Apartments slated for former site of farm, convent, restaurants

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

1903 New Scotland Road has been home to many different businesses and organizations over the years. 

NEW SCOTLAND — A former convent turned multiple restaurants turned church will again be resurrected as apartments under a proposal from the site’s owner and developer. 

The eight-and-a-half-acre lot at 1903 New Scotland Road was purchased in December 2017 for $410,000 by the owners of Family Danz Heating and Cooling, through its real-estate holding company, Danz Development, LLC.

The building sits on a hill. The side overlooking New Scotland Road is faced with stone in the shape of seven arches, behind which was the original frame 19th-Century farmhouse, which is no longer standing. 

Todd Danz told The Enterprise that the farmhouse had fallen into such disrepair that it would have required an almost complete top-to-bottom rebuild, which would have been cost prohibitive. 

At the November New Scotland Planning Board meeting, Nicholas Costa, the engineer representing Danz Development, told the board that the three-floor building would house six apartments, a mixture of one- and two-bedroom units, with monthly rent “somewhere in the range of $900 to $1,100.”

The site’s history dates back to the 1800s when it was a farm. The farmhouse was built in the 1840s. The block-stone building was added to the front in 1966, when the building was used as a convent.

After the nuns left, the building found new life housing restaurants: First, as The Heavenly Inn family restaurant; next as the gourmet L’Auberge Suisse; followed by J.J. Maddens pub; and finally as the Big Box bar, a play on the big-box store controversy that would have been built next door.

In 2015, the building once again found religion, this time as a church for the Restoration Hill Ministry, which then began to rent out the space as apartments.

The Danz proposal is the first application to come before the planning board under the new zoning regulations adopted in May 2018 as part of the New Scotland hamlet master plan, said planning board member Thomas Hart.

Danz said that his company had explored other opportunities for property, for example, a restaurant and apartments as had previously been on the site. 

But, he said, the decision to build apartments came down to, first, wanting something that was financially feasible for the area and, second, something that would fit in with what the town and its residents would accept.

The apartments will have high-end finishes, Danz said, but there won’t be things like an on-site exercise room, amenities which he said have driven up the cost of nearby recently-built Slingerlands apartments, where a one-bedroom apartment goes for $1,100 per month — which is what Danz plans on charging for a two-bedroom unit in the Voorheesville School District. 

“We’re severely lacking for that type of housing in the area, so our idea was: Hey, let’s not put such a high price tag on it that no one gets in there and at the same time use the highest end finishes that we can for the apartments and try to work with what we can,” he said. 

Not to mention, Danz said, the new hamlet plan says what can and can’t be done on the property.

For example, a Starbucks or Dunkin’ with a drive-through isn’t going in there. “And I’m not that guy who’s going to go to the [planning] board and fight with them to try to get something like that done,” Danz said; if the town wanted something like that on the site, it would have allowed for it. 

Hart asked Costa at the Nov. 12 meeting when he performed “his analysis” against the “standards that we have now,” referring to the hamlet’s new zoning, how did the project align — or not align — with the new regulations, “especially with regard to the exterior.”

Costa said there were no plans to perform work to the exterior of the building. “The exterior, it is what’s there and [Danz Development] is trying to redevelop an existing property that’s been kind of abandoned … So, [Danz] is trying to bring some residential units that are market rate-type of affordable units,” Costa said. 

“I don’t know that it’s feasible for [Danz Development] to do any additional exterior changes,” he said, adding that Danz Development had “looked at it.”

Danz said the planning board has asked for drawings for what he and his development team think can be done with the facade. 

For his part, Danz said, he’d like to redo the whole front of the building — that being said, the amount of money it would cost wouldn’t make financial sense because there are only six moderately-priced apartments going in.

The challenge, Danz said, is dressing up the outside of building without pushing up rents. “It’s a balancing act, we’re going to do everything we can to try and work it out with [the planning board],” he said. 

The building’s middle floor, Costa said, which is just above ground level, would contain a ramp that would lead to two handicap-access designated apartments. He described the building’s first floor as “partially garden level,” so-called because, if someone were standing inside the apartment, his or her head would be at garden or street level. 

