Tom Burke speaks to the Colonie Planning Board on Tuesday, Jan. 21 (Jim Franco/Spotlight News)
COLONIE — In an unusual break from unanimity, the Planning Board voted 3-2 to not give a positive recommendation to a massive, mixed use development at the former Hoffman’s Playland on Route 9.
It is the third time the Planning Board refused to give the necessary input on the request for a Planned Development District to the Town Board. As with any PDD, the Town Board will determine an appropriate public benefit before granting or denying the PDD. Once the Town Board changes the zoning to allow more density, the project goes back to the Planning Board for site plan review.
The Planning Board refused to take action in June and November, 2019Jan. 21, and the issues remain the same — uncertainty over the public benefit and concerns about the project’s size and density and the financial viability of luxury senior housing and high end retail in this market.
Unlike the previous two times, when the Planning Board just took no action, there was a motion, brought by member Craig Shamilan, on the floor for a vote. He and member Stephen Heider voted to give a positive recommendation while Chairman Peter Stuto and members Louis Mion and Frederick Ashworth voted against. There is one vacancy on board and member Susan Milstein was absent.
At the urging of the developers, though, it appears the project will be on the agenda of the Planning Board’s meeting on Feb. 4 rather than going to the back of the line which could lead to a months-long wait.
In June, 2019, after scaling down the retail and the residential aspects of the project, developers proposed installing some 1,000 feet of sidewalk along Aviation Road for about $100,000 and kicking in another $100,000 to spend where the town wanted as a public benefit. In November, developers upped their offer to $300,000. On Tuesday, the offer on the table was to install $500,000 worth of sidewalk.
The three areas targeted for new sidewalks are Aviation Road from Metro Park Road to Computer Drive East at a cost of about $200,000, a stretch of sidewalk along Spring Street at a cost of about $100,000 and along the west side of Route 9 from Glennon Road to the Fresh Market Plaza for about $200,000.
Joe Grasso the Town Designated Engineer, said the proposal is specific to targeted areas but the monetary value is a rough estimate because too many variables make formulating a precise dollar amount difficult until construction is ready to commence. Another concern is getting easements or right of ways from landowners along the proposed sidewalk routes. Developers offered to spend no more than $500,000 to get as much of the sidewalk in as possible.
Some board members were concerned with prioritizing the order in which the sidewalks are built with the consensus being along Route 9 first. Others said the benefit should instead be a specified length of sidewalk or another specific benefit — like a fire truck or a pocket park — regardless of the cost and others seemed to think the supervisor’s office should give its blessing to the benefit before the Planning Board acts moves the project forward.
“Once we vote on the documents you are proposing today, the train will have left the track and I’m not comfortable sending the train off right now,” Stuto said. “The fact we are talking about these details merits a meeting with the supervisor’s office and the town attorney to make sure we are doing this right.”
Tom Burke, the owner of several Dunkin’ Donuts franchises who would build and manage the retail section of the project, implored the board to act one way or another because existing contractual obligations are in danger of falling apart. The project that will include high-end retail and two restaurants along Route 9 with a senior living complex behind it, was first proposed in November, 2018. It has since been in front of the Planning Board at least four times and has been scaled back three times.
He said he and his team are willing to work with the board regarding parking, traffic and other issues sure to come up with a project of his magnitude but the time for a detailed analysis of those nuances is while the project’s site plan is being reviewed. A recommendation to the Town Board to allow a PDD has little to do with the site plan, he said.
“I see no reason why we can’t get a decision from this board tonight. We need it. We have obligations to other parties including our partner SageLife, Mr. Hoffman and other individuals who require us to move forward or step aside,” he said. “We have talked this thing to death, we’ve worked it every which way possible. We have nothing left to give. You have our best offer so we are asking you to please make this decision tonight whatever the decision is, one way or another.”
The prime 8.4 acres of real estate has been in the Hoffman family for some 90 years. Six years ago, David Hoffman and his wife closed the amusement park after 62 years of entertaining families across the Capital District.
“After closing the amusement park, I began the process of re-developing the property,” Hoffman told the Planning Board. “I could have subdivided and sold off pad sites to convenience sites and fast food restaurants. Instead I waited four years, doing due diligence, before choosing a developer. I believe this is attractive, economically viable and appropriate for the community I love. It will honor the legacy of Hoffman’s Playland and greatly enhance the quality of life in Colonie.”
Traffic, always a concern along Route 9, but it was generally agreed this project would generate about 25 percent of the traffic compared to alternatives under the existing zoning parameters.
Right now the land is zoned Neighborhood, Commercial, Office Residential, or NCOR. That designation allows a host of different projects including fast food establishments, convenience stores or residential. If developed to the fullest extent under existing zoning laws, a developer could build a 140,000-square-foot commercial building or 37 single family homes.
