MIDDLEBURGH – What was once a plan to build 16 multi-unit townhouses is now a project with 64 single-family condominium homes on the same 12-acre site in the village.
The Middleburgh Meadows project, introduced in 2015 after the community lost its only grocery store and a number of other buildings following Hurricane Irene in 2011, has evolved into a different project from what was originally planned – in part because many big-city residents are looking for smaller communities following the pandemic.
The development by Altamont-based construction firm Carver Companies includes the now-completed Valley Market grocery store, as well as 64 condominiums or single-family homes, all located between River Street and Middle Fort Road. The store, owned by the Carver Companies, opened in 2018 and is operated by Geanine and Jim Eisel, who also run the Great American grocery store in Prattsville.
“The grocery store was a shining light in a bad situation,” said Trish Bergan, Middleburgh’s mayor. “People weren’t too thrilled about a housing development, but they understood the need.”
The plan for the original housing development was well-publicized, and openly negotiated at multiple village meetings, said Bobbi Ryan, a Middleburgh resident. In 2016, the plan was approved by the mayor and the village Board of Trustees. In December 2020, the company sought a waiver from the Planning Board to change its path.
Construction on the newly configured housing development began in the spring of this year. In an email to the IDA, Carver’s Nick Laraway said the company was changing its strategy “given the exodus of metropolitan markets” and instead, building single-family condominiums or homes on the same lots.
A number of Middleburgh residents had a negative reaction.
“When we [saw] the new plan, we were just shocked,” said Kim Smith, whose property borders the new development. “The project they’re doing now is nothing like what was brought up in public hearings.”
Nick Laraway declined to discuss the development and hung up the phone when The Daily Gazette called for a comment.
Now, each of the individual condominium homes will have three bedrooms, according to Ryan, who is the former president of the Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce.
Carver will own all of the land, but the buyers of the single-family condominiums will own their homes, Bergan said. Carver justified the change from 16 multi-unit townhouses to 64 condo homes with a market study they conducted, which showed greater demand for single-family dwellings instead of townhouses, Bergan said.
The Middleburgh Meadows Facebook page notes that each condo will be sold starting at $220,000. “Country living with a twist,” the page said. “Customized features, private driveway, park-like setting, washer & dryer, off-street parking, optional elevator & dumbwaiter.”
Some residents expressed concern about the marketed price, particularly because Carver originally advertised the townhouses as affordable. “It probably would be a little out of my price range. For most people around here, it would be the upper end of what they could afford,” said Bergan.
Residents have also taken issue with Carver’s new plan because they said the change never went through a public approval process, Ryan said. Instead, the Middleburgh Planning Board granted a site plan waiver on April 13, which gave the company permission to skip getting public approval for any changes to the project.
Seven of the eight Planning Board members voted to approve the waiver and one member recused herself from the vote.
“It wasn’t a substantial change to the project itself,” said Denise Lloyd, Planning Board vice chairman. “Yes, there were going to be more buildings, but this particular change wasn’t significant enough to warrant having another review.”
Pat White, Laraway’s aunt and a member of the Planning Board for 40 years, was one of the seven members who voted to approve the waiver.
Fred Risse, chairman of the Planning Board, said he too believed the changes to the project were not significant enough to require public review. The overall cost and square footage of the project were not changing, Risse said.
Carver has done other good projects for Middleburgh, Risse said, so he trusted the changes Carver wanted to make to the Middleburgh Meadows project. “Things that Carver has done in the past are high class.”
Ryan said the Planning Board waiver made it feel as though Laraway’s request was more important than the response from residents of Middleburgh. “It’s shocking to me that some peoples’ voices have more weight than others,” she said.
The project cannot be shut down by village officials, Bergan said, because the company adhered to the law.
“[The Laraways are] a good family – they’ve done a lot for the community,” Bergan said. “I don’t think that they tried to do anything underhanded.”
Timothy Knight, a Middleburgh village trustee, said he wished the Laraways were more forthcoming to the village residents with their new plans, but it is important that the project moves forward because of the population growth and greater property tax base it will provide the community.
“I wish there had been more transparency, but I think this project overall is going to be very beneficial to the village of Middleburgh,” Knight said.
Bergan agreed with Knight that the most productive option now is working with Carver to negotiate reducing the number of units, or adding some sort of fencing or vegetation to block the houses from neighbors’ views. “The best that we can do at this point without enormous legal battles is to really collaborate with them,” Bergan said.
Some residents still have concerns, though, about the houses’ inconsistent appearance with that of the village’s historic buildings, and the possibility that none of the houses will be bought at the asking price.
The state did an archeological survey of the area and determined that the property did not have any historical significance prohibiting construction. However, residents have taken issue with the property being reclassified from the historic district to the business district, Bergan said.
“You couldn’t be more in the heart of history than that [development] in Middleburgh,” said Ryan. “When history is erased you can’t get it back.”
Smith said she hopes Carver will be willing to negotiate with her and other neighbors of the new development about planting vegetation as a barrier between the properties or adjusting the population density of the homes.
“[The project] could have been done in a way where the design reflected more of our community values,” Smith said.