Another large residential project in downtown Albany that's part of a package of notable projects, and other exciting tales of the Albany Planning Board

16 Sheridan downtown Albany exterior medium 2018-August

This building in downtown Albany is in line to become 133 apartments -- and get another story.

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: The first in a series of notable developments for downtown Albany, a tear-down-and-rebuild in Park South, and potential new life for a problem property...

Jump to projects

+ 80 North Allen Street

+ 105 Morris Street

+ 16 Sheridan Avenue

80 North Allen

The proposal from Andrew and Joan Jenkins to rehab the vacant 5,500 square foot building at 80 North Allen Street into six apartments (a mix of 2BR and 3BR) was back up before the board after making an appearance last November.

At that first appearance, board chair Al DeSalvo said he was skeptical of the $350,000 project budget. Andrew Jenkins said then that they'd return with a new estimate.

And on Thursday an attorney for the mother and son duo -- Edward Quilicie of Silverstein Law P.C. -- appeared before the board with an estimate that detailed roughly $800k of work. Neither Andrew Jenkins or Joan Jenkins were at the meeting, their attorney explaining that they had made other plans months earlier.

Their absence caused a little bit of friction when the board started asking questions about some of the plans for the project, tension that continued during public comments.

The building -- which has now been vacant more than a decade -- has a notorious past in the neighborhood. It had been configured by a previous owner to include 26 single-room-occupancy units, and was the source of many complaints from neighbors over many years.

Albany Planning Board 2018-August 80 N Allen public comment Dan Martinelli
Public comment.

Some of the neighbors who spoke about this history last November returned to again comment on Thursday. Dan Martinelli, who lives nearby at on Lancaster Street, said the lawn had only been mown once this year and expressed his concern that the Jenkinses wouldn't follow through on their plan. And Esther Thornton, president of the New Albany Neighborhood Association, said she didn't want to be adversarial, but the lack of maintenance made it feel like the neighborhood didn't have good options.

"It's almost like they're putting us in a position that we're forced to agree to this," Thornton told the board. (She also indicated later that the developers hadn't reached out to the neighborhood association.)

Edward Quilicie -- the attorney for the Jenkinses -- told the board that both Jenkinses are veterans, and though they currently live downstate, the plan is for Andrew Jenkins to live at the property and manage it. He said they were eager to get started.

"This is something they've saved up for for a long time," Quilicie told the board. "They've invested a considerable amount of their own money already."

Vote
After a brief discussion, the board voted 3-0 in favor of development plan approval.

(Board members Christopher Ellis and Martin Hull were absent.)

105 Morris Street

A plan to demolish the rundown multi-unit building that currently stands at 105 Morris Street in the Park South and build a new 28-unit residential building with 16 garage spaces was before the board for the first time.

(This project had already been before the Board of Zoning Appeals, where it got a variance to allow it to claim the low impact development incentive for a "blue roof" within 100 feet of a residential zoning district. That incentive (pdf p. 134) allows the project to add an extra story.)

Nick Costa represented the project, along with architect George Olsen of Olsen Associates in Saratoga Springs, and Sameh Asaad, one of the principals of Morris Place, LLC.

Albany Planning Board 2018-August 105 Morris Street front elevation

Costa ran through the basics of the project: parking in garage spaces under the building at the street level, seven residential units on each of the upper floors (one 2BR and one studio per floor, the rest 1BR), a "blue" roof to capture and slowly disburse storm water. And George Olsen walked the board through the exterior design, explaining the intent to use vertical lines and bay windows to echo some of the architecture of the neighborhood.

Chair Al DeSalvo took issue with the design of the entryway, which had the door lined up perpendicular to the street so that it would open into a recessed area with an overhang.

"Architecturally it doesn't talk to people about where to find the entrance," DeSalvo said, noting he thought it should have a more prominent entrance, maybe one that was more centered on the building.

Olsen explained how needed space for mechanicals and the garage had prompted the entrance to be on one end of the building. And he said opening the door to the recessed area would allow people to be protected from the elements while waiting. He also said lighting would denote the entrance, and the glass front of the lobby would allow a view of an accent wall to catch attention.

Sameh Asaad briefly addressed the board to note that he and his wife had acquired the property in February 2017 and have since learned that was a source of complaints in the neighborhood. He said they had met with the Park South Neighborhood Association, gone through the BZA, and were eager to get started.

Albany Planning Board 2018-August 105 Morris Street rendering
A cropped rendering of the building in context.

There were three public comments:

+ Andrew Harvey, president of the Park South NA, told the board the site had been "infamous" and the subject of a neighborhood fight for two decades. He said the proposal fits with the Park South Urban Renewal Plan, and he was encouraged to the see the investment.

