AT A REGULAR MEETING OF THE TOWN BOARD OF THE TOWN OF NISKAYUNA DULY CALLED AND HELD ON THE 13TH DAY OF MARCH, 2007, AT THE IROQUOIS MIDDLE SCHOOL, ROSENDALE ROAD, NISKAYUNA, NEW YORK, THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS WERE PRESENT:
LIZ ORZEL KASPER, COUNCILWOMAN
WILLIAM R. CHAPMAN, COUNCILMAN
MARIE P. FREUND, COUNCILWOMAN
DIANE P. O’DONNELL, COUNCILWOMAN
LUKE J. SMITH, SUPERVISOR
Others present: Helen Kopke, Town Clerk; Barbara Nottke, Deputy Town Clerk; Eric Dickson, Town Attorney; Lew Moskiwitz, Chief of Police; Kathy Matern, Town Planner; Stan Fiminski, Police Lieut.; Paul Sebesta, Comptroller; and John Lubrant, Police Lieut.
TOWN CLERK’S BUSINESS
The minutes of the meeting of February 27, 2007 were approved as presented.
PRIVILEGE OF THE FLOOR
Glen Court, Schenectady, read a statement from Angela Mazzone (who she represented) and stated he supported Mr. Roth’s purchase of the Ingersoll Home.
Dean Street, spoke in support of development of Stanford Crossing.
Gardner Avenue, said it was sad to have a historical building destroyed.
Troy Road, spoke against development.
Rosendale Road, stated that the land should be saved and the community should find a creative use.
Dean Street, spoke against the development.
Cayuga, requested the Board vote for an EIS.
Bradley Street, Schenectady, wants the building preserved and wants a full EIS.
Wemple Lane, supports a full EIS.
Brookshire Drive, supports a full EIS.
Troy Road, supports a full EIS.
spoke about traffic impacts and supports a full EIS.
Story Avenue, supports a full EIS
Ed Reilly, President, Schenectady County Historical Society, discussed the properties zoning, the developer’s ad, and site views of the home from State Street and Balltown Road.
Wellington Way, used Pruyn House and Ten Broeck Mansion as examples of historical preservation and supports a full EIS.
Morgan Avenue, supports a full EIS.
Dean Street, supports a full EIS.
Oakmont, supports a full EIS, discussed sidewalks at Hummingbird Manor, and complained about traffic on Balltown Road.
Sheridan Avenue, Schenectady, supports a positive declaration for SEQR.
Downing Street, supports a full EIS.
Morgan Avenue, supports a full EIS.
North Country Club, supports a full EIS.
Denise Drive, spoke in favor of the development.
S. Swan Street, Albany, supports a full EIS.
Village Road, is in favor of the development.
James Bogleoli, Attorney, Whiteman, Osterman & Hannah, gave the Board a petition with 314 signatures all from Town of Niskayuna residents. He noted that petitions against the project contained the signatures of only 160 residents of Town.
Leslie Gold, Planning Board Member, noted the misinformation about the process developers have to go through for projects.
The following resolutions were approved with a vote of five ayes unless otherwise noted.
Resolution 2007-68 authorizes the issuance of a negative declaration, based on findings attached, under SEQRA for Stanford Crossings, a proposed multi-building/multi-use commercial project as proposed by Highbridge Development.
The resolution was approved with a vote of three ayes; Councilman Chapman and Councilwoman Kasper voting no.
Councilwoman Kasper stated that it was sad that this property did not get a historical or commercial zoning change and that is why we are here. The public has done a great job of getting their opinions out on this issue both for and against and she thanked the public for their input. She stated that this had been a long hard process and the Board has given it a lot of time and energy. She stated that there is “tons of information” but she feels for a lot of reasons that it behooves the Board to do a positive declaration. The Board did these on other pieces of land and this has a major impact.
Councilman Chapman stated that in his view they have not completed the hard look needed to issue a negative declaration. He thinks everyone is in agreement that the current residents move to a new site and people would like to see an adaptive reuse of the Home. He felt we are nowhere near closing the door on our judgment about environmental impacts. We are still getting opinions and additional technical data, traffic counts, economic impact material from licensed engineers and the applicant. He had received a letter dated March 13 which he has not had a chance to digest before tonight’s vote. He also has a letter dated March 8 from the project lead on the Conservation Advisory Council asking questions and rebutting claims by the applicant, and we haven’t yet mentioned a site plan
that has changed in August, January and in a Gazette ad.
