A zoning change to make way for a 243-unit project in the South End was recommended for approval by the Planning Board on Tuesday evening.
The ~120M proposal from local Corey Jones’ South End Development (SED) seeks to construct four modular structures across nearly two city blocks between Leonard Street, Krank Street, and Second Ave. The stated goals are to create affordable housing and provide sorely needed community resources such as day-care, medical/dental offices, a community center and the holy grail: a grocery store. SED is aiming for their unit mix to include 60% affordable.
Project representatives presented several changes based on previous input from residents and public officials. The proposed height of Building A has been reduced by a single story, to reduce visual impact as seen from Second Avenue. The building behind (B) has been increased by a story.
SED also altered their master plan to reduce the footprint of Building A, moving it off the lots at 84 and 86 Second Ave. The owners of those lots have neither sold nor agreed to sell.
In their final presentation before the Board, SED painted a picture of a project with unusually ambitious sustainability goals, one that strives to meet triple net zero goals for water, waste, and energy. SED will also be seeking the USDO Proximity to Transit credit, for which they would become eligible when the new CDTA River Corridor BRT line comes online. According to SED, CDTA expects that route to be in operation by November.
The project has garnered substantial public input and has been the focus of Planning Board hearings and community forums. Comments on Tuesday evening, however, were light.
A resident on Elmendorf Street raised parking and traffic concerns. “I’m certainly all for good, thoughtful development and anything that’s environmentally friendly, but I have real concerns about a significant traffic impact,” she said. “There’s absolutely no place for these cars to go other than cutting through First Avenue or around Krank Park, and there’s no place for these cars to park. I’m a huge environmental supporter, but even I drive the mile to my job. It’s just not realistic for people to not drive their cars.”
In response Kelsey Carr, project engineer with Chazen Cos., stated that they had completed a traffic report. This found that delays at First Ave and South Pearl would increase by two seconds. “We are having very minimal impact to the adjacent roadway network traffic and intersection function,” said Carr.
Another comment was from a Second Ave resident (and owner of the Mobile Gas Station at Madison and Lark), who had concerns about the dangers of investing in the city amidst the downtown in the nation’s economy and the COVID-19 pandemic. Project representatives did not respond.
In order for this development to occur with planned amenities and density, the zoning map will need to be altered. The lots are currently zoned residential (R-T) and mixed-use (MU-NE), but under the proposed amendment some or all of these would become campus/institutional (MU-CI).
The Board unanimously recommended the zoning map amendment with accompanying Planning Office statements. It will now go before the Common Council. Due to a protest petition signed by some nearby residents, the Council may need a supermajority (3/4) for approval.
A plan by developer Ron Stein to convert the basement of a two-story townhouse in Park-South into a third apartment. The apartment will be one-bedroom, one-bathroom. It came before the board as it requires alteration of the townhouse front for stair access.
“We are trying to, as we have been all across Park-South, continue to improve the overall units themselves redoing interior kitchens, bathrooms, living areas, and floors,” said Stein. “Adding a unit helps us to make this a cost-viable solution. We have demand in the area for this kind of unit. It helps with consistently fixing up the townhomes in the area beyond putting in the multi-unit apartment buildings.”
Stein is the developer behind two apartment buildings in Park-South: the 30-unit Reserve One and the 36-unit Reserve Two (which was “just completed” and “tenants are moving in as we speak,” said Stein.) Those projects entailed demolition of several nearby townhomes of the same era as this example. The developer did not state how many townhomes he was renovating.
The last item on the agenda was a longstanding plan by the Albany Center for Economic Success to construct a three-story mixed-use structure with 31 units on Clinton Ave (addr. 236 Clinton Ave./255 Orange St). This is an interesting multi-partner project that includes the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region.
The Board was intending to take action on the project–approval is expected–but there were a number of administrative approvals from Albany County Dept of Health and DEC that have not yet been received. In order to meet a late August Homes and Community Renewal application deadline, the project will need Planning Board approval. So as to provide that prior to the application deadline, the Board will likely include a public meeting component for the currently scheduled July 11th workshop.
This site contains reports, history, articles, photos and opinion pieces. This is very much the latter.
Every once in a while a project appears before the Planning Board that has a unique set of circumstances that the Board’s guiding bible — known as the Unified Sustainable Development Ordinance — could not have foreseen. For example, a recent project backed onto a very narrow rear alley. The code required that street furniture (e.g. benches) be placed every 50 feet or so along the alley. However, the alley was so narrow that this was impractical; the street furniture had the potential to impede traffic, creating the already hazardous navigation of a narrow alley even more so. The Board dropped this requirement and the project moved forward.
How was the Board able to just drop this requirement? By using a waiver. This tool allows the Board to forego or modify major development requirements so as to eliminate practical difficulties that arise from strict interpretations of the code, so long as the result will not violate the intent of the provision being modified. It’s a common feature of modern code, providing necessary flexibility where the code has failed to adequately account for all circumstances. Waivers cannot – nor should – be used to allow for major modifications. For example, they cannot be used to allow an increase or reduction in a buildings’ height. It is also an ability that should not be used with frequency. Appropriately, the Board does not and has not exercised it often. They have acted with prudence, which is of course while they were chosen for the position. Yet this necessary, even quotidian provision is one that the Councilman from Ward 15 would like to strip from the code.
