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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 17, 2006

Man in serious condition after crashing motorcycle

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — After hitting a car and then a CTDA bus in the 20 Mall parking lot, an Altamont man is listed in serious condition at Albany Medical Center Hospital.

Alexander Tolmie, 19, of 122 Western Ave., jumped onto a motorcycle around 5:30 Monday evening, then lost control and crashed in the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot, according to Guilderland Police.

"He got onto the motorcycle without the owner’s permission, put it in gear and opened up the throttle," said Lieutenant Curtis Cox of the Guilderland Police. "He hit a parked car, losing control of the bike and hitting a curb, and then crashed into a parked CDTA bus."

The CDTA bus was pulled up side-by-side with another bus while the drivers were talking to each other, Cox told The Enterprise.

"He ended up under the bus. That’s where they found him when EMS arrived," said Cox. "He was treated at the scene before emergency workers transported him to the hospital."

Guilderland Emergency Medical Services, Western Turnpike Rescue Squad, and the Westmere Fire Department responded to the accident.

A female bus driver, Nancy Zielinski, 58, also went to the hospital complaining of neck pains, according to Cox.

The woman who owned the motorcycle was present during the accident, but did not give Tolmie permission to ride the vehicle, police say. Tolmie was not wearing a helmet.

Cox said he believes Tolmie suffered substantial head injuries during the accident.

The investigation is ongoing and future charges may be pending, according to Guilderland Police.

Citizens laud volunteers’ effort in wake of widespread power outage

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Power and calm have been restored to the Willow Street neighborhood where over 200 homes lost electricity.

Residents now are working with their home-insurance companies to get reimbursed for damage caused after a car on Aug. 3 struck a support wire for a utility pole at the corner of Siver Road and Willow Street, causing a power surge.

Residents are also full of praise for the volunteer firefighters who worked over a period of 48 hours to check homes where appliances were smoking and electrical circuits were arcing.

"The firemen deserve credit; they did a great job," said Alice Dockal, whose late husband was a firefighter.

"I believe all those involved — firemen, police, EMTs, National Grid — should be commended," said Doris Selig, who lives on Willow Street. "They did an outstanding job. That includes dispatchers, who must have been flooded with calls."

"I can’t think of another time so many firefighters were involved in a single incident," said Richard Leininger, who was an active Guilderland firefighter himself for 25 years before vision problems sidelined him. "It was a doozy."

One of the volunteers was Donald Gaitor, assistant chief of the Guilderland Fire Department, who lives on Siver Road.

He was already at the scene of the accident when his wife called to tell him their home was filling with smoke and their burglar alarm wouldn’t stop sounding.

"I responded in my official capacity, as assistant chief, and took a couple of trucks with me," said Gaitor. "The good news is my wife is smart enough to wait outside until the fire department arrives."

The damage in Gaitor’s house was typical — five TVs, an alarm, two game consoles, DVD players, and VCRs were all destroyed.

His homeowners’ insurance company sent an adjuster, said Gaitor, but there are still several steps to go through.

"We’re still not sure of everything we have to fix," he said. "Some equipment was damaged but still functioned." The ceiling fan in his living room, or example, had worked for a few days after the power surge but has now stopped.

A lot of residents lost microwaves, refrigerators, and freezers, too, he said.

Long haul

The department responded to 41 calls on Aug. 3 that were similar to the one at Gaitor’s house, he said.

Curtis Cox, Guilderland’s fire chief, said his department was dispatched to respond to the accident. Cox works for the Guilderland Police but made clear he was talking solely as the fire chief as he described unfolding events on Aug. 3.

Soon after firefighters arrived on the scene, a call came in from Leda Lane, he said, about a smoking television. "People were coming out of their houses to tell us their computers were smoking or their outlets were arcing. That was very concerning," said Cox.

Calls came in from both the upper end of Willow Street, in the development accessible through Pine View Drive, and from the middle part of Willow Street, on roads like Bonny and Tower, said Cox.

Cox called for mutual aid from the fire departments in Fort Hunter, Guilderland Center, and Westmere, he said. McKownville and Carman stood by in the Guilderland and Fort Hunter firehouses.

Firefighters went inside homes to unplug smoking appliances and searched "to make sure nothing else was burning," said Cox. They also tripped main breakers, preventing further damage or fire as National Grid worked on the power lines.

