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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 23, 2006

Zoning laws and signs

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Some small-business owners say they are fed up with what they call unjust and anti-business zoning laws in the town of Guilderland. At the same time, the supervisor says the law is needed to preserve the landscape and maintain traffic safety.

James Ryer, president of Techniconsults Corporation in Cosmos Plaza at 1800 Western Ave., says he has been threatened with citations and a court appearance over a small sandwich-board sign in front of his computer store. In response to what he describes as an "onslaught of threats and harassment," he has founded the Coalition for Guilderland Small Businesses.

The group’s goal is to "discuss some of the issues facing small business owners that affect their growth and profitability," and change the town’s policies on the placement of temporary signs.

"In general, the businesses along Western Avenue are fed up," Ryer said about the town’s strict zoning laws on business signs and other regulations.

Supervisor Kenneth Runion said allowing businesses to put out small temporary signs would be the beginning of a slippery slope where businesses would compete with one another for visibility, and the signs would soon become larger and larger. He also expressed concerns about motorists slowing down to read the small signs and said that a slower traffic flow and possible accidents would be the result.

"Just think what it would look like if every restaurant put out a lunch-special sign"It turns Western Avenue into a mess," Runion told The Enterprise. "The landscape would be obliterated with signage."

Ryer was recently given a citation and then threatened with a court appearance for a small temporary sign he used to advertise weekend computer sales. The sign, he says, has resulted in unprecedented growth, giving his business a $20,000- to $30,000-a-month increase in sales. Ryer said the small sign’s impact was "very dramatic," doubling his business overnight, and that he has the accounting records to prove it.

The increase in revenue allowed Ryer to hire two additional employees, both Guilderland residents, he said, and open a second store with plans for two more in the near future.

Despite all of this, Ryer says that Rodger Stone, the town’s code enforcer, told him, "If you put your sign up again, we’re going to arrest you."

Stone said the problems with Techniconsults’ sign began right after Thanksgiving, and that Ryer’s store and several other businesses were issued citations over sign violations. Stone told The Enterprise he did not tell Ryer he would be arrested, but that he would have to appear in court because he would not take the sign down.

"He’s a good guy"He wasn’t aware of certain signage permits," Stone said about Ryer. Stone explained that the town of Guilderland requires permits for signs.

"I guess the intentions of the zoning laws are good, but we disagree on the way they are enforced," said Ryer about the focus of his new organization. He also added that it took him four months to open his own business because of all the town’s zoning requirements.

"Once the town of Guilderland steps in, you have to do this, this, and then this," said Ryer on his lengthy business opening.

Signs of trouble

Stone says the issue was originally brought to his attention because of a complaint he received about Ryer’s sign, and that he sent Ryer a letter about the matter. According to Stone, the sign remained, so he sent a violation notice, and, after the sign still remained, he then issued a ticket.

The two met to discuss the issue about a week ago. The meeting resulted in Ryer’s citation not being processed, in return for his promise not to use the sign anymore. Stone told The Enterprise the issue had been resolved, but, Ryer says, "Absolutely not."

"It’s been resolved in his [Stone’s] favor, but not for our businesses," Ryer said. In the end, said Ryer, he was forced to remove the sign that he had up every Saturday for six months. He posted the sign — "Dell: 2-day sale" — for eight hours a week and brought in well over $100,000 in extra revenue during that six-month period, Ryer said.

"Look, do you want my business in this town" Do you want my business to be successful"" Ryer asked The Enterprise, referring to his frustration with the town’s zoning board and code enforcement.

The zoning law says, "Temporary signs shall not be attached to fences, trees, utility poles, bridges or traffic signs and shall in no way obstruct or impair vision or traffic in any manner or create a hazard or disturbance to the health and welfare of the general public."

"We are not asking to put up permanent signs," Ryer said.

"The law is the law," Supervisor Runion told The Enterprise. "We have sign regulations that businesses have to follow."

Other problems

"I thought the law is the law," said Nick St. Louis, who owns the Nextel store on the corner of New Karner Road and Route 20 in Guilderland.

St. Louis did not specify who he spoke with, but told The Enterprise that he asked the town why the Guilderland schools are allowed unlimited use of sandwich-board signs along any road, yet businesses are not. He was told the town board does not have jurisdiction over school superintendents, and therefore could not regulate their sign usage.

"They are inconsiderate of the business person, period," St. Louis said about the town’s zoning board. He continued, saying, "We are people just trying to make a living"They don’t care."

St. Louis has had his own business problems with the zoning board. He said the board needs to be more flexible and learn to make an exception every now and then when it comes to someone’s livelihood.

He opened his store right after Thanksgiving, but was not allowed to put up a sign to identify his new business until a week after the new year began, he said. The reason, says St. Louis, is extensive paperwork, getting the proper permits, and having to work around the zoning board’s schedule. St. Louis told The Enterprise that the zoning board "decided" not to meet before Christmas, and the placement of his sign was delayed yet another two weeks.

In lieu of having a sign above his business, St. Louis tried parking his van with a Nextel sign on it in the corner of the parking lot that he shares with the Miyako Japanese Steak House. However, he said, Stone told him he could not keep the van there and also told him to remove a registered trailer that he had on the property.