The Councilman’s ostensible rationale is that dropping the waiver provision would “reduce ambiguity in what is and what is not required of landowners, developers and residents”. Unfortunately, removing a provision intended to handle unforeseeable circumstances does not remove the likelihood of their occurrence. What happens when the Planning Board can’t grant a waiver? The applicant must go to the Zoning Board of Appeals for an area variance. More red-tape — and that’s the last thing this city needs. While this amendment concerns a relatively minor provision, it would herald a return to the dark days before the current planning code, when applicants were forced to appears fore many city boards, sometimes repeatedly, to acquire reams of required variances. So many projects were smothered by these requirements that the the City earned a deserved red-tape reputation.
Under the current code, developers small and large have returned to the city. They’re building shops, market-rate apartments, and affordable housing. Hammers are echoing on Central and Clinton avenues, in Park-South, and throughout downtown. Our new code is working! So let’s not start rolling out the red tape once more.
As the old axiom goes: if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
Landmarks around the state will be lit tonight in red, white and blue in honor of the start of the 1980 Winter Olympics… but those Games couldn’t start until the Olympic torch arrived in Lake Placid. Here is 17-year-old Diane Litynski, a junior at Scotia-Glenville High School, holding the torch with Michael “Mickey” Luce, member of the 1968 US Bobsled Team in front of the Americana Inn (now The Desmond), as it made its way north.
Albany played a pivotal role in the 1980 Olympic torch relay. After a storm-battered flight from Greece, the flame first touched down on American soil at Langley military base in Virginia on January 31, 1980, in front of several thousand people. It then followed a winding path north, reaching Albany on February 6. It was at Albany that the relay split in two: one route headed northwest through the Adirondacks, the other northeast up the Champlain valley. On February 8, the two flames were reunited at Lake Placid, with a welcome ceremony held at the speed skating stadium.
The winter roads in upstate New York can be hazardous — as poet, philosopher, writer, LGBTQ activist, pacifist, and iconoclast Allen Ginsberg was acutely aware.
In 1968, while driving from Albany International Airport to his home in the Catskills, Ginsberg was in a car accident. He suffered a broken hip and a cracked ribs leading to a stint at an unnamed hospital in Albany, where an Associated Press photographer snapped this picture. His most recent book of poetry — Planet News — had been published just four days earlier.
It’s not the best image of Ginsberg, but it sure captures the feeling of a broken hip, and yes, he’s holding a flower — it’s the 60s and he’s a beat poet, so it’s mandatory.
Last month’s meeting of the Albany Planning Board saw a resurrection of the Holland Ave apartment project, a new 5-story apartment building on Spring Street (aimed at the 55-and-older market), a zoning map change in Center Square, and approval of a few Land Bank demolitions. Jump links below:
The current proposal isn’t the first vision RBC have had for the site. Way back in 2013 they proposed the first iteration of The Gallery at Holland, an ambitious plan for a 7-story, 125-unit apartment building with a pool, fitness center and movie theater. The bottom two levels would have been set aside for a 160-space parking garage. It hit snag after snag, starting with a delay due to the need for severe asbestos abatement during demolition, followed by the unexpected discovery of soil fill in 2016. Unlike clay or sand, the composition of the fill — which surrounded a 7-foot diameter sewer pipe cutting through a corner of the parcel — wasn’t able support the weight of the proposed building.
“They reviewed all the other potential methods of doing it and essentially there was no way they could have a project of that height or size,” said Dan Hershberg, consulting engineer at Hershberg & Hershberg, to the Albany Business Review early last month. The new proposal reduces the height to four stories, drops the parking garage, and plans to use lighter construction materials.
The Board questioned the need for a 59-space parking lot given the proximity to Albany Medical Center and bus stops, and the trend toward people not owning cars in favor of commuting by bus, bike, or walking. “I’m wondering if you might want to reduce the parking and add some green space,” said Board Chair Al DeSalvo. “Do you really need the 60 spaces?”
William Hoblock, with RBC, responded with a proposal to land bank some of the spaces, stating that the Board could approve the plan for 60-spaces, but RBC would only built out to 48 spaces, the minimum required by the USDO. If there is a need for additional parking in the future, then RBC would have the option to build out at that time. The Board seemed amenable.
Hoblock also noted that the landscape plan initially proposed plantings to obscure the structure from residences on Providence Street, but after meetings with the Delaware Avenue Neighborhood Association, they revised their plan to include an 8-foot tall white vinyl fence instead. After questioning by the Board, RBC agreed to forego the white vinyl in favor of a redesign that is more substantial, durable and less “stark”.
The lot is currently vacant except for a parking lot that served the Albany Holland Apartments, a 2-story 33-unit brick structure demolished by RBC in 2017. That building’s last use was as a dorm for the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
This was a concept review so no actions were taken by the Board.
New apartments in Center Square
Flerida Santanas-Johnas, of Ikos Management and Development, proposed a new 5-story apartment building with 19 studio/one bedroom units for Spring Street. The project will replace a 10-space parking lot.
The units will be aimed at people looking to relocate to a more walkable neighborhood. “Our focus is going to be more 55 and older and those who are intellectually and developmentally disabled, who have a lesser need for a vehicle and parking,” said Santana-Johnas.
