The apartments on Elm Street, The Lionheart, Colvin Ave mixed-use, and more exciting tales of the Albany Planning Board

Albany planning board 2018-12-20 Elm Street closeup

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.

Included this month: Approval for those controversial Elm Street apartment buildings, a Colvin Ave apartment proposal, The Lionheart, The Wilson, demolitions and how big is that sign...

Jump to projects

+ 185-189 Elm Street - 100 N 5, LLC

+ Zoning Text Amendment: 3-unit buildings in townhouse districts

+ 60 Colvin Avenue - apartment/retail development

+ 448 Madison Avenue - The Lionheart

+ Albany County Land Bank demolitions

+ 100 Kenwood -- Kenwood Commons

+ 191 North Pearl Street - The Wilson

+ Zoning Text Amendment: signs in residential districts

+ A bunch of other things

Agenda.

185-189 Elm Street - 100 N 5, LLC

Albany_planning_board_2018-12-20_Elm_Street.jpg

The proposal from 100 N 5, LLC and Paul Bonacquisti to build three 3-story townhouse-style buildings with three 1BR apartments on a string of four empty lots on Elm Street in the Hudson/Park neighborhood was back before the board for a vote.

This proposal has been been a hot topic in the neighborhood and on the listserv for the Hudson/Park Neighborhood Association after word started circulating earlier this year that a non-profit called CARES, which assists programs for homeless people, was attached to the project. That led to a big discussion about density, owner-occupied housing, property values, crime, and accusations of NIMBYism. The project's September appearance before the board prompted 18 public comments, including appearances by Common Council members and a county legislator. Opponents argued the project would essentially be operating as a 9-unit apartment building instead of three townhouse-style buildings.

Engineer Luigi Palleschi of ABD Engineers gave the board a brief recap of the project, mentioning a few changes that had been made at the request of the city. Among them: Having the utility meters for the buildings attached separately to each building. (The proposal is for the buildings to be able to operate independent of each other.) And he also showed off an adjusted new exterior elevation that included changes suggested by the city's Historic Resources Commission (which still needs to vote on the project).

There was very little discussion from the board and then it was on to public comments.

Five people spoke, four opposed and one in favor. The opposition again included Common Council members Richard Conti and Cathy Fahey (Conti represents one side of Elm, Fahey the other). Conti took issue with the size of the project, saying it didn't fit with the neighborhood. And Fahey said her opposition reflected the prevailing sentiment that she'd gathered from constituents.

(Their opposition also was in context with a change to the zoning that Conti and Fahey are proposing for these sorts of projects. More on that in a second.)

Two neighborhood residents also spoke in opposition, saying they were concerned about parking, especially with the addition of the nearby @HudsonPark residential conversion, as well as what they believe is a concentration of housing connected to social services agencies. One of them predicted the project would be a step toward ending the neighborhood.

The one person who spoke in favor was longtime affordable housing advocate Roger Markovics. "It's a rare opportunity to build affordable housing in a neighborhood that's historically been tolerant of diversity," he told the board.

Ahead of the vote board chair Al De Salvo noted that the proposal fits the existing zoning and is basically a "by-right" project. And the board voted 5-0 in favor of development plan approval, contingent on a lot consolidation laid out in the site plan.

Zoning Text Amendment: 3-unit buildings in townhouse districts

Earlier during the public hearing portion of the meeting, Richard Conti presented a proposed change to the zoning that he and Cathy Fahey are proposing for new 3-unit apartment buildings in residential townhouse zones (RT) such as Elm Street.

As the rules are currently written, 3-unit buildings are allowed to be built on empty lots in these zones. This proposed change would require that such projects also go through a conditional use permit review by the board, similar to what's required for switching a 1- or 2-unit building to a 3-unit building. Conti said the idea is to avoid the creation of de facto apartment buildings.

"I don't want to create barriers to infill housing. I don't have a problem with density or rental housing. I just want to make sure that the construction is consistent or compatible with the existing built environment."

"It gives you more of an ability to assess impacts," Conti told the board. "I don't want to create barriers to infill housing. I don't have a problem with density or rental housing. I just want to make sure that the construction is consistent or compatible with the existing built environment."

