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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 15, 2007

Councilmen-elect heat up board meeting

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND - In recent years, budget hearings held by the all-Democratic town board have been short and quiet. That changed with last Tuesday's upset election by two Republicans to the board.

At last Thursday's hearing, councilmen-elect Mark Grimm and Warren Redlich complained about the complexity of the budget proposed for next year, stirring response from the usually quite board members.

Republicans Grimm and Redlich ousted Democrat incumbents Councilmen Michael Ricard and David Bosworth last week in an upset victory. The two newcomers will begin their terms with the new year.

Supervisor Kenneth Runion proposed a $30.5 million budget in September, describing it as "a bare-boned budget," which did not contain a tax rate hike like many other local municipalities' budgets.

He touted the budget and his fiscal management as a reason to re-elect himself and his fellow Democrats even though Runion, who ran unopposed, garnered 5,000 votes, Guilderland voters chose Grimm and Redlich over Bosworth and Ricard.

The councilmen-elect spoke at the public comment period and then during the public hearing for over an hour while about a dozen residents sat in the back of the room, waiting to speak against a re-zone request that was on the agenda for that evening. (See related story.)

"Cryptic" budget"

The heated debates between the councilmen-elect and all five sitting town board members were over the complexity of the town budget and the differences between a public-comment period and a public hearing

Redlich, after speaking during the public-comment period on appointing a new police chief, spoke for much of the public hearing, going over specific line items such as the police department's budget, and asked how much money was left over from each department in last year's budget.

He also complained that the budget synopsis lacked commas and page numbers, was complicated, and that the average resident couldn't understand the document without an accounting degree.

"If it's a little bit easier for you to understand, I would be glad to give you a copy with commas and page numbers," Runion told Redlich.

"No thank you," Redlich quipped. "As you can see," he said holding up his copy of the budget, "I made my own red commas right here."

Redlich, on a more serious note, told the town board that it is not unreasonable for the board to create and provide a budget in a readable and understandable format.

Councilwoman Patricia Slavick, who works for the state comptroller's office and recently lost a primary bid for Albany County Comptroller against Michael Conners, explained to Redlich that any money left over from last year "rolls over" to the next budget.

Runion said the town doesn't go on a spending spree during the end of the year when departmental budget money is left over, as, he said, some state and county offices do.

After the lengthy back-and-forth between Redlich and the board, Grimm walked up to the podium.

"This document is not helpful," Grimm told the board. "If I had 10 copies of this budget and I gave it to 10 people"they wouldn't understand it."

Grimm called the town's budget "cryptic," and concluded, "I hope the lesson we learned from this budget is that it can be improved."

Board members responded that they follow set New York State guidelines when preparing the budget and said that a detailed, line-item budget is available at the comptroller's office if anyone wanted to read it.

The document Grimm and Redlich had was merely an overview of the $30.46 million budget, Runion said at the meeting.

"I know you know the state budget because you worked in the assembly," Runion said to Grimm, referring to the councilman elect's job with former assemblyman and state assembly minority leader, Republican John Faso.

Runion also reminded Grimm that, during the budget workshops in September, which Grimm attended and Redlich did not, that Grimm was given detailed copies of the budget, including line items for each town department discussed at the workshop.

In respond, Grimm said that he was told by Bosworth he wasn't allowed to ask questions at the workshop, which is open to the public. Bosworth said he didn't recall saying that to Grimm.

The Enterprise attended the budget workshop during which Grimm was told that the purpose of the workshop was for the supervisor, as the town's chief fiscal officer, to listen to department heads and to go over his budget proposal with town board members.

Grimm has served on the Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee for the Guilderland School District; during its televised meetings administrators, over the course of a month, explain the budget proposal and answer questions. School budgets must be passed by voters. Town budgets are adopted by the town board.

Public comment or hearing"

Town council members also criticized Grimm and Redlich on Thursday evening, for using the televised town board meeting as a political soapbox.

"As far as I know, this is the first town board meeting I've seen you at beyond the public-comment period," Runion told Grimm.

