Here's the basic flyer we handed out on 7/24/2019. Note that we'd love to have you come on August 19, 2019 to express your opinion to the Albany Common Council!
Members of the City of Albany Common Council
24 Eagle Street
Albany, NY 12203
June 28, 2019
RE:Projects Located at:
1) 563 and 583 New Scotland Avenue;
2) 301, 313, 315, 319 South Allen Street; and
3) 90, 92, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 104 and 111 Onderdonk Avenue (Paper Street)
Dear Members of the Common Council:
This is in regard to the proposed project (“563 New Scotland Avenue”) covering the above-listed addresses within the City of Albany. In sum, we recommend that it should be considered a Type 1 project under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), that a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should be prepared, and that the EIS would include the required scoping document - the purpose of which is to analyze the full range of potential significant adverse impact and how those impacts can be minimized. These recommendations are based on the disruption to the community and its character during both the demolition and construction phases as explained in the following. There are other social and humanitarian effects that this project will have that require full community participation and cooperation which is clearly not planned at this point by either the City Planning Board or the Common Council.
A Type 1 Action under SEQRA means that it is more likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment than other actions or classes of actions. This is clearly the situation involved in this project. First, it involves the demolition of two large apartment buildings and one large office building – all located on South Allen Street. Second, it also involves demolition the office/retail building which contains the heavily-used Post Office which is in the middle of an extremely busy traffic corridor due to proximity of St. Peter’s Hospital. Third, including the demolition and then the construction, this project is scheduled to continue for four years and 11 hours per day according to the short form Environmental Assessment Form completed by the Applicant, Daniel Hershberg on behalf of his client Jankow Companies. The most obvious and intrusive adverse environmental impacts would be caused by the construction noise, dirt, dust and traffic complications from hundreds of truckloads of C&D debris estimated by the Applicant at 30 tons per month. Anyone who has driven down New Scotland Avenue during rush hour and at other times as well would probably agree that hundreds of additional truckloads of debris during construction and then many more vehicle trips once the project is at full capacity – from 192 apartments, would cause severe disruption in many ways.
Regarding the necessity of classifying this project as a Type 1 action, SEQRA regulations are quite clear on this matter. According to section 617.4(b)(5), an activity must be classified as Type 1 when it involves construction of 200 new residential units in a city, town or village having a population of 150,000 persons or less . The application here is for 192 units. However, according to SEQRA,
“Cumulative impacts must be assessed when actions are proposed or can be foreseen as likely to take place simultaneously or sequentially in a way that the combined impacts may be significant.”
It goes on further to state that:
“Another factor in examining whether two or more actions should be considered as contributing to cumulative impacts is whether two actions are in close enough proximity to affect the same resource.”
The situation here is clear. With the required consideration of the current construction of 110 residential units at 363 Ontario Street (under the cumulative impact section in SEQRA), which isapproximately 1,500 feet fromNew Scotland Avenue, the combined impact well exceeds the threshold of 200 residential units and therefore should be classified as Type 1.
More specifically on the need for an EIS and the inclusion of the scoping document, both are absolutely necessary and critical here for a number of different reasons. Typically a draft EIS is prepared by the project sponsor because it is most familiar with the project. Therefore, I recommend that Daniel Hershberg and the Jankow Companies revisit this project and the EAF they (partially) prepared and complete an EIS. The differences in detail between the EAF and EIS is striking and it becomes readily apparent in this case that the EAF is not sufficient. Part 2 of the EAF was not completed by the Applicant, which is notable because it includes the following sections which are directly relevant here including; 1) Impact on Transportation – part c. which considers if “The proposed action will degrade existing transit access” which is certainly the case here; 2) Impact on Noise, Odor and Light – part b. which considers if “The proposed action may produce sound above noise levels established by local regulation” which is certainly the case here; 3) Impact on Human Health – part a. which considers if “The proposed action is located within 1,500 feet of a school, hospital, licensed day care center, group home, nursing home or retirement community”, with St. Peter’s Hospital and its day care center and retirement/nursing residence on site, it is strikingly obvious that the full EAF (and the EIS) consider these impacts to be important; and 4) Consistency with Community Character - part e. which considers if “The proposed action is inconsistent with the predominant architectural scale and character” which it most clearly is with its canyon-producing effect of a huge five story building in a neighborhood dominated by two and three story buildings.
The importance of a thorough scoping document for this project cannot be understated. The EIS requires a scoping document which forces the developer and the agency to: 1) Ensure public participating in the EIS development process; 2) Allow open discussion of issues of public concern; 3) Permit inclusion of relevant, substantive public issues in the final scope. There also must be consideration of alternatives (i.e., buildings constructed much closer to scale in the neighborhood.) It is considered one of the most important components of an EIS. Developers tend to avoid EISs and scoping documents if possible, but that should not be permitted for this project. The alternative of an incomplete EAF prepared by the Applicant with no full discussion of all the relevant impacts is unacceptable.