The lot currently includes the recently renovated rowhouse at 166 Washington Ave. (c1859-1861), so a sub-division will be necessary to split off the rear parking lot for the new construction. The proposal will also reduce the impervious lot coverage, as a small portion will be converted to greenspace, and will have a “blue roof”, which retains precipitation for a more gradual release. There is no requirement for off-street parking as the new subdivided lot will be less than 5,000sqft.
The proposal was not met with enthusiasm by some Spring Street residents, who decried adding more renters, stated that the removal of the lot would exacerbate parking woes, and that the height and style were not in keeping with other structures on the block.
“To make Spring Street a place that people want to live you need to encourage more owners,” said Cherie Duvall, a homeowner on Spring Street. “Renters have no responsibility to maintain their property. […] They don’t care about their buildings. These one room apartments will not bring longterm residents who will become permanently invested in the neighborhood and its growth.” She cited issues with garbage along the street related to rental properties, and noted several nearby properties that lack the appropriate occupancy permits.
The developer was given an opportunity to respond. “I can appreciate what my neighbors are saying in terms of blighted properties or properties that are not taken care of by absentee landlords,” said Santana-Johnas. “Unlike some landlords, I’m at that property at least 4-5 days a week.” She noted that one of her partners will be occupying 166 Washington Ave., the first floor of which was recently converted to an apartment. “We’re not absentee landlords. We’re there. We care about our neighbors; we care about our properties.”
Paige Allen, also a Spring Street resident, took issue with the height. “Just because the building next door is really tall — the Social Services building — I don’t think that warrants every new building being just as tall,” said Allen. She was referring to the 7-story office building at 162 Washington Ave., which houses the Albany County Dept of Social Services.
Daniel Sanders responded: “In terms of the design […], we did look at the character of the neighborhood, and incorporated details in terms of bay windows, siding,” said Sanders. “We created a buffer with a chimney effect to the [7-story] building adjacent to us which is out of scale — notably — on the block. [And] if we took a shot of the buildings on the block, there is a substantial number of three story buildings.”
This stretch of Spring Street has a bit of an unusual building mix — it contains parking lots, carriage houses, 2- and 3-story apartment buildings, and a few exceptionally tall office/apartment buildings. History is to blame, as usual. Throughout much of the 19th century it had mostly undeveloped rear lots, 1- and 2-story support buildings serving the mansions on State Street and Washington Ave., and the rare 3-story. Many of the smaller support structures have since been demolished, although some of the carriage houses — such as 31 Spring St — still exist.
As far as I know, the first structure to exceed four stories was The Stuyvesant, a 7-story apartment building raised by Frederick Proctor in the 1890s to house actors performing at Harmanus Bleecker Hall. In the 20th century, the Spring Street Tall Building Club was joined by the Albany County Social Services building and the 5-story office building at 192 Washington, current home of Capital CarShare and the Lark Street BID.
If we take a walk around the corner we come to Dove & Deer, a gastropub at the heart of a proposed rezone on Dove St.
Back in 2017 the City adopted a new zoning code — “the USDO” — and have been gradually refining it since. Per that effort, Councilmember Richard Conti has proposed an amendment to the zoning map that would impact five buildings on Dove Street and one on State St. The new zoning would carve out a limited mixed-use corridor (MU-NE), providing a transition between the Washington office buildings (MU-CU) and the predominantly residential district deeper in Center Square (R-T). This would permit more uses within the six lots, and ease upgrades or expansions of existing businesses.
Why the amendment? Well, the building at 293 State St houses Dove & Deer, which opened last October. Since then the team behind Dove & Deer has acquired 23 Dove., the former home of Bongiorno’s, an Italian restaurant that was just across the street. They have plans to renovate the spot into a new Italian eatery to be named Rosanna’s. This activity appears to have been (at least part of) the catalyst for the amendment. Under the present zoning map, they would need to seek additional variances to make changes beyond the current uses. This is not ideal as the USDO was originally adopted to try and reduce the need for such variances, which had had a stultifying effect on commercial ventures under the previous code. The Board’s concern, as brought up in an earlier workshop, is that designating such a limited area as mixed-use might constitute spot-zoning, a practice prevalent–and troublesome–under the former code. It was determined that this likely would not constitute such because the uses provided under MU-NE are consistent with the USDO, and the majority of the structures have (or have had) ground floor commercial use.
Boardmember Glinnesa Gailliard wondered why, if the Board was willing to apply this designation to a set of buildings on Dove, they wouldn’t also apply it to the entire block, (i.e. including 25-29 Dove St and 303 State St.)? Zach Powell, with Albany Planning & Dev, noted that there “might be merit” to expanding the designation to other nearby properties, but only if those properties had a history of commercial use, they were contiguous to the already proposed lots, and they were consistent with the USDO. Powell also noted that, while there have been relatively few zoning map amendments since the USDO was established, the Board last month approved changing 140-144 Hamilton to MU-NE, in a similar effort to reduce to the need for variances for a proposed meadery at that location.
Chair Al DeSalvo and Boardmember Martin Hull cautioned against expanding the scope of the new MU-NE designation. DeSalvo noted that it may not be appropriate for areas where the primary non-residential use is first-floor offices, and Hull echoed stating that the City should be careful about allowing mixed-use into primarily townhouse areas. Center Square residents Devall and Julie Raskin also spoke against. Amendment was tabled but should be back up at the October meeting.
