Planning Board Chronicles: Resurrection of the Gallery on Holland Ave., more apartments and a bit of rezoning for Center Square, and some demolitions

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:

It’s alive!

After years of delays and unexpected hurdles, an upscale developer has returned to Albany with a scaled-down proposal for an apartment bui on Holland Ave.

Saratoga Springs-based Richbell Capital (RBC) are hoping to construct a 4-story, 60-unit multi-family apartment building (+/-67,132sqft) with 59 parking spaces. It will be constructed on a vacant lot close to intersection of Holland and Delaware avenues, and near Lincoln Park.

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Elevation from Holland Ave. The complex will be nearly built out to the sidewalk. The lot is zoned mixed-use (MU-CU). (Credit: Humphreys and Partners Architects L.P.)

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”.

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Site plan for The Galley on Holland, at 25 Holland Ave. (Credit: Herschberg & Herschberg)

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.

View as seen from Spring St. (Rendering copyright Harris Sanders Architects)

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.

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Snapshot of area from the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for 1892 showing residences on Washington Ave (top) and tertiary structures — often carriage houses — on Spring St. (bottom)

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.

This was a concept review so no actions were taken by the Board. If you’re interested, feel free to dig deeper over at the Albany Planning&Dev site.

A rezoning Dove tale

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.

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Zoning map boundaries after the change. The green areas are MU-NC, the purple-pink is R-T, and the light blue would be the new MU-NE area. It would include 22-28 and 23 Dove Street; and 293 State St.

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 the rowhouse at 241 Orange St. by Habitat for Humanity.
  • 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.

Buffalo developer makes move into the Warehouse District

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.”

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Rendering of the new 5-story apartment building, as seen from Broadway. Dakota has tentatively christened the project the Albany Lofts, perhaps the third project to bear that name in as many years. Hopefully they’ll change it to something more evocative of the past, or at least more creative, but it’s a working title, so we can give them a pass for now. (Credit: Carmina-Wood-Morris)

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.”

Ahead of Monday’s City Council meeting, a survey of responses to development concerns

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.

Jump links:

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 —

  1. 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.
  2. Traditionally, homeownership was a right of passage to adulthood. Now, significantly fewer younger people are choosing to own a home than in previous generations.
  3. The share of renters in the Capital District is increasing across the board.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Information based on CDRPC 2019 Density and Development Report.

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 major investments 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.”

More information on water quality, flow, and regional water infrastructure capacity is available at the Albany CSO Pool Communities Corporation.

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 the improvements.  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.

With an eye towards affordable housing, Land Bank to elicit investment plans for distressed Albany areas

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

Zaranko showing the first set of clustered properties in the South End. Blue-lined parcels are Land Bank holdings. (Photo/Ian Benjamin)

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

Map slide of the cluster of properties around Clinton Avenue near the intersection with Henry Johnson Boulevard. This map was created last summer, so there are additional properties not shown. (Photo/Ian Benjamin)

The second — and larger — set is around Henry Johnson Boulevard, Clinton Avenue, and First Street. The Land Bank is going to be looking for any project in this area to be a continuation of the nearby ongoing Home Leasing project. That Rochester-based developer is in the midst of rehabilitating a large set of (mostly) historic 19th century rowhouses into more than 200 units of affordable housing, primarily along Clinton Avenue.

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.”

Albany County Land Bank Executive Director Adam Zaranko gestures to the former Center for Family and Youth properties. The two buildings fronting on Ontario are 130 and 135. (Photo/Ian Benjamin)

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.

Other notes:

  • 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.

Building sales

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.

In Albany:

  • 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):

  • Cohoes
    • 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.
  • Bethlehem
  • Watervliet
    • 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.
  • Colonie
    • 328 Consaul Road (lot) — a large open lot that the board recommended be sold to the Capital District Celtic Cultural Association, who would like to use it as recreation fields.
    • 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.
  • Rensselaerville
    • 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.

To paint or not to paint? Renovation of the Albany Boys & Girls Club raises preservation question

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.


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“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.”

This meeting of the Albany Historic Resources Commission was held on May 1. The next is scheduled for June 5th at 200 Henry Johnson Boulevard.

