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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, March 22, 2007


Supervisor’s, workers’, and board members’ views clash in highway talks

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — As Berne considers sharing highway services with Albany County, board members said last week they want to discuss other options and move the process along.

Supervisor Kevin Crosier recently gave board members information on shared services he had composed with Ray Storm, Berne’s highway superintendent, Michael Franchini, Albany County’s commissioner of public works, and Don Gray, Albany County’s subdivision foreman of Berne.

The town board will hold a special meeting to discuss shared services and consider other options on March 28 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

"I think it’s ridiculous the board members are dragging their feet," Crosier told The Enterprise this week. "If this is how town governments are across [the state], we’re in a lot of trouble," he said.

Discussions between the Albany County Department of Public Works and Berne began after County Executive Michael Breslin held the first inter-municipal cooperation forum last April. Crosier had then backed a plan to merge Berne’s highway department with the county’s department of public works. Town highway workers all opposed the plan as did many residents; none of the council members supported it. Consequently, a $300,000 state grant was forfeited.

At the town board’s meeting last month, Crosier updated the town on sharing services with the county. Councilman James Hamilton questioned Crosier throughout, and said he had wanted to be cut in from the start.

Last week, Hamilton recommended a working meeting to discuss possibilities, "and brainstorm and hash it out."

"There may be other possibilities other than doing something expressly with Albany County," he said.

"I thought the direction we were going was: We have two highway departments within the town. Wouldn’t that make more sense to look at [sharing services with the county] first"" Crosier said.

Hamilton said that it was one of the options, and said working with neighboring towns to plow Albany County roads could be another option.

"If you had half-a-dozen people sitting in a room, just throwing ideas out, you’d come up with all kinds of things," Hamilton said.

"I’ll look at anything that’ll save the taxpayers money," said Crosier.

"It sounds like we’re narrowing our focus a little prematurely. We, as a town board, have not really discussed what is the best direction for us to head," Hamilton said.

Highway workers view

"I work for the Town of Berne highway department. I enjoy my job," Joe Welsh, one of the town’s highway workers, said last week.

"I hope that [the department] doesn’t get sold to the county," he said, adding that he hopes residents take that into consideration if it comes to a referendum.

"Don’t give it up," he said.

Kemmet said last week that, during a recent snowstorm, he was called to plow up Sickle Hill because Albany County couldn’t plow the road. As he was plowing the hill, he said, all of his town roads were accumulating snow.

"If there was a need for an emergency vehicle to get up to these roads, what would happen"" he asked. "That’s why I think these small highway departments were developed — to take care of the back roads," he said.

"If we do merge, I guarantee you, state roads are going to be priority one, county roads will be priority two, and town roads will be priority three," he said.

Anyone who lives on a town road, Kemmet said, is just as important as anyone who lives on a county or state road.

"It makes more sense to me that the county merged with the state," he said.

Supervisor’s view

"I believe we should be looking in shared services, and I think it makes good sense when you have two highway departments in one community charged with taking care of all the roads in the town.

"I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: We are 52-percent higher than the rest of the United States," Crosier said of state taxes. "We need to start looking at property tax relief. This is a good start for property tax relief.

"We cannot afford to keep just putting money after money after money, increasing taxes at double-digit figures. We’re not accomplishing anything. We’re just spending money. It’s time to start reducing our property taxes and take the burden off the shoulders of the property owner.

"Now, I know this is not a popular thing. A lot of communities are looking at it. I’m just asking everyone to look at it with an open mind. There’s a lot of possibilities.

"Sharing the salt shed — that’s a one-time savings that the town would not have to spend; $300,000 to build a salt shed".That makes good sense. Those are the types of things that we need to investigate," he said.

A resident asked Crosier if "shared services" is another name for "merger."

"No. Shared services can come in a lot of forms," said Crosier.

Golden’s view

"We have to plan a series of meetings," said Councilman Joseph Golden, who is the liaison to the town’s highway department.

