NISKAYUNA — More than two dozen town residents voiced opposition Monday night to a plan to build a mixed-use development at the corner of Balltown and Van Antwerp roads.
Niskayuna BR Holding Co. LLC, which was formed by Clifton Park-based The Windsor Cos., has submitted a plan to build 50 rental units, 130 parking spaces and 6,000 square feet of commercial space along Balltown Road between CVS and CBS 6. The development would stretch eastward to Van Antwerp Road.
To move forward, Niskayuna BR needs the town to grant a zoning change from medium-density residential R-2 to part C-N, neighborhood commercial, and part R-3, high density residential.
Of the 29 residents who addressed the Planning Board, only two spoke in favor of the project. The greatest concerns were increased traffic, safety hazards and potential difficulty filling the commercial space.
Dave Ingalls, the developer’s civil engineer, reported the results of a traffic study during Monday's meeting. That study showed that, during the peak afternoon driving hour — 5 to 6 p.m. — traffic would increase by 34 cars and would not be “a great impactor on existing conditions.” The audience laughed out loud at the remark.
Jay Nish was the first resident to speak. It was his anniversary, and his wife told him to keep it brief.
“I can’t look at that traffic study with a straight face,” Nish said. He told the board the proposal was not the best use of the property and cautioned them not to “confuse activity for progress.”
Georgiana Carney was also dubious that more than 100 parking spaces would only generate 34 additional cars.
Karen Zimmers said her street, which connects to Balltown Road, has “become the new Indianapolis 500 for shortcuts.” She added that while the traffic report identifies 5 p.m. as the peak hour, traffic on Balltown Road starts piling up at about 3 p.m. The audience applauded in agreement.
“I would love to walk to CVS,” Zimmers said. “But I don’t want to get killed crossing Balltown Road. That area cannot support additional cars and cannot support the additional pedestrians. It’s irresponsible to allow the project to go on.”
Avery Montembeault lives on Balltown Road and said it was “vehicular thunderdome” to try to get out of his driveway to go to work in the morning. He reported waiting for up to 15 minutes for a good Samaritan to let him out.
At least half of the speakers voiced concerns about safety, especially for the students who walk to Van Antwerp Middle School and small children who play in surrounding neighborhoods whose streets have become cut-throughs and bypasses for drivers wanting to avoid Balltown Road traffic.
A handful mentioned the potential impact of additional students attending schools that they say are already overcrowded.
Residents were also concerned about the proposed commercial space and said there are too many vacant storefronts in town. Many talked about the empty spaces in Mansion Square, Mohawk Commons, Hannaford Plaza and Shop Rite Plaza and said the town didn’t need more commercial space that could sit empty.
At least two speakers outright accused the Planning Department of making it difficult to get information about the project.
Two residents spoke in favor of the plan, citing a need for diversity and the potential positive impact of additional shops where motorists could stop and spend money in town.
After the public hearing portion of the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, the developer was given the chance to answer questions and concerns raised by residents.
Ingalls reiterated the results of the traffic study but also explained that the results were obtained using data from the state Department of Transportation only, not live, measured counts.
There have been no studies that have looked at how increased traffic on Balltown could affect surrounding neighborhoods as drivers look for routes around the often-clogged artery.
The developer said the proposal makes sense in the area and said there are other, more high-impact uses for the property, but he is looking to develop responsibly and within the goals and objectives set forth by the town in its comprehensive plan.
“We’re trying for a vibrant, town center-type atmosphere,” said Robert C. Miller, Jr., senior vice president for The Windsor Cos. “We strongly disagree that this plan does not meet the comprehensive plan. It’s a logical extension of existing zoning.”
Miller pointed to his company’s similar and successful developments in Bethlehem and Slingerlands. He also said the target demographic to occupy the units is the elderly and young professionals. He said elderly residents would have minimal impact on traffic during peak hours, as they are not traveling to work, and that neither the elderly nor young professionals have children who would increase local student populations.
The Planning Board continued to ask questions about zoning and the scale of the project, as well as about affordability and market analysis of the commercial space. The plan calls for 63 percent of the units to have two bedrooms and 37 percent to have one bedroom. Expected rent rates are between $1,350 and $2,000 per month.
The next step is for the town-designated engineer, MJ Engineering, to review the developer’s studies and other documents and report back to the Planning Board by Sept. 25. The Planning Board then has to make a recommendation to the Town Board about whether to approve or deny the zoning change.