In these sorts of cases the board is charged with making a recommendation. (The Common Council has the ultimate vote on changing the zoning code.) And board chair Al De Salvo recommended tabling a vote on the recommendation so there could be more discussion between Conti and city planning staff about the proposal.

185-189 Elm Street - 100 N 5, LLC

Albany_planning_board_2018-12-20_60Colvin_rendering.jpg

The other project to draw a group of public comments was a proposal by Anthony DeThomasis for two three-story mixed-use buildings at 60 Colvin Ave that would include 24 residential units, ground floor retail space, and 68 parking spaces. There also would be four townhouses behind the two Colvin-facing buildings.

While this specific proposal is new, it's one of multiple attempts to develop something at this wooded site at the corner of Colvin and Anthony Street, which leads into Westland Hills park. The previous proposals have faced stiff neighborhood opposition.

Anthony DeThomasis ran through an overview of the project with Ed Esposito of Monarch Design. The two buildings would sit close to Colvin with courtyard spaces that mirror each other in the front, and a bridge-like connector over the driveway to the parking behind. DeThomasis, who also owns 40 and 50 Colvin, said neighborhood residents had been concerned about the height of previous proposals, so the design was kept to three stories and they were willing to be flexible about the height of the bridge portion. The exterior would be a mix of brick, fiber cement panels, and metal railings.

In response to a question about traffic from board member Glinessa Gaillard, Esposito said he had done a traffic count himself and determined a peak hour flow of 300 vehicles along Colvin.

Albany_planning_board_2018-12-20_60Colvin_rendering_closeups.jpg

There was back and forth with the board about various design elements -- including the bridge -- and board members were curious about the choices. Later on city planning direction Brad Glass, serving as the city staff representative, asked about the theory behind townhouses in the back. DeThomasis said a retaining wall would have to go along that portion of the property because of a grade change, and he figured the resulting space could be used for a different housing option.

The project prompted six public comments, five opposed and the other generally in favor. Those in opposition included nearby residents who said they were concerned about the size of the project and its impact on traffic and the sewer system. Two residents who live behind the wooded site said they didn't want to see the project in their backyard.

Common Council member Michael O'Brien also expressed his skepticism, citing concerns about spillover parking and doubts about the traffic count. "I don't think we're unreasonable," O'Brien told the board. "I think it's too big. And that's always been our neighborhood feedback."

The one comment not in opposition came from Pat Tirino, president of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers Local 2NY/VT. He said he represented workers ready to build this project, and he was in favor of any project that supported safe construction practices. That prompted applause from a bunch of union members in the crowd.

This was a concept review so there was no vote by the board.

448 Madison Avenue - The Lionheart

Albany_planning_board_2018-11-15_Lionheart.jpg

During the public hearing portion of the meeting, the proposal from Jerry Aumond, owner of The Lionheart, to expand and renovate the pub's second floor was up for a conditional use permit vote.

Aumond told the board that nothing had changed since the last appearance in November, and the project has a follow-up meeting with the Historic Resources Commission on January 3.

There was a little bit of back-and-forth with the board about entrances and exits. (There are no new ones.)

And the board voted 4-0 in favor of the conditional use permit.

(Board member Christopher Ellis hadn't arrived by this point.)

Albany County Land Bank demolitions

The Albany County Land Bank was before the board seeking demolition approval for 57 Liebel Street, 174 Livingston Avenue, 281 Sheridan Avenue, and 446 Elk Street.

The land bank's Charlotte O'Connor ran through profiles of each property, describing their various states of decay, estimated costs of renovation, and lack of interest from buyers.

The only property that prompted any real discussion was 446 Elk Street, which might have a shared wall with an adjacent property owned by the Albany Community Land Trust. Roger Markovics, who sits on the board of the land trust, said during a public comment that the org had been in conversation with the land bank about the situation and it might be worth tabling the vote until there's an engineer's assessment of the situation. Markovics said they wanted to avoid a situation similar to what happened on Orange Street earlier this year when a city demolition resulted in the collapse of a shared wall with a family's home.