"We have to make progress with this because, if anything goes dead in the meantime, the rumors fly around"I don’t even know which one to respond to sometimes," he said.

The longer time between facts, he said, "The more rumors you get shooting around."

"If this is as serious as everyone seems to think it is, then we should get on the task, make a schedule"and let’s move on this thing because I’d like to be able to go to the Mobil Mart without getting stumped," Golden said.

A resident asked when the public will be able to give input.

Golden responded, saying, "The first step in public input is when people pull the lever and elect us. They say, ‘We trust your judgment in handling some of this stuff’".We’re using that in the first step of the process."

Golden stressed moving through the process "because there’s a lot of grumpiness going on out there, and it changes from one day to the next."

The resident responded, saying, "As a taxpayer, I’d like to inform that decision." He added that he had facts and figures that could inform the board’s decisions.

"Always welcome," Golden said.


Helderberg Senior Housing

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — Eager residents crammed into Town Hall last week and applauded a proposal for community senior housing.

The Helderberg Retirement Community, to be built just outside the hamlet, includes two modern two-story buildings, each with 48 rental units. People 55 and older would be eligible for the apartments.

The project has long been in its planning stages. Last week, developer Jeff Thomas and his architect, Dominick Ranieri, outlined the plan for the town board, which voted unanimously to pass the project on to the planning board for review. The parcel along Canaday Hill Road would require a zoning change from residential forestry to traditional mixed-use two.

"This is a large step forward for all the seniors in the Hilltowns," said Supervisor Kevin Crosier. "Not just Berne, but Rensselaerville, Knox, and Westerlo."

"It’ll be a place where people who have lived in the Hilltowns all their lives and choose to spend their golden years here, will now have that opportunity," he said.

The two buildings, Ranieri said, could be built in phases. Construction, Thomas said, would begin after the town’s sewer project is completed if the project is allowed. Councilman Joseph Golden estimated in October that the sewer project will be finished in 2008.

Thomas is currently proposing two other senior-housing projects — one on Brandle Road just outside of Altamont and another at the site of the old Bavarian Chalet off Western Avenue in Guilderland.

"[The retirement community] doesn’t have a ton of amenities, but it has enough amenities to give you comfortable living so you don’t have to worry about the upkeep, and you can pretty much enjoy yourself around a group of seniors," said Thomas.

The senior community center, he said, has many floor plans and many options.

"I think it’s going to take care of a lot of the senior needs up here — not all of them, but most of them," he said.

Seniors with no options

Thomas said last week he got involved in senior housing when he bought an old Victorian house in the village of Altamont — The Park House Apartments — located across from the park, in 1999. He refurbished the nine-unit complex in 2000.

As he refurbished the house, Thomas said, he was inundated with calls from seniors interested in living at the apartment building.

"I didn’t think it was the place for them to live so I began to turn them away," he said, adding that the house wasn’t senior-friendly. It had narrow stairways, a lot of stairs, and, he said, "the toilet rooms weren’t proper."

"I said, ‘This isn’t really for you,’" Thomas said. "And they didn’t want to turn away. Then I realized they had no options," he said.

The seniors interested in the units in Altamont, he said, wanted to downsize; they didn’t want to worry about shoveling snow, mowing, painting, and dealing with roof problems.

"They just wanted to live and maybe only worry about what they were going to wear to the pool that day," he said.

Plans and possibilities

"I think our seniors around here deserve an option to stay in the community they love, and the area they love," Thomas said.

Thomas estimated the cost for a one-bedroom unit at $600 plus utilities, and the cost for a two-bedroom unit between $600 and $890, plus utilities. Cost for the units, he said, will depend on grants. They will be affordable but will not be defined as low-income housing, he said.

All units, Thomas said, will all have energy- and water-saving devices. "It’s amazing what we can do right now with water-saving devices," he said. A leaky toilet, he said, can go through 800 to 1,000 gallons per day.

