Developer seeks approvals for hotel he has already built


COXSACKIE – In development, sometimes it’s beneficial to ask for forgiveness later rather than asking permission first.

Local developer Aaron Flach is applying for extensive permissions from the Village of Coxsackie after building a boutique hotel and events center with significant differences from what was approved by the village planning board.

The complex housing the James Newbury Hotel and Wire Event Center, located on the beleaguered shores of Coxsackie, was hit with a stop work order in late March, weeks before its completion, after alleged violations were discovered . The most obvious: The hotel had an additional floor.

Now, various village boards must either retroactively grant permissions to Flach or face the problem of having an unusable structure smack in the middle of a shopping mall.

The problems

The Newbury Hotel wasn’t supposed to be this big.

Plans submitted by the developer to the village planning board in March 2019 indicate that the hotel would start with an existing one-storey building on the site.

“The existing roof will be removed and three stories will be added above the first floor,” according to the plans, which also say the structure will be 45 feet tall. The hotel’s footprint was supposed to be the same size as the existing building: 6,280 square feet.

Instead, the developer decided to demolish the existing building and replace it with a structure with a much larger footprint – 8,460 square feet, according to new site plans submitted to the Planning Board after the order to work stoppage in March. Instead of a four-story structure, the developer built a five-story structure 64 feet tall – nearly 20 feet taller than approved and 14 feet taller than permitted by village zoning rules.

The differences between what was approved in March 2019 and what was actually built don’t end there. An unapproved kitchen addition and outdoor patio were added to the Wire Event Center, and an unapproved second-floor walkway was added to the Newbury, among other unapproved additions.

Based on claims the developer made to the Planning Board in March 2019, the board determined the project was an “unlisted action” under state law, and Flach was able to avoid environmental review. thorough, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars and take months or even years to complete.

The information provided by the developer for the building permit for the project also turned out to be inaccurate. The permit, which was reviewed by The Times Union, indicates that the construction costs for the hotel and event center would be $2 million. The actual cost, according to the new sitemap, is $11 million. Coxsackie requires developers to pay a fee equal to half of 1% of the cost of the project, which means the developer would have had to pay the village about $55,000. The village received $10,000.

What went wrong

At a public forum hosted by the village on May 26 to address concerns about the Newbury, village engineer Mary Beth Bianconi confirmed that the developer owed money to the village due to the inaccuracy of the building permit. build, although she said the village was still trying to calculate exactly how much.

Asked in an interview on Friday about submitting the $2 million figure, Flach said his company accidentally did not submit the full cost of the project, only listing the cost of the construction it was doing and not the construction it was doing. she had outsourced.

The cost of construction was about $10 million, according to Flach.

Coxsackie Mayor Mark Evans also spoke at the forum, saying the hotel and event center needed eight separate zoning deviations to be code compliant.

Before opening the forum, Evans said the village would try to answer as many questions as possible, but “some may not be able to answer due to possible legal action.”

Bianconi told the forum that the building inspector had undertaken inspections of the project “in accordance with the plans that were before him”.

“At some point in the process,” Bianconi said, “it was determined that there was a mismatch between what was being built and the construction plans that were in front of (the building inspector) and the approvals that had previously been approved by the planning board.”

Tax breaks

At least one organization was aware of the differences between construction plans and actual construction long before the stop work order.

The Greene County Industrial Development Agency (GIDA), the entity responsible for providing tax breaks to developers, granted the Newbury Hotel approximately $951,000 in property tax breaks, as well as exemption from sales taxes for the construction of the hotel, according to IDA documents.

GIDA meets monthly and in March 2021 – a year before the stop work order – members were briefed on the changes in construction.

“This project is now in full swing,” according to the minutes of the GIDA meeting. “Changes had to be made when the building that was to become the hotel turned out to be in worse condition than expected and had to be demolished.”

When GIDA Executive Director April Ernst was asked if this was the first time the agency had realized the project was deviating from approved plans, she replied that the former Executive Director would not was merely updating GIDA, which “is not involved in construction supervision or plan approval.”

The developer and the agency knew each other well: Flach has owned GIDA since 2006, according to Ernst – first in a building, then again when Flach sold that building in 2020; the agency then moved into another property in Flach: the promoter’s real estate agency.

To advance

During the public forum, Mayor Evans outlined ways to prevent a similar situation from happening in the future, including making the village clerk the secretary of the planning and zoning boards. , and for there to be more involvement in the meetings of these city councils. lawyer and engineer.

But for now, Coxsackie is stuck with the hotel largely complete, and Flach appears to be taking the position that building completion is the only option.

In the Planning Board’s new application, Flach writes that “the project will not be a viable development without the building height variation requested” – in effect saying the project is prohibited without the retroactive approvals.

The zoning board must grant all eight waivers for the project to proceed. At this point, the Planning Board would likely take over and review the new site plan for the project, according to village attorney Robert Strout.

The Planning Board has already determined that the new plan is a “Type I” action, according to Strout, meaning it may have to go through the lengthy approval process the project initially avoided.

When asked on Friday why a new site plan was not submitted to the Planning Council when plans changed, Flach pointed out that there were no plans initially provided to the council, only descriptions – although the descriptions presented a different project than the one Flach had built.

He added that “during COVID, when the construction plan was drawn up – no further review took place”, although no further review could have taken place without him submitting a new construction plan. site, or at least inform the Planning Board of variations from the original Site Plan.

The Coxsackie Zoning Board is meeting on Monday to begin reviewing the code deviations requested by Flach.

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