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Pembroke supervisor sees the need for 96-unit apartment complex, but zoning code should be reviewed

By Howard B. Owens

Pembroke Town Supervisor Thomas Schneider Jr. is well aware of social media comments in opposition to a planned apartment complex on Route 77 and understands people's concerns, he says.

But he hasn't received a lot of direct contact from opponents at Town Hall. 

"We do hear the concerns," Schneider said after Thursday's board meeting. "One thing is the zoning has been in place since 1991. We've been working under the same zoning. I know it's sometimes hard for people to be informed, but if you don't know what's in your zoning, you can't be shocked when something comes in that's allowed in the zoning with a special use permit or buy right."

The project is approved. The Town Planning Board approved it on Sept. 27.  On Thursday, GCEDC approved an incentive package for the project.  There's no amount of opposition that can stop it now.

But even if there had been greater opposition before the approvals, mere opposition from community residents isn't enough to stop a development that meets all the legal requirements to be built at a specific location.

"According to state law, you shouldn't turn it down just because public opinion is 'we don't want it,'" Schneider said. "There should be a justifiable reason, an evidence-based reason, to turn it down."

Developer Mike Schmidt of Alden is planning to build four buildings over four phases at 8900 Alleghany Road. Each phase consists of a building with eight one-bedroom and 16 two-bedroom units, totaling 96 market-rate units, with 168 parking spaces along with garages.

Schmidt is planning on investigating $15 million in the project.

GCEDC on Thursday approved a sales tax exemption estimated at $739,200, a property tax abatement estimated at $2,020,688, and a mortgage tax exemption estimated at $130,000.

Schneider said he personally supports the project.

"My personal feeling on the whole thing is, as a former school board member, there are people who want to be in our district," Schneider said.  "Our district does need kids in the district to help it survive."

He said he has met with Schmidt, and he believes Schmidt will do what he says he's going to do.

"I think he's a man of his word," Schneider said. "I don't see him as wanting to have subsidized housing (meaning HUD aid to tenants). The EDC said they're gonna pull the incentives if it is subsidized, so I am not concerned about it. I think there's a lot of change going on in the town this year that has people a little squeamish, but we need to grow."

Growth is part of the town's approved Comprehensive Plan, he said.

"I think that's the direction of the town board's past and present," Schneider said. "The comp plan in the town says (routes) 5 and 77 and 33 should have more intensive type of commercial build-outs."

The project did raise some issues with current zoning, Schneider noted during the meeting, and he's proposing the town work on making some changes to the zoning code with a moratorium on some development until the changes are approved, which could take about a year to get through the legal process.

One example he used of an area to be addressed is bus access to an apartment complex site. 

"Things like that we can actually write into the zoning law," Schneider said. "That really takes it out of the hands of the planning board or, (not having) them having a struggle with what type of stipulations to put in the (approval). Let's spell it out."

He stressed he is not proposing a complete ban on anything.

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