Neighbor: Whispering Pines project ‘doesn’t belong here’

Residents voice opposition to location, size of proposed development
Whispering Pines Golf Club at 2200 Helderberg Ave. in Rotterdam on Jan. 19, 2017.
Whispering Pines Golf Club at 2200 Helderberg Ave. in Rotterdam on Jan. 19, 2017.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

ROTTERDAM — A proposed senior living complex on Helderberg Avenue has been reduced in size and scope, but neighbors nevertheless spoke out against it at a public hearing Wednesday night.

The $87 million Village at Whispering Pines, which would be built at the 96-acre site of the Whispering Pines golf course near the Guilderland town line, has been reduced from 680 units to 521, and plans for an urgent medical care center within the complex have been eliminated.

Neighbors, however, remain concerned about the size of the project — which hinges on Town Board approval of a new zoning district — as well as the possibility of commercial uses in the complex to serve residents and increased traffic on Helderberg.

“This is a square peg trying to fit a round hole. It doesn’t belong here,” said Del Pierce, one of the neighbors who spoke during a two-hour public hearing at the Center for Advanced Technology on the Mohonasen school campus, just across the state Thruway from the Whispering Pines site.

No decisions were made Wednesday, following a hearing attended by about 150 people. Town Supervisor Steve Tommasone said the hearing will continue at the June 14 Town Board meeting, and a decision could be made that night.

Developer Lou Lecce, of Niskayuna, and supporters of the project contend the blend of small single-family homes, independent and assisted-living apartments and a memory-care unit will allow senior citizens to remain within the complex as they age and as their health deteriorates.

“It goes back to the idea of people retiring in the community in which they live,” said Theresa Bakner, an attorney representing the developer.

Nine holes of the 18-hole golf course will remain.

About 150 people turned out Wednesday for a public hearing on plans for the Whispering Pines senior citizen complex in Rotterdam. (Stephen Williams)

The total number of units has been reduced by cutting the number of independent-living apartments from 278 to 144 and eliminating 25 of the single-family homes that were planned. The reduction, and eliminating the proposed urgent care center, will allow for wider vegetation buffer areas between the project and its neighbors, Lecce said.

Lecce Group Chief Operating Officer Shane Mahar said the changes were made in response to feedback from a May 1 meeting with neighbors and from negotiations with the town over several months.

“When built, this project will have a tremendous benefit to the tax base with very little demand for services,” Mahar said.

Some speakers agreed the concept is a good one, but they said Whispering Pines isn’t the right place for it.

“Well-intentioned as it is right now, you have opened the door to commercial in a residential area, which is wrong,” said neighbor Melvin Mintz, who said he is 81.

“There’s obviously demand for this, but isn’t there a better place?” asked Lisa Dufek, who said she is running for a Town Board seat.

Tom West, of Albany, an attorney representing several residents who live near the proposed development site, said the project is large enough that the town should require the developer to prepare a full environmental impact statement, looking at the project’s impacts and alternatives for design and location.

“I don’t care what numbers they have reduced, this is still a massive project to be squeezed into the area,” West said. “Taking a massive project like this, superimposing it on the neighborhood and not requiring a full environmental impact statement is violative of the law.”

A few speakers spoke in favor of the project and received nearly as much audience applause as those who spoke against, but a majority of the 17 speakers voiced opposition to either the project or the location.

The developer said he plans to keep pushing forward, noting the current owners of the Whispering Pines golf course are looking to sell it and retire. They also said that, among senior citizens, there’s already a waiting list to get into the project, if it is built.

“We really believe, through the research we have done, that we are meeting a need in the community,” Mahar said.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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