Demolitions and Miscellany
U-Haul of Eastern New York is looking to install a large wall sign (90sqft) at 8 Erie Boulevard. Approved.
Board approved demolition of 436 Third St., 319 Sherman St., and 350 Second St., all owned by the Albany County Land Bank. These properties are some of the older holdings in the Land Bank’s portfolio. A neighbor spoke in favor of the demolition at 436 Third St. There was a lengthy discussion of the history of 350 Second Street with Amanda Wykoff, from the Land Bank.
Top image: Joseph Palumbo, architect with Carmina-Wood-Morris, before the Albany Planning Board on July 23rd, 2019. (Photo by Ian Benjamin)
A 77-unit apartment complex may be constructed on upper Broadway behind the Lost & Found Bar and Kitchen (formerly Barrel Saloon), if a plan by a Massachusetts real estate developer comes to pass.
Waltham-based Dakota Partners LLC has proposed renovating the former CMP Industries LLC factory into 45 units composed of eight one-bedroom and 37 two-bedroom units. The most recent addition, at 928 Broadway, would be demolished to make way for a standalone five-story, 34,890sqft apartment building containing 16 one-bedroom units and 16 two-bedroom units. The existing complex includes four buildings spread across parcels at 26 Pleasant, 928 Broadway, and 930-940 Broadway.
Dakota Partners is looking to sell the project based on historic aesthetic of the manufacturing buildings, proximity to public transportation, and amenities — such as two dog parks, one for small and one for large dogs. There will also be 61 parking spaces, multiple bike storage areas, and — similar to other recent projects — interest by the developer in partnering with CDPHP Cycle and/or Capital CarShare.
The project was presented at the July Albany Planning Board meeting by Mark Pilotte, with Dakota Partners, and engineer Joseph Palumbo and architect Paul Lang, both with Buffalo-based Carmina-Wood-Morris.
The new structure at 928 Broadway will be “podium style, with a smaller footprint, with pylons that come down, and driveway access underneath for parking behind,” said Palumbo. “We’re proposing to […] put in some dedicated parking spaces that are more defined and have greenspace and pedestrian movement throughout the site.”
The new construction building will be disconnected from the historic structures, which will give the developer the opportunity to restore the original fenestration patterns and facade, a requirement for their project to qualify for historic tax credits. Entrance will be on Broadway, as shown in the above rendering.
The main entrance to the historic complex will be via the existing boiler room for the current manufacturer — Nobilium, which produces dentistry prosthetics — and will house the common areas and leasing office. Normally, this would raise the Board’s eyebrows, as such mechanical spaces are usually cramped and unpleasant; in this case, however, the space has tall vaulted ceilings and skylights that provide ample light, according to the applicants.
“It’s nice,” said Lang. “It takes you back [in time] for a moment.”
Given the complex includes an existing four-story structure that already fronts on Broadway, Planning Chair Al DeSalvo questioned the rationale for not placing the main pedestrian entrance on the main pedestrian thoroughfare.
“Unfortunately, while an at-grade access would be ideal immediately off of Broadway, the first story is actually five feet above grade so it would be a rather complicated ramp and stair structure to get into the space,” said Palumbo, adding that “there’s currently no defined doorways along this [stretch], so that would also force us to go back to SHPO [NY State Historic Preservation Office] or NPS [National Park Service] for approval to modify a fenestration to accommodate a door.”
A group of uptown Albany residents called StopTheStories has called for a halt (or greater oversight) of the ongoing development in their neighborhoods, and a reduction in the height of new buildings. They state that the City — and the Planning Board in particular — is not following its own regulations, that these development will drastically change the character of their neighborhoods, and that they will put stress on the City’s infrastructure. To make themselves heard, StopTheStories will be rallying before the Monday City Council meeting. In response, Walkable Albany — led by founder Andrew Neidhardt — will be staging a counter-rally to champion appropriate development as a way to create walkable neighborhoods.
This brouhaha has spurred ongoing vigorous — and at times contentious — discussion of the city’s future. Ahead of Monday’s City Council rallies, I wanted to summarize (as briefly as possible) some of the better responses to concerns that have appeared in various forums. These are all complex issues and, as such, these are hardly comprehensive answers. I nonetheless hope that, whether you are deeply concerned or cautiously optimistic (as I am) about the building boom, I hope you find the below responses to be a starting point for discussion. I’ve included sources where readily available. Feel free to comment below or on the Albany Notes Facebook Page.
How can all of these new units be filled? Where are these people coming from? Does Albany really have that strong a housing market?
There is a very strong demand for apartments in Albany, which is driving the current development engine. That engine is fueled by a variety of factors —
A pent-up demand for multi-family (e.g. apartment) housing. Historically, multi-family housing has been a relatively small percentage of the region’s residential development. Since 1990, the percentage of building permits issued for multi-family housing has increased from 14% to more than 50% in 2016. This increase has became more rapid post-Great Recession as the housing market recovered.
Traditionally, homeownership was a right of passage to adulthood. Now, significantly fewer younger people are choosing to own a home than in previous generations.
The share of renters in the Capital District is increasing across the board.
As fewer Millennials are buying homes, the region’s older population may be aging out of theirs and looking for new housing options. The region’s 65+ population will increase from 14% in 2010 to 22% by 2030, representing more than 80,000 more seniors living in our region. This aging population is increasingly looking to downsize and rent.