+ Helene Brown -- a Park Ave resident and frequent planning board commenter -- said she thought the five-story building should be one story shorter, and she expressed a general concern about recent projects that are adding height to neighborhoods in the city.

+ And Roger Markovics -- the retired co-founder of United Tenants of Albany -- had questions about rent levels, and said he wanted to shine some attention on housing affordability.

Vote
Aside from the discussion about the entrance, and a little bit about landscaping, there wasn't much discussion from the board. It voted 3-0 in favor of the major development plan, granting the project the rare one-meeting approval.

Rents and timeline
After the vote, Sameh Asaad said rents in the building weren't set yet, but they're projecting a range from $1,100 (studios) to $1,700 (2BR).

The project is currently before the Albany IDA seeking a PILOT. Asaad said if everything goes through in the next few months, the project could start in October or November, with a 12-15 month timeline.

16 Sheridan Avenue

16 Sheridan downtown Albany exterior wide 2018-August

The last item on the agenda was also biggest -- with some potentially far-reaching implications for downtown Albany.

Redburn Development Partners is proposing to renovate the office building at 16 Sheridan Ave downtown into 133 apartments, along with a commercial/retail/restaurant space. In order to accommodate the number of units, it's planning to add a partial sixth floor to the building's roof.

This sort of project would be notable as a standalone -- it's another large chunk of apartments for downtown Albany, which has been trending in that direction. But it's an even bigger deal because it's part of a larger effort by Redburn to acquire a group of prominent downtown Albany buildings, "the Kenmore portfolio":

Kenmore Hotel Albany exterior wide 2018-August

+ 16 Sheridan Ave
+ The Kenmore Hotel on Pearl Street
+ The Steuben Athletic Club building on Pearl Street
+ The building that currently houses the Capital Repertory Theatre, along with the attached parking garage
+ The Kennedy Garage on Columbia Street
+ 39 Columbia Street
+ 55 Columbia Street

Kennedy Garage Columbia Street downtown Albany 2018-August

Much of the space in these buildings has been vacant or underused for years, much to chagrin of many city officials and nearby business and property owners. And 16 Sheridan Ave is potentially the first step to charting a new course for these buildings.

Local developer Jeff Buell -- who's now a principal with Redburn Development, following what he afterward called a merger with his Sequence Development -- represented the project before the board. He touched on Redburn's plan to acquire and redevelop 400,000 square feet downtown. And he briefly outlined a failed attempt to score historic status (and historic tax credits) for 16 Sheridan, which once served as the home of the Times Union.

He also walked through the plan for the building, including the new floor on the roof, which -- because it will be recessed -- he said would not be visible from street level near the building. He said Redburn would be able to provide one parking space per unit in the garages that it's planning to acquire. And he talked about an all-included rent that Redburn would be offering, that would include utilities and internet, at a level that would make 75 percent of the units affordable for someone making $40k per year. (More on that in a second.)

Luigi Palleschi of ABD Engineers addressed water and sewer issues, reporting that the redevelopment would require fewer of those resources than when the building was last occupied, as an office with roughly 1,000 employees about seven years ago.

Albany Planning Board 2018-August 16 Sheridan elevation
The elevation for 16 Sheridan with the new floor. (click for a larger view)

There was some discussion with the board about the portion of the property at the corner with Chapel Street -- generally about how to make that look better. Buell said some of their plans for that portion of that property weren't set just yet because they didn't know what would be occupying the space. Its use -- a restaurant, for example -- would guide the treatment of the space.

There were a handful of public comments:

+ Anthony Strollo -- the owner of Independent Security Services, located up the block on Sheridan -- said he was concerned about how construction would the access and parking for people coming to his building for training. By the end of his comment, he was pitching his security services.

+ Nearby resident Jim Waterman said he was enthusiastic about the project, but would like to see the city and other nearby large property owners build a garage to address parking issues.

+ Roger Markovics again had a few questions about rents and affordability.

+ And Andrew Neidhardt, of the new group Walkable Albany, used his comment to call for a supermarket in downtown Albany, which he said would allow the neighborhood to take a step forward as a walkable neighborhood. Said Jeff Buell in response: "A grocery store is my personal white whale." He added that one of the buildings they're in the process of acquiring could work as a supermarket and he'd be willing to offer free rent to help make that happen.

Votes
There wasn't much discussion among the board, and what little there was focused on a handful of letters from city departments related to technical issues on the project (not uncommon). And the board voted in favor of major development plan approval 3-0 on the condition the project checks out with the various departments.

