COLONIE — The Planning Board is requiring the builder of a Donna Drive subdivision to plant an additional $200,000 worth of trees and shrubs in order to lift a stop work order continue with the project.
Under conditions set down by the board, which met remotely on Tuesday, March 31 Cillis Builders must also keep $100,000 in escrow until the plantings are in and then keep $50,000 in the account for two years to be spent on replacing vegetation that dies during that time.
Cillis can continue building two model homes and the four currently under contract — provided it is accordance with any and all COVID-19 directives from Albany — but can’t build the other 18 until all the vegetation is planted.
The stipulations are stronger than what was recommended by Sean Maguire, head of the Planning and Economic Development Department, and Joe Grasso, the Town Designated Engineer on the project. They wanted a one-year “warranty” and $25,000 left in escrow as collateral.
“I’m not so much concerned about the trees on the street, but the whole reason for this is to have trees along the back of the homes,” said Planning Board member Louis Mion. “Instead of a year, we should be looking at two years. After the second year we will know if they are going to make it or not. Two years from the time they plant it and they can’t do anything until all the trees are planted. Also, I would like to see $50,000 in escrow instead of $25,000 to ensure we have money to put the trees back if they die.”
While the town did not levy a fine on Cillis for cutting trees and grading land where it was prohibited from doing so, it still faces a violation for allegedly ignoring a Feb. 12 stop work order by having National Grid on site installing gas lines a day later. Those allegations will be resolved in Town Court and were not addressed by the Planning Board, said Town Attorney Michael Magguilli.
Under the initial proposal, Cillis was to plant an average of four trees per lot. The mitigation plan will require 461 plantings across the site with the majority of them along the rear of the new homes to buffer the existing neighborhoods. Some of the nicer trees, like Maples, will now be required to be larger when planted than originally required. While most of the plantings are in the no-cut, no-grade deed restricted area between the new and existing neighborhoods that circles the site, some of the larger trees will be just outside that area or along the newly installed road.
The town will inspect the landscaping to ensure it is done according to the approved plans before Cillis can continue with the remaining buildings, and again at the end of two years.
Planning Board member Steven Heider said he was in favor of a one year warranty rather than two since most plantings die within a year and was in favor of a $25,000 escrow rather than $50,000. He also said there might be too many plantings along the back side of the new homes and the new plants could either choke each other out or become unsightly — for new homeowners and existing — in a matter of a few years. He did, though, vote in favor of the plan along with the other six members of the board.
There was some discussion on how to enforce the deed restrictions and prevent new homeowners from cutting or grading in the deed restricted zone, which has not changed despite the new plantings.
“The no cut limits are still as the approved plan. There has been work in many areas within those areas but those restrictions are still in place and other than adding these plantings there should not be touched,” TDE Grasso said. “It’s not up to the future landowner to cut them.”
The project was approved in 2019 as a conservation subdivision, which allows smaller lots and more density with the tradeoff being more greenspace. Cillis clear cut and graded land that should have been untouched which led to the stop work order.
Six members of the public participated in the meeting, that was broadcast using the social networking app Zoom, or phoned in their comments. Most were related to specific questions about plantings near their homes.
“We prioritized this meeting for a good reason,” said Planning Board Chairman Peter Stuto. “We wanted the plantings to go in this spring if possible. We wanted to get this finalized so we could get this done this season.”
While there is a plan in place, last week Gov. Andrew Cuomo modified an Executive Order and has deemed most construction projects as non-essential during the COVID-19 pandemic so it remains unclear when Cillis can continue building.
Going forward, Maguire said, the board will continue to utilize remote meetings and may meet once a week rather than once every two weeks to work at the backlog of developers looking for permission to build in town. The meetings, he said, will likely be shorter and may start at 6 p.m. rather than the standard 7 p.m.