There has been relatively slow regional population growth, but continued single-family home development in suburban and rural areas from 1995-2015. During that period, land was developed at a rate of five times the population growth. As the suburbs grew, local cities were shrinking or stagnant.
Albany may be playing catch up to neighboring localities. Between 2007 and 2016, more multifamily building permits were issued in Halfmoon than Albany, and the suburban and more rural localities continue to account for a significant number of multi-family building permits issued.
And lastly, the region’s residential development is booming along the I-87 corridor, centered just north of Albany in Saratoga County, which may be contributing to the demand.
The points listed above pertain to the Capital Region specifically, but the area is not unique in experiencing these trends — home buying has slowed, people are moving to cities, and more people are eschewing home ownership across the country.
What about affordability? What happens to those seeking affordable housing in Albany? Are these developments going to address that issue?
Provision of affordable housing is a major issue. The city has lost a major portion of its affordable — and often historic — housing stock over the past 50 years due to fires, absentee/apathetic landlords (and inadequate City intervention), and complex historical land-use trends such as redlining, white flight, urban renewal and the effects of the Great Recession. While the many ongoing or proposed apartments are or will be meeting the demand for additional middle- and upper-income multi-family housing, it is highly unlikely that most of these will meet the city’s need for lower-income housing. Without action, the city’s affordable housing problem is only going to get worse.
In the region, the share of homeowners who spend more than 30% of their income on housing is going down, yet the share of renters spending more than 30% of their income on rent is going up. Meanwhile, median household incomes are struggling to keep pace with inflation and, in the region’s minority communities, they are trending down. While single-family housing remains relatively affordable, rents continue to rise due to the growing demand. Even as supply of middle-income and upper-tier apartments grows (potentially stabilizing rents at those levels) rents for previously affordable units may creep upwards due to the city’s continuing lack of affordable housing. In combination with falling household incomes, this has the potential to exacerbate housing woes, especially in minority communities.
Won’t this development boom further strain the City’s already strained water and sewer infrastructure?
The city’s populace grows by about 70% during weekdays as commuters flood into work. New residents using that infrastructure during the evenings/night will not be straining that infrastructure beyond what it would already be experiencing during weekday work hours. Furthermore, the City is making majorinvestments to improve its water and sewer infrastructure and limit runoff from new developments. According to a recent Times-Union article:
Each new development’s stormwater runoff can be no more than what would come from the site undeveloped during a 10-year storm, Albany Water Department Commissioner Joseph Coffey said. That means each project is doing “significant” stormwater detention, meanwhile the city continues to invest millions in stormwater management efforts from diversion and detention to new technology for monitoring and management, he said.
“We have requirements that we have to meet with best management projects as part of our Combined Sewer Overflow permit, and we’re meeting those,” Coffey said. “They are factored into our reviews of every one of those projects, and if they can’t be done, we can’t approve the project.”
Will these developments help alleviate or will they increase the already heavy tax burden on City residents?
When any private individual or corporation purchases a vacant lot in Albany, they are subject to a tax based upon the assessed value of the land. If the owner chooses to improve that land (by building a house or an apartment building), then they become subject to taxes based upon the value of those improvements. In order to incentivize large, multi-million dollar projects, municipalities can offer tax reductions based on only theimprovements. Many of Albany’s new developments are receiving such incentives from the City or Albany County, often in the form of PILOTs (payments-in-lieu-of-taxes). These tax breaks are substantial for the first couple years, but are gradually reduced (ofter over a decade) until the owner is paying the full assessed value of the land and improvements.
From the City’s perspective, if there’s no investment, then there’s no increase in value, and no gradually increasing revenue from the property. It’s akin to delaying a reassessment for a homeowner that adds a new bathroom. No money is lost, but the City is making an investment with the certainty the property will generate more and more each year than the site it will replace.
Won’t these new residents exacerbate traffic woes?
Denser development in Capital Region cities should shift a greater share of the region’s population growth to urban cores. This will moderate the increase of vehicles on city arteries, since urban residents are more likely to take alternative transportation because they:
have easier access to the necessary infrastructure (i.e. buses, bike lanes, complete sidewalks),
are more likely to live in close proximity to their workplace than their counterparts in the suburbs,
find that using alternative transportation is less expensive than a personal vehicle, and
find that alternative transportation is often as efficient (or more efficient) at short distances in urban areas than a personal vehicle.
Shifting toward greater urban density and better alternative transportation infrastructure (i.e. better sidewalks, more and better bike lanes, quicker bus systems) will put the city’s limited available land to a more economical and environmentally sustainable use, but may come at the expense of car convenience.
The Albany County Land Bank has been slowly acquiring clustered properties in distressed Albany areas over the past few years and now they’re looking to craft ideas on how best to use them. To help the Land Bank make that determination they’re looking to hire a consultant. Executive Director Adam Zaranko presented the plan at the most recent Land Bank directors’ meeting, so I’ll hand off to him to introduce.
“One of the reasons we were created in our founding legislation — at both the State and local level — is to do exactly what we are proposing to do today. We’ve acquired about 1,000 properties since 2015, when we became active. We have put a lot of thought into creating assemblages, creating strategic clusters, and doing land-banking as intended by the practice. We’ve been deliberate and thoughtful on this because, obviously, we can’t land bank everything.
