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Shadow of Ellicott Station throws shade on apartment plan for Pembroke, developer promises no low-income housing

By Howard B. Owens
metzger pembroke apartments
Engineer Michael Metzger points out some of the changes to a proposed apartment complex on Route 77 in the Town of Pembroke during Wednesday's Town Planning Board meeting.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Based on feedback from the community, the engineer and property owner planning an apartment complex at 8900 Alleghany Road, Pembroke, have scaled back the project, the Pembroke Planning Board learned on Wednesday night before voting 6-1 to let the development move forward.

A month ago, when the plan was last publicly discussed, developer Michael Schmidt and engineer Michael Metzger were planning six buildings in the complex and a total of 144 apartments with 326 parking spaces.

The new site plan calls for four buildings -- plus garages -- with 96 apartments and 168 parking spaces.

The change helps reduce the amount of impervious developed service to less than 50 percent, leaving 57 percent greenspace on the 8.2-acre lot.

The changes will make the complex more attractive from the roadway, Metzger said.

"There was some talk of making the project a little bit more of a park-like as opposed to what we had before where we had six buildings in there and a lot of asphalt," Metzger said. "With these large tracts of natural vegetation, we're trying to replicate a park-like setting that would be better for the aesthetics for the community as well as the residents that would live in this facility."

Chairman David Knupfer voted no after expressing his concern about setting a precedent while not expressing any specific objections to the project.

"This project is a precedent-setter for this town," Knupfer said. "There's no other project like this in this town. So whichever way it goes, it sets a precedent with stipulations or no stipulations. So if this is approved, and somebody else, some other developer comes in, you gotta be careful. So make sure you have what you want in here."

There were two big concerns raised by planners and community members. First, access for school buses; second, whether Schmidt would pull a bait-and-switch, which speakers expressed concern about in light of what happened with Ellicott Station in Batavia, and turn the complex into low-incoming housing.

Metzger explained the plan for school buses, worked out with Pembroke Central School Superintendent Matthew Calderon, and Schmidt said there is no way the complex will become low-income housing.

Calderon sent a letter to the planning board expressing his thoughts on school buses, which Metzger acknowledged.

"He goes into detail there about various options, and actually, some of the options he's suggesting would work quite well," Metzger said. "He also offered the opportunity for the buses to actually come on site. One of the things that he talked about, and he talked about it with Mr. Schmidt, and he would be agreeable to is allowing the buses to actually come on site and stop at each one of the buildings, each of the four buildings. Because of the geometry that is set up for the largest of emergency vehicles and fire trucks, there's way more than enough capacity and room for buses to maneuver on the property."

Metzger explained that the driving lanes and turning lanes through the parking lot are compliant with state fire codes so that fire trucks can easily maneuver through the area.  School buses, he noted, have shorter wheelbases than the largest fire trucks.

Schmidt said he favors the buses stopping at each of the four buildings because it will be safer for the children of his tenants.

"As you know, it can be snowing, raining, sleeting," Schmidt said. "So if you have a tenant in the back building who has a little seven-year-old and the bus was to come in and park in a spot (up front), now that seven-year-old is going to be trucking down (the parking lot) with a backpack to get out on the bus where other people might be leaving for work. We talked about it being a bad situation from a safety standpoint for the children and said the best-case scenario in my mind is to have the bus be able to come around to each building. There will be plenty of clearance. So he (Calderon) was agreeable to that."

That scenario, Schmidt also noted, would allow the children to wait in the building's vestibule during inclement weather.

As far as concerns about low-income housing, Schmidt noted that, unlike Ellicott Station, his project is not subsidized by any state or federal agencies.  

"They already had all the agencies lined up to work with them," Schmidt said. "We are here alone. Mike's my engineer. We have no intention of doing that. I can put that into writing. We certainly aren't going to be looking for any state financial aid or any type of anything from the government to help us."

While the apartments will be available to anyone who can demonstrate the ability to pay the rent, he indicated that a person who qualifies for subsidized housing isn't likely going to be able to qualify to rent an apartment in his complex.

Applicants will need to be able to demonstrate full-time employment with a credit score of at least 700 and an income of at least three times the monthly rental rate. The rent on a two-bedroom apartment will be at least $1,695 per month and $1,395 for a one-bedroom.

After one resident complained that apartments will just bring in a bunch of "riff-raff" and drive down property values, Schmidt, who owns and operates several other similar complexes in the region and repeatedly drew on his experience to explain the kind of tenants who fill his complex, told the man, "respectfully," that he had it backward.

"The people who are gonna live here are going to make a minimum of $50,000 with a credit score that is going to have to be very strong," Schmidt said. "In my experience, once they live here for a while, they're going to realize if they're moving in from another place, which a lot of people will be, I think -- we all know your whole corridor is growing -- and some of you don't like that, I understand. I grew up in Akron, a small town that has grown a little bit. But the reality is it's happening. The STAMP project and other things that are going on are gonna lead other people to want to move in. 

"When they move in, they're gonna look for a nice place to move, and hopefully, we will be able to provide some of that," Schmidt added. "And then what they're going to do is look for places, homes to buy, which is going to take the prices of the homes up like it always does. When more people come in, the value of the homes goes up. That's good for everyone. You have more people coming in to help pay taxes and pay for the infrastructure ... You've got a great town. I'd say one of the towns in Western New York that's on the move. So I think it's going to be the opposite. I think what you find is when more people move in -- nice, good, hardworking people -- they're going to be looking for homes to buy. You're going to see the real estate values start climbing."

Related to the school bus issue, as well as traffic in and out of the complex, as well as the number of parking spaces, and the nature of the up-and-coming workforce quality apartments attract, is there simply won't be a lot of children living in the apartments, Schmidt said. He predicted fewer than 20 children at any one time.

He said the apartments are on the smaller side, and most are one-bedroom, and in his experience, even the two-bedrooms don't tend to attract adults with children.

Eight units in every building will be one-bedroom, and six will be two-bedrooms. There are no three bedrooms. 

"They're not large units," Schmidt said. "They're very medium-sized units. So really, our experience is that we have very few children. And when people start having children, they look for a house."

Schmidt said he maintains high standards for his tenants.  For example, tenants can have dogs under 30 pounds, but if a tenant's dog bites anybody, the dog has to go.

"We don't tolerate anything," Schmidt said. "That's why we keep the standards very high in who we rent to. If you don't, good people will not live around bad people, but bad people love living around good people. So you have to take care of the good tenants that you have."

And that's why he's attracted to building in Pembroke, he said. He believes Pembroke is a community that attracts good people.

"It's a community built around hardworking people," Schmidt said. "Hardworking people don't have a lot of time usually to screw around. We're going to protect that. I think you're gonna see there's a lot of great people that move in here."

metzger schmidt pembroke apartments
Engineer Michael Metzger and Developer Michael Schmidt.
Photo by Howard Owens.

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