#Delmar #MultiFamilyHousing #TriCapitalRealty #SpotlightNews
BETHLEHEM—An application to rezone more than 20 acres on Rockefeller Road, next to Good Samaritan Lutheran Home in Delmar, has once again met with resistance from Town Board members.
The application, submitted by Tri Capital Realty, has requested the zoning change in order to build more than 60 multi-family residential units in an area zoned for freestanding single-family homes only.
The project was in front of the Town Board last summer, with a plan that called for 78 total units—50 apartments and 24 townhomes. After a number of requested changes were made, it was referred to the Planning Board in September. While the applicant was responding to concerns and requested changes from the Planning Board and town Planning Department staff, the application exceeded the 120-day review period to be sent the application back to the Town Board (per §128-40 C. (6) of the Town Zoning Law Planned Development District).
On Wednesday, May 9, town planning staff recommended that the Town Board reaffirm consideration of the application in order to effectively restart the review period on the proposal, which now consists of 68 total units—46 apartments (in 14 or 18 buildings) and 22 townhomes.
“Proposed plans were not submitted until February 2018, and no time extension was requested by either the Planning Board or applicant,” reads the recommendation. “Staff is aware the applicant was working on responding to Staff and Planning Board comments during the period between October 2017 and the February 2018 submittal.”
According to the Planning Department, Tri Capital and the landowner it represents, TJ Development of West Sand Lake, LLC, have made a series of “significant” modifications to the original proposal at the request of town officials. Those changes, however, were clearly not enough to convince Town Board members to reaffirm the application without seeing even more substantial changes to the project, which has proven unpopular with neighboring residents from the beginning.
Seven residents spoke during the May 9 Town Board meeting, opposing the project for a number of reasons: its size; a proposed access point on Pine Tree Drive in a neighboring single-family residential neighborhood; potential traffic impacts; and for its lack of “public benefit,” which is one of the criteria for PDD approval. Former board member Doris Davis was among the project’s opponents, criticizing the proposal for providing an inadequate community benefit. Another was concerned about property values being negatively impacted.
Two residents spoke in favor of more multi-family dwellings in Bethlehem, one of whom was in favor of the project generally. Both cited aging residents and family members who have experienced difficulty finding affordable and accessible living solutions in Bethlehem when the time comes to move out of their single-family homes.
Town Supervisor David VanLuven repeatedly referred to preservation of neighborhood character and said that he thought the size of the buildings, as well as their proximity to each other, was unquestionably uncharacteristic of the surrounding neighborhoods. He criticized the designated open space included in the plan, arguing that it couldn’t provide much public benefit as it wraps around the proposed structures and isn’t in a larger contiguous block. He also wondered whether it wouldn’t make more sense to connect through Good Samaritan to the northeast, as that property already accommodates multi-residential units, than to utilize Pine Tree Drive as an access to the proposed development.
Other board members were also critical of the density and allotment of open space, as well as the type of land being preserved. There were a couple of questions about an alternate plan that would not require rezoning and would place approximately 46 single-family homes on a larger portion of the 21.12 acres.
“We spent a lot of time reviewing the Comprehensive Plan and the PDD guidelines,” said Jared George, a principal at Tri Capital, who became visibly frustrated at points. He enumerated ways he felt the proposal was compatible with the plan and provided public benefits: fewer units per acre than recommended by the plan; more than a third of the property committed to open space; new sidewalks; a dog park; the location of the development; diversity of housing; and length of construction time. He agreed that the connection to Pine Tree Drive is unnecessary and said repeatedly that all access points could be on Rockefeller.
“I respect your opinion,” he said to the board. “I’m just trying to understand why, in June, we had a collective referral to the Planning Board when the project didn’t look like this at all. And I truly believe that we listened and that we really dug in and we improved the plan greatly. So I’m just trying to understand.”
“I was not on the board in June, so I did not vote for the PDD,” said board member Maureen Cunningham. “So I guess that’s just the nature of politics. The longer things go on, you’re not going to have the same group of people.”
Jim Foster, who was also not on the board in June, said he was also concerned about community character and asked whether the developer would be willing to forego the apartment rental units in favor of building all individually-owned townhomes.
“We looked at that,” said George. “But we looked at the comprehensive plan and this is what it calls for.” While he said they would consider increasing the number of townhomes, he seemed reluctant to remove the apartments altogether. “We could maybe look at changing the ratio of owner-occupied versus luxury rentals,” he said, before criticizing the “stigma” against apartments and rental units.
Saying he was unconcerned about rental versus owner-occupied, VanLuven said he would like to see different connection points, more contiguous green space and smaller or fewer buildings. “It’s just too much the way it is right now,” he said.
Ultimately, the Town Board chose not to reaffirm the application—and thus refer it back to the Planning Board—until the developer returns with a plan that reflects the concerns that were raised during the 90-minute conversation.
“Given where we are,” said VanLuven, “I think it will save you a lot of time and it will save everyone a lot of time if you go back and digest what we’ve said and take a look and see if you think you can do a PDD that will meet the concerns and expectations of the board.”
George agreed to revisit the plan. “We’d really appreciate it if we could come before you again in a timely fashion,” he said.