In the past couple months, we’ve seen interest from a whole spectrum of developers and buyers for the properties we’ve amassed, including in the South End. Part of [this is because it’s] springtime, part of it is that the market is still strong in Albany relative to other upstate cities, and [part of it is due to] the advent of Opportunity Zones. [That] a lot of our properties are in census tracts designated by the feds is certainly pique-ing the interest of people who have raised quite a bit of money. We want to make sure that we are in the driver’s seat on this because we’ve done all this work, and we don’t want some investment to come in without a community lens and deliberate thought. We see an opportunity to leverage the properties that we’ve acquired, harness this activity, and meaningfully dispose of this real estate in a way that is beneficial to all parties involved — the residents, the community, the developers, and the Land Bank.”
The Land Bank is focusing on three clusters for this initial project. The first is in the South End around Teunis and South Pearl streets, the second is along Clinton near Henry Johnson Boulevard, and the third is the former Center for Family and Youth/Project STRIVE Program Center at Ontario and West streets.
Cluster 1: South End
The South End set is clustered around Teunis Street with other properties scattered nearby. With this set in particular, Zaranko said the Land Bank is keeping an open mind about possible combinations with ACDA, other City-owned properties, vacant buildings, and severely tax-delinquent properties that are thus likely to end up in City/Land Bank’s hands.
Cluster 2: Clinton Ave and Henry Johnson Boulevard
This cluster was initially envisioned during the Land Bank’s Center for Community Progress scholarship program. Due to the I-90 Arbor Hill entrance, the Henry Johnson Boulevard/Clinton Avenue intersection gets about an average of 25,000-30,000 vehicle trips per day, which will be a factor in crafting a plan.
Cluster 3: Center for Family and Youth/Project STRIVE Program Center
The third set, in the Beverwyck neighborhood, is the former Center for Family and Youth/Project STRIVE Program Center at West and Ontario streets. This recently-acquired set includes 130 and 135 Ontario, and a gravel lot at 154 West Street. The area is about a block and a half from the set of rowhouses on Bradford Street that caught fire recently.
“The buildings are in very, very rough shape on the inside,” said Zaranko. “There’s a significant amount of mold and, despite being vacant for not too long relative to our portfolio, I don’t know if they could be salvaged except for the steel.”
The process of pulling together enticing development packages is beyond the Land Bank’s expertise, so they’re looking to hire a real estate planning consultant — ideally a local firm — to fill that need. “We know what we want to do, but we need to get the resources in to do it and we’re not pretending that we have this expertise or capacity in our shop,” said Zaranko.
No matter the consultant selected, the Land Bank will be looking for ideas that take advantage of their real estate abilities, that incorporate affordable housing in some fashion, and that align with neighborhood goals, such as those identified in the South End and West Hill community plans. Zaranko said that they would consider incentivizing some of those priorities “within reason”. The affordable housing aspect was emphasized by David Traynham, ACLB vice-chair, who noted that the Land Bank should take some steps to define “affordable” during the process, so that there’s provision of housing for those who are making minimum wage.
“This is exactly what land banks were set up to do, we have the property to do it, and we have the momentum so I strongly recommend that we dive into this and see where it takes us,” said Zaranko.
A substantial property tax payment was made on the Governors Motor Inn in Guilderland, which was acquired last year. The property had accrued a tax debt of more than $200,000, according to the Times-Union. While acquisition by the Land Bank halted the accumulation of more taxes, the Land Bank became liable for those already imposed. “We’re going to try to recover every dollar plus in the property sale,” said Executive Director Adam Zaranko.
Social media engagement has driven a lot of interest in the many workshops held by the Land Bank. These workshops are quite informative, so if you’re thinking about buying a property in Albany County (especially if it’s from the Land Bank) I highly recommend attending.
A demolition contract to WPNT Construction for a few buildings (including two on Elm) was approved. Board approval is required when such contracts are above $15,000.
It’s spring, so there’s a lot of movement in the real estate world – and the Land Bank is no exception. Sale of 16 properties spread across five municipalities (6 buildings and 10 parcels) were approved.
Sales recommendations are the culmination of a lengthy process that begins with application, vetting, review, and then recommendations from the acquisition/disposition sub-committee. The Board then typically approves the recommendations made by the sub-committee. This list is based upon a recording of the meeting and may not be accurate. Spellings of last names that appear in quotes are best guess. For questions about sales, contact the Land Bank directly.
369 First Street — Recommended sale of a vacant 19th century Italianate two-story rowhouse in West Hill to Dileep Rathor, who owns a small market at 16 Judson Street. Dileep also owns an adjacent rowhouse and would like to rehab both buildings for rental.
316 Sheridan Ave — A very tiny house in Sheridan Hollow, just south of the Empowerment Center at 320 Sheridan Ave (the former St. Casimir Catholic Church). Board recommended sale to a Ms. Wilson, who would like to rehab and occupy as her primary residence.
472 Second Ave (building and rear lot) – Recommended sale to a “Mr. Doredekis” and a “Mr. Matides”. Rear lot is shared by nearby property owners.
Sales outside Albany (and a recent acquisition in Bethlehem):
424R Columbia Street (lot) – Recommended sale of a landlocked vacant parcel to a Mr. and Mrs. Marra, whose parents own an adjacent property that provides access.
