West Latham Neighborhood Association Vice President John Drake speaks to the Colonie Town Board. (Jim Franco/Spotlight News)
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COLONIE — After years of different plans being introduced, withdrawn, modified and litigated, it appears all options are now exhausted and the development on 13 acres of land near the intersection of Forts Ferry Road and Wade Road Extension will get built.
Earlier this month, the Zoning Board of Appeals heard an appeal of a decision to grant a building permit to Frank Nigro to construct an office building and apartments for seniors. The appeal, brought by the West Albany Neighborhood Association, was based on a long-debated buffer between the new project and residential neighborhoods on Catalina Drive, Harrowgate Way and Omega Terrace.
After hearing from the town attorney, the developer’s attorney and from an attorney hired by the neighborhood association, it ruled in favor of the town and said the Building Department acted properly in determining the application by Nigro was compliant to existing zoning.
While that was going on, though, the plan to build a 30,000-square-foot office building and 62-unit apartment building for seniors was continuing through the process.
In March, by a 4-3 count, the Planning Board granted concept acceptance and Nigro’s attorney, Mary Beth Slevin said she hopes to get back on the agenda this month.
While the board granted concept acceptance – which is not a final approval but will allow the developer to hire architects and engineers to get to the nuts and bolts of the project – it did so with the agreement there will be an interim meeting to further iron out the details before giving the OK to start construction.
“There are additional steps but we will continue to work with the town and we will address any comments that come up as we move along,” she said. “I think we would like to break ground this year but if not this year then next spring.”
John Drake, the vice president of the West Latham Neighborhood Association, was not allowed to speak at the ZBA meeting but was at the Town Board meeting on May 10.
He said the group has already spent a good deal of money on lawyers and engineering work and still maintains the town changed the buffer from 100 feet to 300 feet in 2007.
“We understand that we need to balance the property owners and developers but we don’t think our rights are being protected,” he said. “Now we need to decide
what we are going to do.”
A long road
“This has been going on for quite a while and it dates my administration,” said Supervisor Paula Mahan. “They did a local law for a buffer at Harrowgate when they did the Target but for whatever reason they did not do the one for Forts Ferry. We had a tough time determining what happened and all we had was emails and letters about how the town was going to do this buffer but form the residents but they never did a local law.”
In 2007 the Town Board approved sweeping changes to a land use law that included changing the chunk of land in question to Office Residential. There were emails and letters to and from neighbors stating that the buffer was 300 feet but and even a map showing it was 150 feet.
Nigro sued in 2013 and the town defended the 300-foot buffer based on the belief it was the intent of the previous administration to make it that.
But, the courts determined there was not a formal local law designating it as such and ruled it was 100-foot like every other Office Residential area in town.
Drake brought an enlarged copy of the map to the Town Board meeting but Mike Magguilli, the town attorney, said if there is a discrepancy between the two, words always outweigh pictures.
“We’d like to help the neighbors any way we can but we have to follow the law,” he said. “We put town resources and time and town money into this but it’s a very, very difficult thing because the local law was never put forth and on the books.”
While the neighbors argued the intent was there, the previous administration did properly increase the buffer along Harrowgate Way when the Target complex was built and again on Corporate Woods so they knew how to do it correctly, Magguilli said.
Drake debated the point for an hour in front of the Town Board but the consensus was the town’s hands are tied.
“I would ask the Town Board re-consider if this matter should be closed” he said.
The board, though, was not convinced partly because of the earlier court decision and how long it has been bantered about.
“It’s like your old grandmother promising to give you something when she dies but she doesn’t do a will,” said Town Board member Jennifer Whalen. “If it’s not legally documented it doesn’t mean much.”
“I find it appalling the town attorney and the chairman of the ZBA would think it appropriate to not allow the public to speak,” Drake said. “There was no notification to us prior to the public hearing that the public would not be allowed to speak and there was no explanation given as to why we were not allowed to speak or who made that decision,”
He added the public was allowed to speak on other agenda items that same night.
“It was extremely disrespectful not just to those of us in attendance but to everyone in Colonie,” he added.
Whalen and board member Christopher Carey took exception to stopping the public from speaking.
“There may be precedent set from somewhere else but I have been at plenty of meeting in the last three years and I have not been to any meeting conducted by any board in the Town of Colonie where the residents were not allowed to speak and that should not happen no matter what,” Carey said. “They say some things we may not want to hear but we are public servants and we are here to listen to residents and when we shut the residents out of any public hearing I think that is wrong.”
Magguilli, though, said it was not a typical hearing in front of the ZBA and because all those represented had an attorney to speak in their stead.