Approval for another big apartment project, Warehouse District reuse, Pine Hills demos, and more exciting tales of the Albany planning board

Albany Planning Board Sandidge Way rendering 2018-April cropped

The planned apartments on at Sandidge Way and Fuller Road.

Exciting Tales of the Albany Planning Board is a program recorded before a live studio audience once a month in which the fates of multi-million dollar projects around the city are (partially) decided.

This month: Another large -- and controversial -- apartment development, an odd triangle-ish shaped piece of something, Pine Hills demolitions, the new Northern Rivers facility, and the annals of sewer equipment...

Sandidge Way

Albany Planning Board Sandidge Way rendering 2018-April

The big item on this month's agenda is the proposal from Dawn Homes Management to knock down the 13 homes along/near Sandidge Way -- off Fuller Road, next to SUNY Poly -- and build seven five-story apartment buildings that would total 252 units (a mix of 1BR and 2BR).

This project has been in the spotlight for months for two main reasons:

+ The site is in the Albany "panhandle" right near the border with Guildlerland. A group of residents of the neighboring town -- especially those on the residential streets just off Fuller to the south -- have been vocally opposed to the project, arguing the apartment complex doesn't fit in the context, will cause traffic problems on Fuller Road, and will otherwise degrade their quality of life. The opposition extended to the city's move to re-zone the land to allow a project of this type.

Sandidge Way
Sandidge Way is just off Fuller Road. It sits up against SUNY Poly and is across Fuller from UAlbany.

+ There is also the thread related to the intrigue involving SUNY Poly, Columbia Development, and a floated proposal for a dorm on the site. It was that project -- more specifically the process surrounding it -- that prompted the state Attorney General's Office to file bid-rigging charges against former SUNY Poly nano emperor Alain Kaloyeros and Columbia Development's Joe Nicolla. (Both have pleaded not guilty to the charges an attorney for Nicolla has called the allegations against his client "absolute nonsense.") An affiliate of Columbia sold the land in 2016 to the backers of the current project. [TU 2016] [Biz Review 2016 x2]

And the crowd was again packed with people wanting to speak or otherwise follow this project. We'll get to that in a second.

Albany Planning Board 2018-04-19 Sandidge Way site plan

First, Dan Hershberg of Hershberg and Hershberg recapped the project for the board, highlighting the few changes since the last time the project was up. Among those updates:

+ Hershberg said the developers would be replacing Sandidge Way with a new street built to city specifications, and he said they were in discussions with the city about entering into a maintenance agreement to handle tasks such as plowing. The street would continue to belong to the city, though, a point that Hershberg made when discussing parking along it. (Specifically, that city would be able to set whatever parking rules it wanted.)

+ He also detailed plans for two new 8-inch water mains that will run through the site. One of the mains will service the apartment buildings. The other will service the fire hydrants on the site and then continue west to serve the UAlbany Freedom Apartments. The water infrastructure in this area has its own tangled history that could be a whole extended tangent, but basically this street currently gets it water via UAlbany's campus, an arrangement Hershberg said SUNY was uncertain about continuing. So the developers are proposing to run a water main north along Fuller Road to connect with the 20-inch main at Washington Ave, a distance just short of half a mile.

+ The plan now includes a "passive recreation area" -- basically a looped walking path -- on the south side of the site.

+ And the developers have agreed to "bank" a handful of parking spots that were originally planned in order to add green space. If parking demand indicates the spaces are needed in the future, they could be paved and added to the mix. (The plan includes 400 parking spaces -- roughly 1.6 per unit.)

Joining Hershberg were Spencer Jones of Dawn Homes Management and Mark Nadolny of Creighton Manning, who walked through some of the details of the traffic study. Nadolny said they had expanded the study, at the request of the Albany County Planning Board, to include a handful of intersections without signals along Fuller Road that were in the town of Guilderland. He said traffic at the intersections along Fuller Road currently are at "C" levels of service, and their analysis didn't predict any degradation in that level from the addition of the new apartments (One of the ways engineers assess streets is on an A-F scale for level of service, just like letter grades in school.)

Later, under questioning from board chair Al DeSalvo, Nadolny explained that the "worst case" increase in traffic volume from the new apartment complex was 127 vehicles per hour in the morning and 156 in the afternoon rush hour. Interesting bit: Morning rush happens to be the third busiest time on that section of Fuller due to relatively large traffic volumes in midday, a point highlighted during a public comment.

Albany Planning Board 2018-04-19 Sandidge Way public comment
When people run over their allotted time for public comment, it can get a little heated.

Speaking of public comments, there were multiple comments in opposition. Six residents of the town of Guilderland spoke against the project, including Albany County legislator Paul Miller who questioned whether fire trucks would be able to maneuver through the site. (Dan Hershberg said the site had been designed with that mind and the plan tested against templates for ladder trucks.)

Other Guilderland residents expressed concerns about the impact of adding 252 apartment units to an area they said was already strained from development and traffic. And others referenced the continued skepticism of the project from the Albany County Planning Board.