Stone says St. Louis was delayed because he did not hand in his application on time, and that Stone had to personally drop off an application form to St. Louis after he opened his store.

St. Louis was asked to move his van and trailer, according to Stone, because he tried to use them as a sign for his business without approval from the zoning board.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people simply don’t know town laws"whether through ignorance or a lack of knowledge," Stone said.

According to the town’s zoning law, "Applications for sign permits shall be made, in writing, upon forms provided by the Chief Building Inspector and Zoning Coordinator by the owner, lessee or erector and be accompanied by a scale drawing showing dimensions, proposed design, the legend, color, materials, and structural details."

St. Louis told The Enterprise he knows the law and that, "Somebody has a couple of big heads over there [zoning department]." He added, "I am no pushover."

Peter Barber, chairman of the zoning board, could not be reached for comment.

The new coalition

Ryer said the purpose of his organization is ultimately for small businesses to come together and use strength in numbers in order to voice concerns and feedback to the town board. A collective business panel will be created and feedback from various small businesses will be given, said Ryer, whether the town board wants to hear it or not.

"Many businesses have fought this issue; they fought alone, and they lost," Ryer said.

The organization’s website explains its mission statement, contains information for small-business owners, lists contact numbers, and has a blog-type section were local business owners can voice problems they are having with town regulations that affect their growth or revenues.

One anonymous entry on the website reads, "The town cut my sign down. I had a ‘now hiring’ sign up and they cut it down. It was in the breezeway of my restaurant. How can they do that""

Another reads, "Good luck James. Great initiative. We need the small businesses of this town to unite." Both entries are dated Feb. 18, 2006, and the website’s address is www.forguilderlandbusinesses.com.

Membership for the coalition is free; there are no fees or dues for businesses that participate.

The coalition has a scheduled meeting for April 3 at 7 p.m. at the Techniconsults Computers store. The meeting is open to all business owners, current and prospective, as well as town officials and anyone interested in Guilderland’s small businesses. The coalitions plan is to rotate meeting locations so they are held at a different member’s business each month.

The first meeting will discuss the Guilderland sign codes and how it hinders small businesses progress and growth.

Dr. Mark Lentini

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — After serving the area for the past 20 years, Dr. Mark Lentini has been named head of podiatry, a division of the department of orthopedics, at Albany Medical Center.

Lentini runs Guilderland Foot Care at 1971 Western Ave., and has been heavily involved in the community for a number of years as president of the Western Turnpike Kiwanis Club and an active member of the Elks Club.

"I’ve been practicing in the town of Guilderland since 1987," Lentini told The Enterprise.

The position at Albany Medical Center doesn’t mean Lentini will leave his Guilderland practice. He described the new post as mostly "an administrative position."

Lentini is certified by the American Board of Pediatric Surgery and is a fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.

"With myself and the Albany Medical Center group, we will continue to provide diabetic foot care and surgical correction of foot deformities," said Lentini. He continued, saying, with the help of A.M.C. and its family practice-groups, patients will be served, regardless of financial standing.

Lentini graduated from Shaker High School in 1976; the State University of New York College at Oneonta in 1980; and the New York College of Pediatric Medicine in 1984, where he also completed his surgical residency rotations.

He lives with his wife, Mary, and two children in Guilderland. His son, Mark, attends the Christian Brothers Academy, and his daughter, Michelle, attends the seventh-grade at Farnsworth Middle School.

Students dance, feast, drum, share heritage

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The sound of African drum beats rumbled down the hall of Seneca House Friday morning. The walls were covered with colorful flags of different countries. Long tables were laden with foods, made in Guilderland kitchens from recipes that came from around the world.

"E Pluribus Unum" said letters permanently stenciled on the wall: "Out of many, one."

Seneca House is the newest of four schools within Farnsworth Middle School, each with a Native American name. The new house was built as part of a $20 million expansion and renovation project, opening this fall.

On Friday, the day before winter break, students celebrated their diversity in an event that the house principal, Amy Tubbs, said may become an annual affair.

Each student made a flag that represented his or her family’s country of origin. Each also brought in food native to that country.

"I didn’t realize how far back some kids have to go to find their heritage," said Tubbs. "They’re learning about history and culture and where their families came from."

She went on, "It’s good for kids to talk to their parents and ask, ‘Where did Grandma come from"’" The "Diversity Celebration," she said, has inspired family conversations that otherwise might not have taken place.

In addition to students’ discovering more about their own heritage, Tubbs said, the event is a way to learn about and respect others’ traditions and cultures.

"Guilderland is becoming a more diverse community," said Tubbs of the largely white, middle-class suburban town. "Kids need to share the richness of it."

She went on, "Especially at the middle-school level, kids might say racially or ethnically derogatory things. This is a way to get them to appreciate differences," she said of the celebration; such appreciation is to stem the slurs.

Gesturing the length of the hallway, which took in a flurry of activities and foods, Tubbs concluded, "The kids did it all."

"We’re all here in America"

Desks were moved aside in double rooms, so that dances from different countries could be demonstrated.

