The Shaker Wash House is one of a handful of buildings on the West Family property that holds historical significance to the Town of Colonie. Photo by Shakerheritage.org
COLONIE — The developers responsible for the apartments slated for the West Family portion of the Watervliet Shaker National Historic District have reached an agreement with the Shaker Heritage Society regarding how the historic land will be maintained going forward with the project.
The five buildings on that property, which are the 1827 Dwelling House, or the Bell House, the 1825 Brethren’s Shop, the 1820s Granary, the barn and storage shed and the 1839 Wash House, are part of the 770-acre Watervliet Shaker National Historic District, according to Starlyn D’Angelo, executive director of the Shaker Heritage Society.
Gordon Commercial Development has plans to build 126 rental homes on the property at 957 Watervliet Shaker Road. The project, which will feature buildings that look similar to the other Shaker buildings on the property so as to keep the history intact, is still going through the approval process with the town planning board. Costs for the project were not immediately available, but Jared George, a spokesman for Gordon, has high hopes for the project.
“We’re very anxious to get approval so we can start meeting with contractors,” George said. “It’s going to be a fun project.”
The Shaker Heritage Society in Colonie has been working closely with Gordon to find a way to best maintain the historical value of the area, while also preparing for the development. D’Angelo said that they’ve been providing historical expertise and support to Gordon, while working through the approval process. D’Angelo said it requires a “herculean” effort to make sure the historical sites are preserved, and that she is astounded at the frequency at which cultural heritage is destroyed.
“It’s the most historic site in Colonie, and we could even argue in the whole area,” D’Angelo said of the Shaker land. However, D’Angelo conceded that if the land absolutely had to be used for development, the society would rather see it turned into something the community can benefit from, as opposed to office buildings.
All of the measures to maintain the Shaker land that Gordon Development will take going forward were outlined in a letter to the Colonie Planning Board. One provision says that Gordon will maintain the structural integrity of the five buildings on the property.
Gordon will not make modifications to any of the Shaker buildings prior to the project being reviewed by the Shaker Heritage Society. Around the new apartment complexes, Gordon will work with the heritage society to create signs that provide information about the Shaker buildings, and the developers will also be responsible for designing a path that links all the Shaker buildings. According to the letter, “Gordon will pay for content development (provided by SHS or a mutually agreed upon consultant), design, fabrication and installation of the signs. A specific project budget and timeline will be approved by SHS and Gordon.”
The words “Shaker” and “West” will be included in the name of the new apartment buildings. There will also be a community garden.
Gordon will also allow the heritage society to go into the Shaker buildings on the land and document the current conditions of the structures using photographs and written descriptions. There will be limited public access to the historic buildings, and the society will have to contact Gordon a minimum of 30 days prior to any tour.
D’Angelo said that it is beneficial that Gordon is allowing the public access, however limited.
“It was really great to see that Gordon was able to work with us,” D’Angelo said.
Even though D’Angelo said that Gordon provided a lot of concessions, the society would have liked the continued ability to see the Shaker buildings from the road. Now, they will be blocked by the apartment buildings. The society has limited funds and, according to D’Angelo, they will need more support from the community if they want to accomplish more preservation.
More information about the Shaker Heritage Society may be found at shakerheritage.org.