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Rapp Road Residents, Pine Bush Environmentalists Express Concerns About Proposed Development

Guilderland officials are considering plans Crossgates Mall has submitted to build a huge apartment complex on 20 acres of land it owns near Rapp Road in Albany County. Although the project is in its formative stages, neighbors are on high alert.

Developers propose to construct 222 apartment and townhome units with a 405-space parking lot on nearly 20 acres of what is known as the Transit Oriented Development District, a site located on the west side of Crossgates Mall just southwest of the intersection of Gipp Road and Rapp Road.

Ken Kovalchik is Guilderland Town Planner.  "We're very early in the review process. The application will need to be referred to a number of agencies as part of the review, notably the Albany County Planning Board, the Pine Bush Commission, city of Albany. You know it'll be quite some time yet before any approvals are considered by the planning board."

The site currently consists of four separate parcels under Crossgates Mall ownership. The proposal entails consolidating the four into one parcel.  Kovalchik says the review process could take a year or more.

Kovalchik acknowledges numerous concerns voiced by neighbors and environmentalists who are actively mobilizing to protect their interests. He notes they're already on record, having publicly commented during a December 12 planning board meeting.   "There is a historic neighborhood, African-American neighborhood, that is located in the city of Albany over near the Washington Avenue Extension. There were quite a few members from that neighborhood that spoke with some concerns about potential traffic impact, character of the neighborhood."

Rapp Road Historical Association president Beverly Bardequez says her group has concerns about traffic and quality of life.  "With Guilderland proposing this project of 222 units of town homes and two apartment buildings five stories high, it will definitely affect our community. We're looking forward to teaming up with residents of Guilderland and hopefully the McKownville community, because we do not want this project to destroy our hsitoric district."

Bardequez hopes neighbors and planners can find a solution everyone can live with. Kovalchik is counting concerns.  "There were some residents on Westmere Terrace that spoke regarding some traffic impact and the proximity of the parking lot and a building to their neighborhood. Some members spoke with some concern about potential impact to the Pine Bush."

Albany Pine Bush Conservation Director Neil Gifford fears the complex will impact adjacent preserves. It may hamper management of protected lands using controlled burns, as well as threaten rare and endangered species.   "The endangered Karner Blue Butterfly and its cousin, the New York state threatened Frosted Elfin, which is another small brown butterfly, the size of a Karner that also feeds exclusively on the lupine as a caterpillar. And there are a number of what New York state has listed as 'species of greatest conservation need,' in particular a great spot for the Eastern Hog Nose snake. The only place in all of Albany County that I know of for the Eastern Worm Snake, as well as a number of rare birds, including the curry warbler, brown thrasher and some others that the state is trying to manage."

Gifford is leading the call for an Environmental Impact Statement to address all concerns.

Kovalchik says the idea for the project was ignited by new zoning laws.  "It's in the Transit Oriented Development District, which was adopted by the Town Board earlier this year, which came from a recommendation of a corridor study that was completed back in 2016. So within this Transit Oriented Development District, it's encouraging higher density development with pedestrian connections to the mall, to Route 20, and this is all related to the CDTA transit center that is proposed at the Crossgates Mall."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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