Will Niskayuna Planning Board give OK to widely opposed project?

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NISKAYUNA — A widely opposed housing and retail project proposal will go before the Niskayuna Planning Board again on Monday.

The project site is at Van Antwerp and Balltown roads, between the CVS and the CBS6 television station. In order to move forward as designed, it requires a zoning change, and the planning board is scheduled to make a recommendation to the Town Board at Monday’s meeting.

The Town Board will then take up the zoning change at an upcoming meeting and will either grant the zoning change, which would move the project along, or deny the change and send the developer — Clifton Park-based Windsor Cos. — back to the drawing board.

091217-nisky-dev-web.jpgThere will be a public hearing on the issue at the Town Board’s Oct. 12 meeting. The zoning change sought is from single family homes to allow for apartments and light commercial.

The project has prompted a public reaction from residents in surrounding neighborhoods, including Monica Heights, Old Niskayuna and Rosendale Estates.

At the Sept. 11 planning board meeting, there were not enough chairs to accommodate residents, and 29 rose to address the board. Of those, only two spoke in favor of the proposal.

Among those engaging in the process is Daci Shenfield. This is the first time she has gotten involved in town matters, and she said she has learned a lot.

“It’s been a crash course in the last 35 days,” Shenfield said. “We’ve tried to educate ourselves on the process by reaching out to the planning board, planning department and Town Board.”

On Oct. 16, Niskayuna officials posted a notice on the town’s website that described the approval process, stating in part that:

“The Town of Niskayuna has a legal obligation to receive and consider applications for projects within the Town. There is no guaranteed outcome for any project, but there is an obligation for discussion.”

Shenfield and other neighbors have been educating their neighbors, as well. They distributed 200 fliers that explain the scope of the project, as well as ways residents can express their opinions to town leaders and decision-makers.

“Most people are pleased to have more information,” Shenfield said. “Some people are happy to have the facts decoded and explained.”

She went on to describe one neighbor who thought the apartments were going to be “affordable housing.” Upon hearing the proposed rents would be between $1,200 and $2,000, Shenfield said the neighbor changed her mind.

Chuck Piotrowski also plans to attend Monday’s planning board meeting and is opposed to the zoning change, saying that rezoning the property to include commercial and higher-density housing (apartments) creates safety hazards for residents who already use the area, including pedestrians, motorists and bicyclists.

“Changing the zoning does not resolve outstanding issues in the area,” Piotrowski said. “It adds to the problem.”

Piotrowski, his wife and three children moved to Niskayuna recently and have taken an interest in the proposal because they live near the site.

“I respect the process,” Piotrowski said. “The developer has a right to purchase the land — a right to ask the board to change the zoning — and the town has the duty to see the process through. The process is fair.”

He went on to say that he feels there are issues with how the process is being handled, namely in what he said is a lack of communication and a lack of access to public records.

Town code requires notice be sent to landowners with property within 500 feet of any proposed project. Piotrowski is concerned about the size of the notification radius, stating it’s clear the impact of the project would affect landowners and residents within a 5-square-mile radius.

He also pointed out that, while he doesn’t think the town is trying to hide public records, officials should do more and provide better customer service to residents trying to obtain information about the plan. Piotrowski pointed out that not all residents can take time off from work to go to Town Hall to look at records, and that Town Hall itself, as well as the town’s website, can be difficult to navigate if a person is not well-versed in how the wheels of municipal government turn or does not understand municipal jargon.

The Town Board may take the planning board’s recommendation into account but is not bound by it.

The public is invited to speak at any municipal meeting on any pertinent topic during the privilege of the floor portion of the meetings. Additionally, the community is invited and encouraged to attend the public hearing specifically addressing the development at Van Antwerp and Balltown roads at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12.