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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 13, 2008


Glass Works plans shatterd?

By Saranac Hale Spencer

GUILDERLAND — After two-and-a-half years of planning for Glass Works Village, 56 acres of undeveloped land on Route 20 may remain so.

Currently zoned for residential development, the land is slated for a vote by the town board on Tuesday on a bill that would zone it for a planned unit development.  Granting the change in zoning would allow up to 310 living units and 195,000 square feet of commercial space to be clustered on land that would now allow for a few score single-family homes spread over suburban-sized lots.  Glass Works Village claims New Urbanist principles, which encourage walkable communities where businesses are mixed with residences, often mimicking village-style plans.

Years ago, developers selected the parcel, which is at the corner of Route 20 and Winding Brook Drive, for a mixed-use development because of its proximity to the Guilderland Public Library, the YMCA, and the Price Chopper Plaza, according to Daniel O’Brien, the projects director.

“We have been working for a long time to identify the right site for this project.  Glass Works Village will incorporate the traditional village concept that has proven successful for hundreds of years,” he said in May of 2006, when the project was first proposed.

“It will create some identity for the Guilderland hamlet,” Supervisor Kenneth Runion, a Democrat, said of the plan in 2006.

But he said this week that he is leaning towards voting down the zoning designation.

“He’s been leading them on for several years,” said freshman Republican Councilman Mark Grimm, after expressing genuine shock when The Enterprise told him yesterday of Runion’s plans.  “If he’s voting no, then that’s going to kill the project,” said Grimm, who plans to vote in favor of the development.

“Up until this point… I had a pretty open mind on it,” Runion said this week of Glass Works.  His statement followed a four-hour public hearing last Thursday, which brought the most criticism of the plan from citizens yet.

He said, however, that his decision is based largely on two things.  One is the library’s plans to expand, announced in April, although at an Oct. 21 meeting, Robert Ganz, chairman of the library’s long-range planning committee, told the board, “Our timeframe, right now, is on hold.”  Ganz said it would likely be on hold for six months because of the current economic climate.

Runion’s second concern is that there is no guarantee of senior housing in the development.  “That was something that I considered to be a shift,” he said, since he had been under the impression that about a third of the housing would be dedicated to those over 55.

At Thursday’s meeting, Jim Schultz, a lawyer working on the project, told the board that the plan included no designated senior housing, but the market would attract empty nesters.

Councilwoman Patricia Slavick, a Democrat, yesterday named some of the same concerns as Runion, to whom she had recently spoken.  “I am still looking at all the pieces of it,” she said.

Councilman Paul Pastore, the third Democrat on the five-member board, could not be reached for comment.

“If Runion votes against it, I expect Slavick and Pastore will vote against it and it won’t go through,” said Councilman Warren Redlich, a freshman Republican on the board who has often expressed his opposition to parts of the plan.  “I’d be very happy if they voted that way,” he concluded.

He likes the concept of the plan, Redlich said, but maintains the traffic congestion that Glass Works would add to already busy Route 20 makes the placement wrong.  A development of this size should be built near an interstate, he said. 

“The walkable community is a fiction,” Redlich said. 

Pointing to one of the hot-button issues, a road that may be built behind the library to connect traffic from Mercy Care Lane to Winding Brook Drive, which has a traffic light at its intersection with Route 20, Redlich said, “They need to be able to drive to get to the library.  It’s a fiction that people are going to walk.”

The town’s planner, Jan Weston, has been a major supporter of building a road in the town’s right-of-way located just behind the library.  That plan has put the town at odds with the library board, which is stridently opposed and claims that improving Mercy Care Lane, which connects to Winding Brook near the YMCA, is a better idea.

“We already knew that people wanted to develop something bigger… where Glass Works is proposed now,” Weston said at the Oct. 21 meeting, adding that the planning board at the time included the right-of-way because there would be a need for connecter roads, while defending her support for the road.  “You look at those original subdivision plans, that road is there,” Weston said.  “It was always part of the bigger picture.”

A few years ago, the library built a literary garden very near to the right-of-way and library trustees fear the effect of a road.  With the library’s plans for expansion, which would nearly double its size, Runion said, “That’s going to change the whole dynamic as far as traffic.”

He’d like to see a new traffic study for Glass Works that includes the expansion, he said.

“I don’t believe there is a final scope and specification on the library and so I am unaware of any traffic concerns relative to the size of that addition,” O’Brien responded through the Enterprise yesterday.

Although the road isn’t integral to the Glass Works project, the developers agreed to build it at the town’s request; they are also paying a million dollars to the town for mitigation costs, due largely to the stress the development will put on the parks and recreation areas of town.

“We’re selling them a zoning classification,” Redlich said yesterday.  “They give us a million dollars, they get special zoning,” he said of a criticism he has often raised about the process, calling it spot zoning. 

Ideally, Redlich said, zoning is about having general principals and general rules that everyone follows.  Redlich has been highly critical of the town’s permitting and zoning processes.  “It’s Runion zoning,” he said.  “And that’s not fair to developers… Zoning shouldn’t be dependent on who the supervisor is and if the supervisor likes you.”

“The town approval process requires significant studies and analysis.  A community like this requires approximately $1 [million] in total planning costs, and we are about there,” O’Brien answered the Enterprise yesterday.

“I think everybody anticipates that, because we let a plan get on the agenda, we’re 100 percent behind it,” Runion said. 

Referring to several comments made by residents critical of the project at last Thursday’s meeting, Runion said, “I took to heart the comments about the school class sizes.”

Several people expressed concern over the possible strain on the school district should there be an influx of children to the district.  According to the draft environmental impact statement for Glass Works, 135.8 school-age children would live there and, it estimates, 15 percent of them would go to private schools, which leaves 116 children for the Guilderland public school system to educate.

“That kind of a bump wouldn’t be a problem,” said then Superintendent Gregory Aidala in early 2007.

Enrollment in February of this year at Guilderland was 5,365, at which time enrollment for the next year was projected at 5,256, a decline of 109 students, a continuing trend at Guilderland.

The biggest decline (down 79 students to 1,221) was expected at the middle school, followed by the elementary school (with a decline of 38 students, down to 2,124).  The high school was expected to gain eight students, bringing enrollment to 1,911.

“Our enrollment has been going down over the last several years,” said the district’s assistant superintendent for business, Neil Sanders, earlier this year.  The trend is expected to continue, he said.

If Glass Works doesn’t go through, Runion said of the property, situated across from Guilderland Elementary School, “That is still a good site for a mixed-use development.”

“If we had developed this way the last 30 to 40 years,” Grimm said of the principles of Glass Works, “we wouldn’t have so much traffic on Western Avenue.”

— Full coverage of Glass Works Village can be found on www.altamontenterprise.com with special coverage of New Urbanism under archives for Jan. 25, 2007.


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