Developer Anthony DeThomasis previously appeared before the Upper Washington Avenue Neighborhood Association (UWANA) on previous occasions to discuss his plans for developing the site, 60 Colvin Avenue. Concerns were raised each time by neighborhood residents about the height and large scale density of the project, insufficient number of parking spots, concerns regarding sewer and water and traffic impacts on Colvin Avenue, a heavily traveled street. This site is also adjacent to Westland Hills Park.
Fast forward to the Albany Planning Board meeting on December 20, 2018. Mr. DeThomasis and an associate appeared before the City of Albany Planning Board to discuss the project and answered questions from the Planning Board, however no action was taken. The developer cited their own cursory traffic study and stated that the development project would have minimal impact on traffic on Colvin Avenue. Several residents of UWANA spoke up against the proposal due to the reasons listed above.
The events of the December 20, 2018 Planning Board meeting were subsequently discussed at the March 27, 2019 UWANA meeting and Mr. DeThomasis was in attendance. At the end of the meeting, Mr. DeThomasis stated that there may be some cleaning up of brush and trimming along the sidewalk and roadways around 60 Colvin Avenue in the coming weeks.
Then the clearcutting began. Common Council Member Mike O’Brien was alerted by a neighborhood resident on Sunday, April 7, 2019 that a contractor was on the site with a bulldozer and cutting equipment, and was taking down trees. Mike O’Brien immediately responded and the contractor informed him that he was there to clear cut the parcel. Mike contacted Mayor Sheehan’s Office, Planning Department, Buildings and Codes and Department of General Services.
Monday, April 8, 2019 a “stop work letter” was issued by Department of General Services to halt all cutting of the parcel. The property owner was advised in the letter that the contractor would be allowed to remove the logs that have already been cut, but no new cutting was to be permitted at this time. It appears this was done pursuant to USDO Section 375-5(E ) (11).
On Wednesday, April 24, 2019, the contractor was spotted again at 60 Colvin Avenue taking down trees. Mike O’Brien reached out to Sergio Panunzio, Commissioner of Department of General Services to check on the status of the stop work letter. The Commissioner advised that after speaking with City of Albany Corporation Counsel and City of Albany Department of Planning, he was essentially overruled and the stop work letter was verbally rescinded. Therefore, the contractor was allowed to continue clear cutting. Planning Commissioner Chris Spencer stated in the Times Union article
https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Denuding-at-Colvin-Ave-site-sparks-concern-among-13833104.phpthat less than 50% was clear cut, however Mike O’Brien contends it is more like 80%, which is in direct violation of the zoning code. It is also important to note the Times Union article from July 2016 (https://www.timesunion.com/tuplus-local/article/Lead-lurks-under-land-near-Albany-park-8347921.php). The article notes that the wooded area of Westland Hills Park directly next 60 Colvin Ave was in 2003 found to be lead contaminated one to two feet below the surface. The land was included in Albany's 2030 comprehensive plan as a "brownfield opportunity area". In addition, we believe that the developer was in clear violation of the zoning code and the Department of Planning is misinterpreting what the zoning says in relation to trees and vegetation removal.
When there is a “major development plan”, any cutting and ground disturbance has to be pursuant to an approved site plan. See USDO Section 375-5(E )(14 and 15) and 375-5(G)(4)(b)(iv) and (v). No such approved site plan yet exists. USDO Section 375-5 provides for enforcement, remedies and penalties which are supposed to be invoked before any other approvals are given. It does not appear that this was followed when the Chief Planning Official lifted the stop work letter. Although requested, we have received nothing in writing to show that the Chief Planning Officer did this in writing.
Video of trees being felled on Colvin Avenue