Albany Planning Board Notes: Quackenbush Square approved (again), an interesting CapRep housing collaboration, and an expansion at Armory Garage

Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting was busy, if lightly attended (excepting news-folk). Here’s what was on the agenda:

Quackenbush Square (Pioneer Cos.)

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Proposed Quackenbush Square hotel and apartment building as viewed from corner of Spencer and Montgomery streets. The Albany Pump Station is to the left. (Copyright QPK Design 1/21/19.)

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.)
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Current site plan rendering. (Copyright Hershberg & Hersbherg, 2/27/2019)

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.

(Note: Sara Cline from the Times-Union also made it to Tuesday’s meeting, and submitted a report on the Quackenbush project that appeared the morning after. It’s always good to see journalists from our stretched-thin regional paper.)

67 Livingston Ave. (Clinton Square Studios, LLC)

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View of the proposed 6-story structure from Livingston (north-facing) with Broadway to the right and the Albany Distilling Company to the left.

Also on the let’s-put-apartments-on-Broadway bandwagon is Clinton Square Studios, LLC, who were before the board with a 6-story, $24.7 million apartment/retail project planned for lower Arbor Hill.

The proposal is for 66 residences and commercial space (≅2,006 square feet) on Broadway, not far from the Palace. A 2-story 19th century rowhouse at 67 Livingston Ave will be demolished.

This project is being developed with an eye toward Capital Repertory (“CapRep”) Theater, which is renovating the former Nabisco factory just up the hill at 251-255 N. Pearl St for their new $9.5 million performing art space. Following questions from the Board, details about a unique arrangement with CapRep came to light.

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).

Other Notes

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.

Albany Planning Board Chronicles: the Saga of 1211 Western concludes, more development in Park-South, and St. Catherine’s makes a move into the North End

As expected, last week’s Planning Board meeting brought out the neighborhood. Nearly every seat and the back wall were filled, with the bulk of the crowd there to oppose a large apartment building on Western Ave in the Eagle Hill neighborhood — so that’s where we’ll begin. (There’s a lot to cover, so feel free to jump to whichever project strikes your fancy.)

1211 Western Ave (GSX Ventures)

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Featured: Maryland-based GSX Ventures was back before the board with their 6-story, 136-unit apartment building on Western Ave. Initially, GSX had proposed a private dorm, similar to their other two dorms on Washington Ave. That effort faltered last year due to fierce neighborhood opposition, which elicited a rare letter to the Board from Mayor Kathy Sheehan. In response, GSX withdrew their dorm project.

This time round they have proposed an apartment building (though residents contend that it’s still aimed at students). The current concept has a mix of 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom units, ≅151 parking spaces underneath, and a fitness center on the first floor. An existing 3-story steel and glass building (the former headquarters of the Rose & Kiernan insurance agency) would be demolished to make way.

This iteration has been before the board multiple times, most recently in January, when a vote was tabled. The attorney representing GSX, Andy Brick, opened with a presentation, addressed previous complaints, and noted that the design has been altered to allow pick up/drop off and ≅10 parking spots for the visitors and fitness facility staff.

And then it was onto public comments and the opposition was vocal. Most were Eagle Hill residents, part of an organized resistance coordinated via the neighborhood association. Many issues had been heard by the Board previously (and were covered by All Over Albany) so I’m not going to summarize all of those, but here’s a partial list to give ya the gist:

  • a belief that the apartment building (especially of this size) is not in keeping with the community’s character, which is mostly single-family homes;
  • concerns that GSX would mount the utilities on poles, which would prevent laddertruck access during a fire;
  • concerns about disturbances caused by police and fire department calls;
  • concern about placement of the transformer (Boardmember Glinessa Gaillard echoed this);
  • claims about issues with forms submitted by the developer;
  • concern that the physical fitness center would only benefit building residents;
  • that construction site pumps would push water into the combined sewer, leading to heavy loads on an already heavily laden system;
  • that construction would prohibit sidewalk access, pushing pedestrians into Western Ave, which would be dangerous for both pedestrians and drivers;
  • that construction would lead to noise and vibrations;
  • that a more in-depth historic review is needed. (This was requested by an Eagle Hill historian, who noted that a 1790 magazine was once located in the vicinity, and that its’ remnants may be beneath the parking lot. The existence of the magazine was news to me.)
  • and lastly, Tom Hoey, councilmember for the surrounding neighborhood (part of Ward 15) spoke strongly against the project.

