BY Molly Congdon
In the growing town of Clifton Park, developers are itching to build more living options.
Abele Builders, a Halfmoon development company owned by brothers Ed and Chris Abele, submitted an application in March to change the zoning near Exit 8 to enable the company to build a 94-unit apartment complex.
The Abeles have been building homes for the past 25 years throughout the Capital Region.
“We’ve owned the land for a long time, we think it’s a good location and we feel that right now is a good time to do this,” Chris Abele said. “We have rights to develop it and we think this project is the right mix. There is a need for newer apartments in Clifton Park, designed for what the market is today.”
The 20-acre parcel is located south of Crescent-Vischer Ferry Road and east of Southbury Drive, near the Plaza 8 strip mall. The site plan calls for eight buildings; five would contain 14 units and three would have eight. The project would cost approximately $10 million.
“Across the board nationally, apartments have been trending for a while; part of that was the housing downturn from 2006-2012,” Abele said. “I also think there is a movement towards a more demographic shift; home ownership is still a goal but not quite as much — there is much more freedom in an apartment. There’s less of a stigma living in an apartment, because if done nicely, it is a home.”
REZONE OR NOT
Currently, that area is zoned residential, so the Town Board must approve a re-zoning of the parcel to allow multiresidential housing before the project can be considered.
“We will refer the application to the Planning Board, they will give a recommendation based on an initial review within 60 days and then the application is returned back to the Town Board for a decision,” Supervisor Phil Barrett said. “More than a dozen residents attended the Town Board meeting on March 9 stating their concerns about the proposal; whenever there’s a rezoning application, there’s concern. Almost 100 apartment units is a very large increase in density from the established zoning.”
When the Town Board is considering the rezoning an area, members look to see what makes that specific project worthy of changing the rules, he said.
“It revolves around the increase in density that’s being requested; we’ve turned down about a dozen apartment complex applications in the last several years,” Barrett said. “Clearly there’s a desire on the part of various builders — the interest is evident — and really the applications that have come forward have been spread out over town, not concentrated in one specific area.”
Even though it has been rare, increases in density within the town of Clifton Park have been granted. “The Town Board has a firm stance; the only time we have approved an increase in density is for projects that are very unique to the town,” Barrett said. “One was the senior housing on 146 — we didn’t have any other senior housing of that type in town — and the other was The Bentley at Exit 9: age-restricted condos.”
The residents of Hiawatha Drive started a petition in opposition to the apartment complex; instead, they want upscale, single-family development on this property.
For the Exit 8 area as well as the community as a whole, there would be a significant increase in traffic with an apartment complex. “Infrastructure and traffic are a major concern,” Hiawatha Drive resident Ryan McEvoy said. “It’s tough in the morning as it is; it would be an absolute train wreck of a traffic situation both in the morning and at night. What benefit would it really be bringing?”
The population of the elementary school is another worry. “Okte is pretty overcrowded as it is and to add 94 apartment units . . . you can do the math on how many kids that could possibly be,” McEvoy said. “It brings the question about whether there will be an increase in school tax if they have to add on an add-on to the building or something.” The petition states that the apartment project would place more strain on the school and create larger class sizes, which would most likely affect the quality of learning.
It also opposes the rezoning on the general principle of not changing the rules midgame.
The developers have a different view.
“We feel it’s a good transition zoning viewpoint from the commercial in the front, to apartments and then to residential; it’s a good use of the property,” Abele said. “We are very conscious of it not negatively impacting the people on Christinamarie Drive; they don’t want a cut-through and we don’t either. It would just be a utility connection, so we feel that this is good for us and them as well.”
Opponents charge that the aesthetics and privacy of surrounding neighborhoods would also be affected. They say that most residents of Christinamarie Drive bought their homes on the end of the cul-de-sac for the sole purpose of being in a quiet neighborhood near a wooded area. The apartments would bring bright lights, noise and cars, they fear, and an end to that peace and solitude they have become accustomed to.
Residents worry about danger from increased traffic. Basketball hoops are positioned on the streets, and when the weather is nice there are usually children running around and riding their bikes in the streets.
“We don’t want a through street punched through because there are over 20 kids on our street, I have five kids alone, and that’s why we moved on this,” Christinamarie Drive resident Cindy Reynolds said. “If they make it a through street we are going to have everyone south of us cutting through here as a shortcut to Crescent Road to access the Northway, and that’s going to totally change the entire dynamic of our street.”
They are bothered at the thought of walking into their backyards and seeing an apartment complex. “The number one thing is the noise and lighting that would be behind my property,” said Bill Kelly, a Hiawatha resident for the past 15 years. “I expect that it will change the ambiance of my yard. I moved here because it was residentially zoned.”
“We hear you and we want to protect you,” Abele said in response to residents. “We are trying to seek a middle ground and find a balance. We don’t want to hurt people in any way, but I think we have the right to go through the process.”
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Those opposed to the proposal believe that the Abeles are thinking only about themselves and the money that the apartments would bring. “What’s troubling is, the fact that, if you take a step back and look at it, it’s hard to come up with a reason to approve a project like this,” McEvoy said. “I haven’t heard one good reason for it to happen; it seems like the only person who would make out on this would be the developer.”
“Abele’s profits are at the cost of my property value,” Kelly said. “The home values will drop.”
Ironically, it was Abele Builders that developed Christinamarie Drive about 12 years ago.
At the end of February, Ed Abele had a meeting with residents of Christinamarie Drive about the proposal.
“He was trying to make it the best of both worlds; he said that if they built residential houses instead of apartments, they would have to have another exit so they would have do a through street from ChristinaMarie Drive leading to Crescent Road, which would eliminate the cul-de-sac from the neighborhood,” Reynolds said. “But he said that if he was to do an apartment complex, then they could get away with a walking path, which would be a gravel road with two gates, as an emergency exit.”
This got residents questioning why there could not be another residential housing area with its own cul-de-sac.
“He kept saying that Clifton Park doesn’t like cul-de-sacs and that it would never get approved,” Reynolds said. “That got me to thinking, is he really just trying to sell us on the apartments since that would be more of a money maker for him than the housing would?”
“We are local people who understand local issues, but we want the right to develop our property,” Chris Abele said. “We want to keep as big a buffer as we can to protect the surrounding residents.”
“All of us know that having that land, it’s not going to just sit there; we know it’s going to get developed at some point in time, we just are trying to find something that we can all agree on or at least something that doesn’t mess things up a lot around here,” Reynolds said. “We are pushing for a smaller housing area and getting a cul-de-sac; it would be a good compromise.”