A portion of the building has already been taken down because it was in poor condition, Costa said.

Apartments are laudable, Hart said; however, more thought should probably be given to the exterior, because the building is “part of that gateway concept coming into the community,” and there are specific standards for what things are supposed to look like that are laid out in the hamlet’s new zoning. 

Hart asked what were the cost limitations to performing work on the exterior of the building. Costa pointed to the cost of renovating the interior of the building in addition to taking down existing portions of the structure as well. 

Hart asked if anything as “structurally unique” about the exterior of the building that prevented work from being done to the facade. Costa said, as a masonry building, other than painting it, there’s not a lot that could be done to the building’s exterior. 


The New Scotland Hamlet Zoning District

The New Scotland hamlet is bounded by the town of Bethlehem to the east, the village of Voorheesville and a railroad to the west, the Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail to the north, and commercial and medium-density residential districts to the south of Route 85.

The new law took approximately 550 variously-zoned acres and rezoned the land to create a new zoning district that contains three sub-districts:

— A concentrated hamlet center, which is to be similar in character to that of a traditional village. 

The hamlet center is to be mostly commercial space, but could it also include multi-family housing that is incorporated into mixed-use development. 

In the new law, this area covers the corner of routes 85 and 85A, extending to Falvo’s Meat Market to the north and past Stewart’s to the east;

— The hamlet expansion area, which contains the Danz Development property; it has been zoned for commercial use but also includes mixed-use to incorporate more housing. 

The hamlet expansion area radiates out from the hamlet center, south of Route 85 and extends west across Route 85A to the railroad tracks and north a few hundred feet past Falvo’s; and

— The hamlet development area, which extends north to the rail trail and crosses over to the west of Route 85 to the LeVie Farm housing development and extends east to existing, developed land. 

This area is intended to be more residential than commercial.

For new construction as well as improvements made to pre-existing buildings in the New Scotland hamlet, the new zoning says that they “shall be designed to fit the individual characteristics of their particular site and be influenced by traditional New England village pattern.”

Hart said at the Nov. 12 planning board meeting that it will be a challenge to try to do something with the Danz building’s exterior, adding, “I don’t want to present that in a manner that’s going to be overly-economically onerous but there has to be some solution — other than painting the masonry … .”  

Costa said that the building presents a unique challenge given its architecture. “It’s unique, I’ll give you that,” Hart responded dryly, eliciting laughs from attendees. 

“Our place is kind of like a square peg in a round hole,” Danz said, noting it’s a challenge and it would be very difficult to make the building look like a Victorian house without essentially building a whole new facade on the front, which would be cost-prohibitive.

The new zoning also says that more than 25 percent of the materials on each story of the building below the roofline is to be made of transparent or translucent materials. 

Danz said that some code-related modifications will have to be made to the custom windows. 

The new zoning also says that the parking should be located to the side or rear of the principal building. 

Board member Christine Galvin asked Costa why the parking lot would remain in the front of the building, and Costa had said that’s where the existing gravel parking lot is located. 

Moving the parking lot behind the building, Galvin said, should be a consideration — given the spirit of the hamlet law and what the town is trying to accomplish with it. 

Danz said that he would eventually like to move the parking lot to the back of the building, but that’s also dependent on what he has to do or doesn’t have to do to bring the building up to code.

And, he said, some tweaking will have to be done so that the project fits in with what the town is looking for. But he hopes the planning board would understand that it would be costly to move the parking lot to the rear of the building. 

He also said that one of the unique things about the property is that it sits back from the road a bit, so the building’s parking lot isn’t right up against the road. And, he points out, the existing parking lot was used by former apartment tenants in addition to being used right up until Danz Development bought the place. 

Asked if he thought the new hamlet plan was a help or hindrance, Danz said, “It’s probably both.” 

He said that it’s nice to have guidelines, so his team isn’t going into planning board meetings blind. But, at the same time, he said, it does add some work.

Should the planning board approve the project, Danz said that, ideally, construction could take four to six months. 

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