Rents
After the meeting, Jeff Buell said the range for rents in the building is expected to be $800-$1,700 -- and the "all-in" price, which includes utilities, would be $1,000-$2,000. (The nine units in the new floor may be an exception, he said.) And 3/4 of the units in the building would be below $1,400 per month, everything included.

The standard rule of thumb for housing affordability is 1/3 of gross income, which for a person earning $40k would be about $1,100 per month.

"If you look at what's happened in this area, in the 10 years of urban growth that we've seen, there's been a lot of really great luxury housing built. I'm guilty of some of it. And I think luxury housing is a bubble. Market rate housing, that everyday people an afford, is where real estate should be heading. And if we can provide a new product in downtown Albany, at a price people can look at and say 'I can write one check and cover every one of my costs in downtown Albany', we're in the right market."

"That's the market, right? If you look at what's happened in this area, in the 10 years of urban growth that we've seen, there's been a lot of really great luxury housing built. I'm guilty of some of it. And I think luxury housing is a bubble," Buell said. "Market rate housing, that everyday people an afford, is where real estate should be heading. And if we can provide a new product in downtown Albany, at a price people can look at and say 'I can write one check and cover every one of my costs in downtown Albany', we're in the right market."

Buell said Redburn is not seeking low-income tax credits, nor would it be pursuing a payment in lieu of taxes arrangement from the Albany IDA. But the company is seeking grant money through the state's consolidating funding application.

The affordability of new residential units is a ongoing discussion in Albany. And it's an issue the city has to track more closely for new development now that the zoning code's inclusionary zoning measure is in effect. That measure requires new developments with 50 or more units to set rents for at least 5 percent of units at an affordable level for a household making 100 percent of the city's median income (roughly $41,000).

There has yet to be a new development that's triggered this part of the new zoning code. This Sheridan Ave project would be the first, and it looks like it will be within the requirement. (The inclusionary zoning requirement is a whole new regulatory function for the city, and officials are still figuring out how exactly it will work. More to come.)

Kenmore and Steuben
Jeff Buell said Redburn is planning to return to the planning board next month with proposals for the Kenmore Hotel and Steuben Club buildings, the idea for which is mixed-use with a emphasis on street level commercial. "We view this project, particularly the Kenmore and Steuben, as such a dramatic hiccup in the walkability and connectivity of downtown Albany. And them being vacant is bordering on disastrous given the dramatic economic investments that are happening across the country in our urban areas. Every city's booming and these properties are holding Albany back."

Timeline
Jeff Buell said Redburn is hoping to close its acquisition of downtown portfolio by the end of the year.

Comments

Albany needs to do better on enabling, or requiring, the creation of affordable units in new development. 5% of units at 100% Area Median Income in buildings with 50 or more units is going to provide very little income diversity (I'm considering this a positive) given all the new housing that has been or is being developed downtown. 7 units of 133 for the Sheridan Avenue project? And maybe the same number in the Kenmore?

Hip hip hooray for a supermarket!

75% of the units in the Sheridan Ave building being affordable by someone making $40k/year is great news - as is the rehab/reuse of some beautiful buildings downtown.

Like Peter said, the requirements for affordable units could/should be a lot more aggressive, but it's great to see a developer taking this initiative.

On an unrelated note - is there any word on the New Scotland Village proposal or when it might be back in front of the planning board?

Looking ahead....can we make the Kenmore the one that converts to condos? : -) it has all the attributes, just saying

And Jeff... a poirtion of the first floor and basement of the old Times Union building could easily accommodate a grocery store/supermarket.....but I'm guessing that you'll want to convert the Capital Rep space into the supermarket.

It's great to hear that something will happen to the Kenmore building. I feel that this building depresses the entire Pearl corridor. I had family members from Portland, OR here last month who were stunned by the vacant properties in downtown Albany. They were confused why such a beautiful downtown (more beautiful than Portland's they said), would have empty buildings like this, and I discussed the problematic landlords.

Agree landlords are some of the issue....it’s multifactorial including obscene taxes, codes, regulations, previous car dependent development, crime, poverty etc but in my mind it’s really attitude....people around here would rather eat at Cheesecake Factory and sit in an outdoor area in front of a massive parking lot then shooting into the sprawl of Walmart for groceries and headin home to a large backyard barbecue ratherthan enjoy the beauty of a functioning beautiful mid size city.....my relatives from Europe cannot believe we let our cities die right in front of us....they too are envious of our wonderful architecture and streetsscapes which really says a lot about the Albany circa 1800-1930...I sit here befuddled myself!

@BS, totally agree. Most Americans find strip malls and parking lots more appealing than historic architecture and beautiful streetscapes.

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