Planning commission approves Chalmers site plan after heated public comments

The site plan for a 132-unit residential complex and restaurant/banquet hall proposed to be built on the former Chalmer’s property in the City of Amsterdam by KCG Development was approved unanimously by the planning commission at a meeting last night. Steven Carmina, president of Carmina, Wood, Morris, the architectural firm for the project, presented the plans to the commission which were first introduced last month before being referred to the Montgomery County Planning Board which later gave their approval. Before the vote, several residents voiced objections to the project.

Betty Clough spoke first and said, “For the past 25 years I’ve been on several committees and worked tirelessly to move this city forward in lots of ways. I think truly, this whole project has missed the boat.”

“God knows we have enough subsidized housing in this city. And we have enough of that demographic that grows our welfare rolls and devastates our schools,” she said.

Later in the meeting, Carmina disputed her characterization of the project and said, “This is not subsidized housing, do not call it that. It is not. People will not be getting vouchers, they won’t be getting money to live here. They will be paying rent.”

He explained that KCG is seeking low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC) which will allow them borrow money at lower rates, allowing them to offer a lower rental cost. He stressed that the project is not receiving any government subsidies and will require applicants for the apartments to have jobs in order to qualify.

According to the National Housing Law Project, “The LIHTC program does not provide housing subsidies. Instead, the program provides tax incentives, written into the Internal Revenue Code, to encourage developers to create affordable housing.”

According to section 42 of the Internal Revenue Code, developers who receive LIHTC’s are prohibited from turning away applicants for the sole reason that they have section 8 vouchers.

Jim Glorioso, a candidate for Montgomery County Sheriff, said he was “not crazy” about the overall design of building and said he felt it looked “plain” in comparison to the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge. However, he said his main concern is that there would be a lack of adequate parking for the 132 residential units and the restaurant/banquet hall which is planned to have a total capacity of 500 people.  The site plan currently calls for 166 total parking spaces, with 74 of those spaces located on the ground floor, under the four residential floors of the building.

“When we have a bridge event going on, that south side was packed with cars, the whole Chalmers parking lot was filled, the side streets were filled,” said Glorioso. “I don’t know where you’re going to park all these cars.”

Ken Neenan also voiced the same concern and said, “Where are we going to put the cars? We have had events on the south side and cars were actually parked a mile away, and they had to walk a mile. You’ve got to do something about the parking.”

Later in the meeting Carmina said, “Our experience is less than one parking space is required per unit in a project like this. Less than one, so we have more than enough parking for our residents.”

Planning Commission Chair Paul Gavry said, “Parking is always going to be an issue…. a lot of people say if you have a parking problem, it’s a good problem.”

He added, “We’re in a [Downtown Core] zone where the off-street requirements are not the same as they may be in other zones.”

Pam Swart, a candidate for First Ward Alderwoman, said, “I really feel that this building is not going to attract new citizens to our community that will and can spend money. In my view this plan will not create the stepping stone needed to create long-term economic transformation.”

She asked why the site plans didn’t include balconies or washer and dryer units for each apartment. Carmina didn’t elaborate on the issue other than to say that it was a decision made by KCG.

The site plan calls for a shared laundry room on each of the four residential floors.

“I find that most people want [washer and dryers] in their apartments, so you’re not going to draw the type of renter that I think our city needs right now, especially at the foot of our pedestrian bridge. And this is the most prime piece of property, I believe, in our city right now, and I think we’re missing the boat here. Let’s not have another mall, please,” said Swart.

Paul Parillo, former City of Amsterdam mayor and owner of L’ultimo restaurant and Mary Jane’s Market on Bridge Street, said he objected to the exclusion of space for a culinary incubator program, which is specified in the purchase contract between the city and KCG. Instead, KCG announced last month that they have chosen Luigi Lanzi, whose family owns Lanzi’s on the Lake and several other restaurants in Fulton County, to lease and operate a restaurant and banquet facility within a separate single-story structure on the site.

“The plans are completely different than what was originally proposed. It was changed without the public’s input,” said Parillo. “I am totally disappointed that it’s come to be a cradle for a few people rather than an incubator for everyone on Bridge Street.”

Carmina said that he believes the project will benefit south side businesses because of the foot traffic it will bring to the area.

“If there are 400 people there, either living there or going to a banquet or something, they’re not all going to go to Lou’s restaurant, they’re going to fly up the street and go to everybody else. That’s what it is…the more people that you get down there, the critical mass of people you put there, they’re going to visit the other restaurants,” said Carmina.

Rodney Wojnar, Fourth Ward Alderman, referring to the estimated $30 million cost of the project, said, “This whole project…is being done on the cheap, and there’s only so much you can get with that amount of money these days. And I don’t think you’re going to get your money’s worth on this project, I really don’t…these other projects [in] Schenectady…they’re doing it first class.”

“This is not a chintzy cheap project,” said Carmina. “These units will have the same finishes that we’re building in [Buffalo, NY], granite counter tops, fully wood kitchen cabinets, ceramic tile in the bathrooms and the surrounds. They’ll be nicer than half the residences I’ve ever lived in.”

Council members Jim Martuscello, Chad Majewski, and Paul Ochal were also in attendance at the meeting.

Stacy Kaplowitz of KCG Development said last month she sees a tentative closing date on the property by the end of the year, and hopes to break ground on the project either by the end of the year or by spring of 2019. She estimated construction time will take approximately 14 months.

Editor’s note:

While I was concerned the meeting got somewhat chaotic, with several members of the public interrupting Carmina multiple times, causing Gavry to use the gavel to call for order at least twice, I believe some valid concerns were brought up. Some of the issues really couldn’t be addressed fully by the architect or the planning commission, so I hope to get further comments soon on these issues from the mayor, council members, and the developers.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.