COLONIE — By unanimous decision, the Planning Board gave final approval to a plan to demolish the Elks Lodge off Route 155 and build a 127,500-square-foot, three story building for affordable senior housing.
The plan, introduced by Colonie Senior Services Center Inc. in June, would have 99 units and 162 beds and include a senior center, a wellness center and other common areas. There would be 105 parking spaces built and room for 43 more in case they prove necessary in the future.
The zoning was changed to a Planned Development District to allow more density than current zoning allows and with that comes a payment of $176,700. That number was determined by charging $1,860 per unit. CSSC paid the same when it constructed King Thiel on the adjoining site. But, it paid for 100 units at the existing building and only built 96 so $7,440 was subtracted from the total.
Members of the Elks Lodge 2192 voted to sell the land to CSSC and has merged with the Watervliet Elks, which will be known as the Watervliet-Colonie Elks Lodge 1500. The lodge is located on Fourth Avenue in Watervliet.
Three residents spoke at the meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 30, but were as concerned with the process than the latest building on the site that includes CSSC’s King Thiel building and a cell tower. Another point of contention is maintaining the landscaping that acts as a buffer between their neighborhood.
“This is now a complex. However you want to slice and dice it, this is a giant facility that has been created,” said Russ Sage, a resident of Abedar Lane, a quiet residential street that runs parallel to Elks Lane. “We have an 80-foot toilet brush behind our house. That’s what it looks like. Not a pine tree. Between Thiel 1 and the cell tower, it is an aesthetic impact for Abedar and whatever projects are built on what was 11 elks lane, it should be all encompassing.”
He said there was supposed to be a buffer between the cell tower, which was built in 2020, and while there was landscaping planted it is not working and not being maintained. He fears the same will happen to the landscaping that will act as a buffer between the new building and his neighborhood.
“An aesthetic buffer is not for five years. This neighborhood has been around since 1940,” he said. “We are asking about accountability and not just a rubber stamp that nobody looks at again once the ink is dry.”
Sean Maguire, director of the town Planning and Economic Development Department, said he has not signed off on the cell tower as being complete and there are plans to go out to the site in the spring to see if the planted trees are still alive or if the developer, Verizon, has to replant.
“We will do a final walk through and we will look at the landscaping and if it has to be addressed it will be before we sign off on it,” he said. “Periodically we do look at landscaping when screening and buffers are a concern, and staff knows to keep their eyes open when they are doing site visits. It is not uncommon to go back and bring them back into compliance.”
The board voted 5-0 with one member absent and one who recused because he is a member of the Elks Lodge.
The building was shifted closer to Elks Lane and away from Abedar lane homes since it was first proposed in June, said Dan Hershberg, the engineer who presented the project on behalf of CSSC. Also, more trees, a berm and fencing are planned for between the properties and the long stretch of garage initially proposed is being broken up to help the view shed.
There was also aesthetic modifications to the buildings architecture to make it more appealing than the existing King Thiel building, which opened in 2017.
The new building will have 75 two-bedroom apartments and 24 one-bedroom apartments. CSSC has two other facilities: The Beltrone Living Center on Winners Circle off Wolf Road with 250 units and Sheehy Manor on Cardondelet Drive with 50 units. Beltrone is geared towards “middle income” seniors and houses the CSSC administrative office and the town’s Senior Resources Department.
Rent prices at King Thiel are called “affordable” while at Sheehy Manor they are set for low income seniors. All 396 apartments in the CSSC system are rented, said Executive Director Diane Conroy-LaCivita previously, and there are hundreds on the waiting list and it could take years for a person to get a place.
The new facility will carry the same price range as that offered at King Thiel, which is no more than 20 percent of a person’s income. It is restricted to those 55 and older and residents cannot make more than about $60,000.