she said, but has no plans to move there anytime soon. She said she’s found the "perfect spot" to be buried, though, in the Beaverdam Cemetery: "You can see the senior housing site from there," she said.

Michael Vincent, another Berne resident, who is 58, would be eligible to live in the complex but has no immediate interest in doing so. Like Carman, he was inspired to help with the project because of the community need.
"My grandparents had to go to Schoharie" to find housing, he said. "They missed their neighbors and friends." Being able to visit the elderly is essential to the community, said Vincent.
"A lot of these seniors here shouldn’t be living by themselves," said Carman. "But they won’t go below the Hill."

The plan

Dominick Ranieri of Dominick Ranieri Architects presented plans for the project, consisting of two boomerang-shaped buildings. The two-story buildings, each with two wings, can be built one wing at a time as dictated by demand. Each completed building is to have 48 units, with 24 on each floor.

The corner of each building, where the two wings join together, will face Route 9, with community rooms in front. Trees will buffer the center from the road.
"The buildings are on a hill to take advantage of the phenomenal views," said Ranieri.

Parking lots and a community garden are to be located behind the buildings, and an engineered retention pond will be built in front. Over 60 percent of the property is to remain green space.
Glass doors in a front lobby, Ranieri said, will "spill out to a large covered porch" which will "expand to a bluestone patio."
The corridors, lined with one- and two-bedroom apartments, will be "very wide," said Ranieri. "This won’t feel like a hotel. It will feel like walking down the street and seeing your neighbors."

The ground-floor units will have terraces and the second-floor units will have balconies.
Ranieri, who has designed such local complexes as the Vly Point Condos in Niskayuna, the Hudson Preserve Apartments in Colonie, and The Paddocks in Saratoga, called the Helderberg plan "aesthetic." But, he went on, "It’s not pushing the price so high it won’t be feasible."
He said of Thomas, who owns WeatherGuard Roofing, "Jeff wants to do some exciting things with the roof."

The one-bedroom apartments, Thomas said, will rent for between $500 and $600 a month. The two-bedroom apartments will rent for between $690 and $890 a month.

The one-bedroom apartment will be 750 square feet, which includes a bedroom with closet, a bathroom, and an all-purpose room, which has a kitchen area.

The 900-square-foot two-bedroom apartment is similar but with a second bedroom.

Tenants will pay for their own utilities; each unit will have its own heating and cooling unit.

Thomas estimated that the heating and electric costs for the one- bedroom apartment would average between $60 and $85 a month, and for the two-bedroom apartment would average $70 to $95 a month. Sewer and water costs will be included in the monthly rent, he said.

The complex is designed to be accessible for those with handicaps; for example, the bathrooms will have showers flush with the floor rather than bathtubs. The buildings will have elevators.

To keep costs down, Thomas said, no garages will be built, but he is considering building storage units that can be rented, and there may be a covered portico built between the parking lot and the building.

Water, sewer, and other concerns

Thomas said he looked throughout the Hilltowns and settled on the Berne location because it was near a hamlet that would soon have a public sewer system.
"This is our only shot," said Thomas.

The center will not be built until the hamlet sewer project is complete, he said. Trustee Joseph Golden estimated the sewer project will be finished in 2008.
"Our next step is to drill for water," said Thomas.

Albany County requires two wells that pump 18 gallons per minute, he said.
"We have done water investigation," said Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier. "Water is plentiful there," he said of the Route 9 site.
Another option, Crosier said, might be buying water from the school which has "an immense water supply."

Steven Schrade, superintendent of the Berne-Knox-Westerlo schools, told The Enterprise this week that the district has two wells in Berne; each produces 25 gallons a minute.
The water is pumped into the school’s recently completed treatment facility, he said. "If the power is on and the pumps don’t break down, we seem to have an adequate supply," said Schrade.

The school district has never sold its water before, said Schrade, adding that it was a possibility. Schrade said he had talked with Crosier about it briefly months ago but that it would be up to the school board, which has not discussed it.
"There may be some legal issues if the board of education decided that it was a good idea," said Schrade.

Thomas fielded questions from the two dozen people, most of them elderly, who attended last Thursday’s meeting.
When a woman asked if tenants would be able to paint and wallpaper their apartments, Thomas said that in his Park House apartments in Altamont, "We hang the paintings for them. People like that. It preserves the walls for the next person renting."
When asked if it would be possible to have a visitors’ apartment in the complex, Thomas said, "Absolutely....That’s a great idea." Those people who are visiting tenants could be charged a day rate for using the apartment, said Ranieri.
Asked if the complex could include a utility room for doing laundry instead of having machines in each apartment, Thomas said that was "definitely do-able." Tenants would deposit coins to operate the machines and enjoy gathering in the laundry room, he said.
Asked about acoustics, Ranieri described the methods used to cut down on traveling noise and concluded, "It’s community living. If somebody falls, you’ll hear it, but that’s probably a good thing."

Asked about security, Thomas said each unit will have a panic button that a tenant can press in an emergency. Also, fire sprinklers will be installed as required by state law.
Although current plans don’t call for it, Ranieri said, "We could look at cameras and detectors on first-floor windows."
"These things can evolve," said Thomas.
Asked about the old landfill that was capped off at the back of the property, Thomas said, "There’s a big buffer between us and the dump." He also said a hydrologist said it shouldn’t be an issue with water.
"What a country," said Trustee Golden, towards the close of the session. "I know a lot of people here. They’ve lived through some hard times," he said, indicating they deserve a place in the Helderbergs to retire.
Crosier concluded the session by thanking Thomas, Ranieri, Carman, and Vincent for "a lot of hard work behind the scenes to get the project to this point."
"Now we need your support," he told the attendees. "Tell your friends and neighbors. It would be nice if we could retire here in the Helderbergs...We need your support to do this...It’s not strictly for the town of Berne. We can reach out to the other Hilltown residents and bring them into the community as well."

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