O'Connor said the land bank's policy is to have an engineer on site for each demolition to stop things if there's a problem. She pointed to evidence from Sanborn maps that suggested the buildings probably don't share wall but instead had a narrow, covered-over walkway. And she said exploratory demolition could clear that up.

The board voted 5-0 in favor of all the demolitions, with the requirement that the Elk Street demolition include a representative of the land trust when the engineer made the assessment of the possible shared wall.

100 Kenwood -- Kenwood Commons

Kenwood Commons rendering 2018-November

The proposed massive development at the Kenwood campus on the south side of the city was back before the board for what was essentially a procedural step.

Many projects get what's called a "negative declaration" for the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR), meaning they don't require a full-scale environmental review. But given the size of this project, the city will be looking to conduct a full review.

And the board voted 5-0 in favor of a "positive declaration," a step in this process. (There will be many steps.)

This proposed project has gotten a lot of attention not just for its scale, but also for the developer taking legal action over a city permit for renovations of the existing buildings, contractor liens on the project, and now word that the project is also being floated for sale.

Albany_planning_board_2018-12-20_Kenwood_protest.jpg

Thursday's meeting included its own twist: A silent, standing protest of the project by members of Capital District Building Trades 14 Local while the board took up this SEQR step. Bill Walsh, a rep for the union, later explained that members had turned out to protest what they believed to be an undermining of local wages, conditions, and worker treatment at the site.

191 North Pearl Street - The Wilson

Albany_planning_board_2018-12-20_The_Wilson.jpg

Rudy Lynch was back before the board seeking another extension for "The Wilson," an 18-unit, new-construction apartment building with 15 garage spaces at the corner of North Pearl Street and Wilson Street near The Palace. This project got approval back in 2016, but hit a number of snags along the way.

Lynch told the board the project had completed a remediation of oil-contaminated soil on the site and it was moving toward a start date this spring or summer.

The board voted 5-0 in favor of a six-month extension to the approval.

Zoning Text Amendment: signs in residential districts

Albany_planning_board_2018-12-20_signs_amendment.jpg

During the public hearing portion of the meeting Common Council member Judy Doesschate appeared to pitch her proposal for changing the allowed size of signs in residential zones. The current zoning allows signs as large as 20 square feet. She was proposing to make the limit 4 square feet.

Doesschate's presentation included examples of multiple signs of various sizes from around the New Scotland Ave neighborhood. She said she's concerned large signs can disrupt the feel of the neighborhood.

During back and forth with the board, Doesschate indicated she was willing to be flexible about the size limit. And the conversation ultimately landed on a limit of six square feet, with an elimination of a difference in standards for the signs on non-conforming properties.

So the board voted 4-0 to recommend that.

A bunch of other things

Radix_Center_2018-December.jpg
The Radix Center.

+ The board unanimously voted in favor a recommendation to change the zoning for land owned by the Radix Center in the South End from "Mixed-Use Form-Based South End" to "Land Conservation." The proposed change was brought by city staff. Brad Glass explained that the Radix Center had landed a $422,00 grant from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to build a classroom space. And doing so on the center's urban farm land would have required multiple variances under the current zoning.

+ The board also unanimously voted in favor of changing the flood plain overlay district in North Albany. Glass said FEMA had reduced the size of the area tagged as a flood zone. (That's important because it affects insurance rates.)

+ And the board declared itself lead agency for the purposes of the State Environmental Quality Review Act for Redburn's proposed residential conversion of 39 Columbia Street (part of the "The Kenmore Portolio") and Capital Repertory Theatre's renovation of an old warehouse building for its new theater space (earlier).

On that last one board chair Al De Salvo recused himself because he sits on The Rep's board.

Comments

What a great tax boon for the city in 20 years!

I knew the Lionheart owner would apply for that. Terrible for the Park South residential streets directly behind that establishment. Look up the amount of noise complaints already on file for them. Will just get worse. I ended up selling my house and moving because I couldn’t take it anymore. I feel for those families that will have to endure 2 stories of unbearable noise until 4am.

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