Opponents of a proposed apartment complex in the northern-most section of Troy, New York packed an hours-long city council meeting Thursday night.
A concept by developer Kevin Vandenburgh would transform 11 riverfront acres – 10 in the City of Troy – into six three-story apartment buildings. But in order to proceed, the private property would need to be rezoned from its current single-family residential zoning.
Thursday night, the Troy city council considered whether to refer the concept to the city’s planning commission to review the project and make a recommendation on a zoning change.
There’s also a sizeable coalition of Troy residents and others who are opposed to developing the forested parcel.
Indigenous groups say development would destroy historically significant land.
During the meeting, David Banks read from a letter by Roberto Mukaro Borrero, a consultant on indigenous matters, written on behalf of Sachem HawkStorm, hereditary chief of the Schaghticoke First Nation.
“This land was a permanent and semi-permanent of various groups of Algonquin-speaking indigenous peoples and includes a critical ceremonial ground. The land was also a quarry for the production of tools and weapons, particularly arrowheads, and still contains a significant portion of indigenous artifacts,” read Banks.
The group Friends of Mahicantuck, the indigenous name for the Hudson River, has organized against the development with an online petition signed by over 600. Another 70 neighbors signed a paper petition.
As residents complain of potential impacts to the environment, traffic, and noise, they point to another spot not too far to the south – where a Price Chopper supermarket recently closed. Here’s resident Mark Russo speaking Thursday.
“It was a useful resource for the community and it no longer is. So it seems like a perfect place to put up an apartment complex,” said Russo.
Phillip Oswald, an attorney specializing in zoning matters, said the city council can stop the project after an initial hearing on the project in August.
“At the planning committee’s hearing, there was a lot of commentary about how this project is in its early stages and how there’s still more diligence about what needs to be done before more ground needs to be broken. However, I would urge the council to stop this at the earliest stage possible,” said Oswald.
Though the city council was not tasked with approving any sort of building Thursday – on land that remains to be sold to the developer –councilors laid out their visions for the property in the discussion.
Democrat Ken Zalewski of Ward 5, which includes the South Central and Eastside neighborhoods, doesn’t want to see building on undeveloped land.
“I guess this is just personal for me, I just don’t think that we need to make that a goal to develop our entire riverfront, and I think it makes sense to have some quality greenspace on the river for our residents,” said Zalewski.
Republican Jim Gulli of Lansingburgh is for the project. He said as he looks around across the Hudson River and sees development in neighboring communities, he wonders what Troy is doing different.
“We have every end of every street in Lansingburgh leads to a wooded area along the river. So it’s not the only piece there, and it’s not the only section that we need to care about. It’s OK to be green, you just don’t want to be too green,” said Gulli.
With three council members in favor and three opposed, at-large City Council President Carmella Mantello cast the tie-breaking vote to refer to the planning commission to make a recommendation on a zoning change.
“I’m not coming out in support or against this, but I do feel, A, that it’s not our property, and I feel, more importantly, that I don’t look at it as an either-or. I look at it as an opportunity,” said Mantello.
Mantello, a Republican, said she doesn’t see Vandenburgh’s concept being approved in its current form.
“This is step one of many, many steps down the road. And frankly, I don’t see the project that’s in front of us now coming to fruition without at least – I’m not going to support it – without environmental protection, historic preservation, environmental education and some waterfront amenities. I already told Kevin,” said Mantello.
With a 4-3 vote, the issue moves on.
Prior to Thursday’s meeting, conducted over Zoom with participants asked to register ahead of time, some criticized the way Troy is conducting its meetings during the pandemic.
The Friends of the Mahicantuck group says it’s unfair and a violation of state law that people who reside outside the city can be restricted from participating.
Mantello explained that certain precautions, such as the registration requirement, are taken to prevent Zoom-bombing and other disruptions.
Before the pandemic, the city has regularly allowed non-residents to comment during public meetings.
Mantello said she would support a Finance subcommittee to review the council rules, if necessary.