1219 7th Ave (building) – Residential building to be sold to a “Mr Irwin”, who has proposed rehab and resell. This is subject to the ACLB’s “flip” policy, which requires the subsequent buyer to also go through the Land Bank’s vetting process.
500 13th St (building) – Small former convenience/drug store to a “Mr. LaGreche”, who would like to rehab the property and use it as his primary residence. He is employed at the nearby Watervliet Arsenal.
77 Karner Road (lot) – Small strip of vacant land recommended for sale to “Momro Associates”, which owns the adjacent building used by the Capital District Center for Disability Services.
Edwards Hill Road (lot) – Recommended sale of a large lot to Mr. Mance, a Connecticut resident, who plans to build a “modular structure” on the property.
This meeting was held on May 21, 2019. The next ACLB directors’ meeting will be on Tuesday, June 18th at 5:30pm at 200 Henry Johnson Boulevard (2nd floor, go in the door on the right).
About: The Albany County Land Bank Corporation was one of the first ten land banks created in New York following the passage of the NYS Land Bank Act in 2011. As such, it is a rather unique entity granted special real estate powers to be used for the Good Cause of facilitating the acquisition, improvement, and redistribution of tax-foreclosed, vacant or abandoned properties. They were initially funded with payouts from NYS Attorney General initiated litigation against Big Banks that engaged in the unscrupulous lending practices that led to the sub-prime mortgage crises, which was a major trigger of the Great Recession.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Capital Area are planning to renovate their facility on Delaware Avenue following a recent merger, but their proposal for the exterior may change following feedback received from the City Historic Resources Commission.
The structure in question is the Modernist mid-century building at 21 Delaware Avenue, just across from the Missing Sock laundromat. Built in 1956, it was designed by notable local architect Henry Blatner, who also designed the Clarksville Elementary School and contributed to the Empire State Plaza.
“It’s a very old facility,” explained Executive Director Justin Reuter. “Over the years we’ve done updates inside, but the outside has been continually neglected because the dollars we have we like to invest in programming first and, unfortunately, facilities always take a back seat.” The building has begun to “show its age”, said Reuter. “We’re trying to beautify the building to make it fit in better with the neighborhood. As you can see it’s kind of outdated.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs are looking to put up new signage, redo the landscaping, and paint the exterior. There is only modest landscaping — the entrance is framed by linden (or cherry) trees and — until recently — a Norway spruce and cedars occupied the building’s southeast corner. Due to discoloration and the ghosts of scrubbed graffiti BGCCA was also looking to paint the buff-colored brick (there’s quite a bit of it), and repaint the trim around the windows (currently gray and electric blue). They had selected a gray hue for the bricks and a longtime donor — Waterford-based industrial tank painting company TEC Coatings — had offered to donate their services for the job.
It was the paint plan that caught the Commissioners’ eyes.
“Brick like this is not meant to be painted — or stained,” said Commissioner Jennifer Geraghty. “The best thing to do with this type of brick is to clean it. That’s the most sustainable thing to do, you’ll get the best results, and it will last the longest. Neither staining or painting is a treatment this brick was meant to have, nor is it likely to be one that the brick is likely to respond well to.” She also noted that painting the brick would create unnecessary maintenance for the organization, since it would need to be refreshed every 5-10 years. Furthermore, the paint would prevent airflow through the wall, which would lead to interior moisture issues in a few years. “It feels a little like a solution in search of a problem.”
In response, Reuter indicated that he was not very concerned about the longterm maintenance, as TEC Coatings had been a donor for for many years and he expected would continue to be around for many more, and would be more than willing to repaint when necessary. The Commission did not approve the request.
The renovation was precipitated by the merger of the Troy Boys & Girls Club and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Albany earlier this year, which are now the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Capital Area. Reuter was CEO of the Albany chapter prior to the merger before stepping into his current role.
The Boys & Girls Club building is one of the finer example of Modernism in Albany (see also the Trailways building), despite being a style that is less oft appreciated than the city’s ubiquitous Victorian-era architecture.
“It may not be an 1880s brownstone, but this style is coming more and more into its own,” said Geraghty. “I think you’ll find that, as time goes one, more people will appreciate this building type.”
That huge pit along Broadway, just north of Olde English Pub? It’s finally getting filled.
The Board approved (with conditions) the revised development plan for Quackenbush Square, a roughly $90 million apartment and hotel project at the intersection Broadway and Spencer Street, behind and alongside the Albany Pump Station.
“It is ready to go,” said Daniel Hershberg, of Hershberg & Hershberg, representing the project. As of two weeks ago, the pit had been filled to the sub-grade elevations of the building footings, said Herschberg.
The new proposal calls for an 8-story, ≅86,320 sqft hotel with ≅136 rooms at Spencer and Montgomery streets. An L-shaped, 6-story apartment building with 129 units would run along Spencer Street with first floor commercial spaces on Broadway (≅14,352 sqft), and a pedestrian tunnel from the Broadway sidewalk. Landscaping would be installed along Broadway and trees planted along Spencer.
A previous project iteration included a parking garage, but that item has been scrapped. Pioneer is now planning to have parking underneath and behind the mixed-use building, and will be leasing spaces from the Albany Parking Authority in the Quackenbush Garage.
