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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 20, 2010

Runion dissents
Town board changes law to accommodate developer

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — In a split vote on Tuesday, the town board changed a local law to meet a developer’s request for a senior housing project that has been in the works for nearly two decades.

The Mill Hill Subdivision in Guilderland, for people over the age of 54, is now approved for 72 townhouses, rather than 24 townhouses and 88 condominiums.

“I’m advocating for seniors. I don’t think this change is what we intended for seniors,” said Supervisor Kenneth Runion on casting the sole dissenting vote. “The boardmembers approved a plan, and they should stick with the plan.”

The two Republican councilmen, Warren Redlich and Mark Grimm, who have frequently been at odds with the Democratic supervisor, voted with the two Democratic councilmembers, Patricia Slavick and Paul Pastore, in favor of the change. Runion voted in opposition, citing his concerns about affordability.

When the Mill Hill development was first proposed in 1993, by Armand Quadrini, the plan included 206 apartments for seniors; 81 apartments for self-care seniors; a 160-bed nursing facility; and a 12,000-square-foot office building. Originally, residents had to be 63 or older.

Quadrini filed for bankruptcy in 2003, and the BBL Development Group proposed to modify his plan; the group asked the town board to amend the planned unit development classification to include homes for residents 55 and older. BBL Development wanted to use 100 of the same units Quadrini had planned for, but hoped to construct four apartments, four townhouses, and 36 condos.

The Michaels Group is now the developer for the project, and recently asked the town board to allow it to scale back even further, and eliminate condos completely. Donald Zee, the attorney representing the Michaels Group, said the developer had a townhouse development in Delmar that was in huge demand, and felt that the same type of development would be successful in Guilderland.

“It’s the same type of housing we’re proposing, and there is such a huge demand in Delmar that there are wait lists,” said Zee. He also said that building townhouses instead of condos would save the developer money, because of the regulations and restrictions placed on condos by the state’s attorney general.

Residents of a private senior housing development are charged a monthly maintenance fee for the provision of services like snow removal and lawn mowing. Zee said that, when a builder closes on the first unit in a development, he is responsible for paying the maintenance fee for every condo in the development, even ones that have not yet been built. The builder must pay the monthly fee on each condo until it has been sold, said Zee.

Runion’s concerns

Runion said he was opposed to changing the law to allow for a townhouse-only development because he thought townhouses were less appealing and less affordable for seniors.

“This was originally supposed to be a mixed-use development, and it has slowly turned into a typical townhouse subdivision. It’s going to be more expensive for a senior to live in that development than any comparable, non-age restricted development in town,” Runion said.

Under state law, condos are assessed at a lower rate than townhouses, because condos are treated as apartments, according to Runion. Residents of condos do not own the walls or the exterior of the building, and are assessed based only on indoor living space. Because of the lower assessment, they typically pay 40 percent or 50 percent of the tax rate for townhouses or single family homes, said Runion.

Runion said he believed the tax break on condos was what attracted people to that type of development. Townhouses are assessed the same way single-family homes are, he said, and owners of townhouses pay 100 percent of the tax rate.

“These people will be paying taxes, which are supposed to be used for the provision of town services. But because these are private roads, they won’t be getting town plowing, paving, or leaf and trash removal. They are paying for things they won’t be receiving,” said Runion. In addition, he said, residents will be charged the monthly maintenance fee.

At the meeting on Tuesday, Zee told the town board that residents buying in the development would be made aware of the tax rate and maintenance fee before they went into contract.

“You can put all those disclosures in, but people don’t really pay attention. In a few months, they’ll be wondering why the town isn’t taking care of their road,” Runion responded.

Redlich, who voted in favor of the change, said he thought townhouses were more attractive to potential customers. His main concern was with Runion’s vote, which he thought was “surprising” because, at a public hearing on the matter on April 6, Runion only briefly mentioned his concerns about affordability.

“Why is he expressing his opposition at the last minute? In the end, he voted against senior housing, which is something we need in Guilderland,” Redlich said. Runion responded, through The Enterprise, that he viewed the vote as the time to speak; the public hearing was for residents to air their concerns, he said.

“I understood the supervisor’s rationale,” Zee told The Enterprise yesterday, “but we’re happy to be able to go forward now. If you have the right product in the right location, it will sell.”

Zee said the next step in the Mill Hill development process includes drawing up site plans to present to the town’s planning board, which he hopes to do in the next several months.

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