When the commenters finished, the Board turned to GSX to respond to the question of whether utilities would be buried or pole-mounted. Brick stated the Fire Department “made it very clear to us that if the project doesn’t bury those utilities, then it will not be in compliance with the Fire Code.” Board chair Al DeSalvo then asked how GSX would accomplish placing high pressure gas lines in such a narrow area and how they might deal with a high water table.

“We need to make that work,” said Brick. “If it doesn’t work for any of those utilities or the City, then we don’t have a project.”

The opposition’s hopes were largely pinned on convincing the Board to initiate a more in-depth environmental review, known as an “Environmental Impact Study”. An EIS is a major undertaking that will delay a project — sometimes significantly — and can deter a developer from pursuing a project. In this case, however, an EIS will not be required, as the Board voted to permit GSX to move forward, much to the audible dismay of the opposition. (This project also came up at this past Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, when Councilmember Hoey claimed that the Board’s decision not to require an EIS is grounds for a court appeal, known as an Article 78 proceeding.)

The Board imposed four conditions on the project, at least two of which were in response to public input. The first was that utility lines must be buried and the second was that leases must be for a year or longer. GSX may now seek to acquire tax breaks from the City or County. DeSalvo encouraged residents to make their voices heard there as well.

The contention over this project gets at some intriguing questions about differing visions for the city’s future, and we might address some of those in a future post. But for now, suffice it to say that the city is changing more rapidly than it has in many years, and this will — and should — elicit public input.

74-86 Dana Ave. (Ron Stein and TRPS2)

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Ron Stein and TRPS2 were back with a plan for another apartment in Park-South. They were looking to duplicate the success of their recently-completed apartment building at 79-91 Dana Ave and the new complex is going to look an awful lot like the one there already.

“The Reserve at Park South 2”, as it has been branded, will be a 4-story apartment building (≅45,200sf) with 36 mixed studio and 1-bedroom apartments. It will require demo of three existing 2-story residences.

Both of the Ron Stein projects are part of a trend toward greater density in Park-South. Beginning in 2016, this neighborhood was drastically altered by a $110 million Albany Med/Tri-City Rentals development. This called for demolition of two entire city blocks. That now-complete project included the construction of multi-story, mixed-use apartment and office buildings, and a parking garage. About 268 units were built on lots that had been primarily 1- and 2-story homes.

Michael McGovern, with the Park-South Neighborhood Association, spoke in wholehearted favor of the proposal.

543 North Pearl St. (St. Catherine’s Center for Children)

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St. Catherine’s proposes to build a 3-story residence (≅21,925sf) in the North End. It will have office space, a community room, and 20 units (8 studios, and twelve 2- to 3-bedroom family apartments). It will front on North Pearl Street with a playground and a ≅10 vehicle parking lot will be behind. Vehicle access will be from Walter St.

“We have been in the City of Albany for a very long time providing services to families and children,” said a representative of St. Catherine’s. “This is another step for us to be able to provide more services and supports to young adults and to families in our neighborhoods.” (Note: By “very long time” he means 1886, when St. Catherine’s was begun — inside the Schuyler Mansion — by a group of Roman Catholic nuns.) The building will be staffed 24/7 and will have security cameras and lighting.

A handful of neighbors turned out. The first lives across North Pearl and came on behalf of neighbors that could not attend. She was concerned that the new residents would take up limited parking spots, said she had not been adequately informed, and was annoyed that her Ward 4 councilperson had not attended.

“I feel like we’ve been given minimal concern with this project, and I don’t think that’s fair,” she said. “Being African-American, a lot of times we are treated less than anyone else, but we do matter. Our block matters. We matter.” Her apprehension about parking was echoed by others. (Side note: She referenced a former Hope House project to develop the lot for a drug rehab center, which I was unaware of.)

