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Editorial Archives The Altamont Enterprise,November 15, 2007
Plan wisely now to avert disaster
For three years, the plans to expand the Shabbos House on Fuller Road have been in limbo. This past week, the Guilderland Zoning Board of Appeals has approved a special-use permit that will allow expansion to 8,500 square feet.
The size was a compromise from the 10,000 square feet the applicant had requested. We're pleased the matter is finally settled.
The Sabbath House, since it was founded in 1976, has provided a valuable service to students at the University at Albany through the university's Jewish Student Center. It has served others in the Jewish community as well, providing a place for study and worship.
The McKownville Improvement Association, which frequently fights to preserve its residential neighborhoods, opposed the project because of concerns about limited parking, the replacement of a useful residential building with an oversized non-residential building, and a high-maintenance water system.
The zoning board approved a parking variance that will allow a half-dozen cars to park at the house and the university will provide another 30 parking spaces nearby.
Donald Reeb, the association's president, sent letters to residents this fall, stating that the Shabbos House proposal did not fit into the "residential community of small lots and small homes" on Fuller Road.
"The idea of a synagogue in McKownville would be wonderful," said Reeb, suggesting a site such as the former Denny's on the corner of Western Avenue and Church Road would be more appropriate for such a large project.
It is true that the plan calls for a building easily six times the size of some of the older homes on Fuller Road but we trust the applicant's description of creating a "beloved home-style, cozy welcoming atmosphere" with the new building will be carried out. It is also true that the Shabbos House is near a massive university power plant so the neighborhood is not strictly residential. The architecture and landscaping of the expanded house are to be residential in character.
The current location is an easy commute for university students and it is appropriate for a residential neighborhood because it is, indeed, a home. The directors of the program, Rabbi Mendel Rubin and his wife, Raizy Rubin, live there with their five children, ages 2 to 10. The old Denny's site on busy Western Avenue would not have made a good home for the Rubins or for the university students who use the Shabbos House.
"Their home serves as a religious focal point for the student community, providing meals on the Sabbath and holy days to students who participate in the religious services, and even to some who don't," wrote Herman Prins Salomon from the university's department of languages, literature, and cultures, in a letter to the zoning board chairman.
The feeling of family connection was cited over and over by students who had used the Shabbos House. "You were almost like a father to me during my years in Albany," wrote Marc Hanono from the class of 2000 to Rabbi Rubin in a testimonial, "and I will never forget the lessons you taught us about being Jewish."
"Throughout my life, I have felt very close to Judaism, but not until I became a member of the Shabbos House 'family' did I really understand what it meant to be part of services, or Friday night dinner, or holidays, and all the other times we shared over the years," wrote another student.
We're pleased that close connection - close because of physical proximity as well as spiritual devotion - will be able to continue and grow.
That still leaves the neighborhood association's most substantial complaint -that of a high-maintenance water system. Water problems are the reason the plan was in limbo for so long. Albany County denied the original proposal to hook Shabbos House into the municipal system to control water runoff. After being rejected by the county, the applicant turned to the university to become part of its system, and was also rejected. After being rebuffed by the county a second time, the plan for a private system was developed. The approved site plan calls for a water recharge basin.
Retention basins are quite common in town, according to Donald Cropsey, Guilderland's zoning administrator. The system holds runoff water over a period of time and then slowly "re-percolates" the water back into the ground, he said. The town-designated engineer found the system met requirements. It will have to be monitored regularly and the town will do an annual inspection to make sure it is working properly.
Water control is an important issue in McKownville. Residents are well aware of the flooding that occurs at the entrance to Stuyvesant Plaza in the wake of major storms. We've also heard complaints from McKownville residents about wet basements, damp yards, and damaged foundations, which they attribute to the expansion of the Nanotech College further down on Fuller Road.
It would have been unfair to halt the Shabbos House expansion because of community-wide water problems. The current drainage and overflow problems are the result of an outdated and overused municipal system. The town and the county need to work together to overhaul the current system.
Many of us who drive through McKownville are aware only of a minor inconvenience when traffic is re-routed because of flooding. But for residents whose homes are deteriorating, the problem is constant and severe. It will only get worse with increasing development.
Planning wisely now will avert future disaster.
Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor
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