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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 8, 2009

A cut-back Kensington Woods proposal is still controversial

By Jo E. Prout

NEW SCOTLAND — Residents spoke out against a scaled-down Kensington Woods proposal last week at the second public hearing for its environmental impact statement.

The planning board this week heard comments about Kensington Woods from Stantech, its advisory engineering firm.

The proposal is for a clustered residential development of 169 units on 184 acres on Hilton Road, at the site of former country club and golf course and near an abandoned gravel mine. Nearly 83 acres would be preserved as open space, according to the updated proposal.

The town will accept written comments until the close of business on Jan. 12.

The project also met with public disapproval when it first came before the town in 2005.  At that time, the proposal was for a 282-unit development on 267 acres on Hilton Road. The high-density project would have required rezoning in the area. A citizens’ petition signed by 170 residents asked the town board then to change the zoning at the site, but to reduce the density to lots with a two-acre minimum.

The planning board here, as the lead agency for environmental review of the project, determined in November that the draft environmental impact statement prepared by the applicant was adequate to be reviewed by the public. The board is required to hold only one public hearing for the DEIS, but planning board Chairman Robert Stapf said in November that the board would hold two hearings, on Dec. 3 and Dec. 30.

Only two members of the public attended the first hearing, but several came out last week with prepared remarks.

“This is too much, too quick, too fast, too overwhelming,” said resident T.R. Laz.

Resident Edie Abrams called the Kensington Woods project, proposed by Lansing Engineering and attorney Mary Elizabeth Slevin for Garrison Development Group, an outdated design.

“Even the Army, when it designs its bases, is no longer doing cul-de-sacs,” Abrams said. Abrams said that the open space in the proposal is “undevelopable.” 

“That’s not open space, as far as I’m concerned,” she said.

Abrams also criticized the plan for its “maximized housing.”

“That’s not a cluster development,” she said.

“They want a 25-foot no-cut buffer,” she said. “A cluster requires a 50-foot no-cut buffer.”

Environmental concerns

Hilton Road resident William Cade, an Albany attorney with a licensed trout and salmon hatchery on his property, said that he moved from the town of Bethlehem after his first hatchery became polluted from a housing development.

Cade told the planning board that he hired experts from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to examine the aquifer Kensington Woods would affect. The project proposes using a high-capacity water-supply well to take groundwater from the western portion of the parcel.

“There is a salt plume in that aquifer,” Cade said. Runoff from the proposed houses could make the aquifer toxic, he said.

 Referring to a $6.25 million case he tried and won against the town of Wilton in Saratoga County, Cade said that, if his hatchery becomes polluted from the Kensington Woods development, he will take legal action against the developer and the town.

“That comes out of each and every one of us taxpayers,” Cade said.

Resident Phil Donato, of Feura Bush, said that he represented residents from both sides of the proposed development who are anxious about the proposed discharge from the Kensington Woods wastewater plant.

According to the draft EIS, treated effluent from the plant would be discharged to an unnamed tributary that runs to the Normanskill Creek.

Donato said that the tributary dries up frequently and cannot handle the proposed load of effluent. He also said that household waste, like medicines and cleansers, could affect it. 

Carla Wakely, of Hilton Road, objected to the traffic study cited.

“The roads can’t handle it,” she said.

Looking at the project map, she identified her house.

“That’s the only house here, and that’s going to be behind me? I’m third generation in that house. My husband’s family built those ponds,” Wakely said. “That’s…very wet. That’s scary. That’s scary.” Wakely said that the development would affect the aquifer.

Wakely concluded that she supports development in a town that has become “stagnant,” but that she wants the development to be commercial and not residential.

Engineering comments

Keith Menia, of Stantech, told the planning board this week that the firm was not yet ready to comment on the traffic estimates used by the developer. Stantech still wants to discuss traffic concerns on Hilton Road and the conversion of the Albany County rail trail — which will run from the Port of Albany to Voorheesville, near Kensington Woods — with the county Department of Public Works and the state Department of Transportation, Menia said.

Menia said that the stormwater management plan is site-appropriate and “on track,” meeting state requirements.

Dean Long, the director of environmental planning for The LA Group, of Saratoga, did the fiscal review of the project for Stantech. Long said that the surplus of tax revenues represented by the Kensington Woods project would really be used to cover expenses, so that “a structural deficit was being created.”

Long said that the housing would “radically change” the number of fire and ambulance trucks used in the New Scotland area, affecting the town’s budget.

Long also said that Garrison had not calculated town wages in the highway taxes fees it had projected.

Slevin said that minutes from meetings before the open comment period should be submitted in writing to be part of the formal record for the impact statement.

Benefits or burdens

Some residents at last week’s hearing thought that the development could, if designed properly, provide services to the town. Others questioned how expensive homes could contribute to the tax base when they may not sell in the current housing market.

Real estate broker Elizabeth Kormos said that the significant source of water tapped for the development could supply the commercial zone.

Kormos recently served on a town-board-appointed zoning advisory committee, denying a conflict-of-interest charge before the majority of the committee resigned.

Kormos asked if water could be provided to neighbors of the Kensington Woods development who have trouble with water supply.

“Can this wastewater system be expanded?” Kormos asked. “Could we get some sewer capacity off of this system?”

Kormos and Abrams said that other pending developments in the town should be considered jointly for their combined effects on traffic.

Kormos asked if the water mains proposed were large enough for the project. She said that the water system chosen by Lansing was “pretty good,” but that others with lower maintenance costs would be better. She also suggested that the town evaluate the wastewater plant because it would become the property of the town. She also suggested that the developer add siding to the plant to make it look more like the houses.

Resident Steven Schreiber asked for assurances from the developer that liabilities from unsold, expensive houses do not “fall back” on town taxpayers.

“This is our home. For you, this is a job, and it’s a slick presentation,” said Laz, of Krumkill Road. “This mammoth development would be the beginning of the end of the town of New Scotland.”

Laz, with a raised voice, said that the town has “beautiful single-family properties that can’t be sold now, and you’re going to build 169.”

After Stapf asked Laz to be civil, Laz said, “I’m very passionate about the town of New Scotland.”

Laz said that the town roads cannot handle a fraction of the proposed traffic.

Citing Wall Street bailouts, Laz said, “I don’t want this to be another one of those failures. This is my home. Please understand that.”

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