The Board did a full EIS for St. James Square, Glen Eddy, Hannaford Plaza, and the tech park zoning which they changed to office technology. The Conservation Advisory Council and Planning Board voted unanimously for a full EIS. He described specific issues such as the traffic study that used Specialty Retail which covers real estate offices, florists, and small restaurants, but the tenants proposed include outlet stores, Polo, Gap, Limited Express and Ann Taylor. Opinions have been given that the rate data for trips per thousand is too small and we should be using a rate that is closer to what was used for St. James Square or Hannaford Plaza. Chazen Engineers also state that we might have to revisit this value
Mr. Cheslik, a state licensed engineer, points out a number of problems with the intersection between Mohawk Commons and the proposed development. There are also some traffic counts where the numbers don’t add up. Also, we have not had the Capital District Transportation Committee examine this data.
A DOT letter states that they do not recommend widening Route 5 to construct a left turning lane at the site being constructed in phase one. He believes this is essential for the safe operation of this drive. Based on the information provided in the traffic impact study, DOT does not agree that a traffic signal is warranted on this site and they list three or four reasons why. Mr. Chapman felt there were still some differences in opinion on traffic impacts.
Regarding economics, he believes that the applicant’s property tax revenues are over estimated. They have used the full value of $20 million even though we are only currently assessed at 60%. This would make general income tax revenues closer to $84,000 rather than $139,000. They indicate an increase of sales tax of $18,000 but this makes the assumption that there would be no loss of revenue from other stores. If vacancies occur elsewhere property tax values will decline. They note $21 million in sales, $5 million of which will be net new sales claiming that Schenectady County residents will buy more in the County instead of purchasing outside the County. People outside Schenectady County would also be shopping here. They do not address the $16 million in sales that are coming from
existing businesses in Schenectady County.
The Conservation Advisory Council questioned the adverse impact on surrounding businesses at St. James Square or Upper Union Street in Schenectady. A study in Lake Placid found that it could take up to fourteen years to refill retail space that could become vacant due to the opening of WalMart. He also felt that their economic analysis focuses on Niskayuna and ignores the City. He felt we are all partners and stealing business from the City is not going to help them in the long run. They estimate a cost of $3,931 to the Police Department adjusted for revenues and he felt this number was too low.
Councilman Chapman noted that the highway commercial zone is not the same as the shopping center zone. The Conservation Advisory Council point out that one of the outlying objectives of the highway commercial district is to find an Article 8 in the Niskayuna Code to increase improvements of attractive and respectful neighbors and help promote revitalization to the area, not to mimic malls or other commercial districts. It is likely that new growth encouraged by Stanford Commons would not promote these objectives and revitalize the existing commercial properties along State Street, but would encourage more shopping center and strip mall development along the corridor. They discussed that the highway commercial has 30’ buffers, whereas our shopping center has 150’ buffers and a minimum size of 25 acres. This offers a lot more protection to neighbors and businesses. We also have residents that live on Stanford, Fillmore, and Albany Street and we also have an obligation to look
after nearby City homeowners.
The concerns raised by the Linda Lane residents have been addressed by the addition of a 25’ no cut zone and the installation of an 8’ fence. The Linda Lane residents stated that they render no opinion or recommendation to the Town Board whether to issue a positive or negative declaration for the project, but they support the project if the Board is satisfied that all concerns raised by the CAC have been addressed and that the 13 items noted were incorporated into the approvals. The project leader from the CAC has written to the Board with a steady stream of rebuttals to the conclusions stated by the developer. He thinks we are a long way from addressing these concerns.
SEQRA regulations discuss impairment of the character or quality of important historical, archaeological, architectural or aesthetic resources of an existing community or neighborhood character. There is no doubt that the Ingersoll is an important historical and aesthetic resource. It was built 38 years after the Revolutionary War, 193 years ago. The New York Office of Historic Preservation Field Services office states that the building and its immediate surroundings contain considerable integrity to their long period of significance and remains an important historic and architectural landmark associated with the development of Niskayuna from Colonial time to the early 20th century.
In the August 2006 and January 2007 plan, the building is not visible from State Street or Balltown Road because it is hidden by retail development. The view from the front window would be the back loading docks of retail buildings on State Street, so the aesthetic view is definitely compromised. The Gazette plan shows more green space which is a step in the right direction.
