An aerial photo of the location of the proposed new headquarters for Northwestern Mutual with Whitney Road to the left, Bailey Road to the right, Route 7 on the bottom.
COLONIE — The building is smaller and the buffer is bigger but questions about access still remain and the Planning Board on Tuesday, May 28 voted against granting concept acceptance to a new headquarters for Northwestern Mutual on Troy-Schenectady Road.
This is the third time John Hodorowski, of J Luke Construction, brought the idea to construct the building on 2.7 acres of land between Whitney Road and Bailey Avenue. The first iteration included a three-story, 50,000-square-foot building. The latest features a three-story, 40,500-square-foot building with 183 parking spots including 37 underground.
The original plan called for the building to be located at 57 feet from Route 7 while this one would back it up to 71 feet and the buffer around the existing neighborhood would increase to 30 feet from 15 feet and include two rows of pine trees and a vinyl fence.
How best to get in and out of the site, though, dominated the nearly 90 minute discussion. As proposed, there is a full access drive off Route 7 with an exit only along an existing service road to Whitney Road, where there is a stop light on Route 7. There is another access to the service road leading to Bailey.
Heather Wyld, the town designated engineer from Clough Harbor Associates, said the state Department of Transportation feels the left onto Whitney from the service road is too close to the intersection with Route 7.
“Everyone agrees that access point is too close to the intersection of Route 7 so we would look to eliminate that entirely,” she said. “I don’t know if you can get that access point further away from the intersection, and if that can’t happen we would be in favor of eliminating it entirely.”
While Hodorowski is under contract to purchase 777 Whitney Road, the owner of 1 Whitney Road, Joseph Hogan, located next door, has so far refused to sell and that is preventing moving the access road from getting moved further away from Route 7.
Luigi Palleschi, of ABD Engineering, said if access to Whitney is eliminated it would force traffic to circle the site from Bailey, onto Audrey and then onto Whitney in order to catch the light and be able to get onto Troy-Schenectady Road, which can get extremely congested depending on the time of day.
It’s an odd configuration along that stretch of Route 7, which is basically across the street from the relatively new State Police barracks. There is a service road running parallel with Route 7 to the west of the site and it is lined with single family homes. The service road does not continue through the site but picks up again just to the east and it is lined with small businesses.
The town owns the service road but it was unclear if the developer has permission to access it as is currently proposed.
Further complicating the matter is the home at 1 Whitney is in the Commercial Office Residential zone while the home next door at 3 Whitney, owned by Phyllis Jevanian, is in a Single Family Residential zone.
Despite the project getting smaller, neighbors were still concerned about its size and fear it will do nothing but increase traffic through the neighborhoods as motorists look to get avoid congestion as they head from Troy-Schenectady Road to points north.
“When the Northway is backed up the traffic increases exponentially,” said John Fahey. “That’s why the streets are so beat up, they are not designed to handle this type of traffic every day.”
Steve Grabedian, who for the time being owns 777 Whitney, said he supports the project.
“I think the land that is there now is an eyesore. It’s overgrown there are all sorts of bugs and rodents that make their way into my backyard,” he said. “The building fits in with the rest of the buildings on Route 7 and I think it is a developer who is trying to address all your concerns.”
But, the main outstanding concern at the end of the meeting was traffic and access to the site.
“We would like access to Whitney Road and make it as direct as we can without people going through the neighborhoods,” said Peter Stuto, chair of the Planning Board. “Mr. Hogan is in a key spot.”
The vote by the Planning Board was 1-6 with Steven Heider the lone member agreeing to concept acceptance.
It is not clear when, or if, the project will come back to the Planning Board.