There would be two, full-access curb cuts onto Route 9, which were approved by the state Department of Transportation. There is an easement to the north of Hoffman’s so vehicles can get to a traffic light if traffic is too thick to make a left hand turn.
A handful of residents spoke at the meeting and they all brought up traffic on the side roads as a concern, but, Planning Board member Heider, who was previously the town police chief, said this project will bring in the least amount of traffic compered to what was there and what could go there.
“This is the best project we can get considering the size of what could go there and considering what was there before. I spent 30 years dealing with the traffic from Hoffman’s Playland. During the warmer months, hundreds of cars in and out all day and all night long,” he said. “The truth is, peak traffic in the morning and the evening will not be impacted by this project. I have no problem getting into Newton Plaza or the Newtonville Post Office where I have a PO box. But, from 4 to 6 p.m. I don’t go there. Anyone who lives in Colonie knows there are a couple roads you don’t go on between 4 and 6 p.m.”
When the Galleria at Loudonville was first introduced in January, 2019, it included 245 beds for seniors on one lot and a 28,800-square-foot of retail with two restaurants on the second lot, closest to Route 9.
The project has been scaled back and now will have a four-story building with 85 independent living senior apartments and a three-story, 92-bed assisted living facility located at the rear of the property that includes 20 beds for seniors with dementia or other types of memory issues. The retail is now proposed at 22,000 square feet with two, 4,000-square-foot restaurants that will have a total of 240 seats which would jump to 340 seats during the summer months.
Overall, the project shrunk by some 7 percent to about 100,675-square-foot. The retail section would remain two stories while the larger portion of residential building would be four stories with one, the parking garage, below ground. The smaller, back half of the residential building would stand three stories. Between the retail and residential would be a piazza for light recreation.
It would have about 414 total parking spots with 175 of them underground. For residential apartments, town code calls for two parking spots per unit, but the industry standard for senior housing is less than one per unit. The project, as it stands now, provides one spot per unit with 56 extra for staff and visitors. But parking was again an issue during the last Planning Board meeting.
“My big thing is the parking,” said Planning Board member Ashworth. “I’m 70-plus, and most people I know are 70-plus and I don’t know anyone who has given up a car. They all have two cars.”
Burke said the time to discuss parking nuances is at site plan review and not during the discussion on the PDD request. Since there is not access to the residential section from a public road, developers are also asking for an Open Development Area which would allow access through the retail portion.
“I think the parking calculations are more than adequate,” Shamilan said. “Independent living means 65-plus but it’s really 70-plus. There are a lot of things that could go on Route 9 that will generate a lot more traffic and architecturally I think it is really nice.”
A handful of residents spoke against the project and issues were traffic, the lack of environmentally friendly amenities like solar panels and electric car chargers, whether or not the market can sustain more high end retail and the need for affordable senior housing is greater than luxury senior housing.
“I want to thank my Hoffman for all the fun growing up at Hoffman’s and the fun my kids had. But I think we should look at whether this project is for the average person in Latham,” said one resident. “The Summit is priced out of range for most average people and this again is very pricey. I think we need to look at average priced independent living. I appreciate he is trying to make it memorable and special for us. But the people who went to Hoffman’s were your average people and it would be nice if it were senior housing we could afford.”
Kelly Andress, the founder and president of SageLife, said previously monthly rents would start at about $3,000 for independent living and increase to about $6,000 a month for memory care, where residents need more hands on support. The average age of residents will be between 71 and 82, she said.
To high end retail, Andrew Brick, Burke’s attorney, said his client has been in business in the Capital District for decades and knows what he is doing.
In November, a letter by Bob Marini, who is building the town homes just to the north of Hoffman’s behind the Village at New Loudon, was introduced into the record. In the letter, the homebuilder took exception to the project’s density, the size of the building and the lack of a buffer between the two properties.
“At the last meeting, Bob Marni sent a letter replete with half-truths and outright misstatements,” Burke said.
He said since one story of his four story residential building is underground and the Marini townhouse building is three stories with a peaked room, his building is actually five foot lower. The new residential buildings Marini is construction would be three foot lower than his building, he said.
The “race track,” as he said Marini called it, is a one-way road designed to give emergency vehicles access to the memory care units located at the rear of his property. He also said he would play afervite trees as a buffer, a consideration Marini did not extend to his property.
“I don’t want the board to be swayed by fear or unfounded concern about the size of the project,” Burke said. “It is wholly consistent with everything that exists in the neighborhood already. This is going to provide a needed service, a needed benefit that doesn’t currently exist. It would be a huge benefit for the town and you would re-develop a vacant, derelict property that doesn’t tax services and doesn’t tax schools.”