A few more details about the proposed mixed-use development near St. Peter's hospital

New Scotland Village retail apt rendering 2017-November

The proposed new retail strip (top) and the proposed new apartment building.

The city of Albany has a bunch of large residential projects either already in the pipeline or up for planning review right now. Among the newest is "New Scotland Village," a mixed-use project that would significantly remake a section of the retail strip across from St. Peter's hospital.

There was a community meeting about the project Tuesday night that included new details -- and plenty of criticism...

Basic info

563_New_Scotland_Ave_apartments_rendering_B_2017-November.jpg

Here's the rough outline of the proposed plan:

+ Demolish a large portion of the existing retail strip along New Scotland Ave and building new retail spaces with parking underneath (73 spaces).

+ Construct a new apartment building with 93 units on land at the end of Onderdonk Ave (the portion from New Scotland Ave). There'd be basement-level parking for +/-78 cars below the apartments. Total surface parking for 81 +/- cars.

+ The 33 units of existing apartments in a complex that faces South Allen would be upgraded.

+ An existing home at 313 South Allen would be demolished to make room for a driveway.

Here are a handful of renderings.

A few more details

New Scotland Ave post office 12208 2017-November

This project was originally on the agenda for this Thursday's planning board meeting. But Dan Hershberg -- the engineer for the project -- said the backers rescheduled it for December because of concern there was too little time between Tuesday's community meeting and Thursday's planning board.

At the community meeting Tuesday night at Temple Israel, Hershberg shared a few more details about the project...

The Post Office
The current retail strip includes a Post Office branch. Hershberg said the plan is to keep the Post Office as a tenant, but at about half the space. He said the current branch has a large sorting room that USPS no longer needs, and they'll be working with the Post Office to design space for the branch. The plan is for the new space to occupy roughly the same position in the strip. (We're waiting for confirmation from USPS about this plan.)

Other retail tenants
Hershberg says there aren't other tenants signed up, yet. But he mentioned the possibility of a coffee shop and maybe a restaurant. He said the design of the retail spaces -- including the exteriors -- will depend on the desires of the tenants. None of the retail spaces will have a drive-thru.

New Scotland Village proposed site Onderdonk Ave
The site of the proposed new apartment building.

Apartments and rents
The apartments in the new building will be a mix of 1 BR, 1 BR with den, and 2 BR. Hershberg the said the anticipated rents will range from about $1,450 for the 1 BR to $1,750 for the 2 BR.

The existing apartment buildings that face South Allen St. will get upgrades, and Hershberg said the hope is that many of the existing tenants will stay.

Traffic
The project will be submitting a traffic study to the city. Hershberg said the scope of the study will depend on what the city asks for. If it's interested in a study that extends to include intersections as far as, say, Buckingham Drive, he said they'd be willing to do that.

Green roofs
The current design for the project includes two sections of "green" roof -- one on the corner retail building at New Scotland and South Allen, the other on the back section of the new apartment building. Hershberg said the green roofs -- which use a layer of dirt and vegetation to soak up water and disburse it more slowly -- were added to the project to help the project meet stormwater requirements so it wouldn't have to file for a variance.

Public reaction

New Scotland Village proposed site from West Lawrence
The proposed site for the new apartment building sits behind West Lawrence Street.

It's fair to say that the crowd for any sort of meeting like this is almost always going lean toward "against" because, well, that's just sort of the nature of people. If you saw mention of this project and thought it was an OK idea -- or were just neutral towards it -- you're probably not going make your way out on a cold Tuesday night to register your opinion.

OK, all that said... the initial reaction to this project from the crowd was sour. The tone of many comments wasn't just skeptical, it was irked. An overview of the some of the issues raised:

Scale
The overriding criticism of the project from community members was that it's too big. One woman called it a "monstrosity." And another person criticized it for being "overdeveloped" and not taking into account neighboring properties. And one commenter called the project "greedy," accusing the developers of just trying to squeeze as much out of the property as possible.

Elefteria apartments South Allen St Albany 2016-July
The Elefteria on South Allen Street.

