A crowd of people at the Colonie Planning Board meeting on March 20 (Jim Franco/Spotlight News)
COLONIE – The Planning Board, by a 4-3 vote, approved the concept of constructing a 30,000-square-foot, two-story office building and a three-story, 62-unit apartment building for seniors on Tuesday, March 20.
Concept acceptance, though, does not mean the developer, the Nigro Group can break ground. And this particular vote came with the caveat of the Planning Board holding an interim meeting to discuss aspects of the project most concerning to the more than two dozen residents in attendance before final approval is granted.
Board Chair Peter Stuto and members Steven Heider, Louis Mion and Brian Austin voted to grant concept acceptance, while members Kathleen Dalton, Craig Shaliman and Susan Milstein voted instead to table the measure until the May meeting.
“I think we should table this today while we wait for the other board, the Zoning Board of Appeals, and not take action until they have made a decision on whether or not the zoning in this area is appropriate and meets all of the regulations,” she said after making a motion to table the issue. “I am not prepared to vote tonight.”
That motion failed by a 4-3 vote and it was followed by vote to grant concept.
“I think the engineers have done a good job bringing it back to work with us and work with the neighbors and I think with everything we discussed tonight to make it better, we will make it a better project,” said Mion. “We are here tonight to vote on concept, and it doesn’t mean it is final, it means we agree with the concept and we can move forward. Based on that, I’m ready to vote on concept.”
The residents are most concerned with traffic, storm water runoff, the location of the driveway on Forts Ferry Road, screening between the project and the residential backyards, the height of the buildings and the architectural design of the buildings.
Simply many residents think the project is just too big for the 13-plus acres of land surrounded on three sides by single-family homes along Harrogate Way, Omega Terrace and Catalina Drive.
The project as designed is within the parameters of the existing zoning and the town Building Department did issue a permit based on that. Earlier this month, the West Latham Neighborhood Association challenged the validity of that permit based on the belief there is a 300-foot buffer rather than the existing 100-foot buffer.
The Zoning Board of Appeals will address that appeal, but Kathleen Marinelli, an attorney for the Planning Board, said while that is being decided, the process, such as the board addressing concept acceptance, can continue.
The land has a history dating to at least 2006. John Drake, vice president of the West Latham Neighborhood Association, encapsulated it for the Planning Board.
He said the buffer was changed to 300 feet in 2006 and that discussion included representatives from the town, the land owner and residents in the surrounding neighborhoods. It was formally adopted, he said, in early 2007.
But, Supervisor Paula Mahan and her administration say they could not find any record of the buffer being formally changed. In addition, there have been court rulings stating the buffer is the same as other part of town between lands zoned Residential and Office Residential – 100 feet.
“The Town of Colonie was not able to find, neither in the Town Board meeting notes nor the Spotlight articles from 2006 and 2007, anything regarding the buffer and they chose to remove the buffer without any communication to or notification of the adjacent property owners,” he said. “There have been many actions taken since then but as the appeal states, the local law and zoning map established in 2007 supersede any action taken over the past six years. Based upon this we believe this project is not zoning compliant since the project clearly infringes on the buffer established in 2007.”
Once the administrative avenues are exhausted, the neighborhood group can bring formal litigation, again.
“The court decision governs what the applicable buffer area is, and in this case it is 100 feet,” said Mary Beth Slevin, an attorney for Nigro. “We will make sure it is respected. When we had discussions with the neighbors we indicated we wanted to make sure there is appropriate buffering and that it is attractive to the neighborhood and the community.”
The original incarnation of The Summit was a 110-unit apartment building for seniors, and the Nigro Group requested a Planned Development District to bypass the OR zoning designation and allow for more density. The neighbors thought it was too big and the developer pulled the project.
Under an OR zone, a project can have all commercial, or office, but not all residential without getting a waiver.
If pushed to the max under the existing zoning regulations, Nigro could build a 235,000-square-foot office building on the if he so chose.
In October, 2017, Nigro proposed a 47,000-square-foot, three-story office building and an 87,000-square-foot, three-story, 62-unit apartment building. It did fall within the parameters of the current zoning requirements. That too met with neighborhood opposition.
Two months later, he presented three possible construction scenarios to the board and settled on the current proposal of building a 30,000-square-foot office building and 62 units of residential housing designed for seniors.
It is projected that between 84 and 85 people older than 55 will live in the apartment building and between 100 and 150 will work in the office building.
Traffic at the already congested intersection of Forts Ferry Road and Wade Road Extension, and the even more congested intersection of Troy Schenectady and Wade roads was brought up by the neighbors.
Data provided by Wendy Holsberger, a traffic engineer with Creighton Manning, said at most there will be an additional 59 more cars during the morning rush hour and 63 during peak afternoon time. Not enough to significantly increase congestion at either intersection.
Storm water is an issue in the neighborhoods, and residents are worried about it getting worse. But, Joe Grasso, the town designated engineer on the project, said it will be a wash because the developer of an adjacent site is not required to address existing conditions, and the problems are not being generated from the site in question.
Neighbors, though are frustrated with not just this project, but what has sprouted up in recent years including Latham Farms, the Target complex, two hotels, a medical arts facility and many smaller businesses.
“Our families and neighbors have adjusted to all this with few complaints but there comes a point when you, as members of the Planning Board, have to ask yourselves ‘would I want this as a view from my backyard.’” Said Cindy Methe, a 25-year resident of Omega Terrace. “Please consider how you and your family would feel with all this development and now there is more in the works right in your backyard. How would you feel, after 25 years of ownership, if you were facing a drop in the value of your home.”