Albany Common Council member Michael O'Brien -- whose ward includes the site -- also spoke, mainly to ask a handful of questions to clarify details about infrastructure related to the project. Among his questions was whether Albany County might not be amenable to allowing the new water main to be run north along Fuller Road. (Dan Hershberg said the water main would belong to the Albany Water Department, which also would be the applicant to use the right of way. Hershberg said the county and municipalities typically cooperate in those sorts of circumstances.)

Albany Planning Board 2018-04-19 Chris Spencer
Chris Spencer addressing the board during the public comment period.

The last public comment came from Albany planning director Chris Spencer. He argued in favor of approval for the plan, mainly for two reasons: 1) The project fits with the goals of the city's comprehensive plan and zoning to build denser housing near job centers, in this case SUNY Poly, UAlbany, and Stuyvesant Plaza. 2) There was a very real possibility that the site could have been taken over by SUNY Poly, which would have been able to pursue whatever it plans it had -- for dorms or a parking garage, perhaps -- without local municipal input.

Board chair Al DeSalvo took a moment ahead of the vote to explain his perspective, mainly that the developers had addressed the major concerns of the board and had been responsive to the various technical reviews for issues such as traffic and stormwater runoff.

And then the board voted 4-0 in favor of the various approvals, including demolition for the existing homes and the development plan. (Board member Christopher Ellis was absent.)

We have a call in with Dawn Homes Management about a potential timeline for the project and will update if we hear back.

8 Erie Boulevard & 175 Montgomery Street - U-Haul

The U-Haul Co. of Eastern New York's proposal to convert the huge old brewery building on Erie Boulevard into a self-storage facility was back up before the board.

Brandon Ferguson of Environmental Design Partnership was there repping the project and updating the board on its progress. Among the updates: landscaping for the parking lot across Lawrence Street and the addition of a black iron fence along the railroad tracks at the back of the site, at the request of the city.

Board members had a few questions about how people would actually use the facility -- where they'd enter, how they'd use the loading bays on Lawrence Street.

One interesting bit about this project relates to the odd, triangle-ish strip of land in front of the building on Erie Boulevard. Technically that's part of Montgomery Street. And Ferguson said the project team had a meeting scheduled with the city to talk about fixing up the strip in some way, though they didn't want to make overall plan contingent on that.

The city and board are interested in the strip for a few reasons. 1) The new Noble Gas Solutions facilities just to the north has improved the streetscape there with a sidewalk and there's interest in continuing that improvement along Erie. 2) This corridor is a connection between the riverfront and the Warehouse District. And 3) It's just this kind of a weird leftover, unmaintained strip of street/land/curb/something.

This was the project's second time up and it'll be back.

962 Madison Avenue - College of Saint Rose

The College of Saint Rose was before the board asking permission to knock down the vacant residential building that sits on a narrow lot at 962 Madison Ave.

The college's Debra Polley explained that the property was a strategic acquisition in 2012, and it already had structural issues then. The intended use is as a green space, and she said it would not be used for parking.

Chair Al DeSalvo commented that the board was keyed into the college following through with the proposed landscaping plan, which includes grass, an ornamental fence, and shrubbery. And he also urged Saint Rose to consider pursuing a district plan for its neighborhood campus, an option under the new zoning code.

The board approved demolition 4-0.

192 & 194 Partridge Street - College of Saint Rose

And the next item was another request for demolition from the College of Saint Rose, which was seeking to knock down the vacant residential buildings at 192 & 194 Partridge Street. Debra Polley said the properties had been strategic acquisitions in 2012 and 2014 when the college had been looking at the possibility of building a new dorm at Partridge and Western, an idea that ended up not being financially feasible. She said the college had looked into securing the buildings -- one has a serious mold problem and the other had a hole in the roof -- but it would have cost $180k to do so. As with the other property, the college is planning to replace the buildings with grass and shrubbery.

There was one public comment, from Melrose neighborhood resident Julie Lundgren, who said she was disappointed to see the college pursue this action. "To buy homes that are intact and beautiful for the sole purpose of demolishing them is a real loss to our community."

The board approved demolition 4-0.

60 Academy Road - Northern Rivers / Parsons Child and Family Center

Parsons new building plan 2018-February
Click the image for a larger view.

The Northern Rivers / Parsons Child and Family Center plan to build a new 25,674-square-foot office and residential building on its Academy Road campus -- and knock down a building it will no longer be using -- was back up before the board.

Dan Hershberg recapped the project again, detailing a few new bits about the stormwater plan.

There was very little discussion. (This project has sailed along smoothly the entire time at board meetings.) And the board voted 4-0 to approve the district plan for the site.

339 Southern Boulevard - Red-Kap Sales

The Red-Kap Sales plan to replace the convenience store at the gas station at the corner of Southern Boulevard and Mt. Hope Drive was back again. The plan is for the new store to have a Dunkin' Donuts. The pumps and tanks for the station wouldn't be changed.

Dan Hershberg ran through -- you guessed -- details related to the stormwater plan, including a series of underground pipes that would be used to slow the discharge of water from the site.

