COLONIE — Despite a scaled back design, and Planning Board members saying they liked the idea of it, there was no action taken on a more than 100,000-square-foot Galleria at Loudonville at the former Hoffman’s amusement park on Route 9.
The development team of the mixed use retail and senior housing project made about an hour long presentation to the Planning Board on Tuesday, June 11 asking it recommend the Town Board change the zoning from the existing Neighborhood Commercial Office Residential to a Planned Development District, which allows for greater density than the current zoning permits.
Without taking a vote, though, the Planning Board, after more than an hour of discussion and hearing from a handful of residents, sent them back to the drawing board to work out a number of issues including the size of the project, access onto and off of the already busy Route 9 and the public benefit automatically attached to any PDD.
The move, or lack thereof, came as a surprise to some given the developers first introduced the plan late last year and appeared to have the blessing of town officials including Supervisor Paula Mahan, who said previously she would like to see something in sync with the Village at New Loudon located directly to the north of the Hoffman’s site. That has upscale retail along Route 9 and residential apartments in the back.
The original proposal, made by Thomas Burke, the owner of several Dunkin’ Donut franchises, included 245 beds for seniors now has a total of 204 beds. The number of independent living beds in a four-story building went from 144 to 112, down 22 percent. And the number of assisted living beds in a three-story building at the rear of the site, the furthest away from Route 9, shrunk from 101 to 92.
The three buildings’ overall footprint on the 8.4 acres of land would shrink by 7 percent to 100,675 square feet. The developers are asking for 343 parking spots with 175 of them located underneath the residential buildings. According to town code, there is a required 365 parking spots so the developers need a waiver for less and justified it by saying many seniors do not have two cars.
Since the residential units are not located along a public road, the developers also need permission for an Open Development Area. Also, they are asking the town for a waiver to allow parking in front of the retail building.
The plan for a 28,800-square-foot two-story building that would front Route 9 and include two 400-seat restaurants and 20,000 square feet of “upscale” retail shops remains unchanged. The piazza between the two buildings, that would include greenspace, landscaping and a place to have a picnic or just congregate would also remain basically the same as in the original proposal.
Burke, after the lengthy presentation by his team, took the Planning Board’s decision in stride and said he will meet with his team, answer the board’s concerns and present another iteration of the project.
“I think there are questions that have been asked and answered but they want clarity, and it’s understandable,” he said. “It’s a great project it is absolutely needed in this town and I am confident we will have the full support of the community and the board as we go forward.”
A sketch plan of the project was introduced in January, and between then and the last Planning Board meeting, the developers held a community meeting to discuss the project and answer some concerns voiced by neighbors.
The Pennsylvania-based company with six other senior living facilities in three states would operate the residential section.
Kelly Andress, president of Sage Life, told the Planning Board the apartments would run between $3,000 and $5,000 a month and that includes two meals a day, all utilities and “extensive” programming. Roughly, the buildings will consist of 65 percent one bedroom/den units, 25 percent two bedroom units and 10 percent studio units. To get into an assisted living bed will cost about $4,500, she said. The living room, dining room and sitting rooms will be shared between tenants.
Some on the Planning Board were surprised with the low cost of the apartments but Andress said the scale of the project helps keep the prices down. The same chef, for example, can cook for residents sleeping in all 204 beds or fewer rent-paying tenants if the project gets smaller.
While the apartments were originally slated for those over 62, that age has dropped to 55. But, Andress said the average age of tenants in other facilities is 77.
The public benefit
As part of granting a PDD, the town gets a “public benefit,” which is formulaic but negotiable.
Andrew Brick, an attorney on the development team, said town code, in a Neighborhood, Commercial, Office, Residential zone, would allow 38, 3,000-square-foot single family homes, which would have a dramatically more profound impact on traffic and town infrastructure.
That equals 114,000-square-foot of living space while the proposed senior housing has a total of about 70,000-square-foot, he said. Also, he said, the total number of beds in 38, four-bedroom homes would be 152 compared to 112 beds at the independent living section of the proposed project.
