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Schenectady sued over new Erie Boulevard median

Schenectady sued over new Erie Boulevard median

Apartment developer says design blocks tractor-trailer access
Schenectady sued over new Erie Boulevard median
The new apartment complex on Erie Boulevard.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

The developer of a new apartment building is taking the city to court for limiting vehicle access to it.

Colonial Commons, at 1419 Erie Blvd., has been in the planning and construction phases for nearly two years, and its developer is signing leases now for expected April occupancy. 

The issue is not how the residents will get to the apartment facility's parking lot, but how oversized vehicles will get into the lot for routine or emergency purposes.  The only legal entrance is on Erie Boulevard, but with a new raised median on that street, there’s not enough room for large trucks to swing into the entrance to the apartment facility's lot.

The 52-unit building sits on 1.45 acres between Front Street and Erie, northeast of Monroe Street and next door to the old Coyne Textile facility.

The developer, Two Girls and a Guy-Erie LLC, filed a lawsuit against the city and its Planning Commission on Dec. 13 in Supreme Court in Schenectady County, seeking monetary damages and removal of the median.

Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico said the city has reviewed the complaint and is preparing a response. Because it is pending litigation, he said, he would not comment before filing the response.

The lawsuit lays out the plaintiff’s case:

  • The site plan for the apartment house received initial Planning Commission approval on Feb. 20, 2016.
  • The approved site plan allowed for full two-way entrance and exit traffic on Erie Boulevard and right-turn-only, exit-only traffic on Front Street.
  • In September 2017, the developer noticed construction of the raised island as part of the multimillion-dollar reconstruction of Erie Boulevard, in a portion of the road that had been usable as a middle turning lane.
  • On Oct. 16, representatives of the developer met with city officials and asked them not to install the island in front of Colonial Commons, as it would limit the ability of tractor-trailers and other large vehicles to use the only permitted entrance to the property. City officials told them the island could not be changed and suggested seeking permission for expanded access on Front Street.
  • The plaintiff did this, but on Nov. 15, the city Planning Commission denied that request.
  • The city’s actions constitute an inverse condemnation and de facto taking of property.

The plaintiff is asking the court to annul the Nov. 15 denial; find that there was inverse condemnation and de facto taking of property, and award damages accordingly; and require that the city permanently remove enough of the median island that access from Erie Boulevard is restored.

Mary Elizabeth Slavin, attorney for the apartment developer, said her client does not have a specific sum in mind for damages, and in fact would prefer to negotiate a settlement that restores large-vehicle access, rather than receive a monetary award.

Under the current layout, access by mid-sized trucks is challenging, and access by tractor-trailers is impossible, she said.

The developer also worries about access by firetrucks, Slavin said, though the Fire Department has indicated to the developer and to city officials that it won’t have a problem getting access if there is an emergency.

Minutes of the Nov. 15 Planning Commission meeting indicate that traffic in the Stockade neighborhood was an overriding concern in denying the developer increased traffic access from Front Street.

That was why the developer was limited from the outset to right-turn, exit-only traffic on the Front Street side. The commission wanted cars exiting Colonial Commons to be funneled toward the casino and the Nott Street roundabout, rather than toward the narrow streets of the Front Street and Stockade neighborhoods.

Six neighborhood residents spoke against the request at the meeting. An attorney representing Capital Region Gaming LLC raised the same concerns, saying his clients had worked hard to reduce the new casino’s traffic impact on Front Street.

Slavin told the commission that the Erie Boulevard center islands had not been installed and were not part of initial consideration when the apartment project was approved with the restrictions on Front Street.

But the commission was not moved; it voted unanimously to reject the request.

Construction of the apartment building continues, even as wrangling continues over how and where vehicles will access the apartment's parking lot.

Developer David Fusco, who also owns Colonial Car Wash, said completion of the apartment project is targeted for April. The construction crew had about three weeks’ worth of exterior work left to do when winter set in, he said. That work has been halted for the next few months, but interior work continues and is coming along well, he said.

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