COLONIE — The Planning Board, after what was at times a contentious, hour and 40 minute discussion, unanimously moved forward a plan to build 79 lots on 103 acres along Denison Road. Six of the lots would be for storm water management and there would be 73 new homes.
A plan to subdivide the wooded lot that has “complex ridge and swale areas” has been talked about for more than two decades. In 2000, 112 lots were proposed and in 2009, the Planning Board granted concept acceptance to a plan to construct 96 lots. Under a traditional subdivision, which allows for two lots per acre, there is enough buildable land for 183 homes.
The latest iteration, a conservation subdivision which allows for smaller lots while keeping more greenspace, was reduced from 80 to 79 lots. It is being proposed by Charlew Construction, of Schenectady, and would be across Denison Road from the Forest Hills subdivision, where homes are being built by the same developer.
Of the roughly 103 total acres, 55 acres would be open space either by design or because the land is unbuildable. The homes would be built roughly in the middle of the site and walking trails would be built around the perimeter in undisturbed wooded land that would also act as a buffer to existing neighborhoods.
There are six acres set aside for a proposed park along Denison, but it has not been decided if they will be private and maintained by a homeowners association or if it will be public and the town will take ownership.
The lots will have a minimum width of 90 feet with an overall square footage running from 11,568 to 66,111 square feet. Homes in the south end of the development would be cottage style while larger, more traditional single family homes would be built on larger parcels on the north side.
There are two proposed points of access, one on Denison an one on Newport Drive. The project is expected to generate 81 during the peak afternoon drive times. Based on that traffic flow, the mitigation fees charged to any developer within a GEIS would be about $233,000, but a final figure has to be negotiated between the Town Board and the developer.
The Planning Board, with three members absent, voted unanimously to grant the project concept acceptance, which means it approves the concept of the project. It will need final site plan approval before construction can begin.
Four people spoke during a public comment period after Andy Brick, an attorney, made a presentation on behalf of Charlew.
Joel Weingarten, president of the Birchwood Lane Neighborhood Association, said the park and trails should be public as per the Albany County Airport Area GEIS. The park, he said, was initially slated for Forrest Hills, but it got kicked over to the latest proposal and questioned whether or not there was enough room given the steep slopes where the park is proposed and the inclusion of an archeologically sensitive site — a stone foundation and well dating back hundreds of years.
He also questioned the designation of protected wetlands on the site and whether or not the Army Corps of Engineers have signed off on what should and should not be disturbed.
“We have always been about the proper and respectful building of property,” he said. “Every landowner does has the right to do what they want with the land they have but we would like for them to do it right and responsible and correctly the first time around instead of having issues and causing problems all over the place.”
Joe Grasso, the Town Designated Engineer for the project, said the town is following the same protocols it has in the past when it comes to wetlands — an outside engineering firm designates the wetlands that are likely federally protected and then submits those findings to the Army Corps of Engineers which accepts or modifies the findings before final site plan approval is granted. If modifications to the site plan are necessary, they are made before final approval is granted, he said.
The final configuration of the park is up in the air, Brick said. There are a few scenarios, one would be to make the park public and the trails that would meander around the perimeter of the site exclusive to residents of the new development. The second would be to make everything public and the third would make everything private. One scenario that would not work because of liability concerns is to keep the park and the trails private and allow the public to use them.
Supervisor Paula Mahan said she is not convinced it is in the town’s best interest to take possession of another park.
“I’m not sure how it went from a park at the site for the neighbors who live there to a public park. Pocket parks were built in the 60s. They are different models. People bought homes and people walked from their homes. They don’t have parking, they are meant for the neighbors who live there,” she said during a rare appearance in front of the Planning Board. “If you open this up to the public, and have parking there, you could have people coming from anywhere to this neighborhood. I’m not so sure, from the town’s perspective, that’s a good idea. And the people who live there will have people from all over walking around their homes and through the property.”