The Board unanimously approved the project, on the conditions that:
Pioneer must obtain a lease for the parking spaces at the Quackenbush Garage.
Final traffic signal plans will need to be stamped by an engineer and must be installed and working prior to occupancy.
An Albany County sewer line runs by the corner of the hotel footprint, at Montgomery and Spencer streets. Pioneer is must relocate the line from under the building and toward/under the road. An infrastructure agreement has been finalized between Pioneer and the Albany County Water Purification District (formerly the Albany County Water Sewer District.) and is up for approval by the County Legislature.
Pioneer must secure approval from Capitalize Albany Corporation for improvements to their adjacent lands. (Note: I didn’t identify where these were, but I suspect this is a requirement that Pioneer improve the landscaping and pedestrian infrastructure around the Albany Visitors Center.)
With approval in hand, Pioneer will now be seeking around $7 million in tax breaks from the City IDA. Construction is expected to start this season if all goes according to plan… although this project has hardly gone to plan.
Quackenbush Square had been stalled since this time last year, when early bids came in 30-40 percent over budget, forcing a redesign. Originally conceived with a 10-story, 136-unit Hyatt House hotel, 181 apartments, retail and and underground parking garage, the new proposal has been reduced to the 8-story Hyatt Place hotel, which has smaller rooms, no parking garage, and only 129 apartments (project documents).
The too-high bids came on the heels of delay — remediation of underground gas storage. Pioneer had suspected that there would be gas tanks and had planned for finding a few, but they had not expected to find a dozen.
The plan is to split the management structure three ways. Of the units, 56 will be “low-income tax-credit qualified artist’s lofts”, said David Sarraf of Fairbank Properties/Clinton Square Studios. CapRep will own and manage 10 of these “artist’s lofts” as staff and traveling actor housing, with the remaining 56 residences managed by the Albany Barn (they have a similar arrangement at 56 2nd St.). The third area will be the ground level commercial, which will be owned and managed separately.
Board chair Al De Salvo recused himself from the discussion because he sits on The Rep’s board.
39 Columbia St, (Redburn Development)
Redburn was up before the Board with slight change to their proposal for 39 Columbia Street. The gist of this project — one of a slate of Redburn projects in historic downtown buildings — is renovation of a ≅60,000 square foot building into ≅46 apartments. This change concerns the parking lot at the rear of the site. From Google Street View:
“Initially, we proposed an application in which we re-topped [the pavement] and kept what was there,” said Damien Pinto-Martin, Redburn’s vice-president of development. “We’ve had some really good discussions with the City of Albany Planning Department and a couple of good back-and-forths here at the Planning meetings and I think we’ve come up with a much better option.”
Part of this “better option” concerns an adjacent strip of greenery and street trees on Van Tromp street, visible to the right in the view above. It’s not actually part of 39 Columbia Street; it’s City property. Under the new proposal Redburn would maintain this small parcel in exchange for a longterm lease or option to purchase. Any agreement would, of course, be contingent upon Common Council approval.
Redburn will also be removing the ticket shed at the Broadway entrance, restricting that connection to entrance only, and installing an entrance bar. The exit would be onto Van Tromp street. They’ll be installing landscaping along Broadway and at least one street tree next to Marcus T. Reynold’s United Traction Building at 600 Broadway, as well as a “more traditionally historic privacy fence”. (My take: This landscaping will help alleviate that unbroken stretch of concrete and pavement, and the “historic privacy fence” will be major step up from their original proposal for a chain-link fence. However, one step better would be to plant a row of trees to mirror those across the street in front of the DEC building at 625 Broadway.)
Redburn already has a “gut” permit, so interior demolition has already or will soon begin, but they’ll need further Planning Board approvals to move onto interior buildout.
Armory Garage (950, 960, and 964 Central Ave.)
The Armory Garage dealership across from Westgate Plaza on Central is looking to expand their showroom and offices. They’ll be demolishing the single-story, ≅13,196 square foot office and showroom at 960 Central and removing a nearby concrete slab (site plan) to make way for a larger single-story, ≅53,267 square foot structure with parking for inventory and employees. The new showroom building will be set further from the road than zoning allows, so they sought a variance to push the maximum setback from 100 feet to 136 feet.
Armory presented during the March meeting, so they were up for approval this time round. And they got it. Board approved via the new consent agenda and neg-dec’d on SEQRA. Here are the elevations if you want to get close and personal with that rendering and proposed materials. It looks like they’ll be continuing the styling of their 66 Colvin building (glassy, white, with big arches — so rather run-of-the-mill for a car dealership).
The last item of the meeting was a detailed set of comments from Ward 9 Councilmember Judy Doesschate with recommendations on the USDO, but I’ll need to read up on those before I can summarize with any meaningful context. But if you’re vaguely interested in planning, city development, or simply live in the city, I’d recommend taking a peek at the document, even though it’s a beast. The City is in the midst of making changes and working out kinks in the new code, so now is the time to comment.
Albany Planning Board workshops are generally held the second Tuesday and meetings on the fourth Tuesday of each month (schedule). The next will be a workshop on May 14th.
Would you like to contribute? Maybe you’d be up for taking notes at the occasional meeting? Perhaps you’ve been mulling an urban planning question and would like to share your thoughts? Or regale us with some deep Albany history (my favorite)? Pitch me at the contact form. I’m all ears.