Retail vs housing: Village residents debate North Hudson Avenue apartment proposal

old mill plant
American Linens plant

The Village Board once again postponed a decision on plans to construct luxury apartments at the old American Linen property on North Hudson Avenue following a 45-minute public hearing where a majority of people spoke out against the idea as proposed.

About 50 residents packed the Village Board room Tuesday night (April 21) to voice concerns to Trustees and developer Camelot Associates about potential traffic problems that could accompany the apartments and a greater need for commercial/retail business in the village versus housing.

“Stillwater needs a tax base,” said one resident. “More apartments are not a tax base. All they do is add kids to the school and more demand on water and sewer. Put some stores in there … that’s gonna get more revenue.”

man present plaque to woman
 Mayor Nelson and the Village Board honor Ellen Vomacka for her years of service as Trustee, now Town Board Councilwoman.

Camelot Associates first pitched the idea to the board at a meeting last July to erect five, two-story apartment buildings on the long-vacant factory land, each building containing eight one- or two-bedroom modern living units. There would be a total of 40 apartments in all built on the property that would lease for starting at $900 a month.

“We’ve got at least 40 homes for sale in Stillwater and all kinds of apartments for rent,” said another resident. “I don’t know how you’re going to rent more and at $900 and up.”

The developers are seeking a special use permit from the village and approval of its application for local land development to move forward. It must also clear an environmental review as part of the application.

The apartment buildings, according to plans, would feature a vinyl sided and brick exterior and be modeled after a similar development in the Town of Colonie. The cost of the project is about $2 million. Also included on the land would be 80 parking spaces — 10 of those in the form of detached garages — to meet the village’s zoning requirements of two parking spaces per unit.

Housing versus retail space

Eight or nine years ago, the same developer proposed a mix of apartments and retail units for the American Linen property, including a strip mall and a bank. But after the developer got all of its approvals the country went into a recession and the project was abandoned.

Many people at the hearing claimed the developer didn’t try hard enough to find retailers for the mall at the time, or said they should revisit retail today because the economy has changed. Some of the retail interests they mentioned included a bakery, laundromat, drug store and diner.

“I don’t feel (housing) alone is good for this village other than getting (the property) developed,” said Ellen Vomacka, a former Trustee and local business owner. “This village needs retail and you gentlemen have the ability to give it to us. Most people here would agree that’s what we’re looking for.”

One woman said she inquired about retail space for her insurance office in the proposed Stillwater strip mall many years ago but was told the project was no longer being pursued so she went to Mechanicville. “There are people who would like village business space and that’s why I’m here today to let you know that.”

That seems to be the trend in Saratoga County, added Trustee Timothy Campbell, where communities like Saratoga Springs and Malta have seen a new influx of commercial-residential mixed development on the same lots.

“So if those people are wrong then the trend is wrong but that’s what they are doing up there,” Campbell said. “They are building residential on top and commercial on the bottom and they are renting them out.”

The developers explained that a lending institution would typically require 5-10 year lease commitments from businesses before approving financing to build commercial-residential mix, where requirements are less stringent when constructing apartments.

Former Trustee and Deputy Mayor John Basile, who was on the Village Board when the apartment project was proposed last summer, asked how much revenue the apartments would generate for the village budget.

Village Clerk Sheristin ‘Sher’ Tedesco estimated that based on similar sized apartment complexes the village could expect $2,000 in additional property tax revenue and about $12,000 in water and sewer usage revenues, annually.

Trustee Judith Wood-Shaw took an opposite approach. Wood-Shaw said she recently attended a local waterfront revitalization meeting with the town and one of the speakers there said adding residential dwelling like apartments (without a commercial mix) could actually attract retail elsewhere in the village.

“We are bedroom community meaning we sleep here but we work and spend our money outside (our borders),” Wood-Shaw said. “But I believe if we build them (apartments) they will come (retail).”

Concerns about increased traffic on North Hudson Avenue

Retail versus residential was not the only thing on people’s minds Tuesday night. Neighbors, who border the property, raised other concerns about the increased traffic they believe 40 additional apartments would bring to North Hudson Avenue. One resident, who lives directly across the street from the property, submitted a petition again the proposal signed by he and his neighbors.

“Putting in 40 apartments and all those parking spaces on a lot that size I think is extremely excessive myself,” he said. “It’s seven times the residential density everyone else in the village has to comply with.”

“You can’t even get out on Hudson Avenue now because there’s so much traffic,” added the man’s neighbor. “And at night they drive up the road 50 mph past my house because I can hear them whiz through.”

John Murphy, a longtime Trustee who recently returned to fill a vacant seat on the Village Board, said he, too, has concerns about “the density” and “aesthetic” of the project.

“It seems like 40 units in that amount of acreage is a lot more dense than I would like to see,” Murphy said. “And I don’t think we’re taking advantage of the fact that this borders the main drag of the village in terms of presenting a project appealing to the eye. I don’t like seeing that beautiful piece of property used for something other than what’s going to accentuate the beauty of this historic village.”

Mayor Rick Nelson, who started in office early this month long after the project was proposed, said he would be willing to meet with the developers and discuss some changes that may make the project more acceptable to residents.

“Personally, I think it’s a tough call,” he said. “But we have 62 days on this special use permit to come up with a decision. I want to make a good decision and I don’t want to be put on the spot right now. I’ve listened to what each of you had to say and I’ve talked to quite a few of you. We represent you. We’re going to make the best decision we can for you … looking at our list (of concerns) and the laws we need to follow.”

In other action April 21:

  • The Village Board presented former Trustee Ellen Vomacka with a plaque honoring her for her years of service and dedication to the residents of Stillwater. Vomacka stepped down from the Village Board April 1 to accept a seat on the Stillwater Town Board.
  • Mayor Nelson announced that Superintendent of Public Works Paul O’Kosky will be leaving his position on May 31 and that Matt Rifenburgh will be the new department foreman.
  • Village engineer Ed Hernandez said a state Department of Transportation inspection has revealed that the Park Avenue bridge will have to be replaced within the next five years and the village is seeking grant money to fund its replacement.
  • The Board of Trustees discussed new committee appointments for the coming fiscal year.
  • Trustees approved the purchase and installation of a long sought after backup generator for Village Hall and fire department, should the building lose power for an extended period. The total cost of the generator, parts and installation would not exceed $8,300.
  • Trustee Campbell said 30 yards of mulch have been ordered for the floor of the new village playground near the basketball courts/ice rink and that stone would be put down this year at the entrance to cut down on the mud.