The Loudon House project has popped back into the political realm after a four-year hiatus and has become a hot topic for residents and politicians, but the real problem appears to stem from a lack of communication between residents and neighborhood associations.
There have been two meetings on the condo project in September, both of which had lasted nearly three hours, where several residents have voiced opposition to a project they felt they were never even notified about.
The current administration in Colonie has indicated it has done its best to notify residents but has been restricted by what is laid out in the town’s Land Use Law, which was created by the previous administration.
The final site approval for BCI Construction Services to develop luxury condominiums on the site of the former Eamonn’s Loudon House, an Irish Bar, was issued in 2007, when Mary Brizzell served as town supervisor.
The developer was issued a building permit in 2008 during Supervisor Paula Mahan’s tenure. Since then, the project had come to a road block when the economy tanked, at which point all operations stalled, leaving two tall elevator shafts standing upright and alone along with a trailer that sat on the property until it was removed just a few weeks ago.
The developer, Mike Benson, eventually proposed building apartments instead of luxury condominiums, but was shot down on Sep. 13, after vocal public condemnation of the project. He has since dropped the proposal, and the Town Board and Planning Board voted against it as well in recent weeks.
Several residents, though, are not satisfied with where things stand.
Public support vs. public perception
Benson and the original developer, David Hayes, have pointed to the backing of the Loudonwood East Homeowners Association and some members of the Greater Loudonville Association. Current Republican candidate for supervisor Denise Sheehan, who was director of the Planning and Economic Development Department at the time of the original approval, said Hayes did a lot of work with the neighbors and held several meetings with the general public.
“Part of the reason why I think the Planning Board approved it was the neighborhood association, the homeowners association at Loudonwood East, supported it,” Sheehan said of the 2007 decision. “The association came and expressed support for the project. … Hayes went through great pains, and it fit into the community character.”
Several residents have recently come out and said the Loudonwood East Homeowners Association does not speak for them, and they have taken up the task of keeping themselves and their neighbors informed of meetings dealing with the development.
Jim and Elizabeth McGuirk, residents of the town who live a stone’s throw from the site, have come out in force against the project.
Elizabeth McGuirk said Hayes came to her door back in 2007 and notified her of the proposed project. She told him that she was not impressed.
“I told him his project was the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of,” she said. “I’ve lived here for 45 years. It was a cow pasture before. There are two roads surrounding the condos. I wouldn’t be able to open my windows because of the car fumes.”
Elizabeth McGuirk said she believes the developers then went to the neighborhood associations to get its support. Jim McGuirk said this tactic would make it easier for a politician to hear there is support from the public, but it doesn’t take into consideration actual proximity to the project.
“It’s convenient for the politician to say we talked to an association, but [they] don’t ask the question, ‘What does the association have to do with the project?’” Jim McGuirk said. “The association lives up on Route 9 and near Siena College, and they’re talking about a project across the street from us.”
Jim Leach, current president of the Loudonwood East Homeowners Association, said the association did back the project, but he said he was originally hesitant. At this point, though, he said he just wants to see the project followed through on.
“It’s a burden, and it looks awful the way it is,” Leach said. “I’ve had meetings with Mr. Benson, and he has had meetings with just about all of us at one time or another to explain his position and his ability to complete the project. Everyone thinks individually, and a couple of people in the area try to admonish me for thinking the way I do.”
Marcia Aronowitz, who is secretary of the Loudonwood East Homeowners Association, said she does not understand why Leach came out in support of the project, and there was never a caucus held to discuss the association’s stance on the project.
“Mr. Leach has no right talking for us,” she said. “I can’t believe what they’re trying to do.”
She said the residents usually do not care about what goes on around the area but because this project would impact their property values, they have begun to take notice.
“This is more serious,” Aronowitz said. “This impacts our property value. … Since they [the developers] know they’re not going to sell condos, what happens? Just like in Florida, they rent it. … We’re not stupid people, we can figure out what’s going on.”
The McGuirks said they have felt that in the past there was no one representing them against developers, but now they feel the residents’ complaints are being heard and received.
“There’s nobody representing the neighborhood,” Jim said. “We feel now that this Planning Board and this administration is listening.”
The role of neighborhood associations
Mahan said the town works with several heads of the neighborhood associations, such as the East Latham Homeowners Association, the West Latham Homeowners Association, the Greater Loudonville Association and the Loudonwood East Homeowners Association.
The members meet with Mahan, Councilwoman Linda Murphy, the liaison from the Town Board, and sometimes Colonie Police Chief Steve Heider. They go over an agenda with various issues brought up by the associations.
Mahan said she has no doubt that the associations notified their members about the meetings and the Loudon House project. She accused the previous administration of failing to communicate the issues.
“Most of the issues are really cleaning up the issues that were there before we got here,” she said. “For example, we were left with the situation of the rezoning in the western end of town. The same thing happened there. … Once again, the neighbors that live directly near there … seems like they were not included in all of this.”
The current Land Use Law only requires the town to circulate meeting notification placards to residents living within 200 feet of the property line of a proposed project. Mahan said the town has been constantly making amendments to the local law but has not changed that particular provision.
Brizzell, a current member of the board of directors for the Greater Loudonville Association, said the association has yet to take a stance on the project, but she said she is personally in favor of it. She said she lives a couple of miles from the site and understands the frustrations of the residents about having to look at just the elevator shafts, but she said the developers deserve a chance. She did, however, say the developer should be making a point to meet with the residents.
“It would behoove the developer to try and get people leading the charge against them to see if they can have some kind of voice in it,” she said.
Brizzell does believe, however, that not everyone will be notified about the meetings because the very logistics of reaching everyone can be difficult, and it takes some initiative for residents to keep themselves informed.
“There are placards placed on the property to notify neighbors,” she said. “They might have to get out of their car and walk down the road.”
“I’m sure with Mary [Brizzell] it was the same procedure that is on the books today,” said Jim McGuirk. “We weren’t notified. We were notified by a pink slip on the property line. There are two on Menand Road and one on Schuyler Road. You have to get out of your car and read it.”
Jim said residents used to be given certified mail about a proposed project in the town and when a meeting was to be held on it. Now it comes down to notifying residents within 200 feet. He said, though, that somehow members of the Greater Loudonville association were notified.
Leach believes that more responsibility should be placed on the resident if they want to keep themselves informed. In fact, he said he believes they were notified but decided to complain after the meeting had already happened.
“Why holler after the fact if you want to know when the meetings are?” he said. “All they have to do is notify the town if they want to be notified. That’s a very poor note as far as I’m concerned. Go to your representative and ask what’s going on.”