One of the subplots to the pushback was an apparent feeling of distaste among many commenters about the Elefteria, a 48 unit apartment complex built just down South Allen in 2016. That project had been the subject of pushback from neighbors during the planning process -- it was built on a wooded piece of property that included former park land -- and it's clear discontent lingers. One commenter Tuesday night said many people in the neighborhood felt "damaged by the Elefteria." Other commenters cited concerns about stormwater and lighting related to that project, and raised similar concerns for the new project.

Design
The project prompted multiple comments about its appearance. One person called it "ugly." Another said it would fit better on Washington Ave. And another said it just didn't match the aesthetic character of the neighborhood.

One person even said she was annoyed by the name "New Scotland Village."

Traffic
The section of New Scotland Ave near St. Peter's backs up during rush hour. And more generally, residents have been expressing concern about the entire stretch of the New Scotland Ave corridor from Albany Med all way to Buckingham Drive and Route 85 as the passage handles a portion of the city's daily tide of commuters. (The city of and St. Peter's announced early this year that the hospital would put up $100k for a traffic study of area.)

So, not surprisingly, concerns about congestion and unsafe driving were consistent themes in comments. Hershberg pushed back gently on this criticism, pointing out that not everyone who lives in the apartments would be leaving and returning at the same time.

It wasn't all negative
A few people did say they liked the idea, even if they'd like to see some changes. And one woman spoke up to say that she supported the idea of having options for older people who decide to downsize but want to stay in the neighborhood and have walkable access to shops and services.

There's a bigger conversation here

This proposal is one of a handful of new residential construction projects already in progress or in the pipeline around the city that hold the potential to make multiple neighborhoods in the city taller and denser. The proposed Playdium site redevelopment is another example, one where neighbors have expressed similar criticisms.

So Albany needs to have a real conversation about this topic. Because the current exchanges are leaving people dissatisfied. And there's room here for everyone to contribute and maybe open their minds a little bit. Toward that end...

+ Increased density probably isn't a bad thing for the city. In fact, it's one of the only ways forward for new development given that most of the land in the city is already developed. And many of the amenities that people often say they want -- like sustainable neighborhood retail -- are only possible with increased population density. (Yep, there's also a lot of existing stock that could be used much better. That's a related topic, and includes a whole set of its own considerations.) So what are the best ways to pursue that density? Are new projects going to be "polite" to their new neighbors? Are they taking into account the best way to maximize transit opportunities? Are they being designed with the long run in mind?

+ Can we find new avenues for design? People often say they want new buildings to look like old buildings, but in many cases that's just not going to be possible because of cost -- and developers should be prepared to explain why that is. At the same time when neighbors say a project design is ugly, it's worth asking why that is and trying to understand their concerns. And, hey, maybe it's time for Albany to embrace modernism. There's no reason new and old can't work together.

+ What are we all really talking about? When a person stands up at a public meeting and says they're concerned about new apartments because this is a "family neighborhood," what exactly does that mean? Or when people say they're worried that apartments will hurt their property values, what specifically prompts that concern? Understanding the root of these sorts of concerns could be a step toward finding common ground.
____

As mentioned above, this project is tentatively set to make its first planning board meeting appearance December 21. If you have comments to make about the project, that is the place to the submit them. Planning board meetings include a public comment period, and the board also accepts written comments.

Earlier

+ Two large residential projects proposed for Albany, one on New Scotland Ave, the other on Western Ave

+ What's up with the planned redevelopment of the Playdium site

+ What's new? Apartments.

Comments

Ok I’ve thought about this a real lot(10 whole seconds)...... build it!!!!! With the typical Albany mentality we’d all have leisure suits, shag carpeting, large combs in our back pockets of our cordoroy pants and hair parted in the middle and feathered back (for me of course) and kick ass perms or Dothy Hamil hair for women ......welcome to city living in 21 century!!

As long as they aren't getting tax breaks I'm fine with it. With the rent prices these developers are charging for all of these new units, giving any of them tax breaks while the rest of us have to cover the cost is absurd.

Ill puke if I hear one more business, politician, or institution in this city tell me how their tax breaks will benefit the city. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why the rest of our taxes just keep going up.