ANNALS OF SEWER EQUIPMENT: Hershberg also mentioned the stormwater system would be using a hydrodynamic separator, a device that help filter small spills of gasoline and other hydrocarbons.

There was a little bit of board discussion about maintaining site. And then it was a vote, 4-0, in favor of demolition approval.

Comments

Saint Rose has become a slumlord. So they just buy property, let it rot, and then tear it down? Those three buildings were good structures, and I'm sure they were built far better than the stuff developers put up nowadays. The city should reject Saint Rose's plans. As for the apartments by SUNY, enough with the apartments. They should be building townhouses in that area. I would be mad too if my property was adjacent to that development.

I think its a shame that the only way Albany can come up with to offset loss of tax revenue is to give away property to developers to build large apartment complexes in residential neighborhoods to bring in high earners to the city and are giving it away with large tax breaks or PILOTS.

This will make Albany into a place that many of us don't want to live in and came here to get away from: Big buildings, heavy traffic, congestion, noise, and parking shortages are really not what we or what people seeking to raise families and considering moving to our area want. Building big and tall will change Albany from a family friendly city to a metropolitan city and only increase the gap between the have's and have not's.

I would rather see abandoned homes torn down, land and building be made affordable and attractive to families. Houses built to attract families. Give tax breaks to individuals vs developers. Provide training centers in the city to give existing residents the skills to develop the type of workforce businesses looking to establish or expand are seeking so our residents can rise to be ready for them and contribute to our growth and buy or rehab homes.

I can't understand why Albany thinks it has to be metropolitan to reach economic and budget goals. Bring back middle class families - children for our schools. Give our existing residents a lifeline to bring themselves up. Be attractive to folks coming to our area and instead of them moving to Glenmont, Bethlehem, Delmar, Slingerlands, Guilderland, Colonie or Clifton Park because its the type of environment they look for, work towards making Albany the kind of place they want to "nest" in - perhaps for generations, increasing our value as a city overall.

They are not going to want to live in homes surrounded by big buildings and be impacted by heavy traffic, noise or congestion. They have the means to improve our city, all we have to do is create a conducive atmosphere for them. Albany was always attractive as a residential family friendly city with big city opportunities -- why not stay true to that path instead of the one we seem to be on to secure our long term future.

Regarding 8 Erie Boulevard & 175 Montgomery Street:

Just don't mess with Eggy's.

I live in the St Rose neighborhood and they take VERY good care of their property; it is among the best-maintained in the neighborhood.

That said, every property they have is off the tax rolls and contributes nothing to the city's revenue, even though they use up a lot of city services. The city needs to solve our insane property tax problem.

When oh when will we get a mayor who prioritizes this issue?

Count Executive Dan McCoy pledged in 2015 to opposed the Fuller Road project.

Where was he....? ....?

Yes, to everything hn said. I love the walk-ability of the Pine Hills neighborhood. I appreciate the fact that I can walk to pick my 7 year old up from school and stop at the park on the way home. It's also great to be able to walk to the market and pick up a few things for dinner. Pine Hills is very attractive to families. That's why we purchased a home in this neighborhood.

stan -- I like green space in the city as much as the next person. I hope College of St. Rose can do something more creative and environmental than landscaping with lawn and shrubs. How about bird habitats with native plants? Or follow the lead of Nine Pins planting apple trees in Washington Park. What we don't need is more lawn.

I can sympathize with the Guilderland residents who don't want these large developments next door.... However, until these folks ask to have their properties annexed into Albany and added to its tax base, why does the City have to even listen to them? They benefit enough from being so close to the city (emergency services, etc). They shouldn't be allowed input into zoning/planning decisions.

In reference to the Fuller Road project: There's misinformation in the comments. The city of A;lbany is not "giving away" property....it never owned that site. And, if it was not zoned for apartments to satisfy the need for housing next to 3 major employment centers, it would have been taken over by either the Poly Institute or by U Albany--and there would have been absolutely no ability for the city to control what happened on that site because the city cannot manage nor control what the state does. And there would have been no tax revenue coming into the city. And speaking of the "tax situation" and where is the Mayor in that mentioned by "stan" , that is a major prioirty of hers. She has gotten the state to contribute $12.5 million last year and $12 million this year in Aid to Municipalities rather than kick the can down the road as her predecessor did by stealing from the back end of the paltry PILOT dribbled out by the Empire State Plaza development. Albany gets only $128 per capita in AIM payments, far far less than every other major city in New York, and has more than 65% of all real estate off the tax roles, and we host more than 75,000 people every work day who come into the city from the suburbs. Yet the city is expected to plow the streets, fix the roads and sidewalks, and provide police, medical emergency and fire protection for these commuters with no compensation. So you bet this is a priority for the Mayor. And instead of complaining, educate yourself. Persistent calling to key legislators to get Albany's AIM funding at least on an average par with all the other cities AND without begging every year (the other cities do not have to do so) would be helpful also. Annexing parts of Guilderland would be good, too....but that will happen when you-know-what freezes over.

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