August 12, 2010 Board Meeting notes

I will say that even though people got very last-minute notice about the meeting, there was a great showing! I think that the Board truly did appreciate that this community is very concerned about this development. Personally I’ve been borderline alarmed at what I’ve seen proposed. However several of the Board members did voice some very definite issues point-blank (the way the site looks, how the apartments are crammed into it, how there is no open space, etc).

Good for them!

Again, I was personally unable to make the meeting, but John (God love him) took terrific notes. As soon as the minutes come out I’ll post them as well.

Dramatis Personae

The Developers:
Two representatives from Mark Day & Associates, the engineering/drafting firm who is doing the majority of the planning work (the minutes, when they are put online, will confirm their names)
Enrico Scarda from Crest Group, the development company who will be running the show

The Board:
Thomas Knips, Chairman
Other board members, including Lex Harvey and Robert Rahemba
Richard Harper, Town Planner (a consultant who generally looks at how the development is designed)
John Andrews, Town Engineer (a town employee who generally looks at how the land is being used)

An audience of about 14 or 15 concerned citizens

1) The two reps from Mark Day (one was probably Mark Day himself) brought a draft of a site map to show the board for consultation. Before they began their presentation, Chairman Knips made a point of reminding the audience that this was not a public hearing and that they wouldn’t be allowed to speak. Knips then told the reps from Day that, since there was apparently a large number of people present who were interested in this particular plan, they should speak loudly and clearly. This prompted one of the reps from Day to place the site map so that more of the audience could see it.

From the map:
220 units total (68 x 2-bdrm townhouses, 140 x proposed 1-bdrm apts, 12 x existing 1-bdrm apts.)
The townhouses were grouped 4 per bldg
The apts were grouped 16 per bldg (with one exception which only had 12…most likely the existing ones)

2) It was stated by the Day reps that the county has finally approved road access for the development. One road, a full intersection (with signals) would be onto Jackson. Another full intersection (with signals) would be farther north on Baxtertown. A third road (right in, right out only) was about halfway in between them.

3) The Day reps also stated that DPW approval for their plan had been received. Water and sewer would be tied in from the village and continue up Jackson and Baxtertown to tie into another system further north.

4) The Day rep (who was definitely not Mark Day) described this as a “0-waiver plan” – a reference to past meetings where this was asked for – but then said that they wanted to work with the Board to see where waivers could be given to improve the plan.

His words: “Not the best plan to move forward with” for reasons such as the economy. He reinforced that their intent was to find waivers.

5) From Boardmember Rahemba: Why have apartments and townhouses together? It is “mixed usage”. The implication was that they were not complementary, and there was concern expressed at various points by various people that the board didn’t want:
a) owners of the townhouses to have to drive through apartments to get to their homes (a layout issue), and
b) the apartments to be visible from the street (an issue of aesthetics)

The reps’ answer to the original question of Rahemba was “economics“. He and his colleague then described several other arrangements of the townhouses and apartments that they were considering (although nothing was on paper for it). It seemed to me that these reps weren’t all that confident in their site plan (esp. in regards to the layout of buildings).

6) From Town Engineer Andrews: To summarize the things this proposal has been asked to address thus far (since it has come before the board quite a few times):
a) The issue of traffic signals/access to main roads has been somewhat resolved now that the county has approved the intersections. (There was no discussion of impact on traffic at this meeting.)
b) Building size and # of bedrooms has been clearly stated (which it wasn’t in the past) although there were no specific details as yet.
c) His words: “A lot of what drives this site is the impact on the surrounding community.”

Mr. Andrews made a reference to a recent memo summarizing his current position, and also to one written by Mr. Harper.

7) From Town Planner Harper: Harper advised the developers to go back and look at the suggestions made in the past, particularly by his predecessor, John Morabito. He said they should “look at the quality of the site layout”. For example, he recommended figuring out a central gathering place and building around it.

8) From Mr. Scarda: Crest Group has been working on this for a few years now and wants more specific details and guidance from the Board about what should be there and where they should go. (Harper said his memo had more specifics.) Scarda wanted the board to tell him upfront what kind of variances they could live with. For example, he wanted to know if, in general, a set-back of 40′ (from roadway to building) could be reduced to 25′. Mr. Andrews reminded him that variances were given once the need was demonstrated. Mr. Harper also stated that there were criteria for variances (both having to do with improvement of the plan) and that as long as they were satisfied a variance would be given.

9) From Town Engineer Andrews: There have been three big issues with this proposal:
a) Layout – the combination of apartments and townhouses is not encouraging
b) Usable Open Space – it doesn’t seem to be accounted for very well
c) Overall Physical Size of the Project (Mr. Andrews said this was the biggest problem) The plan calls for development very close to neighbors on surrounding properties in a couple of places in particular.

His words: “We’ll entertain waivers if you’re sensitive to the community around you.”

10) From Boardmember Rahemba: There’s been nothing about Affordable Housing addressed in this proposal. (This was an issue brought up in a previous meeting.)

11) I believe it was Mr. Andrews who effectively reduced the two biggest problems as being buffers (to the outside community) and amenities (for those who are to live on the new site).

12) From Chairman Knips: There are problems with roads and parking lots. Aesthetically, they’re not particularly pleasing. Plus, there has been very little thought given to plowing in the winter. For example, given a heavy snow, many cars and driveways will be plowed in with little possibility for snow removal.

13) A board member (I don’t remember who) asked about sidewalks. There is a walkway planned that will connect to St. Mary’s Church grounds. The walkway will run parallel to Jackson St.

14) From Boardmember Harvey: There is “too much on that parcel….the word ‘barracks’ comes to mind.”

15) For drainage, a large retention pond will be put in on the southern hillside (just north of the lower wetlands). This will not have standing water (although another, smaller pool will, just above it.) There is another retention pond (smaller) further up.

Mr. Andrews stated that essentially all of the water will end up coming down the hill anyway. He stated that the board’s position is that this development must have no impact on the properties below it (since that is a flood plain).

I’m uncertain whether the proposal was satisfying to anyone on the board on this point.

17) Although it hadn’t been included by the developers, Mr. Andrews also went on record to state that an access road (requested by Rombout Fire District) connecting to Wheaton Ave. would not be appropriate. He said it mixed housing types, created wetland issues, and would have a negative impact on some “unique rock formations” on the site. He recommended not putting in this road.

18) Chairman Knips recommended that the developers look into buffering requirements relating to neighboring parcels.

Overall, it seemed to me that the board really just wanted to tell Crest that this was a very bad site for what they were trying to do. The board didn’t really like the idea of putting in apartments. (Crest seems to want to because rentals are currently doing reasonably well.) The board also maintained a great concern for impact on the community which, no doubt, was because of turn-out at this meeting.

There was no discussion of when this proposal would come up again, my assumption is that this indicates that it is not moving forward. The board acknowledged that some things were addressed, but they seemed to generally say that the design was rather soulless. When Scarda asked the board for guidance, he appeared to be asking for them to help design it…as if that was owed to him for having this project on his plate for the past few years. Andrews pretty much told him that finding creative solutions was their problem.

The entire presentation seemed to lack any real enthusiasm from the Day reps themselves. They put up this site plan and then proceeded to say that it stinks. (On this point, the board was ready to agree.) It was like a high school student turning in a 500-word essay on nothing (but that does, in fact, have 500 words).

Ironically, there was another proposal earlier in the evening where the developers were suggesting creating wetlands as part of their plan, leaving more there than when they started.


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