CLIFTON PARK – Country Knolls is the quintessential suburban community. Built in the late 1960s and early 70s, just after the Adirondack Northway connected the Capital Region with Lake George, the Clifton Park subdivision features green lawns carpeting ranches and Colonial homes. The area has been largely unchanged for more than 50 years.
But for the past decade and a half, a developer has been hoping to transform a 28.6-acre patch of sloped woods between Wooddale Drive and the Northway into a housing project – originally as a senior community and now conceived as a cul-de-sac lined with nine duplexes.
The history of this particular piece of land is lengthy and involved, with neighbors upset and the State of New York Supreme Court even weighing in. Still, even if the controversy over this development is more about the character of the land on the site, the trend toward a diversity of housing options – including duplexes – is likely to be a big part of Clifton Park’s future.
“We have had interest from various developers over the last several years regarding townhouse-style housing. It’s been very popular, particularly for folks who are downsizing, as well as first-time homebuyers,” said Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett, noting that the nation’s aging population supports the need for housing options outside of traditional single-family homes. “I expect that will continue both as a purchase and rental option. Housing trends typically follow the demographics, so if you consider the demographics of our society in general, there is and will continue to be people downsizing, so we would expect the townhome-style market to remain strong.”
Of the town’s roughly 15,000 units, more than 12,400 are single-family homes. Meanwhile, 172 units are two-family homes, 205 units house three or four families, and 2,170 house five or more families, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census’s 2012-2016 American Community Survey, which was the report the town provided when asked about a breakdown of housing in Clifton Park.
The status of the development off Wooddale Drive – at least for now – will come down to whether the Clifton Park Town Board grants the developer a road. The board held a public hearing on the road issue last week, where many residents turned out to oppose the project, citing worries about noise from the Northway, potential traffic safety troubles and the feasibility of successfully engineering the project, given the roughly 70-foot elevation change on the forested land that feeds into a creek.
David Miller, who has lived down the road from the proposed project since 1995, said 175 neighbors have signed a petition against the development.
“My question to our entire town is ‘do you want to take on this liability?’” Miller said at Monday’s meeting. He also showed The Daily Gazette the location of the property this week, pointing to potential dangers resulting from cars having to turn out of the proposed access road onto Wooddale Drive at a point where it dips and curves.
But some residents see the proposed construction of 18 residences in nine structures as an opportunity to provide housing options that are more affordable in a town where the average home sells for $445,000, according to Redfin’s numbers at the time of writing.
For its part, the developer, KLB Enterprises, through their representative, Luigi Palleschi of ABD Engineers, said it has heard and addressed residents’ concerns about the property, including concerns having to do with the slope of the land and potential runoff. They also believe the road in question is feasible.
“I think we’ve done the studies to show, engineering-wise, we can design this road to the town’s standards,” Palleschi said.
The Town Board could make a decision on the street as early as Tuesday, though the issue is more likely to be addressed next month, according to Barrett.
This particular property has been discussed in Clifton Park for quite some time. The current issue has to do with a “paper street,” which was drawn by Robert Van Patten into the original 1960s plans for Country Knolls. That paper street is between 159 and 161 Wooddale Drive.
That paper street was nothing more than a drawing on a map until developer Larry Boni, of KLB Enterprises, purchased a 28.6-acre parcel between and behind the two residences for $100,000 in 2005, according to the purchase contract. Boni wanted to use the paper street as an access road for his development project, which was originally conceived as a 55+ housing community proposed in March 2007. Facing resistance from residents and members of the Town Board, the senior community project never really got out of the gate, according to Town Attorney Thomas McCarthy. But the project set off a lengthy legal fight that ultimately wound up with the State of New York Supreme Court determining in 2013 that the owners of 159 and 161 Wooddale Drive shared ownership of the paper street.
Without the access road, Boni couldn’t do much with the property. That is, until the owner of 161 Wooddale Drive, who had previously fought Boni’s attempts for an access road, sold his home to Boni last July for $360,000, property records show. Now, as the owner of one of the adjoining properties to the paper road, Boni is asking the Town Board to reconsider the possibility of allowing the paper road to be made into a real town road.
If the road is granted, Boni’s development would still have to be approved by the Planning Board, and residents’ concerns about the slope of the land, erosion, stormwater drainage, noise and other issues may still ultimately present insurmountable hurdles for Boni, said John Scavo, director of Clifton Park’s Planning Department.
But some residents want to put an end to talk of the project right now.
James Ruhl, who lives on Wooddale Drive, is concerned about everything from erosion and clear-cutting on the land to noise from the Northway – already audible – reverberating throughout the neighborhood without vegetation to dampen it. He said the slope of the land on the site creates an amphitheater effect.
“We might as well be at SPAC,” he said near the site this week.
But other residents, like Nate DeSilva, support the development because they said it could possibly help housing affordability issues in the area. DeSilva said he’s lived in the area all his life, and he currently owns a townhome that he’s outgrown.
“I’m actually in the process of selling that home, and I’m having a very difficult time finding something in this particular area at an affordable price point,” DeSilva told the board.
On the night of the Town Board meeting this week, there were 46 total homes for sale in Clifton Park, with 22 of those being new construction, said Matthew Rousseau, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker, who sold the Vistas West duplex development in the town. He told the board that the average price for new construction homes in Clifton Park was $590,000 the day of the meeting.
“We do need housing in this area,” Rousseau said. “I understand nobody wants it in their backyard, and there is no perfect project,” adding that any project would have to be done with the approval of the Planning Board.
But Miller, who said his concerns are about the proposed project’s particular lot and not about the kind of housing being discussed, said he doesn’t think the new duplexes off Wooddale Drive would actually offer more affordable housing.
“After you build these facilities and the cost it’s going to take, there is no way that these places are going to be affordable housing. It’s going to be very expensive,” Miller said.
Regardless of what ultimately happens with the proposed development off Wooddale Drive, housing options are likely to continue to grow in Clifton Park, Barrett said.
“I believe in the future the housing stock will continue to diversify,” the supervisor said. “We have newer apartments in very attractive locations that are on the higher end of the rental scale in Saratoga County, but we also have apartments that are more affordable. So I think we have a very good, diversified housing stock, and I would expect that trend to continue in the future.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.