Albany County

Neighbors sue to halt apartment, Costco projects near Crossgates

A November 2019 view of the neighborhood in Guilderland proposed for demolition to make way for a Costco warehouse store. (John Cropley/Business Editor)

A November 2019 view of the neighborhood in Guilderland proposed for demolition to make way for a Costco warehouse store. (John Cropley/Business Editor)

GUILDERLAND — A handful of Guilderland neighbors are asking a state court to block the Costco store and apartments that the owner of Crossgates Mall wants to build on the fringes of the mall campus.

Two families filed the case with a gas station owner and gas station operator; all live or work directly adjacent to the three sites, which in turn would house a large apartment complex, the region’s first Costco warehouse store and a mix of commercial, office and residential space.

In April they attempted to block the case in federal court; that case was dismissed by the judge Aug. 5.

On Sept. 25, they filed a new case in state Supreme Court, Albany County.

The effort targets the town of Guilderland; the town Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals; Crossgates Mall owner Pyramid Management Corp.; and two of the LLCs associated with Pyramid that handle some of the Syracuse-based company’s business initiatives.

The projects were proceeding through the review process when, at 7 a.m. on March 26, more than five acres of mature trees were clearcut without warning on the site that would house the Costco. It was a move that was highly visible to the tens of thousands of motorists who pass each day on Western Avenue and it was highly inappropriate, the plaintiffs contend.

Their legal action is an Article 78 — a challenge to a government decision — and they are requesting what would, at a minimum, amount to a significant delay in the project.

The filing is built on what they contend is a lengthy series of procedural errors and violations that should nullify approval for the project, which they call arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion due to unalterably closed mind.

Among their objections:

  • The wooded area contained roosting sites for bats, some of them endangered or protected.
  • Pyramid began planning the Costco in 2017 but did not tell the town until 2019, and the town didn’t alert the public until several more months had passed.
  • The area is part of the town’s transit-oriented development zoning overlay, which is intended to reduce traffic and use of cars, and the proposed project would have the opposite effect.
  • The applicant conducted archeological surveys on town property; no town authorization for this is on record.
  • The clear-cutting violated state environmental conservation law.
  • The Planning Board committed procedural and substantive violations during the State Environmental Quality Review Act process.
  • The project would absorb part of Westmere Terrace, which is not legal without alienation procedures because it is a highway by use.
  • Given the errors and other flaw so far in the process, the Planning Board and ZBA lack jurisdiction to consider Pyramid’s land-use applications.
  • Clear-cutting predetermined the outcome of the SEQRA process, preventing meaningful review.
  • The town planner’s authorization for Pyramid to clear cut 5.2 acres was illegal and beyond his legal authority to grant.
  • The town’s tacit approval allowing Pyramid to proceed with permitting applications violated town law.
  • The town has violated the Freedom of Information Law by withholding records and not responding to an appeal.

The plaintiffs are asking for:

  • Blockage of further tree cutting or construction activities until the merits of the court action are decided
  • Prevention of further town review of the proposal without proper procedures being followed.
  • Declaration that Westmere Terrace is a “highway by use” and therefore can’t be converted to other use without a referendum.
  • Declaration that the Planning Board did not have authorization to consider Pyramid’s land use applications for use of town-owned property consisting of several streets.
  • Annulment of the Planning Board’s adoption of SEQRA finding on Aug. 28.
  • An order releasing the records sought by the plaintiffs through FOIL and attorneys fees.

Guilderland Town Supervisor Peter Barber did not return requests for comment for this story.

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