GUILDERLAND — A small neighborhood left mostly vacant in the wake of an aborted mall expansion may become home to the Capital Region’s first Costco Wholesale location.
Town of Guilderland officials this past week received a request from an entity connected to the owner of Crossgates Mall for a special use permit to build a 158,202-square-foot warehouse-style discount retail store.
The business would be bordered by Route 20, Crossgates Mall Road, the mall’s ring road and Gabriel Road, a short side street off Route 20 that would be extended to the ring road. Pavement would be removed from the piece of Rapp Road abandoned after a realignment, and the developers would demolish 13 vacant houses the mall owner acquired to make way for development.
Town Supervisor Peter Barber said Friday it’s a major proposal with potentially significant impacts, particularly on traffic.
“The goal here is to be sure we're assessing all the impacts,” he said.
Multiple other agencies will be involved in the review, including the county Planning Board and the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission. The Costco footprint would be within the Pine Bush, but it is not virgin habitat. Barber said he’s old enough to recall a pig farm and a horse farm operating on the site, and has watched portions of it gradually disappear beneath overgrowth and non-native trees since then.
With the potential negative impacts of a Costco anticipated and countered through the planning and review process, Barber believes replacing the ghost neighborhood with a new shopping magnet will be a step forward.
Pyramid Management of Syracuse owns Crossgates and several other large shopping centers across New York and western Massachusetts. In 1998, it announced a plan to expand Crossgates, already the region’s largest mall, into the nation’s largest mall by some measures. Pyramid acquired numerous small residential and commercial properties between the mall ring road and Route 20 to make way for the construction.
“Any time that happens it certainly raises eyebrows,” Barber said of the wholesale purchase of a neighborhood, though adding the sales were voluntary and at market rate prices or higher.
The Crossgates expansion plan died after concerted local opposition was mounted. Pyramid eventually expanded its Carousel Mall in Syracuse into Destiny USA, now the largest mall in the state and sixth-largest in the nation.
The landscape in that part of Guilderland is very different in 2019 than 1998.
The little neighborhood of Lawton Terrace, Gabriel Terrace, Tiernan Court and Rielton Court is mostly vacant and mostly owned by Pyramid. On Friday, there appeared to be only two occupied houses there. The others have been receiving basic landscape maintenance such as lawn mowing but clearly have not been occupied for some time.
South of the mall, another Pyramid entity built a five-story, 192-room hotel not far down Western Avenue from the proposed Costco site. East of the mall, the SUNY Polytechnic campus has greatly expanded horizontally and vertically. North of the mall, a hotel was built just over the border in Albany.
And west of the mall, yet another Pyramid entity is now proposing a 222-unit residential community.
That residential development and the Costco would sit within the town's designated Transit-Oriented District, which encourages dense development with pedestrian linkages to make it easier for residents to rely on public transit.
Public transit, of course, is a non-starter at a warehouse store designed to get people to save big by shopping big. You need a car or an SUV for that.
The Costco would have 700 parking spots and its own gas station.
All entry to and exit from the Costco would be onto Crossgates Mall Road or Gabriel Terrace, Barber noted — no one could drive directly onto Route 20, which is heavily congested near the Northway's terminus during peak morning traffic and often worse during the evening commute.
The state Department of Transportation counted average traffic volume at more than 29,000 vehicles a day from the proposed Costco site west to Route 155 and more than 51,000 from the Costco site east to Fuller Road.
And that was back in 2009 and 2010.
The environmental impact of the 222-unit residential proposal by Rapp Road Development LLC currently is being assessed, and Crossgates Releaseco LLC’s nearby Costco proposal will be folded into that, Barber said. Then the special use permit Crossgates Releaseco sought for the Costco in its Nov. 15 letter to the town will be considered. If it is granted, the other reviews can begin.
“My best guess would be sometime mid next year,” Barber said, of the time frame for a final approval or denial.
He said he’s heard positive resident reactions to the proposal in the few days since it became public knowledge.
It’s a national retailer consistently ranked among the best places to work, he noted, and would employ 100 people at the Guilderland location.
Other positives: the large temporary workforce on site during construction and the sizeable property tax bill that would follow.
Costco has about 775 stores nationwide, but the closest ones to the Capital Region are in West Springfield, Massachusetts, and Nanuet, New York.
Locally, it could be expected to compete with the BJ’s Wholesale Club nearby in Colonie, or the more distant BJ’s in Rotterdam and Sam’s Club in Latham, each of which is a membership-based wholesale retailer like Costco.
But Crossgates Releaseco LLC in its application to the town said it expects 50 percent of the sales tax generated at Costco to be new to the county — in other words, as much new shopping activity would be generated as would be lured away from local competitors.