I'm one of the typical "yes"-leaning neighbors who didn't make it to the meeting, but not because it was cold - I was attending the Carl Sprague lecture at Opalka Gallery. But I'll try to make it to the next one.

I wonder what the people who say it's out of character with the neighborhood think of St. Peter's Hospital itself, which is vastly larger and more transient.

Having a place in the neighborhood with non-fast-food style seating would be wonderful. I've been waiting 20 years.

I am somewhat sympathetic to the criticisms about the Elefteria. Albany has proportionally less parkland than any U.S. city I can think of. Recently I saw an aerial photo of St. Peter's from the mid-50s where lower Hackett Boulevard was still forested - that would have been a beautiful corridor to preserve, rather than build a wide road with few houses.

The apartments look like a low budget hotel motel. There has to be a better way than having the parking lot smack up against the building. Shows complete lack of consideration for quiet and sense of residential experience. Why does Albany settle for such incredibly low vibe developments? Demand better, choose beauty.

(I’m pro development and love mixed-use high density but get it right; would you want your 7 year old living with wrap-around vehicle circulation?)

I used to live in that neighborhood and now live elsewhere in the city.

I think the proposal for the re-do of the retail space looks a lot better than what's there now. The apartments look OK too. I agree with the comment above that the developer better not get any tax breaks. Of course if Hershberg is involved...he is also the city engineer....obvious conflict of interest and with the current crowd in city hall of course this will be corrupt.

Honestly this is the most privileged neighborhood in Albany - when they say "family oriented" they mean they don't want brown people living there.

"When a person stands up at a public meeting and says they're concerned about new apartments because this is a 'family neighborhood,' what exactly does that mean? Or when people say they're worried that apartments will hurt their property values, what specifically prompts that concern?"

one answer is that many residents of this area aren't as progressive as they like to style themselves, and that emerges when people talk coded concepts like "renters."

Here's the reality of property tax breaks for new apartment complexes.

The assessor puts a market value of $100,000 on all new apartment units, the combined school, city, county etc tax works out to be about $42 per thousand per year, or $4200 per unit in taxes. This 93 unit would pay about $390,600 in annual taxes at today's rates. Assuming average rents of $1525 per month the project would bring in about $1.7mm in annual revenue. That puts the taxes alone at 23% of revenue where the the entire expense portion of the equation needs to be at about 35%. For comparative sake the national average is taxes at about 12% of revenue which puts Albany's at almost double.

You can't pass this problem onto the tenants, they simply won't pay the additional rent. It's simply not feasible or finance able to have a multi family property where expenses are 46% of the revenue, it doesn't work. I'm not saying it doesn't work because the developer wont make enough money, I'm saying they wont make any money.

You have a chicken and egg problem, you want new projects but you can't have them without the tax incentive (the city and every economic development organization knows this). It's not entirely case of developer greed, it's a case of necessity because the existing tax rates are unsustainable for new development. Remove the PILOT program and you will see development dry up entirely.

It's not what a lot of people want to hear but it's reality.

@Glenn: There is a vague motel/hotel vibe to the design of a lot of these projects. It'd be interesting to see someone propose something completely different. I bet it'd provoke a strong reaction, much of it not necessarily positive, but maybe it would shift the course of the design conversation. (Of course, design changes cost money.)

@Brian: Dan Hershberg is not the city engineer. He's in private practice.

I hope this is built. It is ugly. But this area specifically is ripe for dense development. It's wonderful that homeowners in the area disagree, but they are wrong. An expanding hospital means more employees who want to live close to work. New Scotland Ave has great access to the rest of the city and I'm sorry but it's very selfish to claim that the area cannot handle any more traffic or development. It can and it will.

That being said, I cannot understand how people pay these rent prices. But more apartments will push down rents and maybe alleviate Albany's bloated tax burden.