Parking worries were addressed by the St. Catherine’s representative, who said most of the occupants would be children/young adults, and those that were not would use the new on-site lot. There was also a concern about light shining from upstairs windows into nearby homes, for which the rep said shades would be installed on the windows of the adjoining wall.

The lot is currently occupied by a vacant 2-story, flat-roofed that will be demo’d. It was once an elder-care/assisted living facility at least as far back as 1993, but has been empty for more than 20 years. It is quite dilapidated. The new building will provide roughly the same square footage as the existing one (≅21,825sf vs ≅21,925sf), but on a much smaller footprint.

“Our plan is to integrate ourselves into the neighborhood, not takeover,” said a spokesperson for St. Catherine’s. “The idea […] having the community have access to our building and to the facility is something that we would welcome wholeheartedly.”

The building’s design, presented by architect Dan Sanders, attempts to make good on the idea of ‘integrating’ with the neighborhood. It does so by mimicking elements of the nearby wood-framed, two-story homes such as: a hipped roof, horizontal siding, third story shingling, and double-hung windows.

251-255 N Pearl St (Capital Repertory Theater)

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“CapRep”, as the theater company is fondly known, has a theater at 111 North Pearl, but will be moving a few blocks north to this former Nabisco factory at North Pearl and Livingston. The new theater (≅28,200sf) will seat ≅410. They were before the board for, among other things, approval of their LED signage. There will be three LED displays, one on North Pearl, one on Livingston, and a blade sign projecting from the structure’s corner (see above). These LEDs will change every 15 seconds and will be dimmed at night. The Board (minus DeSalvo, a CapRep boardmember) approved their requests.

CapRep isn’t the only investor on this block. Albany Distilling Company occupies a building just down Livingston and Death Wish Coffee plans to move in nearby. Along Broadway, developer Patrick Chiou recently finished rehabbing several old rowhouses. All this investment has triggered visions of an upper Pearl theater/arts district.

1020 Madison Ave (The College of Saint Rose)

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This is one of the many old Pine Hills homes Saint Rose has acquired over the years for converted to offices/dorms. This particular former two-story single-family residence has been used as a dorm, but the College plans to expand it into a “mixed use living/learning space for a women’s leadership program with with housing for 7 students.”

The Board wondered whether the front door would be removed, which would alter how the building interacts with the sidewalk/street. It will stay an entrance, said the College rep. The driveway will be torn up and replaced by sidewalks and, with the driveway gone, the curb cut will also be removed creating space for a new parking spot on Western. The College would like that to be restricted to handicapped only. A former garage and a small shed will also be demo’d.

The Board gave their blessing, with the caveat that space for two bikes be installed, and that one of those be covered. (This makes sense, given how many students bike between campus, their apartment/dorm, and various other neighborhood haunts.)

423 and 427 Washington Ave. (Edward Maitino)

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Proposed construction of a 3.5 story, 16-unit apartment building between Washington Ave and West St., near the First Unitarian Universalist Society building and Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. It will span the lot, fronting on both Washington Ave and West St. A 2.5 story residence and two garages will be demo’d. No action taken.

Other notes

  • No action taken on 60 Academy Road, as the developer needs to submit a fully completed Environmental Assessment Form. Dan Herschberg presented. They’ll be back before the Board.
  • Redburn Development’s 39 Columbia St was on the agenda, but got pulled before the meeting. We might see them next month.
  • The modification to 6 Cuyler Street was added to the new Consent Agenda, which seems to be where minor, non-controversial items are being stacked for processing ease. (You won’t see those here, but you can find them in the weekly agenda.)
  • And, lastly… this little synopsis took way longer to write than I was expecting, but I’ll try to be a bit more brief to get the next one up a bit quicker. But there is a silver lining to getting this up so late…I can link you to The Decisions.

Would you like to contribute to Albany Notes? Maybe you’d be up for taking notes at the occasional meeting? Perhaps you’ve been mulling an urban planning or social justice question and would like to share your thoughts? Or (my favorite) regale us with some  deep Albany history? Pitch me at the contact form. I’m all ears.