AMSTERDAM – Plans to demolish the Amsterdam Riverfront Center parking garage to make way for ground floor parking and storefront entrances have been approved by the Planning Commission despite concerns over the unknown condition of the walls of the shopping center which will be exposed.
Plans call for the demolition of the 48,000 square foot parking garage at the southwest corner of the mall owned by Cranesville Properties and managing member Joseph Tesiero. The basement of the existing three-storey structure will be filled in to create the surface for an 80-space level parking lot.
The parking area will span approximately 36,200 square feet, covering approximately 75% of the just over one acre space. The lot will be accessible by car from Washington Street, which winds its way around the back of the mall.
Landscaping will be installed around the perimeter of the land with several patches of grass within. A sidewalk from the south end of the mall will cross the center of the lot and connect to an existing public walkway behind the property.
The concrete corner parking lot slated for demolition is a separate structure from the rest of the mall, Owen Speulstra, lead site civil engineer for CT Male Associates, told the Planning Commission on Wednesday.
The surrounding mall rooftop parking areas will remain intact, including the section carrying the walkway to Riverlink Park. A sloping driveway leading from the new parking lot to the southernmost rooftop parking area will be installed.
The project aims to help attract new tenants to the southwest section of the mall by allowing the installation of individual storefront entrances on the ground floor along the exterior walls that will be exposed. The shopping center is mainly used for medical premises and offices.
The timing and specific design of entries would depend on the needs of individual tenants as leases are secured, Speulstra acknowledged.
‘There are no particular tenants now, so a doctor might not want a front bay window and a shop would. There might be different considerations for different tenants,” Speulstra said.
Plans to initially paint the uncovered masonry walls to match the colors of the surrounding shopping center until the available spaces are gradually filled and individual storefronts are installed created unease within the Planning Commission.
“I’m concerned about the aesthetics of it,” said chairman Paul Gavry.
Amanda Bearcroft, director of Amsterdam’s community and economic development department, pointed out that the tentative plans to simply paint the walls without any other treatment fell short of the design standards of the city’s form-based code.
The city could trade one horror for another since the condition of the walls will not be known until the parking lot is demolished, Bearcroft added.
“Now we don’t have to look at an abandoned parking lot when you come to town, but now we might be looking at an even worse wall,” Bearcroft said.
The parking lot was closed to the public after it was declared unsafe due to failing structural components by former Amsterdam Fire Chief Michael Whitty on January 3, 2019. Cranesville Properties were commissioned to repair or remove the structure, but the demolition plans are the first steps. taken to finally remedy the unhealthy structure.
Housing inspector Grant Egelston pointed out that council approval of the plans would technically give the owners a year to complete the demolition and update the building’s facade with the planned entrances. The approval would simply expire if none of the work is done or code violations could be issued if the facade work is only partially done.
Recognizing the varied needs of future tenants, Egelston suggested the commission could allow housing inspectors to internally review individual driveway plans when building permits are sought to ensure they are up to code.
“I can see some flexibility with showcases because things change,” he said.
If the project with the facade work is not completed within a year, Egelston said Cranesville Properties could potentially request a one-year extension to avoid receiving violations from the city.
“I could see it becoming a problem if it all came to a halt, but as long as there’s progress and it’s being actively worked on, we shouldn’t see a problem,” Egelston said.
The Planning Commission unanimously approved the site plan application for the demolition of the parking garage at the Riverfront Center and the installation of surface parking provided that the improvements to the facade of the building comply to the form-based code under review by city housing inspectors. Tesiero indicated earlier this week that the demolition could be carried out later this year.
Contact Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
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