LATHAM — A proposed new headquarters for the New York State Insurance Fund on Route 7 at the Colonie-Niskayuna border is moving closer to approval.
The Town of Colonie Planning Board earlier this month unanimously accepted the conceptual plan. Developer First Columbia must now submit details to various town departments, incorporate the responses into its plans if necessary, then come back to the Planning Board for final approval.
It’s one of several significant projects proposed or underway in town, said Sean Maguire, director of planning and economic development for Colonie.
What is now called Riverhill Center is a former medical campus developed by CHP and Kaiser Permanente in the late 1970s through early 1990s. Latham-based developer First Columbia acquired the 17-acre site in 2003.
The plan calls for demolition of a one-story, 26,000-square-foot office building at 1201 Troy Schenectady Road and construction of a four-story, 107,000-square-foot building on its footprint.
An existing building at 1203 Troy Schenectady Road would be connected to the new headquarters, bringing the total floor space to 150,000 square feet.
The Insurance Fund, currently headquartered near Wolf Road in Colonie, is a non-profit state agency created in 1914. Its mission is to provide workers’ compensation insurance policies at the lowest possible price to employers and ensure the fastest possible resolution of claims by injured workers.
It is one of the nation’s 10 largest workers’ comp carriers, and is self-sustaining without taxpayer funding.
NYSIF’s tax-exempt status, and the 800 parking spaces it specified in its request for proposals from developers, raised concerns in neighboring Schenectady County.
Schenectady County Economic Development and Planning Commissioner Ray Gillen wrote to Maguire in late September and said the added traffic could exacerbate congestion in Niskayuna at peak commuting hours, particularly on Rosendale Road.
The nearby intersection of Rosendale and Old River Road has a high crash rate and is currently the focus of an improvement project, Gillen wrote. He asked that the Schenectady County Department of Engineering and Public Works be included in the environmental review of the NYSIF proposal.
Gillen also noted that NYSIF would not be liable for property taxes if it purchased the site, currently assessed at $6.6 million. The Niskayuna Central School District collected $281,871 for the site this school year, or about 0.46% of its total property tax revenue.
Gillen urged Colonie to consider requiring a payment in lieu of taxes from NYSIF if the project is approved and built.
“We certainly took Schenectady County’s concerns into consideration,” Maguire said this week. “We expect to hear more about what First Columbia has to say about the concerns.”
The developer had its traffic engineering firm review the proposal after Gillen cited traffic concerns; Chris Bette of First Columbia and Alana Moran of VHB discussed the results at the Dec. 14 meeting.
They said it may be necessary to increase the green light durations on some side streets along Route 7 to reduce traffic congestion, but the basic infrastructure is in place to accommodate the increased traffic. The site was designed as a medical campus with a steady traffic flow, and there is a traffic signal at its entrance onto Route 7.
Also, the study showed that 71% of motorists departing the lot head east on Route 7 and 26% head west on Route 7, but only 3% take a back driveway and exit onto Rosendale Road.
The traffic-control infrastructure already in place appears to be adequate for the increased volume that would accompany the project, Maguire said, but the final approval belongs to the state Department of Transportation, as Route 7 is a state highway.
Bette also said the concern raised about the Niskayuna school district losing tax revenue is misplaced, because First Columbia will own the site and lease it to NYSIF, and First Columbia is not tax-exempt.
However, NYSIF’s original request for proposals for a new headquarters in 2020 specifically called it a purchase, not a lease. Its May 2021 contract award also called it a purchase.
NYSIF said Wednesday this is still the case: It will be purchasing the site.