Traffic, always a point of consideration, would be less under the proposal, he said, compared to either the 38 single family homes or other retail establishments like a fast food restaurant or a convenience store. Representatives of both have expressed an interest in purchasing the Hoffman site.
“We think, at the very outset, when you compare what we could have under the NCOR and what we are proposing it is a public benefit,” Brick said. “But, we recognize that doesn’t go far enough.”
He said to satisfy the public benefit of the PDD application, the developers would build 1,000 feet of sidewalk along Aviation Road that would connect two other sidewalks and give pedestrians the ability to walk from Colonie Center to the Cap Com building.
Joe Grasso, the Town Designated Engineer on the project, said sidewalks with an integrated curb and drainage costs about $200 per foot to build, while a more basic sidewalk is about $100 per foot.
Brick said the developers would also kick in another $100,000 to the town to use at its discretion.
Some members of the Planning Board, though, were not impressed.
“I don’t think any of us ever vote on the financial aspect of a project but part of the PDD is a public benefit, and what you are proposing for a public benefit, certainly compared to the scale of this project, is insufficient and I would not be in favor of making a positive recommendation to the Town Board based on that,” said board member Craig Shamilan.
Peter Stuto, chair of the Planning Board, recommended the developers talk to the supervisor’s office about modifying the public benefit.
Wendy Holzberger, a traffic engineer with Creighton Manning, said the state Department of Transportation is satisfied with the proposed two curb cuts, which is half of the number of access points onto the busy stretch of Route 9 that is there now.
All told, the project would generate some 60 additional trips during the morning peak hours and 180 trips during the afternoon. Broken out, during the afternoon, the proposed restaurants would generate 77 trips, retail is projected to generate 50 trips, senior apartments would generate 27 trips and the assisted living another 26 additional cars.
“The two driveways are suitable and they agree we do not have to do any off site mitigations,” she said of the DOT.
Another positive is a shared access with the Village at New Loudon, which will soon be getting a traffic light at the intersection of Route 9 and Winter Creek Boulevard. The location of that access point, though is questionable to some on the Planning Board given its proximity to the existing Dunkin’ Donut drive through but developers say they are limited to where it can because of elevation differences between the two sites.
The developers are working on a plan to share access with New Loudon Plaza to the south.
• John Grant, an architect for GSX Ventures, one of the developers of the site, said the exterior of the four-story independent living building would be made out of brick, stone and other natural products. It would also be built in the shape of an arc to make it more attractive and given that the land slopes away from Rout 9 and the two-story retail building it would not be seen by vehicles on Route 9.
“It’s not just housing for seniors, but there is retail and there are retail centers to the north and south so it’s not just housing,” he said. “It gives you a walkable community.”
Some on the Planning Board were not convinced with the building’s appearance, but did acknowledge it is too soon in the process to consider things like architectural appeal.
“To me it looks like a dormitory. Can you do something with the roof?” asked boad member Brian Austin. “It looks contemporary. It’s nice but it doesn’t fit in with the character of the Loudonville neighborhood.”
• The project has been moved 50 feet from the existing wetlands on the west end of the project but discussions are continuing with the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Conservation, said Nick Costa, an engineer on the project.
• One resident, Amy Sternstein, was concerned about whether or not she would be able to see the building from her home on Ashley Drive, which runs roughly parallel to Route 9.
Donald Zee, an attorney for the developers, said they will meet with the TDE to work out some technical issues and return to the board. But, he stressed, time is a factor since the Hoffman’s have offers on the table from places like Cumberland Farms and McDonald’s, both of which are a permitted use and would have more of an impact.
“We ran the amusement park for over 40 years and created some wonderful family memories and it was something we were very proud of,” Dave Hoffman told the board. “It has taken us five years to get to this point. We have been approached by several fast food restaurants and convenience stores but we didn’t want that. We wanted something that would be a legacy for our family and something the Town of Colonie would be proud of and I think we are on the right track.”