BETHLEHEM – Planning Board member Leah Farrell received a round of applause from residents during the Sept. 20 board meeting after she expressed reservations about a proposed apartment complex on Delaware Avenue in Delmar.
More than 500 residents have signed a petition opposed to the prospect of a two-building, 16-unit development on approximately 1.6 acres in the neighborhood of Elsmere Elementary School.
Before the board began discussing plans to build the apartment complex at 224 Delaware Ave. with the project developer, 11 residents and one lawyer took advantage of the public comment period to express their opposition to the proposal. Two other speakers voiced concern about a potential plan to build a six-unit apartment building at 267-268 Delaware Ave. that is in earlier stages of the plan approval process. No decision was made that night, other than to table the project pending more information, but there was much discussion of development on that section of the road, which some residents feel is developing too quickly and in undesirable ways.
The petition cited a number of reasons, many of which were echoed by those who spoke on the matter: the privacy of the residents of the single-family homes surrounding the property; number of planned apartments; traffic flow and access for emergency and fire vehicles; pedestrian and, more specifically, student safety; noise generation; aesthetics; and the general character of the neighborhood, which many seem to feel is being threatened.
“When we moved here in 1958,” said a resident named Rita, “we did so because of the quaintness and charm of our lovely neighborhood.” She blamed town zoning laws for a recent uptick in commercial development. “Some of my past neighbors have come back and visited me, and they have decried the area that they used to live in, saying it looks like Central Avenue in Albany. Delaware Avenue in front of our property looks like a strip mall.” Rita said she was concerned about falling property values and about declining quality of life in the neighborhood.
Another resident who lives behind Elsmere Elementary School echoed those sentiments. She and her husband, she said, signed the petition because of “how much we love our neighborhood, and how much we like the character of Delmar. And if you build too much more without thinking about it and without planning it correctly, it is going to look like Central Avenue in Albany or going out to Colonie.”
A former fire chief spoke about concerns regarding access for emergency responders, as the proposal places the buildings back from the street, with a narrow driveway leading to a larger parking lot. A lawyer representing neighboring residents stood up to request that the board address the issues raised by and require a traffic study before referring the plan to other state and county agencies for review. And a Selkirk resident who is moving to the neighborhood said he chose the area because of its character, and asked the board to consider a “much more scaled down version” of the project. Other concerns raised by residents involved water resources, drainage, snow removal and the number of vehicular accidents that occur along that stretch of Delaware Avenue.
When the board addressed the agenda item later that evening, members commended the property developer, Quality Holdings, LLC, for addressing certain preliminary issues such as sightlines to neighboring yards and landscaping concerns, but were ultimately unconvinced that enough questions had been answered and elected to table the project and forward the proposal and other information to interested state and county agencies, who will provide additional feedback and insight regarding things such as traffic impact and emergency response.
Generally speaking, said Farrell, the town is in need of more diverse housing options, and the comprehensive plan reflects an intention to find ways to address that need. Even so, she said that, while the developer has made progress since the last proposal, she doesn’t feel that it’s ready for approval until more has been done to address the residents’ concerns—provoking applause from those in attendance.
“We have seen some good projects from you,” she told the developer, “in terms of infill and density—so I would like to see this project go somewhere else.”
Board member Kate Powers raised the question of installing a traffic light somewhere along that stretch of Delaware Avenue as a way to ease some of the congestion and difficulty making left-hand turns. Bethlehem senior planner Ken Kovalchik agreed that corridor “has long been an issue,” and offered that the town will be conducting a grant-funded study on that stretch of road to see what can be done to alleviate the problem. Possibilities he mentioned included a center left-turn lane or the installation of a median “pedestrian refuge,” so that pedestrians do not have to cross four lanes of traffic at once. (He added that he doubted a traffic light would be the solution.) “We expect to introduce that project to the town board at a meeting in October, to give them a sense of what the goals of the study will be and what they should expect to receive.”
“It’s great that the neighborhood is joining together and voicing their opinion,” said Board Member Thomas Coffey to the 30-plus residents in attendance that night. “That’s what people are supposed to do at forums like this—to tell us what you want to see in your community.”