The cost of maintenance and equipment is also a consideration that has not been fully examined, she said.
Brick said the applicant is open to keeping the park private or making it a passive park, which would require less maintenance and oversight, and could make the trails accessible to just the homeowners rather than have the trailheads at the park.
Larry Paleschi, a resident of 58 Denison Road and a retired structural engineer, said he has been coming to Planning Board meetings since the 90s related to development along his road.
“I like the idea of getting a park and it is in the GEIS. I was probably the only one crazy enough to read through that entire document,” he said. “The park might be big enough (on paper) but they are constrained lands, and you can’t walk on those hills, unless you want kids sleigh riding down them onto Denison, which is probably not a good idea.”
He said the buffer around the perimeter of the site “has been in and out over the years” and is happy to see it included in this iteration. He said the tree survey, which only included those 24 inches in diameter and larger, is not enough. Rather, he said, trees 18 inches and larger should be inventoried and if one of that size if cut, two 12-inch trees should be planted as replacements.
“In a lot of ways, this is a good step forward, but it is not where we want to be,” he said, adding something should also be done about flooding next to his house.
As to the trees, Grasso said the size of those under consideration are site specific and since this site is so heavily wooded it was determined that those 24-inches and larger would suffice. He said rather than a clear cut, the location of road and homes would be adjusted to protect the larger trees and incorporate them into the overall site layout.
“We are not clear cutting the development site but trying to save trees throughout the site and shift the lot lines to keep mature trees,” Brick said.
Planning Board member Lou Mion said the two lots on either side of the Denison Road entrance should remain wooded to work as a buffer and Brick said that he would talk to the applicant to see if they could be incorporated somewhere else on the site.
Susan Quine Laurilliard, a founding member of SAVE Colonie, A Partnership for Planning, said the amount of constrained land — land that cannot be developed because it is protected or because of topography challenges — cannot be determined until the Army Corps of Engineers signs off on the amount of protected wetlands. As such, she said, the amount of density cannot be calculated.
She also said the project should not proceed until the Airport GEIS is updated in accordance with the land use and zoning regulations that are the inevitable result of the 2019 town Comprehensive Plan update.
Susan Weber, also a founding member of SAVE Colonie, A Partnership for Planning, said the trees should not be cut because of climate change.
Both gave long presentations, including their resumes, and included accusing the board of prematurely moving ahead with the project that will be detrimental to the neighborhood and the planet as a whole. They were asked repeatedly to narrow their comments to the project at hand by Town Attorney Mike Magguilli and Planning Board Chairman Peter Stuto.
“Are you afraid of what I’m going to say?” Laurilliard asked Magguilli.
“I’m not afraid of anything you will say,” he responded.
“Here is the thing. I just wanted to let people know I am not just some bubble-headed middle-aged woman coming here from my kitchen,” Weber said. “I have a background in the law and I have been treated rather shabbily other times I have been here.”
“I think middle aged people coming here from the kitchen are just as relevant,” Stuto said.
To the inevitable conflict of interest between the owner looking to develop his or her land and the existing neighborhoods Sean Maguire, the director of the Planning and Economic Development Department, said: “There is no fan club for referees or umpires. They have to call balls and strikes and not everyone agrees with those calls. My department has been more accessible and more transparent with information than ever before.”
Grasso, the TDE on this project and a number of others in town, said he sees nothing in the questions or comments that should stop the project from proceeding at this point in the planning process. He reiterated that any adjustments regarding the Army Corps of Engineers determination of wetlands will be made prior to granting final site plan approval.
“There were statements made that we favor the developers and we don’t care about the neighbors which I categorically disagree with,” Stuto said. “In my heart I try to make decisions for what is best for the neighbors but a person with a piece of land does have the right to apply and they have due process as well. Mathematically it makes sense given that less than half the number of lots are being developed and all the acreage being saved as greenspace. I believe in the conservation subdivision concept and think it is appropriately applied here. This is a good project.”