A resident raises his hand to speak at a recent Planning Board Meeting (Photo by Jim Franco/Spotlight News)
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COLONIE — The town Planning Board is exploring uncharted territory on two fronts.
The first, called a “board update,” requires a developer with a project that has not gotten final approval from the Planning Board to come before both the Board and the public to keep everyone abreast of any updates to that particular project.
In this case, Frank Nigro, appeared in front of both parties to share the latest information about his project, The Summit at Forts Ferry.
This interim meeting, called between basic acceptance of a project – which means the board likes the concept but still has questions and concerns regarding the specifics of how it will all come together – and the final stamp of approval allowing the developer to start construction, took place on Tuesday, May 18.
“Everyone who wants to speak is welcome to speak but we would like to concentrate the comments on what is being discussed tonight and not the project in totality,” said Craig Shamlian, who was acting as chairman in the absence of Chair Peter Stuto. “Otherwise these board updates are not going to be conducted. The sole purpose is to foster communication during this process.”
While the second first has not yet been scheduled, it entails a live test run of a fuel tanker truck entering a now vacant lot from Fuller Road and exiting onto Katherine Road. The truck will need to follow a path as if the proposed Stewart’s Shop and six gas pumps were already built.
A number of residents came to the May 18 meeting to speak against the project. One man, Theodore, a truck driver for 27 years who lives in the neighborhood, said there is no way to make the turn without going up and over the curb onto the property across Katherine and causing a safety hazard.
When the test will be performed and who will drive the truck have not yet been set, however the Planning Board has invited the public, town officials and representatives from Stewart’s to attend.
Usually, computer models are used to determine if there is room for a vehicle to maneuver any plotted course.
“I really don’t have any say about what the Planning Board does,” said Supervisor Paula Mahan, who usually doesn’t speak at the board meetings. “My job is to be neutral but it is also my job to make sure residents are as safe as possible, so, I think, before you move forward, you have to know if trucks can get in and out of there.”
While Mahan said she would not be driving the truck, she would be on hand to witness the demonstration.
The Summit — a 30,000-square-foot, two story office building and a three-story, 62-unit apartment building for seniors built on 13 acres of land — was given concept acceptance in March. The project is headed towards final acceptance, as it appears all legal action has been exhausted.
Residents did show up at the “board update” to hear Michael Tucker, an engineer working for Nigro, explain the latest revisions that include moving the driveway on Forts Ferry Road south so as to limit the impact of headlights on the home across the road, and a more residential look for the office buiding. To accomplish that, there will now be a peaked roof rather than a flat roof and the height of the eaves will shrink from 28 feet to 20 feet.
Also, as per the board request, the side of the building facing Forts Ferry Road will look more like the front of the building to be more aesthetically pleasing.
The long disputed buffer between the project and the residential homes along Omega Terrace, Catalina Drive and Harrowgate Way was discussed and Tucker brought enlarged photos from the yards of neighbors to give them an idea of what they will be looking at.
Ideas from the Planning Board include planting evergreen trees along the 100-foot buffer which many still think should be up to 300 feet, and having the garages along the buffer sided with material that will blend into the landscape.
John Drake, the vice president of the West Latham Neighborhood Association who lives on Catalina Drive, wants the residents to have a say in what is planted or built along their backyards.
“How do we have involvement of the neighbors before we get to the final review?” he asked. “How do we encourage that discussion so we can come here as a neighborhood with at least an understanding and hopefully in alignment in support with what is being proposed?”
Town Attorney Michael Maggiulli said he would be happy to foster that communication between the developer and the West Latham Neighborhood Association President Eric Smith.
“We will submit a full landscaping proposal for both the Planning Department and Planning Board review and in the context of that, once they are at a point and ready for review we will be happy to sit down with the neighbors and review with them concurrently and to the extent possible incorporate their comments,” said an attorney for Nigro, Mary Beth Slevin.
Other concerns were storm water, which the town has said will not get any worse with this project. However, town officials cannot, in good conscience nor legally, force the developer to address existing problems outside the project’s boundaries.
One resident asked about lowering the individual floor ceiling heights, and another wanted a berm built on the project’s side of the buffer.
While the project is in compliance with current zoning, and is substantially smaller than what could be built on the site, some residents maintain it is just too large and will have too big of an impact on the surrounding, already busy intersection.
Stewart’s Shops wants to build a 3,726-square-foot store and three dispenser points with six gas pumps. As proposed, there is just one entrance and exit on Fuller Road and an exit with no right turn onto Katherine Road.
The original plan, said Stewart’s representative Chris Potter, involved a 3,970-square-foot shop with one entrance and exit curb cut onto Fuller Road and one exit only curb cut onto Katherine Road. However, Albany County strongly discouraged having more than one curb cut onto Fuller Road.
The current proposal in front of the Planning Board has one entrance/exit curb cut from Fuller Road and an exit only driveway onto Katherine Road with only left hand turns allowed to keep traffic out of the neighborhood.
The original proposal, long since abandoned, called for the construction of a 1,500-square-foot rental building and eight pumps with four dispenser points.
It also calls for the demolition of the now vacant former Fuller Road House building and the structure at the intersection of Fuller and Katherine roads.
The current proposal is now within the town’s current zoning parameters.
In addition to fuel tankers being able to safely make the left turn onto Katherine Road, residents living in the vicinity of the site are concerned with the health and fiscal impacts of living next to a gas station, traffic in their neighborhood and lights and noise coming from the convenience store that is typically open seven days a week from 4:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
“This is not your usual Stewart’s with the Northway and I-90 and Railroad Avenue right there. This is going to be a busy place,” said an emotional Terri Haywood who has a home on Katherine Road. “We have worked hard to maintain our little homes on our little street and we are not going to get back what we put into them when we are living across the street from a gas station.
“They may have the legal right to build there but what about the moral right? All lives matter more than a CEO and putting more money in his pocket.”
“I’m begging you not to do this,” said Jane Higgins. “This is our home. This is where we go after work and you are taking that away from us.”
There was some debate over whether residents could get Federal Housing Authority insurance –which could assist with re-sale or prevent it from happening if it was not available — with gas pumps being built so close. Residents say it is not available but Stewart’s attorney Paul Goldman said it is more a case of disclosing it properly.
Gas fumes and their impact on the health of residents was also a concern and the Planning Board requested Stewart’s explore the possibility of controlling the vapor when filling the underground tanks.
Also, the board asked Stewart’s to see if it could possibly limit the hours it will be open for business.
“My bedroom will be 125 feet from the gas pumps,” said Steven Geurds. “I don’t want to wake up at 4:30 a.m. and I don’t want to smell gas when I have my windows open.”
The structural integrity of Katherine Road was also brought into question as to whether or not it can handle tanker trucks. Potter, the Stewart’s rep, said the company will completely re-build the section of road along Stewart’s property.
One resident spoke in favor of the project, citing how many vacant buildings there are on and around Fuller Road and how new Stewart’s has a shop just down the road but it is an anomaly in that it is not a stand alone business and there is very limited parking. Potter said it is one of the most under-performing of all Stewart’s stores.
“It is zoned for commercial use but we need to look at the existing conditions and there are some issues,” said board member Brian Austin. “I think the truck demo is a great idea and Stewart’s is known for being sensitive to the neighbors.”
In the end, the board voted 4-1 to grant concept acceptance with Susan Milstein voting against. Stewart’s will participate in the truck demonstration, look at the possibility of cutting back hours and will explore vapor recovery systems before it is granted final approval, according to the board consensus.
There will likely be a “board update” after the yet to be scheduled truck demonstration.