The Tax break objection is a bit of a red herring, and loses sight of the fact that even with a "break", the development will generate more property and school taxes in Year 1 than the City and School District were receiving for the property as it exists today. Much of the tax break is a one-time exemption from mortgage taxes or allows the "true" value of the parcel to reached over a period of years (let's say the existing parcels are worth $500K collectively, but once the apartments are built the value is $3.25million....that's on Day One with empty apartments...a huge hit on cash from the developer. So in year one they pay taxes on a $500K value, in year two on a $1.0 million value, year three $1.75M etc. In year two, the city and school district are collecting TWICE the amount of taxes than in the prior year. PLUS those tenants are shopping, installing cable/FIOS, etc and paying sales tax and utility fees and surcharges, part of which goes to the City. Win Win for the City and the Developer

Parking is a legit concern especially for aesthetic reasons. Better that the developer dig deeper to put most of the parking below grade.

Perhaps part of the "mixed use" should include a section which can be amenable to condos or co-ops, rather than 100% tenants?

THANK YOU Parma Ham.

These projects always pass the tax savings to the tenant, it's called a triple net lease, and it's standard in any PILOT. The problem is that sites in Albany are expensive - 1) It's not a greenfield void of utilities and lack of space. Something has to be abated, demolished, removed 2) taxes are higher. nature of the beast. 3) We have more stringent stormwater regs that the burbs 4) to make apartment prices competitive, the developers do see a PILOT. if they're getting a 10% ROI or more, then be skeptical of "greed." but if not, and the spin-up PILOT starts are MORE than the current tax levy on the land, then consider the cost of doing nothing.

So the traffic - where's it coming from? Rest assured, density in neighboring communities is coming (check out http://www.timesunion.com/business/article/Coffee-wine-bar-potential-tenants-for-12353357.php). These folks are either downsizing - paying property taxes to someone else and driving into albany, or the very folks working at the hospitals, state, and driving in - and we get nothing. And have NO say in their development. When we say no to development in Albany because traffic, it will happen just outside the border, and have the opposite affect - there's no option for suburban commuters but to drive in and until they build out the density won't support transit.

Nothing gets better in the null alternative.

NNN leases don't exist in multi family, there's just a monthly rental rate with our without utilities included, you are confusing multi with a medical or retail lease.

Those of you who are in favor of these apartment projects in Albany obviously have no concern for the health of the Hudson River. When these buildings come on line they create a huge amount of human waste and that waste gets injected directly into the river nearly every rain storm. A rainy weekend can cause about 1 million gallons of sewage to spill from the city of Albany into the river. Why not make it two million? I wonder how the often left leaning commenters on this site feel comfortable promoting this kind of development while it creates this much unchecked pollution.

@JoeAlbany

That statement could not be further from the truth. The largest contributor to the CSO discharges is the fact we have nearly 11,000 acres in the city of Albany and the majority of that combined acreage is impervious. Without new development, the incremental change in addressing stormwater flow is very very slow.

Take a site, like the USPS building on New Scotland, which was built long before the current stormwater regs came into effect. That site which is 100% impervious drains 100% of the stormwater generated on site into the combined system. 100%. And there's no impetus to change that because retrofits do not yield any return.

Current City of Albany development guidelines restrict peak-flow stormwater discharge into the combined sewer to the calculated peak-flow discharge of the 10-year storm for undeveloped site conditions - an enormous reduction in peak flow and total runoff. This means the new development has to manage a great deal more volume of stormwater. The plans must include technology to allow stormwater to infiltrate, be reused, or be detained to reduce peak flow. The developer is required to prove that there will be capacity in the system for their dry weather and wet weather flow. Furthermore, the city can require improvements if the system does not have that capacity. Without new development there is no carrot, and no stick to improve existing wastewater on redeveloped land and thus the situation will not improve.

To everyone saying PILOTs are necessary for development...that’s only because we have a bad property tax system that punishes development and upkeep of property. The city should move to an LVT system for taxes. http://www.albanyargus.com Has a great explanation of the system that is Albany specific.

Push for reform, not band-aids on bad design.

For the past 5 years I've lived walking distance from the project and I'm thrilled to hear about the development. I am jealous about the great businesses 1 mile down the road on New Scotland and I want one of those for myself.

I'm very likely to go to any of these planning meetings to voice my support, and there are many like me in my neighborhood - we have young families, we are committed to Albany, and we are very busy. But we are here, and we want development!

