NISKAYUNA -- For nearly an hour Monday night, Niskayuna residents took turns voicing opposition to three proposed developments before the town's Planning Board.
Two of the three project proposals are for new apartment buildings, and the third is a proposed commercial building at the corner of Balltown Road and Union Street.
The 15 residents who addressed the board were mainly concerned about increased traffic and safety, as well as maintaining the character of neighborhoods.
The Windsor Cos. is proposing a 50-unit multi-family and retail development next to the CVS between Balltown and Van Antwerp roads. To complete that project, The Windsor Cos. plan to demolish five existing rental properties.
“This caught all the neighbors off guard,” resident Karen Munoz told the board. She went on to express concerns about additional traffic in and around the intersection, calling the corner “impossible to navigate as a pedestrian.” Munoz said even though she lives within walking distance of the CVS, she drives her car because it’s safer.
She disputed the developer’s claims that the apartments would be a draw for the elderly and young professionals and wondered if a family might use an elderly relative’s address in the new apartments to fraudulently enroll kids in Niskayuna schools.
Her main concern, echoed by two other residents, was the proposed retail space. Munoz pointed out that there are commercial vacancies in the Shop Rite Plaza on Nott Street East and in “the vast wasteland that is Mohawk Commons.”
“I would like further discussion on this with neighbors before moving forward,” Munoz told the board.
There will be opportunities for such discussion. The project requires a zoning change, which requires a public hearing. That hearing is scheduled for Sept. 11.
The Lecce Group is also proposing construction of new apartments on Rosendale Road adjacent to a Rite-Aid store. The project would create 24 one-bedroom apartments, and the company anticipates renting primarily to young professionals looking for a convenient commute and a walkable neighborhood.
The property backs up to two existing homes, one of which is owned by Mike Nazarko and his wife, Barb Griffin-Nazarko. Nazarko disputed just how "walkable" the area is.
“Look at the accident reports of Rosendale and Route 7,” Nazarko said. “I will not [cross Route 7 on foot] to Stewart’s to get bacon or anything else.”
Lee Chiaro lives next door and told the board her family has lived there a long time and has seen the once-residential area become more and more developed in recent years.
Griffin-Nazarko said not only are the apartments not necessary, but they would also be a poor first impression as people drive into Niskayuna and could harm her property value.
“The impact of more people and more cars is not something Niskayuna needs right here,” Griffin-Nazarko said. “There’s the noise factor, the police factor, [impact on] the fire district and the school district.”
Lorene Zabin told the board she thinks there are too many apartment proposals and projects.
“We can’t build single-family homes because of the sewer problems,” Zabin said. “In the meantime, we are building tons of apartments in areas I find it totally disagreeable.”
The town is under a state-issued moratorium that prohibits new sewer hook-ups until repairs are made to the infrastructure. The town expects to be in compliance with state requirements within a year.
Zabin also agreed with other residents who spoke against the Lecce Group’s proposed plans to develop 1840 Union St. Currently the site of a vacant dilapidated house, the corner of Balltown Road and Union Street would become the new home of the Lecce Group, if that project is approved.
The developer is looking to demolish the house that is there now and build a single-story structure designed to look like a residential property, but it would be zoned commercial and serve as The Leece Group's headquarters.
“Every time we get a vacant house, someone can’t wait to get a variance or zone change,” Zabin said.
Other neighbors also spoke against that project. Robert Ruggeri said he is opposed to any development along that corridor.
“I am very concerned about the march of commercial activity up Union Street,” he told the Planning Board. “It’s a pincer movement.”
He went on to quote from the town’s 2013 comprehensive plan, which designates the area around 1840 Union St. as residential. That plan also states that strong property values make rebuilding a residential home a viable option on the lot at 1840 Union St.
“Once you open a crack into this residential neighborhood, [future developers] are going to be able to say, ‘What residential neighborhood?’ They’ll have a stronger argument, and it will be one you’ve given them,” Ruggeri said.
“We have a lot to think about,” said board chairman Kevin Walsh later in the meeting.
The board asked questions of Lou Lecce, who was at the meeting. Lecce spoke in defense of his proposals, as did Lecce Group Chief Operating Officer Shane Mahar.
“We’re going through the process,” Mahar said. “We submitted proposals for projects we believe in and believe are a good use for each property. We have talked with several neighbors and are willing to work with anybody and everybody.”
The Planning Board passed resolutions Monday calling for public hearings for two projects. The public can weigh in on the zoning change request for the proposed apartments at Balltown and Van Antwerp roads on Sept. 11.
Additionally, there will be a public hearing on a proposed project at the corner of Pearse Road and Whitney Drive. That proposal calls for the demolition of a building and dividing the property into two lots, on which two homes would be built.
In accordance with town code, residents within 500 feet of the projects will receive notifications of the hearings.