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.)

ArmoryGarage_rendering

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.