Ranieri, Thomas’s architect, got involved in the project two years ago. He said Thomas explained the complex to him as "not just a warehouse for the aging," but "a building that represented something that everyone could be proud of."

"The people living in it could be proud of it. The community could be proud of it," he said.

His forte, as an architect and land planner, he said, is New Urbanism concepts. Ranieri said New Urbanism communities are designed around the human experience instead of around such things as automobiles, "and some of the other things we’ve all"allowed to control our lives now."

A group of architects — Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck — developed New Urbanism to reverse the patterns of the last half-century, replacing car-driven suburbia with walkable communities where businesses are built next to homes.

The buildings in the Berne proposal, Ranieri said, were designed around the New Urbanism principle.

Ranieri said the complex’s location, just outside the hamlet, would not be in the "hustle-bustle" part of Berne, but on its edge. "It’s still part of the town," he said.

Possibilities for the senior complex include: an English community garden, with seniors having quadrants; a gazebo; a stocked detention pond; second-floor libraries with fireplaces; porches on the backsides of the buildings; exercise rooms; storage units on the backs of the garages; walking trails; and a putting green.

The ground-floor rooms will have terraces, and the top-floor units will have balconies. Both buildings will have an elevator.

The bathrooms and showers will be accessible to those with handicaps. If all 96 units are built, estimated water use would be between 8,000 and 10,000 gallons per day, said Francis Bosselini, the project’s civil engineer.

The first 48 units, Crosier said, will work with the town’s sewer district; if additions and improvements are needed to the sewer district to accommodate the next 48 units, the cost would be at the developer’s expense.

The rooms Ranieri outlined are 747 square feet and 900 square feet in size.

"We have a variety of floor plans. There’s at least four floor plans," said Thomas, adding that some may want more amenities and others may not.

Thomas said condominiums and cottages for purchase could be added on the site and considered at a later date. In Altamont, he said, the majority of seniors want to reinvest and own rather than rent their homes.


New addition to the hamlet

By Tyler Schuling

HILLTOWNS — A long-standing Hilltown family business is gearing up for a new addition.

Jessica Tronco, who currently runs the P & L Deli in Westerlo with her brother, Peter, will soon be opening another store, in the Berne hamlet. She will operate the new deli, P & L Deli II, with her parents and her husband, Massimo, she said.

In December, the P & L Deli in Westerlo will celebrate its 18-year anniversary, Tronco said.

Her family moved to the Hilltowns 18 years ago from the Bronx; she and her brother both attended the Berne-Knox-Westerlo schools.

The new store is expected to hold its grand opening the beginning of May.

"I’m always up for a challenge," said Tronco, who said the Berne store was a "spur of the moment" idea after she discovered it was for sale.

The P & L Deli II will be located on the corner of Route 443 and Route 156, in the building that recently housed the Helderberg Country Café; before that it was the Berne Food Store.

"This is going to be a little bit different because we don’t have any tables in Westerlo," she said.

"We’re just doing minor renovations," she said.

The new deli will have many of the same items as the Westerlo store — Italian meats and specialty items, "all kinds of hot foods," said Tronco, breads, chips, beer, and soda, and other groceries. P & L will also offer fried dinners and frozen dinners for carry-out.

The store, Tronco said, will open at 6 a.m. daily and close at 6 or 7 p.m., and serve breakfast and lunch. Sundays, the deli will offer a breakfast buffet. For breakfast, Tronco said, the store will offer sausage and bacon and egg breakfast sandwiches and fresh Italian canolis.

Each week, she said, fresh vegetables will be delivered to the store.

Tronco’s parents, who opened the P & L Deli in Westerlo, spend part of the year in Florida. They retired two years ago, Tronco said, and her brother took over the store.

The hardest part of moving to the new location in Berne, she said, is not working daily with her brother.

"I’ve been working with him for two years," she said. "We’re close."


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