SCHENECTADY — Homeowners in a stalled housing development were originally attracted to the site because of the natural beauty paired with convenient location.
Three townhouses totaling five units were built, tucked into a thicket of natural wildness in the city’s northernmost sector.
But progress was derailed by the Great Recession in 2008 and remained in limbo for several years.
Now following foreclosure by the city and a number of new owners, the project, known as The Reserve at Towpath Trail, is back on track.
The city Planning Commission last week granted site plan approval to Hudson Partners Development for its proposal to construct four apartment buildings, a total of 88 units, and eight single-family homes at 2515 Van Vranken Ave.
Residents hope the green light will lift the bureaucratic fog that has settled over the development located about 1.5 miles from Mohawk Harbor.
All but one homeowner lacks deeds to their properties — one resident likened the ambiguity to a “hostage issue” — and maintenance on two unfinished dead-end streets off North End Drive have been a chronic concern.
David Schoch said the lack of a deed means he and his wife, Eileen, legally own the footprint on which their home sits, but not their driveway or yard — or even the $10,000 erosion wall they erected after the project and original homeowners association went bust.
Without the deed, legal issues may arise if they opt to sell their home, particularly around access points, including Eileen’s wheelchair ramp.
“This really bothers me,” Schoch said. “I cannot see why these deeds can’t be issued now before construction starts.”
Kristen Mahieu moved to the development two years ago, attracted by the allure of her home’s layout paired with the scenic setting and proximity to the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail.
“When I closed in September, I closed under the assumption I would be given my deed in October,” Mahieu said.
Hudson Partners Development is the arm of Schenectady-based Maddalone & Associates, which is leading the project.
Project attorney Andrew Brick said the developers fully intend to draft the deeds, and the site plan approval has ignited a sequence of events leading to their issuance.
Property lines have already been drafted, said David Kimmer, an engineer with ABD Engineers.
“It’s not a difficult process, to be honest,” Kimmer told the Planning Commission.
The city’s Engineering Department must now approve lot line adjustments before the deeds and building permits can be authorized.
The city’s Building Department won’t sign off on those permits without proof the deeds have been issued.
“The city has not yet received a lot line adjustment application for the project,” City Engineer Chris Wallin said Friday. “Once it is received, it takes about five business days to turn around.”
The project was previously approved in March 2017, but the permit expired before construction could begin.
Aside from the legal ambiguity, residents have erected a barricade of traffic cones to prevent motorists using the unfinished St. Jean’s Place as a pull-in for illicit behavior, including drug use and illegal dumping.
Project officials indicated uncertainty at the Planning Commission meeting over who owns those internal roads.
Sara Court and St. Jean Place are currently owned and maintained by the city, Wallin said.
As part of the development, the city would look to abandon them and roll them into each apartment buildings’ property, he said. North End Drive will remain a city street.
Residents also lamented the lack of maintenance, contending they are forced to perform upkeep to preserve visibility and to prevent vandalism.
Mahieu said even without the additional traffic, it is difficult to turn out of North End Drive onto Van Vranken Avenue in either direction, and visibility is hampered by the overgrown vegetation.
“North End Drive is so overgrown it’s down to 1.5 lanes, and there’s been multiple times I have almost witnessed accidents there this summer,” she said.
Schoch felt heartened over a looming resolution to the deed issue, but remained dubious over the developer’s ability to maintain the acreage, which resembles a wildlife refuge in some places.
“The weeds on the property take over the road in the summer and lower roads to one lane,” he said. “How can we expect proper maintenance of the roads with the track record this company has held so far?”
As a condition of site plan approval, City Planning Commission Chairwoman Mary Moore Wallinger required the developers to address maintenance issues within the next two weeks.
Mahieu wondered about traffic impacts from the new units, as well as increased vehicular traffic from a proposed 260-unit apartment complex at 2837 Aqueduct Road sprawled across 21 acres.
“The traffic is still a concern for us,” Mahieu said.
Kimmer acknowledged a “substantial” volume of traffic on Van Vranken Avenue at the intersection, but he said he conducted an informal traffic analysis from 7 to 9 a.m. and again 4 to 6 p.m. at North End Drive and didn’t witness any traffic backups.
“During those four hours, I observed seven cars entering or exiting total on this road,” Kimmer said. “One of them had to wait to exit.”
If all 101 units were ultimately occupied, Kimmer estimated an additional 50 cars in peak hours at most, and said motorists can also utilize Technology Drive.
As such, a new left-hand turn lane on Van Vranken Avenue isn’t warranted, Brick said.
Kimmer also said ABD staff will monitor stormwater concerns during construction, and plans call for retention areas.
While the developer has modified some details of its 2017 plan, the scope, basic character and costs of the $10 million project remain the same, said Seth Meltzer, principal of Hudson Partners Development, who attributed the delays to rising construction costs.
Financing proved more complicated than expected, Meltzer said in March.
The 88 apartments will be a mix of one- and two-bedroom units in four buildings, one on each side of Sara Court and St. Jean Place. The eight other units will be built along North End Drive.
“We hope to have building plans by the end of October; hopefully get site work done in winter and start shoveling ground in spring,” said Christopher Maddalone, president and CEO of Maddalone & Associates.
Monthly apartment rents will be in the $1,000 to $1,250 range.
Schoch said residents will remain vigilant as the project progresses.
“We just want to make sure we get everything we were told we were going to get,” he said. “And the reason is we’ve been blindsided so many times."