Second, smaller mixed use project planned near Exit 9

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Gazette Reporter

— Clifton Park Planning Board members met with representatives from Windsor Development Inc. at Town Hall last Tuesday evening to discuss its proposal for a new, mixed-use development project at the Village Plaza Shopping Center.

The project would include 13,056 square feet of retail space on the first floor, 6,000 square feet of office space on the second floor, nearly 30 apartments on the second, third and fourth floors and a 2,800-square-foot restaurant with a drive-thru. There is no word yet on what that restaurant might be, although Windsor Chief Executive Officer Robert Miller Sr. said, “There are a number of restaurants we believe are interested in Clifton Park.”

This project is separate from a much-larger development Windsor proposed early this year on the site of the former K-Mart department store nearby. That proposal — with more than 100,000 square feet of office, retail and restaurant space and more than 200 luxury apartments — ran into problems with zoning rules, which set a limit of 50 multiunit housing units in a single project. The town’s review of that earlier proposal continues.

VILLAGE PLAZA SHOPPING CENTER

Windsor representatives hope the apartments in their latest proposal will attract younger adults and older adults — millenials and “empty-nesters” looking for affordable and convenient living arrangements close to the heart of Clifton Park.

According to Town Supervisor Phil Barrett, this project would be the first in Clifton Park that aligns with the Town Center Plan, adopted in 2012. This plan emphasizes compact development, connectivity between businesses, walkability, mixed-use buildings, and attractive design that takes green space and structured parking into consideration.

Barrett emphasized the Town Center Plan’s devotion to diversifying the economy and business uses within the Exit 9 area. What makes the success of the Exit 9 area so important? Barrett explained that the area has come “light years” in the last two decades and stressed the importance of building on that momentum in order to “sustain success” in the area. “The best time to make change is when things are good,” he said.

He added: “Back in the 90s, the area was in bad shape. Lots of empty buildings. We have been working hard to develop those buildings and bring some life back to Exit 9.” He commended the “true entrepreneurial spirit” that investors have shown in the area. Diversification of the local economy is vital, he explained, because it’s unsustainable to depend on just one area of the economy. Comparing the local economy to a portfolio of investments, Barrett said “It’s good to be diversified. Same with the economy.”

Mixed-use buildings like the one proposed by Windsor Development can be made a reality in Clifton Park thanks to the Town Center Plan. “Mixed-use buildings are the wave of the future,” said Barrett. “We weren’t able to offer that opportunity before the Town Center Plan.”

Paralleling the goals of the Town Center Plan, this latest project aims to improve the existing bike paths and make the area more walkable.

Windsor representatives made their case for the project while standing in front of Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom of Speech” painting of a man standing up in a crowded Town Hall meeting. Unlike Rockwell’s scene, the meeting room was mostly empty. Two audience members, however, stood to voice their concerns regarding the development project’s impact on existing trails in the area.

Daniel Hartnett came to the meeting on behalf of the Trails Committee and expressed his dissatisfaction with the lack of crosswalks and adequate signage in certain high-traffic areas. He asked why there were no bike racks included in a development plan that aims to make the area more walkable and bikeable. Hartnett pointed out that a proposed patio attached to the restaurant would interfere with an existing trail. He also urged developers and the Planning Board to push for 10-foot-wide trails rather than anything narrower in order to remain consistent with other “trunk trails” in the area. In regards to sidewalks, Hartnett explained that anything narrower than 5 feet would need “bump outs” in order to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Several board members were concerned about Windsor’s plans to place parallel parking spaces near a restaurant drive-thru, an arrangement that some consider dangerous.

The plans and renderings discussed during last Tuesday’s meeting were a revised version, with changes made based on requirements and suggestions from the Technical Advisory Committee earlier this year. From here, Windsor Development will need to make adjustments to its current plan based on the comments received from the Planning Board. Chairman Rocco Ferraro said that while the board was “comfortable” with the project, its members still had some “trepidation” with the project’s details.

Moving forward from Tuesday’s meeting, Windsor will use the comments from the Board and community members as guidance as it proceeds to the engineering stage of planning. The developers will present modified plans with more architectural detail to the board at an as-yet undetermined future date.

Miller explained that the mixed-use model presented to the board would enable the town to “change the core of the community” from the strip centers of the 1970s and 1980s towards the more modern town center model. “And the way to do that, of course, is through mixed-use developments.”

He spoke excitedly about the opportunities afforded by such a development, saying this would be a place where people “can live, work and play.”

“You can come home at night, park your car at your apartment and virtually walk anywhere you need to go,” he added.

Miller, who has raised six children in Clifton Park, says Windsor Development plans its projects based on what the community wants. When researching mixed-use buildings, he says “we traveled the country looking to see who did it best.”

A few places Miller saw mixed-use developments done especially well were in North Carolina, Massachusetts, Florida and northern Virginia. “The South is a little bit ahead of us,” he added. “We are always thinking about how to update properties in a way that pleases the community.

He plans to continue revising plans until the Planning Board and the people of Clifton Park are content.

One member of the board, Andy Neubauer, commended Windsor for “moving in the right direction” and sticking to the vision “of what the town wants to be.”

Commenting on Windsor’s commitment to doing right by the community, Chairman Ferraro said “You have a vested interest. You’re here to stay, right guys?” A Windsor representative responded with a tired laugh as the discussion came to a close, saying “We hope so.”

When Windsor will come before the planning board next all depends on how quickly it can revise its plans. “We would like to continue this process as efficiently as we can so that we can get a spring start on the construction,” said Miller.