The urban sprawl in Elsmere stops along Oakwood Road, here, on the western boarder of Kleinke Farm. A 67-acre lot north of this field is subject for residential development. One family member is pleading with the town to push for some preservation for agriculture. Photo by Michael Hallisey / Spotlight News
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GLENMONT — Members of the town’s Planning Board tabled the discussion about the future of the Kleinke Farm property at 65 Kenwood Ave. during its last meeting on Tuesday, June 19.
Ryan Kleinke Kitchen, who has been striving to save the land his family has farmed for more than a century, spoke during the public comment period at the start of the meeting. While he seemed resigned to the fact that at least some of the land will be developed, he implored both the board and the developer to consider preserving at least seven of the 67 acres along the north side of Kenwood Avenue.
“I’m heartbroken to see this development move forward,” he said. “But I still want to do the best we can for my family and for the community. If this development is going to move forward, I think it’s best that we think of new ideas and something better than the usual subdivision.”
Kitchen shared his vision for utilizing the front seven acres of the property, the minimum acreage allowed for an agricultural tax exemption, to grow hops, strawberries or perhaps a vineyard. That, he said, would also allow for the preservation of the farm buildings along Kenwood Avenue. He suggested the idea would benefit a neighboring residential development and preserve the scenic vista for those traveling on the East end of Kenwood.
Cardona Development, LLC. the company proposing the residential development on the Kleinke property, went before the board to review updates to the plan that have been made since it was introduced in September 2017.
At the time, Cardona was proposing a conventional subdivision plan that consisted of 57 single-family homes or a conservation subdivision that consisted of 62 units—52 townhomes and 10 single-family homes, including the original farmhouse.
Conservation subdivisions allow the developer to group more homes closer together in exchange for preserving natural open spaces on a property, to be permanently preserved though use of a conservation easement, restrictive covenant or deed restriction.
Last September, the planning board raised a number of concerns regarding stormwater management, wetland and slopes that exist on the site, and the layout of the subdivision. After addressing those concerns, the developer came back this June with a conventional plan proposing 48 single-family units and a conservation plan proposing 24 townhomes (each with two single-family units), nine single-family detached homes and the existing farmhouse.
While Cardona would prefer to move ahead with a conservation subdivision, a conventional plan was necessary to establish acceptable densities on the parcel of land. Planning Board Chair John Smolinsky said this month that he felt the conventional plan was “adequate to use as the baseline for calculating the conservation subdivision.
“There are probably things I would tweak with it if that were the project before us,” he said. “But I think that’s adequate to use in determining the conservation subdivision.” Other board members concurred that the conventional plan provided a realistic baseline.
“A conservation subdivision is what I’m thinking makes the most sense,” said board member Kate Powers. “But I do think the density is high. . . it feels like the properties are really packed in there and you said you moved them closer to the road. So, that’s my initial thinking.”
According to a memo from town Planner Ken Kovalchik to the Planning Board, town zoning law permits a 20 percent density “bonus” for permanently preserving at least 50 percent of the gross land area. As 42.6 acres of the 67.19-acre lot would be preserved under the conservation plan, Cardona was able to add an additional 9.6 units for a total of 57.6 units. As such, it would need to remove one unit from the conservation proposal.
Rob Leslie, the director of the town’s Department of Economic Development and Planning said it would prefer to add the acreage from the extra lot to open spaces designated along Kenwood Avenue. “Increasing those lands may help someone at some point continue agriculture or do something with them from an open space standpoint,” he said.
Under the conservation proposal, 36.1 acres of land on the north side of the property, which touches on the Albany County Helderberg Hudson Rail Trail, would be preserved, as well as about 3.7 acres on the southern Kenwood Avenue side. The townhomes would be located toward the front of the subdivision at Kenwood while the single-family homes would be clustered around a cul-de-sac at the north end, just south of the power lines that cut across the property.
The developer has indicated a willingness to deed the preserved lands to the town, to be used for agriculture (a little more than eight acres of the 36 is currently being used for agricultural purposes), community space or whatever might be desired.
“We did speak to our client relative to the area of the barn and outbuildings and he is not interested in pursuing agriculture,” said engineer Dave Ingalls, of Ingalls and Associates, LLP. “However he would be willing to dedicate the property to the town, if the town was so inclined, which could allow for maintenance and preservation of the barn and outbuildings, if that’s something the town is interested in.”
Leslie said that the open spaces could be deeded to a Homeowners Association, a single individual, a conservation organization or a municipality. “So we need to consider this as we move forward,” he said, noting that all the existing conservation subdivisions within the town are maintained by an HOA.
In a report to the town provided by Ingalls & Associates, while the barns and outbuildings were not deemed appropriate for preservation due to disrepair, the farmhouse will remain. Leslie suggested more research to determine the historical significance of the structures.
Board members mulled possible uses for the open space areas and discussed items including sidewalks, hiking trails and a connection to the Rail Trail before tabling the discussion until a future date.
“We feel, with all of those elements out there, it would be important to do a coordinated review,” said Kovalchik, referring to the required environmental assessment, which the Planning Department recommended doing in coordination with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Historic Preservation Office, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers. He said, as such, the planning staff would return with a resolution to do so at the Planning Board meeting scheduled for Tuesday, July 17. “That would be the next step in this process.”
“I’m urging you to push for something better,” said Kitchen. He said that he reached out to Cardona to discuss the future of the property, and the possibility of preserving seven acres for farming, but that he never received a reply. “I’m hoping that we can work something out with him,”