In discussing the potential impacts with members of the New Scotland Avenue and Buckingham Lake neighborhoods, these other issues of public concern are of utmost importance to them. Some of the concerns mentioned, most of which have not been addressed at all or very little by the Zoning Board of Appeals include:1)Safety of nursing home residents and children within the nearby daycare center– transforming large sections of New Scotland Avenue into what basically amounts to an industrial zone does not bode well for the safety of these populations. How will they be protected and accommodated during the 11 hour time periods when noisy and potentially dangerous trucks are in close proximity; 2)Displacement of apartment renters from 313 and 315 South Allen Street – I spoke with one couple who have been tenants in these buildings for 30 years. They indicated that they have not been contacted by the current landlord or anybody from the City as to what their living arrangement might be if their building was demolished. Another tenant indicated that her current rent is $1,050 per month and that the anticipated rent in the proposed project, if built would be $1,500. This represents a 50% increase in rent. She anticipates being forced out and is on her own in terms of locating affordable rent; 3)Care and recuperation of hospital patients directly across the street – it appears that the impact of pile driving and general loud, construction and demolition activity upon St. Peters’ patients has not been discussed or planned for in any meaningful way. Shouldn’t there be some public discussion, including St. Peters Hospital and the general public as to how to address this negative impact; 4)Loss of Post Office – this is one of the first issues that people brought up in relation to this proposed project. There appears to be no discussion or consideration of the loss of this very busy Post Office at 563 New Scotland Avenue. Typically, when a Post Office in a community is being demolished or moved, there is significant community discussion regarding options and logistics so that postal service can continue for residents. There appears to be no public discussion or transparency regarding this most important community resource.
The upshot of these observations is that the citizens are generally frustrated with the scale of this proposed project and the speed at which it is being planned and developed. It is clear that there has not been adequate discussion or planning of the most impactful and meaningful aspects of this project as described above. A significant number of Albany residents I have spoken to had no idea that the project was being planned or considered at all. This is due in part to the inadequate notice provided around the area of the proposed development. The picture below is of the 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper containing the notice of the proposed action. It is wrapped around a light pole so that the only a part of the actual notice can realistically be noted by people walking by. Those driving by the notice would be hard pressed to be able to decipher the notice. It could certainly give the impression that the City and the Zoning Board of Appeals do not want residents to be aware of it. Contrast this notice to the notices provided in cities such as Seattle in which the notices are mounted on large posters and easily seen by those walking by or driving.
Notice of proposed project at 563 New Scotland Ave., in front of Post Office
A large part of the solution here as noted above is to re-declare this project a Type 1 action under SEQRA with preparation of a meaningful EIS and Scoping session so that residents’ concerns can be fully vetted and alternatives other than that proposed by Daniel Hershberg can be considered and fully discussed. In this spirit of better informing citizens I would like the Common Council to pass a resolution calling for this action at its meeting on Monday night July 1st. This is clearly in keeping with the role of the Common Council to ensure robust public discussion of projects that will have an unmistakable negative impact upon the community and as a check on City government to ensure it is acting in the best interests of its citizens.
Last but not least, some members of the press and citizens of Albany have attempted to portray our group of citizens concerned about this project and others including that proposed at 1211 Western Avenue as “against development” or “not concerned about renters”. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, I think I can fairly state that we citizens DO want responsible development that fits with the character of our neighborhoods and that those who rent have legitimate affordable options. We also very much want Albany to be as walkable (and bikeable) a community as possible and will like to help the City achieve that.
32 Buckingham Drive
cc: Brian Shea, Chief of Staff to the Mayor
Chris Spencer, Commissioner of Planning
Members of the City of Albany Planning Board
Members of the City of Albany Zoning Board
Resident Concerns re:
the proposed development of 563 New Scotland Avenue
(Albany Planning Board: Selfservice.albanyny.gov/node/270/casefile00238 )
We urge the Common Council to enforce a suspension of building until these concerns are addressed. We are strong supporters of appropriately-sized development within usage and environment guidelines.
Due to prohibitive expense, Albany’s residents have no recourse to legal counsel to protect our homes and environment. We ask our elected officials to fulfill their responsibilities and protect Albany’s neighborhoods.
It is anticipated that the City will declare a negative declaration on 563 New Scotland Ave. which means that it believes there will be no significant environmental impact due to the project! This is simply NOT TRUE when you consider that just for starters this project will continue for FOUR years with 11 hour days of dump trucks rumbling down New Scotland Avenue with the demolition of over 10 structures.
Instead of a negative declaration we need the preparation of a Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which is the correct way to plan and fully publicly vet all the issues involved in the project. The main portion of an EIS is the preparation of a scoping document which forces the developer and the Department of Planning to lay out all the issues and then if an issue is missed, the public gets to comment on that. The current Environmental Assessment (EAF) form does none of this.
The current EAF is so deficient that is doesn't even have any plan for how St. Peter's Hospital is going to handle all this additional construction traffic - what about ambulances? It references the the Day Care at Temple Israel and the Nursing Home behind
St. Peter's, but that's all it has to do.
Most of the people who have spoken out about this project are NOT against development. We want the development to scale and this project is NOT TO SCALE WITH THE SURROUNDING NEIGHBORHOOD.