The searches started at about 6 p.m., just after the accident occurred, and lasted until about 10 p.m., said Cox.

"As that slowed down, National Grid indicated they had to go door-to-door to inspect meters before the power could be turned back on," he said. "My fire department wanted to be available when they re-energized everyone."

Members of the police department, code-enforcement officers, and National Grid representatives went door-to-door through the night to over 200 houses, Cox said.

National Grid had to replace 79 damaged meter boxes. Electricians and underwriters had to come to those homes before power could be restored.

Firefighters spent the night on standby in the Guilderland firehouse, said Cox, "in case anyone had further problems or if National Grid started energizing."

Throughout the ordeal, Cox said, the firefighters were supported by the department’s ladies’ auxiliary.

"They supported the firemen as they always have with refreshments and food," he said.

At 3 p.m. the following day, said Cox, "We left the scene. Everybody went back to normal."

The last time Cox could recall such a massive town-wide volunteer effort was in the late 1960’s when volunteers fought a Pine Bush fire for "days and days."

"Community at its best"

Phone calls with recorded messages, two of them, were made through an Albany County system to all the affected homes, said Cox.

"As a guy who works with computers, I was impressed," said Gaitor. He runs the customer contact system for the Division of Criminal Justice Services.

The Guilderland Police Department and Guilderland Town Hall used what he called the "reverse 911 system" to inform residents.

"No system is infallible," Gaitor said, "but what Guilderland did was excellent."

Looking back on the 48 hours, he said, "A lot of folks were pretty perturbed they didn’t have power. Our role, first and foremost, was to be concerned with life and safety."

He and his 21-year-old daughter, firefighter Maureen Gaitor, were both on the job.

"You’re always hearing how difficult it is to get volunteers," he said. "Every single fire department we called was there with the manpower — no questions, no doubts, no grousing."

Gaitor described the reaction as "community at its best."

He went on, "The ladies auxiliary cooked hot dogs and hamburgers and pizza. It was good to have all the departments together as one."

He cited one firefighter, whose own home was damaged, as emblematic of the effort.

"I’m proud of Molly Kaffka who was working alongside us with the same difficulties at her own house...We’ve become a me society... These folks think enough of their community that their altruism comes through."

Glass Works Village gets conceptual approval from planning board

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — The planning board last week gave conceptual approval to the proposed Glass Works Village neighborhood, for which the town board will uncharacteristically act as lead agent for the project.

The nearby library’s reading garden, however, may suffer increased traffic if the project goes through as planned.

The grand design, a $100 million project, centered among Guilderland Elementary School, the Guilderland Public Library, and the Guilderland YMCA at the intersection of Western Avenue and Winding Brook Drive, would offer single-family cottages, row houses, and retail stores within one neighborhood.

Planning Board Chairman Stephen Feeney said that a bus stop needs to be added at the site. "That’s critical," he said. He questioned the amount of parking spaces proposed, calling it "mall" spacing. "Is that really necessary" It seems like a lot of parking," he said.

"A lot of issues were addressed," Feeney said, comparing the proposal to several that have come before.

Project spokesman Dominick Ranieri said that the project now has a more defined sense of public and private spaces. The new plan eliminates a center road through the development, leaving the area as green space, he said. The plan also describes walkways around the green space which connect the residential and retail sections, he said.

Robert Ganz, the president of the library board, said that the library "supports the new urbanism" of the proposal, but that the project’s utility vehicle road passes behind the library’s literary garden. He and fellow board member Mary Sparano said that traffic on the road would ruin the tranquility of the garden. Ganz provided two pictures of the garden, with one current photo, and one touched up with trucks and cars to show what the area could look like if the project goes through.

"This is totally misleading," said planning board member Lindsay Childs. He and other board members said that weight limits are imposed in the town, and that semi-trucks would not be driving behind the library.

Board member Terry Coburn asked if the current chainlink fencing could be changed to privacy fencing. Ganz said that greenery is important and would be limited in an area shared by sidewalks and roadways.

Comfortable with concept

Project director Daniel O’Brien said that the plan before the planning board was the 14th amendment. He said that the number of parking spaces in the design are "bare minimum" for some retailers.

"I’m comfortable with the concept at this point," said Town Planner Jan Weston. She said that the designers still have a lot to do to get final town approval.

