New apartment complex approved for downtown Gardiner

After more than two years of review before the Gardiner Planning Board, a small development in the hamlet originally intended as a commercial extension of the Gardiner Gables shopping center has finally gotten the green light — as a residential complex.

The parcel, located at the southeast corner of Sand Hill Road and Route 44/55, has long been the property of Gardiner Gables owner Robert Colucci. In his original mixed-use concept, Colucci proposed to renovate an existing two-family home on the property and construct a second building that would have retail and office space on the ground floor and apartments upstairs.

The two-family home portion of the proposal didn’t arouse any controversy. But various aspects of the commercial development ran afoul of hamlet design guidelines that had been incorporated into the town’s zoning code since the construction of the first phase of Gardiner Gables in 1998. The Ulster County Planning Board also sent Colucci back to the drawing board, and in the summer of 2012 he decided to scale the project back and submitted an Amended Site Plan.

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The new structure to be constructed will now be an eight-unit apartment building. At its meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 15, with Paul Colucci recusing himself, Paul Muessig recently resigned and Joe Hayes and Mark Rausher absent, a bare quorum of the Planning Board unanimously approved the Site Plan Amendment, subject to a list of conditions.

Among the conditions, several were intended to address issues in the plan that were holdovers from its original commercial conception, deemed inappropriate for the heart of the hamlet. The most controversial of these, and a thorn in the side of the project from the get-go, was exterior lighting that town planner Jim Freiband repeatedly characterized as excessively bright for the village setting, especially in the driveway and parking area.

“There’s a lot more light here than is essential for a residential lot,” said Freiband. “It’s needed for the parking spaces only, not the drive — that’s what headlights are for.” He suggested the use of bollards to mount the lights for the parking area, rather than overhead poles, and that they be placed on a timer so as not to shine in the neighbors’ windows all night long. “We want the equivalent of a 75-watt incandescent bulb. Your design should limit it to one footcandle, in the area of parking only.”

Sand Hill Road neighbor Linda Geary spoke up during the Public Hearing portion of the meeting to agree that lower lighting should be a priority. “Some developments in the hamlet haven’t had enough lighting scrutiny” by town officials, she said. “It isn’t necessary to have commercial lighting. Whatever you can do to make it look soft and low-key, please do it.”

Part of the problem, according to Freiband, was that the site plan used three different symbols to designate lighting locations, but did not include details about the fixtures to be used. “We intend to meet the minimum requirements on lumens. We don’t intend to exceed that in any way,” responded Robert Colucci. He agreed to add details of the specific fixtures, pole heights and lumens dispersed, and also to add timers to the plan.

Among the other visual conditions to the plan imposed by the Planning Board came in response to the elevations shown at the meeting, which did not appear to depict enough differentiation in the façades of the apartment units as recommended in the zoning code. “With the Creamery, we had them do some variation in color to break up the pattern, make it not so monotone,” noted board chair Mike Boylan.

“This rendering doesn’t do it justice. The intent was to add some accent, such as shakes,” said Colucci. “Fifteen years ago, with Gardiner Gables, there were no hamlet guidelines yet, and I feel we kind of set a standard. I see us exceeding that with a different kind of veneer or siding, a different color.”

Other conditions set by the board included submitting a modification in the drainage plan to the town engineer for review; adding handicapped access and a second handicapped space for the side parking area; documentation of an easement connecting to the adjoining lot; quantification of plantings in the landscaping plan; and depiction of several other construction details such as curbing and the connection to the town water lines. The applicant indicated that none of these would present a significant problem, whereupon the board voted to allow the project to go forward at long last.

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