NISKAYUNA — Construction of a house for a prominent area developer, whose past projects have sometimes generated controversy, has been halted by the town after neighbors complained about the work.
The house is under construction on a 17-acre plot at 2495 Antonia Drive on land owned by Schenectady native Lou Lecce, a well-known developer whose company, The Lecce Group, has brought many large-scale projects to the area. The group's past work includes the Albany Medical Center urgent care center in Niskayuna.
Recent plans by Lecce for a senior citizen community in Rotterdam have raised concerns among neighbors there, as well.
According to a building permit filed with the town, the three-bedroom home will encompass 4,037 square feet and will feature a three-car garage.
Lecce said he is having the house built for himself, unconnected with his development firm.
But work was halted by a stop-work order issued by the town on Feb. 16 after neighbors complained about extensive clearing of trees on the site, located off Vincenzo Drive.
Town officials would not elaborate on what prompted the stop-work order, saying only that building department inspectors noted the removal of shrubs and trees, as well as disturbed ground that was not included in the site plan.
“The Building and Engineering Department responded to complaints of clearing at the end of Vincenzo Drive and verified that clearing and grading had been done beyond the scope of what was approved under the single-family building permit for 2495 Antonia Drive,” Town Planner Laura Robertson said.
Tim Sarrantonio, who lives on Rowe Road with his family, said there was a massive disconnect between what was submitted to the Building Department for the permit and what has actually been done at the site.
“It’s not just a little bit of brush. It’s a massive amount of clearing that’s been done, so we need to be holding people accountable for the things that they’re telling us that they’re going to be doing,” he said.
Other neighbors are concerned with what they claim is the construction of a new double-ended roadway with an extension from Vincenzo Drive leading into the site. They fear a new road is an indication of larger development plans for the area.
“Why does he need a double-ended road for one house?” asked Douglas McFadden, a Rowe Road resident.
Neighbors also claimed they saw construction work continue the weekend after the stop-work order was issued, though Robertson noted that, while there were people on the site over the weekend, it was reportedly only to move construction equipment.
“It didn’t look like they had done anything more,” Robertson said.
Lecce said he purchased the land specifically to build his home and has no plans to bring a larger development to the parcel.
“This has nothing to do with Lecce Group; there is no business involved here,” he said.
He said the stop-work order was the result of a single specific tree being taken down on the site, but he said that taking the tree down had, in fact, been within what his permit allowed.
Lecce also argued the perception that he’s building a new road is incorrect. Robertson explained there was gravel placed at the edge of Vincenzo Drive near the site, a tactic frequently used by developers to keep dirt from tracking down main roads from construction sites, and Lecce said the perceived road is simply a way for him to bring building materials onto the building site.
“People think I’m putting a road in. I’m not,” he said.
The town is now waiting for Lecce to submit a survey that will address specific claims made by the town in its stop-work order.
Solving the issue is a top priority for the Planning and Building Department, Robertson said at Monday night’s Planning Board meeting. Possible solutions could include replanting vegetation or new building permits, depending on what comes back in Lecce’s survey. Until the concerns raised have been satisfied, the stop-work order will remain in place. It was unclear as to when the survey would be submitted.
“It’s not that simple,” Robertson said. “It depends on how much has been disturbed.”