Town Board postpones vote on Wolanin project

The Enterprise — Anne Hayden Harwood

Standing room only: A crowd packs Guilderland Town Hall on April for a public hearing about a 210-unit luxury apartment complex. Two dozen people spoke, but the board said it will not make a decision about the project until its next meeting, on April 15.

GUILDERLAND — Two dozen people spoke at a public hearing, on Tuesday, in front of a standing-room-only crowd, about a proposed subdivision at 1700 Western Avenue.

More than half of the speakers were in favor of the project; but all those in favor were either employees of the developers — The Wolanin Companies Ltd. — or residents of the developers’ other apartment communities in town.

Those opposed to the project were residents of neighboring streets, including Albany County Legislator Bryan Clenahan, who represents Westmere, and lives on Woodlake Avenue.

The vote on the project, which has been before the town board as well as the zoning and planning boards for more than five years, was once again pushed off to another meeting, on April 15.

Supervisor Kenneth Runion said the town board will finally vote on the proposal — approve or disapprove — at that meeting.

“This is obviously a significant project, supported by many, and opposed by many,” said Councilman Paul Pastore at the conclusion of the hearing on April 1. “I think it is only prudent that we don’t make a decision this evening.”

Wolanin wants to develop the 22 acres it owns, along Western Avenue, into a 210-unit luxury apartment complex, but needs the approval of the town because the land would need to be re-zoned from Residential R15 and Residential R40 to Planned Unit Development.

The gated community would feature enclosed garages, a clubhouse, a pool, a 12,000-square-foot commercial building, and 65-percent green space.

It would be “eco-friendly,” according to Vincent Wolanin, president of the company, with recyclable metal roofing, extra insulation, energy-efficient appliances, light-emitting diode light bulbs, and low-flow faucets and toilets.

Much of the opposition to the project from neighbors stems from concerns over traffic problems due to the density of the population at the potential complex; it would have more than 500 parking spaces, and a number of cars, which, residents said, would make it impossible to get out onto Western Avenue.

The project’s engineer, Dave Ingalls, of Ingalls and Associates, said in his presentation that a study was completed, which showed that the number of cars at the complex would not make a significant impact on the traffic patterns of the neighboring side streets and Western Avenue.

The Albany County Department of Public Works signed off on the study, said Ingalls. 

“It’s important to remember that the traffic study was commissioned by, and for, the applicant,” said Clenahan. “It was also based on a prior plan and is therefore now irrelevant.”

The study was conducted in 2012, when the plans for the proposal included entry and exit points onto Johnston Road, which have since been eliminated, in response to protests from residents of the road.

Wolanin said the complex would fit in with the town’s comprehensive plan, which says to “concentrate higher density development within densely populated areas such as the Westmere/McKownville area…Westmere and McKownville provide the most services and the best access to public transportation.”

Clenahan said he did not understand how Wolanin could use the argument that the new complex would encourage greater use of municipal services, such as bus transportation, since it refused to allow a sheltered bus stop on its property, at the cost of the Capital District Transportation Association.

In 2010, Margo Janack, a spokesperson from the CDTA, said the company had entered into discussions with Wolanin about the possibility of putting a shelter at the Town Shopping Plaza, on Route 20 next to Johnston Road, which the developer owns, but permission was not received.

A resident of Joseph Terrace, which directly borders the property in question, said he did not believe the apartment complex would promote a sense of neighborhood integration, either.

“How would a gated community promote interconnectivity?” Aaron Carbone wanted to know.

Carbone also said that, when he bought his home, he checked the zoning on the vacant parcels surrounding the area to make sure they were all zoned residential, and he was dismayed when, only one year later, the campaign for the apartment complex began.

“I bought my home, where I did, partially because I did not want to be near commercial buildings or a multi-unit complex,” said Carbone.

Wolanin responded to many of the comments at the hearing, and said he stood by the traffic study, and strongly feels that the type of housing the complex would provide is a necessity in Guilderland.

“Virtually all of the similar housing in town is over 40 years old,” he said.

Developer Jeff Thomas completed Brandle Meadows, just outside of Altamont, within the last few years and is about to complete a similar upscale complex for seniors on Route 20. (See related story.)

His development would be geared toward professionals and senior residents, and would benefit the town in terms of taxes, Wolanin said. 

Linda Griggs, the chief of staff and property manager for Wolanin Companies, told the board that she received more than 40 phone calls in the month of March from residents looking for vacant apartments in other communities owned by the Wolanins. The demand is real, she said.

Griggs also said that, if the project were to move forward, it would provide more than 60 jobs.

“If this is not built in Guilderland, it will be built in Clifton Park, Delmar, or somewhere else,” Wolanin said.

Carbone’s response was, “If Bethlehem wants it, let them have it.”

Runion ended the public hearing by informing residents that the town will be accepting letters, of support or opposition to the project, before the next meeting on April 15.

“I think we need some time to think about and digest this new information,” concluded Councilwoman Patricia Slavick.

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