In one room, an Asian woman in a bright yellow, polka-dotted skirt deconstructed the flamenco, so students could see the different movements that make up the Spanish dance with Flemish roots.

She clicked the castanets on her right hand, describing the high sound as female. Then she clicked the castanets on her left hand, describing the low sound as male. Finally, she put the two together, slowly at first, so the distinct sounds could be heard, then, faster and faster she clicked in a staccato, cascading rhythm.

She was followed by a band of girls performing a Macedonian dance.

The dance, said a bright-eyed, brown-haired girl with silver spangles girdling her hips, would be performed before or during a wedding. The girls clapped as one, and then joined hands and moved with grace in an undulating line.

In another room, a lively trio — two boys and a girl — performed a calypso dance from Antigua.

The trio then got the crowd of watching students to their feet to join in a Conga line that circled the room. At first, one or two students had to be coaxed from the sidelines. One of the trio — the girl, in a cap with a necktie over her shirt — pulled a friend from the crowd. Another of the trio — a boy in a Stetson, also with a necktie over an untucked shirt — did likewise. Soon, most of the kids in the room had joined in the dance; so had some of the adults.

"I’m glad I’m not a teacher," commented the mother of one of the students. "I’d kill ’em all," she said with a laugh, as the energy level in the room rose with the music.

Seventh-grader Casey Cole, who watched from the sidelines, carefully noted what she was witnessing in a pamphlet that she and the other students carried with them. The paper had flags of different countries, and spaces to write what had been observed and learned.

Cole said she was enjoying the day.

"I’ve learned about different countries and different things they do, but we’re all here in America"It’s really kind of cool," she said.

Out in the hallway, as the rhythms from students playing the circle of African drums continued to punctuate the conversation, kids chatted over the food tables as they sampled what each other had brought.

One mother, of Turkish heritage, noted that desserts dominated. She had wanted to bake spanikopita, she said, but her daughter told her no one would want to eat spinach, so she instead made baklava , a dessert of paper-thin layers of pastry, chopped nuts, and honey.

Eighth-grader Jenna Lewanda brought in Jewish challah bread that her family sometimes eats for Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, a day of rest, holiness, and joy.

Brooke McCullen, a sixth-grader, brought in Irish soda bread that her family has at parties, she said.

Chelsea Donnelly, who has been McCullen’s friend since third grade, shares her Irish heritage.

Both girls were enthusiastic about the diversity celebration.

"You get to watch people dance, and eat food," said McCullen.

"It’s just fun," said Donnelly.

Will pigs fly in Guilderland"

By Matt Cook

GUILDERLAND — Except for the racing and diving pigs of the Altamont Fair, swine have become a rarity in the growing suburb of Guilderland. This summer, they’re making a comeback.

In late June, the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce will kick off Pigtacular!. Life-size fiberglass pigs, decorated by area artists, will appear at businesses throughout town.

"We’re looking to get at least 25 pigs in the Guilderland area," said Jane Schramm, the chamber’s executive director.

The idea was hatched, Schramm said, at the chamber’s fall retreat.

"My board and my staff, we really wanted to do some sort of community-wide event," Schramm said. "There is nothing on a grand scale that Guilderland can call its own."

Now, she said, Guilderland can call the pigs its own.

Decorated animals adorning city streets and town businesses is not a new concept. Chicago has its cows; Buffalo has its buffalo. Saratoga has its horses. Pigtacular! is modeled on similar events in Cincinnati and Seattle, Schramm said, and a moose display in Bennington, Vt.

Why pigs in Guilderland"

"The thing of it is, that this area, once upon a time, was extremely agricultural. It’s not so much anymore," Schramm said. "There were a lot of different animals, one of them being a pig."

The minutes of the first town meeting in Guilderland, held at the Appel Inn, document that roaming swine were a problem in town two centuries ago.

For Pigtacular!, at a starting price of $500, the chamber is asking local businesses to sponsor pigs and display them outside their locations. For businesses that don’t have a physical location in Guilderland, Schramm said, the chamber and Crossgates Mall are working together to create a "pig pen" in the mall.

Businesses can then decorate the pigs themselves, or use a local artist provided by the chamber.

"Right now, we have a call to artists," Schramm said. "Artists get to be extremely creative."

Businesses won’t be allowed to advertise on their pigs, but, Schramm said, "It could be something that is very creatively showing something about their type of business."

For example, she said, Singer’s Jewelers is planning a pig dressed up for a formal evening out, complete with jewelry.

The event will begin officially on June 29, with a Pignic in the Park in Altamont. It ends in the fall with Hogtoberfest, when the pigs will be auctioned off. The proceeds will go to the charity of the pig sponsor’s choice.

Also at Hogtoberfest, people will vote on their favorite pigs. The top three selected will win $500 for their artists.

In between the Pignic and Hogtoberfest, interested residents and visitors can travel the town, using maps from the chamber, Schramm said, and "stop and smell the roses and stop and look at the pigs."

Though the pigs will all be decorated differently, they’ll have one thing in common, Schramm said.

"They all have a smile on their face," she said.

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