Similar to other commenters, I see the "family neighborhood" comment as a red herring/racist. It's the same mentality that didn't want to help homeless people at a nearby church a couple years ago... though at $1450 for a 1 bedroom, I can't imagine there's anything to worry about, "family neighborhood" or not.

Also, thanks to the commenters here who have talked about tax incentives. It seems like it *might* be the quality discussion that I have been yearning for. Are there any places where I can go to see a fair discussion about the tax breaks already in place and their goods/bads? I feel like I can't form an opinion on this stuff because everything I read comes from someone who's angry. Hint to AOA: I'd love to see some specific discussion from you guys, since I've come to trust you over the years. But maybe that already exists and I just didn't read it.

I'm all for mixed-use space, and increased density, but this is missing the mark. I understand it's cheaper to build a single building, rather than multiple buildings, but where does a development like this stand in 50 or 100 years? Can it really be re-used and adapted if it's one giant warehouse with various tacked-on facades? Can it be supported by small independently owned businesses, or will it always have to be owned by a large development company and rented out? It's just not as adaptable as the old buildings we all know and love (and miss...because they were razed).

Aesthetically, I think it's uninspired, and a bit dated already. Like an inside-out Panera bread. It looks like every outlet mall facade on every parkway in the country built in the 80s and 90s. It just doesn't have any soul. Make it classic, or make it modern, but don't settle for this cut-and-paste architectural laziness.

I also agree with other commenters about the apartment complex. Circling the entire building in parking lots is a poor choice if we want to encourage community. The building will feel cut off from the rest of the neighborhood, rather than integrated into the fabric of the block. We need to build communities, not parking lots. This city has enough of those.

@JM IMO you summed it up well:
Make it classic, or make it modern, but don't settle for this cut-and-paste architectural laziness.

Yeah I get what everyone is saying....this isn’t going to be Versailles or even state street albany ny type of building but for the love of god what am I missing? Have you not seen the CVS up the street or Andy’s or generic Dunkin doughnuts or the current post office or the depressing drive thru KeyBank? Why all of a sudden are Albanians architecture critics.....can guess not one of you would ever live in this development.... build it get over it.....and yeah park South about 10 trillion times better than that dumps that were there.

I'm all for new development. That is what ReZone is all about. However, I do agree that Albany deserves better designed projects. What do they teach in architecture schools these days? Even without an expensive and rigorous architecture degree, an online search of innovative designs across the country and the world is bound to up somehing more interesting. Incorporating onsite parking is a challenge I am sure faces many cities where parking is tight. Come on developers -- go out there and look for creative designs that enhance the streetscape -- I think you will have less neighborhood resistance which will make the effort worth it in the end.

anticipated rents will range from about $1,450 for the 1 BR to $1,750 for the 2 BR

This can't be serious. There are plenty of 2 bedrooms under $1k sitting empty in the suburbs. What do the developers think?
Do they think that younger people will double up and get a roommate? I doubt so. There is only so much young unmarried professionals in the city and ALL of the recent housing project seem to target them.

Anonymous, do you think those 2BRs in the 'burbs are empty because of the price? Maybe it's something else.

I strongly second comments above about needing better designs. Much of what I see proposed is warmed-over '80s strip mall.

This is one of the most informative and helpful discussions online I have ever seen. Thanks to everyone who is contributing and to AOA for developing such a great tone for their site. Thanks to ParmaHam, daleyplanit, jsc and everyone else. I learned a lot about taxes, drainage requirements, etc.

My own comment on architecture - developers will always build the least expensive building they can to fit their needs. They will only fancy it up as much as their tenants will pay for. In other words they will maximize their profits - the same as you would do. i.e. Most homeowners who do additions add space at the lowest possible cost in a way that usually significantly lowers the overall quality of the design. That is the cold reality and it has always been that way.
I am uncomfortable with the idea of the city legislating "nicer" architecture as it is not applied consistently to all developers or projects and is of course subjective. Having said all that - if variances are being given then the city can and should get something in return and better design (whatever that is) should be in play.

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