By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
COXSACKIE — A new site plan and building height variance request were submitted by the Monday 5 p.m. deadline for the controversial downtown hotel project that has drawn ire from some in the community.
The village board is also planning a public forum to discuss the issues with the village’s attorney and engineers to outline any violations that may have occurred and what the next steps will be moving forward. A date and location for the public forum has not yet been set.
The Coxsackie Village Board meeting Monday drew about 50 village residents, both in person and on Zoom, most looking to discuss the Empire Riverfront Ventures project.
The project by developer Aaron Flach, at 60 South River St., is building a boutique hotel, The Newbury, and an event center known as The Wire.
A stop-work order on the hotel — much of which has already been built — was issued in late March because of questions over whether the project conforms to the site plan that was approved by the village’s planning board, including the height of the hotel, according to a statement released by the village board March 27.
According to the variance request submitted April 11 by Mark Millspaugh, president of Sterling Environmental Engineering, the developer is seeking approval to making the building 14 feet taller than what is currently permitted.
“The Newbury could not be constructed on the existing building foundation as planned due to the deteriorated condition of the building,” according to the variance application. “The project will not be a viable development without the requested building height variance to allow a 14-foot increase in the maximum building 50-feet height allowed within the Village Center.”
Other buildings in the area are taller than what is permitted, according to the variance application.
“Existing structures in the district exceed the 50-feet maximum building height,” according to the variance application. “Therefore, the proposed Newbury will not affect the character within the Village Center.”
The stop-work order remains in effect.
Mayor Mark Evans read a statement at Monday’s meeting outlining next steps in the process.
“The planning board’s normally scheduled next meeting is April 21,” Evans said. “We have made arrangements for them to use the auditorium at the high school. Part of our job tonight is to appoint people to the zoning board of appeals so they are a full complement and are ready to act when parts of the project may be sent to them. We hope after the planning board meeting that we will have a full understanding of the issues that need to be addressed with the project. If so, it is our intention to schedule a public forum that we commit to with the village board, planning board, code enforcement, engineer and village attorney all present. Any meetings of the planning board or ZBA are public and will likely be at the school. The exact location will depend on availability.”
The village board reappointed Salvatore Bevilacqua and named him chairman of the ZBA, incumbent Glenn Haas was reappointed to a new term, and newcomers Christopher Chimento, Debra Jung and Brian Tighe were appointed.
The village board is also planning to appoint alternate members to the ZBA, but will first have to hold a public hearing May 9 before adopting a new local law making that possible. Existing village law does not have a provision for ZBA alternate members.
Among the issues the ZBA will be tasked with is determining whether the height variance will be approved for the project.
Resident Brian Rowe pointed out that several individuals who expressed interest in serving on the ZBA were not selected for the three open spots on the board.
“There are five people who nominated themselves to be on the ZBA, but only three were selected,” Rowe said. “What was the process for deciding which three were selected?”
Evans responded that the decision was made at the village board’s workshop meeting last week. The two residents who were not chosen may be tapped as alternate members, but first a new local law will have to be adopted.
But there are no specific criteria for filling seats on the ZBA, Evans said.
“There aren’t really any criteria,” the mayor said. “People expressed interest. The ZBA has only met probably a couple of times in the past five years.”
Mary McGuigan, a former trustee on the village board, said she submitted a letter of interest and wanted to know why she was not selected.
“I was one of the people who had expressed interest,” McGuigan said. “Is it because I have already expressed some dissatisfaction with procedures around this approval of the building as it was proposed that I was not selected? I already have experience as a trustee on the board and have lived in the village for 25 years. Are you looking for someone who is going to rubber stamp this?”
Evans said the board did not want to appoint residents who live in the downtown area of the village, where the project is located.
“The discussion we had was given the proximity of [the project] to the downtown area, we found that to protect ourselves going down the road, especially if it becomes a legal matter, that we should not put anybody on that lives in the downtown area,” Evans said.
Resident Katie Higgins asked whether a list of violations of the project will be made public prior to the forum.
“I think it would benefit the community to have all the information in one place so we are not speculating,” Higgins said.
Evans said that will be a decision for the planning board but the village board will assist them in making that happen.
The April 21 meeting of the planning board is expected to be a cursory review of the newly submitted site plan, and the public forum is expected to take place about a week after that, where the village attorney will explain next steps in the decision-making process, Evans said.
“There is work that the planning board will have to do with regard to the site plan, and there is work that the ZBA will have to do with regard to variances that might be requested,” Evans said.
This is the first time the village of Coxsackie has been faced with an issue of this complexity and magnitude, Evans said.
“We have never dealt with anything like this before,” the mayor said. “There has never been a project this big in the village, at least in a long, long time. We have been put in a position where things obviously have to be readdressed and looked at. The best thing we can do is look to our counsel.”
The village’s attorney is the Albany firm Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna, Evans said.
Resident Bridget McGuigan asked how the firm is being paid.
The village has the law firm on retainer for various issues as needed, but for development projects such as this, the developer pays into an escrow account to cover the village’s legal and engineering fees, which is a standard procedure that applies to all construction projects, Evans said.