The courts and state law recognize that municipalities have a legitimate interest in protecting historic sites and buildings. The municipal home rule power includes the power to regulate historic resources. The effect of this development is to remove back parts of the building built in 1926. Many people feel that there is historic value to those parts of the Federal architecture. The trees and green space will be gone and replaced by parking and buildings. As part of the Board’s review, we don’t have a view shed analysis from State Street or Balltown Road which the State Historic Preservation could do on request. The application has provided a view shed for the Linda Lane residents. Mr. Ray Smith, from the State Historic Preservation agency said he would assist us in evaluating the
building and possible reuses.
An archaeological study was undertaken and all cultural material will be deposited with the NYS Museum where it will be available for archaeologists and scholars to use in comparative analysis and studies. Mr. Gansfuss of the CAC has stated that “destruction of the archaeological resource, environment and site soils is a significant adverse impact.” He states that according to New York Archaeological Council standards used for the studies, Phase III data recovery is required for mitigation at eligible sites where impacts are anticipated and the data recovery plan should be developed in consultation with SHIPO. Enforcement is typically left up to the lead agency and the procedural authority is SEQRA (i.e. positive declaration). SHIPO has been recommending negative declarations for a while in a
cooperative spirit with the proviso that the developer do Phase III, but SHIPO has found that this was consistently ineffective. He would like to see the Phase III completed.
By doing a full EIS, the building could not be demolished while under review and we could look at an adaptive reuse of the full structure. He suggested apartments for seniors. He thinks the Town needs to look at a restaurant use and how the building would be maintained. The EIS gives the Town the option for mitigation measures, such as asking for some reduction in the square footage or other conditions that would help make the project better. More input gives the Planning Board useful information to help them in their site plan process. The SEQR also gives the Town the opportunity to determine if we have a gap in our Comprehensive Plan or zoning laws with respect to historic buildings and sites. He is not against commercial development in Town and he has been an active proponent of the
Office Technology Zone in the northwest corner of Town. He recently objected to rezoning of industrial acreage to residential. He wanted to keep it all for light industry and office technology because he wanted to see a commercial development that will support our school without expanding taxes. We have areas that we have set aside and these are needed.
He is looking for a compromise that preserves the building (possibly the whole building) as well as the views of the building and at least some of the trees and green space but allow the property owner to get a reasonable economic return on the property. The EIS would allow us to gather all the material we have received, it could be made available on line for residents to review, it can be made available to the Capital District Transportation Committee, the County Planning Department, members of the Planning Board, the State Historic Preservation Agency, Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor and most importantly the public. The applicant has submitted a lot of studies. Doing a full EIS does not mean we will start from scratch; much of what they have already developed can be used. It is just a matter
of addressing some questions that are still open, putting them together, having people look at those and then making a good informed decision.
Councilwoman O’Donnell stated that she recognized that the Planning Board and Conservation Advisory Council both recommended a full EIS for this project. She has also heard from a significant number of individuals recommending a full EIS. She has drawn on and respects the knowledge, experience, and expertise of our Town Planner and Engineer. She has reviewed materials provided by many sources, and she has had discussions with numerous individuals. She has listened to those who attended Town Board meetings at public hearings, and she has made a significant effort to reach out and speak to many other residents who have not attended meetings but should be heard and represented. She is not ignoring or discounting requests for a full EIS, but she feels that since the recommendations have
been made, the issues and concerns raised have been addressed by the developer directly, by representatives of the developer, and other professionals.
She believes this project is different than others in Niskayuna when a full EIS was performed. Unlike other projects, there are no outstanding wetland issues, no issues relating to oil spills; there is no zone change requirement; there is no proximity to a school. She has attempted to determine what specific areas have not been addressed or have not been addressed adequately that may have a significant adverse impact but she has found none and votes yes.
Supervisor Smith stated that for reasons outlined in the resolution as prepared under the criteria for making a determination, he votes yes.
Resolution 2007-69 approves a Special Use Permit for Highbridge Development to allow the construction of a multi-building/multi-use commercial project located at 3421 State Street.
The resolution was approved with a vote of three ayes; Councilman Chapman and Councilwoman Kasper voted no.
