Aimee McKane speaks in front of the Planning Board on Tuesday, Feb. 25 about traffic on Homestead Drive. Jim Franco/Spotlight News.
COLONIE — After more than two hours of discussion, the massive retail and senior housing development at the former Hoffman’s Playland — which will be known as the Galleria at Loudonville — cleared its first hurdle on Tuesday, Feb. 25
The Planning Board, by a 5-1 count, voted to give a positive recommendation on the request for a Planned Development District, an Open Development Area and a public benefit, albeit with some conditions.
Planning Board member Susan Milstein voted in the negative and member Steven Heider was absent.
The Town Board will have the ultimate say in granting or denying the requests and it will also have the final say of what is an acceptable public benefit — which is attached to any PDD.
The Planning Board opted to send along a positive recommendation with the following conditions:
• A $500,000 public benefit to build as many sidewalks as possible in the following order: Along the east side of Loudon Road between Homestead Drive north to Newton Plaza; along the west side of Loudon Road from Glennon Road north to the Fresh Market Plaza and then along Spring Street. Before any sidewalks along Spring Street are built, though, a traffic study estimated to cost $20,000 would be completed on Homestead Drive.
• There be not be more than three full service restaurants constructed in the retail half of the project with the largest not more than 4,500-square-foot and the total less than 8,000-square-foot and the combined seating of all three cannot be greater than 240 inside with an additional 100 outside during the warmer months. Also, there cannot be any live music from 10 to 3 p.m.
Milstein said she voted no because there were sidewalks still on the table on Spring Street and that would not help the neighbors in the immediate area of Hoffman’s Playland.
A number of people living on Homestead Drive spoke against the project and the increased traffic it would bring to the already congested Route 9 corridor.
Aimee McKane, a resident of Homestead, presented a petition with 26 signatures asking for a number of traffic improvements along Homestead Drive and near its intersection with Route 9 to help offset fears of more traffic once the development is up and running.
She and other residents spoke of speeding cars using their residential street, along with Maxwell Road and Fiddlers Lane, as a cut through from Route 9 over to Watervliet Shaker Road. They pointed to a study done by the town that found more than half of the vehicles traveling on the road were going faster than the 30 mph speed limit.
“Homestead Drive has seen a huge increase in traffic volume in the past few years which has also led to a huge increase in speeding violations, traffic accidents, personal property damage accidents, and distracted driving on the street putting the residents of Homestead Drive at risk,” according to the
Wendy Holsberger, a traffic engineer with VHB hired by the developers of Hoffman’s, said the project, at most, would add two trips during the morning peak hours and five trips during the afternoon hours.
“The concerns are there is already existing traffic but our job is to look at the impacts from this site and we are not seeing it as a big impact,” she told the Planning Board. “Homestead is used as more of a cut through and that won’t change with this site.”
Some of the improvements residents are asking for include not allowing vehicles to enter Homestead from Fiddlers Lane, stop signs along Homestead, a right turn only from Homestead onto Route 9 and allow only right turns out of the south exit of Newton Plaza onto Route 9.
Joe Grasso, the town designated engineer for the project, said a comprehensive traffic study should be completed before any modifications are made to the flow of traffic along Homestead.
Towards that end is the $20,000 of public benefit money that will be used to hire a traffic engineer to conduct a study. That will happen when, or if, the Town Board approves the PDD and accepts the overall public benefit of $500,000. If it does, the traffic study will be done as the project moves its way through the rest of the process which includes concept acceptance and site plan review.
One resident, Amy Sternstein, who lives on Ashley Drive, located behind the Hoffman’s Playland site, was concerned about the wetlands located on the west end of the project site.
Grasso said storm water management on any project built in New York state is self-contained and by design will not allow runoff where it is not intended. There may be some runoff into the wetlands, he said, but it will be quantified and released to keep the wetlands wet.
Tuesday marked the fourth time the project had come before the Planning Board seeking a positive recommendation to the Town Board.
Last month, the board voted 3-2 to not forward a recommendation with Heider, who was absent at the last meeting, voting to give it a positive recommendation. Milstein was absent and there was one vacancy.
Tom Burke, who owns several Dunkin’ Donuts franchises, first proposed the project in June, 2019. He would build and manage the 26,0000-square-foot retail section along Route 9 and SageLife, a Pennsylvania-based company, would manage the senior housing section which includes 85 beds of independent living beds and 92 assisted living beds, including 20 for seniors needing memory care. Rent would start at $3,000 a month for independent living apartments and increase to $6,000 a month for memory care.
It would have 414 parking spots with 134 being under the senior housing buildings.
There were concerns about the town supporting such high end senior housing, and concerns were voiced on Tuesday about the success of a large retail center in town when others have failed. The Planning Board, though, does not make decisions on what the free market can or cannot support.
Since it was first proposed the project’s footprint shrunk by 7 percent and the overall size of the building shrunk by 13 percent.
While traffic along Route 9 and the side streets off Route 9 do remain an issue, the other uses that already fit into the existing 8.5 acres of Neighborhood Commercial Office Residential zoned land — like a 140,000-square-foot office or medical arts building, convenience stores or 37 single family homes — would generate many more trips.
A PDD is necessary because the project would far exceed the allowable density but senior housing does generate less traffic than other commercial endeavors. An ODA is necessary because the site will be bifurcated and the back half, the senior housing half, will not have direct access to a public thoroughfare.
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 yet to be installed traffic light if traffic is too thick to make an unassisted left hand turn onto Route 9.
The land was owned by the Hoffman family for some 90 years and for 62 years they ran the wildly popular amusement park on the site. It was closed in 2014 and David Hoffman said he had been searching for a suitable project that will fit into what has already been developed along Route 9.