Schenectady County

Schenectady council OKs zone change for casino site

The Schenectady City Council approved zoning changes for the old Alco site Monday evening, moving de
The former American Locomotive Co. site is seen from across the Mohawk River in Scotia.
The former American Locomotive Co. site is seen from across the Mohawk River in Scotia.

The Schenectady City Council approved zoning changes for the old Alco site Monday evening, moving development of housing and a casino at Mohawk Harbor another step forward.

The council agreed with the Planning Commission’s recommendations to allow for buildings up to 110 feet tall, a total of 19,000 square feet of signage and pylon signs up to 80 feet high on the 60-acre brownfield as part of Galesi Group’s $480 million plan to revitalize the waterfront property.

“This project is a $150 million-plus project by a developer that has left a trail of success all over the city and has really turned the city around and done quality and fabulous projects,” Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said of the Rotterdam developer.

All council members except for Vince Riggi, the only non-Democrat on the council, voted yes for the zoning changes. Riggi abstained from voting, citing a lack of information, particularly specifics about the design of the project.

“I just feel like I don’t have enough visual concept of what this monumental zoning change will be,” Riggi said during a City Council meeting Monday evening. “I don’t know why this council hasn’t been presented with models to see what it looks like with the signage so I don’t feel comfortable with this at all. I don’t have enough information and I haven’t seen it.”

Riggi’s comments mirrored concerns expressed by several city residents during the Planning Commission’s meeting on the zoning changes last month. Other council members said they look forward to moving the project along.

“It is imperative for us to look toward what will be rather than what was so I am honored to vote yes on this legislation,” said Councilman John Ferrari.

Galesi Group Chief Operating Officer David Buicko said detailed designs of the site, which sits between Erie Boulevard and the Mohawk River, would not be finalized until the developer seeks site plan approval.

Buicko said he is looking to come before the Planning Commission to start the site plan process within the next two months. He said to present plans now, as Riggi suggested, would be “hypothetical and not finalized.”

“The next step is site plan approval and we’re working actively with Rush Street Gaming, their architects and our architects to come up with a plan that integrates their development and our development together to maximize the property,” Buicko said. “Hopefully we will have some drafts soon. We have been going back and forth on the drafts. The sooner we can get to the Planning Board the better.”

Buicko said buildings up to 110 feet tall under the C-3 waterfront mixed-use district would allow for additional stories to be added to the apartments and condominiums in the future if demand for housing on the site is high. Current plans do not include buildings more than 100 feet, he said.

“I don’t believe we are going to be close to 110 feet, but we don’t know that for a fact until we determine the designs,” Buicko said. “The building height is more on the Galesi Group’s side than it is on the casino side. If the apartment demand is there and the condo demand is there we will go higher because we only have a finite amount of acreage and we have five acres dedicated to the harbor, so that leaves us with 50-plus acres.”

Galesi is partnering with Rush Street Gaming of Chicago on a $330 million casino, named Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor, which will feature a 50,000-square-foot gaming floor with 1,150 slot machines and 66 table games. Plans for the casino include an adjacent 150-room Sheraton hotel.

The state Gaming Facility Location Board, a subsidiary of the Gaming Commission, recommended the casino project, along with two others in Sullivan County and Seneca County, for a casino license.

The Gaming Commission plans to award licenses after state police complete background checks on the operators, which is expected to take a couple of months. Once licenses are awarded, developers have up to two years to get the casinos up and running.

The development of a casino next to the Mohawk River is on top of previous plans by Galesi to build about 304 apartment units, 87 condominiums and 10 townhouses, plus 170,000 square feet of office and retail space and a 124-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel.

Galesi is also looking to build a harbor with 50 boat slips, which requires approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a special permit. It is unclear when the Army Corps will make its decision. Buicko said he is confident the Army Corps will give its nod of approval.

In other news, the City Council approved an ordinance that would allow for electronic message boards in the city to change every eight seconds, rather than every minute. That includes signs on the Mohawk Harbor site.

The council also plans to hold a public hearing on Feb. 23 to change the zoning of three acres at State Street and Brandywine Avenue for the $6 million development of the site into retail space by Massachusetts-based Atlantic Development.

The developer is looking to rezone the site from the current C-2 mixed-use commercial district to planned mixed-use development district. Atlantic plans to build two retail buildings, one 14,500 square feet and another 7,200 square feet, plus a 5,150-square foot bank on the site.

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