Councilman Chapman stated that when we look at the standards for granting Special Use Permits they may be authorized by the Town Board only upon satisfaction of each instance of such conditions as to the general character, height and use of land, buildings or structures, as to the provision of surrounding open space and treatment of grounds, as to the general fitness of the structure and use to its proposed location, as to the provision for automobile parking or storage, as to street capacity and use that in the opinion of the Board may be necessary to safeguard public health and convenience and as may be required for the preservation and the general character of the neighborhood which sets use, buildings or structures to be placed or such use is to be conducted. He does not believe we have met the
Regarding general character, height and use of land, buildings or structures, he thinks we are obstructing the view of an important historical building. We are losing the trees and green space and surrounding open space with buildings and parking lots. The structure is in the highway commercial zone and not the shopping center zone. He thinks the traffic study is flawed and we have not received sufficient information about economic impact.
Councilwoman Freund stated that she believes Highbridge has straightforwardly and responsibly completed the many impact studies that the Town thought necessary. She believes that the project will save the Ingersoll Home; increase our tax base and that of the quality of Niskayuna. Highbridge Development’s interest in the property was in their knowledge that the property was zoned commercial for many years. They listened to concerned residents and acted accordingly. They scaled back the project, added more green space and want to give a new life to a historic building. Someone tonight said they didn’t know the building existed or of its historical significance until now. With a restaurant planned for the site, we might all have the opportunity to enjoy it. Many residents
have come forward for a full EIS, but also many residents came in to remind us as Town Board members that we have the responsibility to determine the legality of a Special Use Permit. Her decision was not made easily and she after much review and talking, she votes yes for the Special Use Permit.
Councilwoman O’Donnell stated that we may have reached a time in Niskayuna when there will no longer be projects without controversy. Private land owners want to sell, change or develop their property while others may want to keep things the same or even return them to where we were. Projects are going to have supporters and opponents. The Home made a determination that they needed to update their facility, and they made a choice to sell the property, relocate, and build a new facility. The Town did not and does not own the property where the Home is located. The land is zoned for commercial use and is in the area of the Town that has been designated for commercial activity.
One of the common threads we heard tonight on both sides was about preserving the Stanford House. The Stanford House will be preserved and reused, giving it a new life and will provide the opportunity for the community to treasure our history. She thinks it is very difficult for a historical building to be maintained if it does not have a life and a reuse. The plans for the Stanford Crossing have been revised numerous times responding to the requests by various Boards and committees and community members. The Stanford House will stay on its foundation, the green space has been increased, the neighbors issues have been addressed, walkways have been included and what has been referred to as a “mall” is truly a collection of retail spaces. She votes yes for the Special Use Permit.
Supervisor Smith stated that he has lived in the Town for 27 years and feels we have avoided some of the pitfalls of sprawl. One of the first issues his administration faced was the concerns of commercialization of Troy Road. We changed the zoning to assure that this would not happen. At the time, he was well aware of the availability of commercial space in the Town, and one of those spaces was near Mohawk Commons which was one of our last commercial areas. In making the vote to make sure we did not commercialize Troy Road, he knew that we had this area available, so he doesn’t consider this sprawl.
Town Board members past and present have worked very hard to follow some of the recommendations of those who advocated smart growth or anti-sprawl. They worked hard to redevelop Mohawk Commons. They worked closely with GE R&D Center to make sure that they would rehabilitation their facilities, and maintain 2,000 jobs as they created GE Global Research and Development for the long term health of the Town. We have done expansion with Schenectady International on their footprint and Environment One. We have encouraged average density development, which the anti-sprawl and smart growth people say to do to avoid paving and to maintain as much green space as possible.
We changed the zoning in the northwest corner to light manufacturing and office technology. We have had success in rehabilitating and repopulating the NOVA Bus Company and redeveloped that site which is almost filled. He is proud of what they have done in the Town to make sure we maintain its residential character. They also have concern for the taxpayers. They have done prudent, responsible expansion of our tax base. The area in question has been zoned commercial for some time. It is a commercial area and he believes that the developers have responded to and worked very closely with the Town. He thinks this will be a good project and he votes yes for the Special Use Permit.
Resolution 2007-70 calls for a public hearing March 27 at 7:10 to consider the amendment of the Town’s Official Map to eliminate the paper streets located within the proposed Fieldstone Estates P.U.D.
Resolution 2007-71 takes action to modify the yearly permit fee for the use of the Transfer Station and Recycling Center to establish a fee of $20 per year for residential permits.
Resolution 2007-72 adopts the Deferred Compensation Plan.
Resolution 2007-73 modifies the rate paid to Joseph Boddie, for Town Hall cleaning services to $775 bi-weekly, effective retroactive to March 5, 2007.
There being no further business to come before the Town Board, Supervisor Smith adjourned the meeting.
Helen F. Kopke, Town Clerk