Board member Paul Caputo said, "Looking at this, I find myself feeling a little bit excited about it. What you’re trying to do here, I really like."

Planning board attorney Linda Clark said that, rather than have the board vote on the project, the chairman should poll the board.

"I’m comfortable," board member James Cohen said. "Legally, we’ve got to wait for the town board."

O’Brien told The Enterprise that the project is "at least a year" away from construction. Designers must still make changes to the project to meet town requirements, he said.

O’Brien and his wife, Lisa, who is the media spokeswoman for the project, told The Enterprise that the designers have had to offer a "high level of detail for concept approval."

"We really appreciate the amount of time all the groups have spent on the project," Daniel O’Brien said.

Grant Hill Road

The board gave unanimous concept approval to Frank Marotta’s proposal of a 14-lot clustered subdivision on Grant Hill Road. The zoning at the site recently changed from R40 to RA3, which calls for a minimum of three acres per lot. Marotta’s project has 12 lots on 41 acres.

Weston said that the plan reflected no effort to blend the neighborhood into the surrounding rural area. She described the present plan as a high-density suburban design.

"The road should provide some sort of meander," Feeney said. The plan needs "a little more thought into the layout [to have] a real lot with access to storm water in back, as opposed to cookie-cutter slamming it out," he said.

Engineer Mark Jacobson said that 67 percent of the land would be conserved.

"We are requesting a density bonus because of land conserved," he said.

Coburn said that the town law states that 13 lots on a cul-de-sac is the limit, and that allowing one more would set a precedent. Her comment received brief applause from the audience of neighbors of the proposed site. Coburn said that 13 lots is a safety issue with fire and rescue personnel.

"I don’t think 14 is way out of the ball park," Feeney said. "I think the design, itself, could be improved upon significantly." Feeney offered Jacobson an alternative sketch of the site.

He said that he was not telling him how to design the project. "I’m sure you can do something better [that is] a little bit more sensitive to the site," Feeney said. "Sight-distance is going to restrict you. I don’t think we’re looking for a straight-shot cul-de-sac. We’d like to see wetlands in common ownership."

Jacobson asked to have the number of lots approved, but the board told him that a storm-water plan and a soil analysis were still needed. "There’s no guarantee," Feeney said.

Board member Michael Cleary said that the board would not commit to allowing 14 lots, and that the developer did not want only 13.

"He wants us to say 14, and we’re not going to say 14. We’re going in circles," he said.

"I’m comfortable with the concept, but not the concept design," Feeney said.

Caputo, however, did not like the conservation area described in the plan. "People build pools. They build decks," he said. The conservation area needs to be delineated, Caputo said.

Coburn said that she could not remember the planning board ever approving a concept with a map that did not work. She said that Marotta must come back with a different map.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Gave concept approval for the application by Frank Saluzzo to divide 6.1 acres on Frenchs Mill Road into two lots. Weston said that the road is straight and that there are no sight-distance problems with a new driveway.

Ketchum’s sold to chain for $788K

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — The local gas station, convenience store, deli, and car wash, known as Ketchum’s, was recently sold to a Connecticut company for $787,500. Now it will be called Cobble Pond Farms.

They’re not a "mom and pop" business, said Matthew Sgambettera, the company’s lawyer.

The store, at 200 Main Street in the heart of Altamont, purchased by Tom and Sally Ketchum 33 years ago, was a mom-and-pop business and served as a village hang-out and general store. "I had no life," said Sally Ketchum, commenting that she would even work on holidays.

"We will bring new things," said Dave Singh, who is managing the store for Altamont Petroleum. He said that he’ll keep things the same, but add some more items, like corn-dogs, calzones, and 99-cent sandwiches. Singh manages two other stores and has worked for the company for 20 years, Sgambettera said.

"We had everything – moth balls, fish hooks, mantels for lamps," said Sarah Ketchum, lamenting the changes that have happened to the store since the sale. Sgambettera said that the company hopes to keep the general-store feel.

"That’s part of the reason they bought it," he said. "They like the feel of it."

Altamont Petroleum, which bought the store in July, is a special-purpose entity created by GRGH at the request of their mortgaging bank, American Community Bank, according to Sgambettera. Altamont Petroleum was created "specifically for this particular station," he said. Though this is the only station that Altamont Petroleum owns, GRGH owns 22 gas stations in New York, as well as stations in New Hampshire, Maine, and Connecticut.

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