Editor's Note: This story was corrected at 10 a.m. on July 13, 2018. An earlier version included an incorrect first name for Stephen Signore.
ROTTERDAM -- A divided Rotterdam Town Board has approved controversial plans for a $55 million senior citizen housing complex at the Whispering Pines golf course, despite neighborhood opposition to the project.
The board's 3-2 approval Wednesday night of a zoning change allowing construction of 496 units of senior housing on the 90-acre Helderberg Avenue property is a turning point for the project, after 18 months of intense community debate.
Town Supervisor Steven Tommasone, who has consistently advocated for the project, voted in favor of it, as did board members Samantha Miller-Herrera and Stephen Signore. Board members Evan Christou and Joseph Guidarelli voted against it.
"There were some residents who were upset, and it's understandable," Tommasone said Thursday. "I firmly believe this is going to be a phenomenal project for the town and will not be an impediment to the neighborhood and to property values."
Developer Lou Lecce of Niskayuna still must have the plan's details reviewed by the town Planning Commission before construction can start -- a review process that could take several more months.
Lecce said he's still preparing the documents needed for the Planning Commission review, but he hopes to break ground in the mid- to late fall.
"I'm very happy, but most of all I'm happy for the seniors of Rotterdam," he said. "I have literally been getting calls every month from seniors."
At the Wednesday meeting, the Town Board approved the findings of an environmental impact review that concluded adverse impacts can be avoided or minimized, and then approved creating a new "senior living district" for the property, which is currently zoned for agricultural use.
Some neighbors and other project opponents argued the number of units proposed is still too many for the area, where most of the other development has been single-family houses. Some also argued that such a large complex amounting to allowing a commercial activity in what is otherwise a residential area.
Neither Christou, who is the deputy supervisor, nor one of the project's outspoken neighborhood opponents could be reached for comment on Thursday.
More than 100 people attended a public hearing on May 11 at which the Town Board heard two hours of views both for and against the project.
The original version of the project, submitted to the town in early 2017 as a 680-unit planned development district, was controversial and was withdrawn by the developer after extensive public criticism.
Revised plans submitted in February called for construction of 496 residential units, including a mix of houses and apartments, on the property. Construction is expected to take up to four years.
The plans call for 67 single-family units, 58 townhouse units, 119 independent-living apartments, 144 assisted-living units and 108 memory-care units.
Some recreational uses would be allowed, and the 18-hole golf course would be redesigned as a 9-hole executive course, which would remain open to the public. While there would be a new clubhouse, the earlier proposal's plan for an on-site emergent care medical facility has been dropped.
Lecce said the first phase of work will be restructuring the golf course and installation of infrastructure, followed by construction of single-family "cottages." The third and fourth phases of work will include construction of the independent and assisted living apartments.
Lecce estimated the project will increase annual tax payments to the town by $1 million to $1.5 million per year.