The Town of Colonie held a mediating session on Wednesday, Oct. 26, between the Loudon House project developer Mike Benson and residents who live near the controversial project, so each side could lay out their wants and needs.
The room at the town’s Public Operations Center wasn’t packed, but around 20 residents were able to keep a meeting between them and Benson for a two-and-a-half-hour long mediating session to discuss the future plans of the project and what exactly could be done to satisfy neighbors.
Benson opened the meeting by describing how he originally came across the project and some of the reasons why he believes it can be successful. He discussed how he originally started out on the project with the original developer, Bill Hayes, who abandoned it in 2009.
It is hard to walk away from a project when there is already $3 million invested in it, Benson said to the crowd, and he said he still has a desire to move forward. The past few public meetings he has witnessed were a humbling experience, he said, and during the evening he seemed willing to compromise.
He went over the fact that 64 percent of the site is expected to be green space; said he could do without the building’s decorative cupola, as it was mainly an aesthetic feature; and reduced the size of the project’s 24 units. Benson did say, however, that trying to fund the construction of the project would be difficult.
“Financing for condos is still a difficult endeavor, but I believe we can do it,” Benson said. “Our only option is to complete the project as originally designed.”
Residents came armed with complaints about the project, though. The overall concern seemed to be that if there wasn’t enough demand for the condos and Benson was not able to sell many of them, what would happen to the building?
Benson said he believes there is a market, as many older residents will sometimes divide their time living in Florida and living in Loudonville. He said many of them would like to continue to live in Loudonville, which would make condos a more viable option.
“They’ll have a home and want to sell but they want to continue to live in Loudonville,” Benson said.
The condominiums are expected to be in the $400,000 range, Benson said, but what will ultimately decide the price will be the construction costs that are accrued. He also answered concerns that if the condos don’t work out that he could decide to either sublet or rent out the units like apartments.
“What would prevent them from turning into apartments?” Benson said. “I don’t know the answer to the question from a legal standpoint. I don’t have the ability to build apartments. I abandoned that plan. What remains is to build condos.”
One resident referred to a previous condominium complex he lived in and said that the homeowner’s association he was a part of helped pass a resolution that only allowed owners to live at a residence.
“There was no subletting, only those who previously sublet were grandfathered in,” said Harold Brockman. “You could find eight or 10 Siena students you could lease to and that’s not something I want to happen.”
There were still several complaints raised about lack of notification of any meetings that occurred in 2007, when the project was originally approved. Town Attorney Mike Magguilli said one of the reasons many people did not get notifications about the project and the meetings is because the town’s policy under the current Land Use Law was to send letters to people living within 200 feet of the project’s property line.
“One of the reasons we’re having this meeting tonight is no matter what notice you get, it’s never perfect,” Magguilli said. “Not everyone gets the word. It was suggested to us, and a very good suggestion, to amend the town law to increase the mailing area from 200 feet to 2,000 feet because that’s the scale of the zoning map.”
Benson said that he believes the project could be completed within 10 to 12 months. Magguilli said it isn’t uncommon to hear how long it would take to complete the project without ever hearing what the start date might be.
The building permit on the project has expired, and Benson is working to obtain a new one.
“We’re working on construction drawings to put in position for the new building permit,” Benson said. “We’re six to eight weeks out of permit drawings. During that period of time we’ll be working on financing. … We want to avoid the winter.”