“New Look for the Playdium Redev! 5-story Building for Central Ave! Apartment Project Pushback!”

Exciting Tales of the Albany Planning Board is a program recorded before a live studio audience in Albany City Hall once a month in which the fates of multi-million dollar projects are (partially) decided.

Renderings! Massing! Stormwater! Public comments! And don’t forget… TRAFFIC AND PARKING! (Ha, just kidding, no one ever forgets traffic and parking.)

Here’s what was in the spotlight this Thursday…

Developer Ryan Jankow’s bid to redevelop the site of the Playdium bowling alley in Pine Hills into three new residential buildings was back before the board for the second month in a row — with some some significant stylistic changes.

The project’s representatives — which includes real estate agent David Pfaff, engineer Daniel Hershberg, and architect Daniel Sanders — showed off a new, more modern exterior for the buildings. The mansard roofs of the original design have been replaced with flat roofs, and glass railings were added to the balconies. The design also includes new streetside entrances for each of the three buildings.

The roofline change for the four-story buildings brings the overall height down 6-8 feet, but it also allows the addition of a few more units on the top floor. The overall number of apartments in the project increased from 106 to 110.

The plan continues to include a cafe/coffee shop with patio in the corner of the building that faces Ontario Street, along with a laundromat and multi-purpose space.

As was the case last month, the project again prompted multiple comments from the public skeptical about the development’s impacts on traffic, parking, and sewer infrastructure in the neighborhood.

Common Council member Judy Doesschate was also back to comment on the height of the buildings and how they fit into the context of the neighborhood, which is mostly 1- and 2-story buildings. She wasn’t sold on the new renderings presented. “The pictures that they show don’t adequately show the topography around this development,” she said.

The project wasn’t up for a vote Thursday by the planning board — that could come next month. But a key date to keep an eye on right now is the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting on October 25. The project goes before the BZA for a variance allowing it to be 4 stories in a zone where the limit is 3.5 stories.

Thursday was the first time before the board for the project at 526 Central Ave, the former site of an Albany Police Department building. It was sold to Capitalize Albany in 2011.

The Regan Development Corporation is now proposing the construction of a 5-story, 118,000-square-foot building there that would include about 5,000 square feet of street level retail space, roughly 17,000 square feet of office space, 71 residential units, and 126 parking spaces behind the building. Projected cost of the project is $20 million.

Project architect Matthew Meier of HHL Architects mentioned during his presentation that Whitney Young Health would be occupying some of the space in the building.

Much of the discussion with the board revolved round two topics:
+ The arrangement of parking and green space behind the building, and whether pushing the parking farther back on the site so additional green space could be added right behind the building would negatively affect a buffer between the site and neighbors behind it.
+ How a driveway along the southern edge of the site will work with the Albany School District’s adjacent Abrookin Career and Technical Center.

There were no public comments.

Two projects attracted the majority of public feedback Thursday — the Playdium redevelopment, and 30 Pine Lane, which is off Rapp Road and Washington Ave Extension.

The Cardona Development Group wants to demolish a single-family home there so a new, 24-unit apartment building with garages can be built.

The project prompted multiple comments in opposition from residents of nearby condos developments. They told the board they believed that Pine Lane is already under significant stress from its current traffic level, and conditions there are unsafe. Lawrence D’Arco — president of the board of directors of the Village in the Green Condominiums, a 96-unit development there — described Pine Lane as the most dangerous street in the city. And other residents described that entire section of Washington Ave Extension as generally unsafe because of speeding and the lack of pedestrian amenities.

A few of the residents also said in their comments that they would lament the reduction in green space, and they were worried about how the addition of apartments to the area would affect their property values.

Much of the discussion with the board revolved around what sounds like an unusual situation with roots in the past. The project’s engineer, Daniel Hershberg, told the board that, according to the lines laid out in property deeds, the city may not technically own the street because the property lines extend to the midpoint of the road.

Board chair Al DeSalvo noted this project would come before the board at least two more times, and it looks like it will continue to be a hot topic.

One more thing about this project: Hershberg said if the project goes through, the new owners plan to donate about a third of the property to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve because the property currently serves as a corridor connecting two colonies of Karner Blue butterflies.

The big mixed-use project proposed for 705 Broadway, the site just north of Quackenbush Square downtown, was back before the board after many months. The project includes three buildings — two mixed-use residential buildings with roughly 180 apartment units, and the third a 136-room hotel.

There wasn’t much new to report. The project was back up so the planning board could be declared the lead agency for State Environmental Quality Review Act purposes.

As board chair Al DeSalvo noted, there are still many technical details to be worked out on the project.

John O’Brien, chief development officer of the Pioneer Companies, did give a short explanation of the work currently going on at the site. It’s remediation of the brownfield soil there. He said it was a bit behind schedule because of equipment problems.

The second phase of the redevelopment of the Ida Yarborough Homes in Arbor Hill was back before the board for the final time. The project includes two buildings with 72 units set aside for a range of different incomes, some all the way up to 90 percent of the area median income.

The project had been waiting on a handful of technical reviews. With those squared away, the board voted unanimously to approve its development plan.

Leif Engstrom, the Albany Housing Authority’s director of development, said after the vote that AHA is aiming to start construction on phase two in February and demolition could start before that.

The proposal to redevelop the former Howard Johnson’s / tennis club property at Southern Boulevard and Mt. Hope Drive was back before the board for a second time. 351 Diamond Development, LLC is proposing five structures at the site: a 105-room hotel, a gas station/car wash, a stand-alone drive-thru restaurant, and a three-space retail building also with a drive-thru.

This was mostly a check-in to go over details of the project again, including the plan to build a new roadway through the site connecting Mt. Hope Drive to Southern Boulevard. Project reps said a traffic study indicated the roadway would require some signal changes to facilitate left turns on and off of Southern Boulevard. And they said they had been in contact with CDTA about placing bus stops inside the site, something the transit org appeared enthusiastic about because it will smooth out the bus route through there. (It sounds like left turns are problem for both cars and buses at this intersection.)

Former Albany Common Council member Dominick Calsolaro was the lone public comment on this project. He said he wanted to make sure that there was some sort of assurance the new roadway — which would be privately owned, but function effectively as a public road — would continue to be open to through traffic into the future.

A few other things

+ The board extended the project approval for the conversion of 4 Central Ave into 35 residential units and 3,000 square feet of street level retail. Nadine Shadlock — representing West Mall Office Center, LLC — said the project had been held up because of complications in getting state and federal historic tax credits. But she said the owners are working toward getting the building listed on the National Register, which should help smooth the way.

+ The board granted conditional demolition approval for a home at 197 Holmes Dale in the Buckingham Pond neighborhood. Applicant Amarit Rosin is planning to build a new home on the property. Public comment consisted of one neighbor speaking in favor of the plan. The demolition approval is contingent on the filing for a building permit for the new home.

+ The board also granted a conditional use permit for the space next to The Spectrum on Delaware Ave to be used as a bar. Here are more bits about that project.

+ Thursday’s meeting included a different physical arrangement, with board members sitting to one side, presentations on the other, and the gallery on the third side of the triangle. It made it much easier to see and hear what is going on. So +1 to that. (And if there could be microphones someday…)

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