Councilman Paul Pastore, the board's newest Democratic member, explained the difference between the public-comment period, during which board members do not respond and open-ended comments are taken into the record, and a public hearing, during which the board engages in a dialogue with residents over a specific matter.

"We're obviously having a discourse"I don't want the residents of the town to be confused"that we're engaging in a question of semantics," said Pastore.

The first-term councilman also commented on Grimm and Redlich's previous appearances during public comment period when they criticized town board members before the election.

"I don't want to speak for the board," Pastore said. "But during the public comment period, they [board members] wanted to say something, but did not do it."

Councilman Bosworth also noted that, prior to the current administration, there was no public comment period and it is not a mandated requirement for the town board. The state's Open Meetings Law requires that town board meetings be open to the public; it does not state that the public must be allowed to speak.

"Before we came in here, there was no public comment period"in the history of this board," Bosworth said. "I think it's a good thing that we have"We just need to be careful."

Bosworth continued, saying that Grimm and Redlich were spending too long and using up the board's time when there was another public hearing scheduled and several agenda items still needed to be voted on.

"We are not a full-time board"We could look into extending the meetings; that's something we could look into," Bosworth said.

"When we came into office, we thought that a public-comment period was something this board should have," he said, adding that reasonable time was needed to attend to all of the town's business.

Grimm quickly responded by saying, "You talk a lot about the past. I want to talk about the future."

To which Bosworth replied, "You're being confrontational," before Town Clerk Rosemary Centi interjected and reminded everyone that residents for another public hearing were waiting to be heard.

The back-and-forth debates evoked comments from one of the residents in the group waiting for the re-zone hearing. She was the only person other than Grimm and Redlich to speak to the board throughout the over hour-long hearing.

"I worked under six different supervisors, under two parties"and the budget has always looked like this," said June Kline, a retired town employee. "There are bigger problems. Let's solve those, not this."

Quadrini denied zoning re-quest for townhouses on Ashford Drive

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND - Developer Brandon Quadrini won't be able to build eight two-story English Tudor-style townhouses on Ashford Drive as he had planned.

The town board last Thursday unanimously denied his request for a re-zone.

Quadrini had asked the board to change a 6.2-acre parcel from R-40, meaning lot sizes would have to be 15,000 square feet or more, to Multiple Residence, meaning a four-family residence can be built on a 18,750-square-foot lot.

Supervisor Kenneth Runion told about a dozen residents, who came to Town Hall to speak out against the zoning change, that he denied the request because "a substantial portion of the lands donated is wet lands and unusable." As discussed by the town board on Oct. 2, when the request was tabled, the land Quadrini intended to use for a required pocket park was wet.

Runion also said that the project did not fit in with the neighborhood and Councilwoman Patricia Slavick said that there were traffic concerns.

Councilman Michael Ricard had asked Quadrini on Oct. 2 for a detailed study of the land he was donating to the town, but said on Thursday night that the town did not receive a study.

Councilman Paul Pastore said that neighbors' concerns and testimonies against Quadrini's zoning change request were "no less than compelling."

Quadrini did not appear for the hearing, and one neighbor of his proposed project pointed out that he was an hour late for the last meeting. The public hearing was scheduled for 8 p.m., but did not begin until well after 9 because of a lengthy debate on the budget. (See related story.)

Now that the re-zone has been denied, the project can no longer move forward.

The town's planning board had recommended Quadrini's plans to the town board under the stipulation that a pathway be built on the donated park land. Quadrini said last month that he "didn't talk in great detail" with the planning board about the donated land.

Runion said that the planning board was not aware of the condition of the land that was being donated, which Quadrini described as "partially wetland."

Councilman David Bosworth said that the planning board's proposed pathway would have to traverse wetlands if the town granted the re-zone and accepted the donated property.

Several residents said that the land was wet for most of the year, if not year-round. Residents also said that construction on the land, of any type, would worsen the condition and result in flooding and damp basements.

"Believe me, if you remove any trees at all, the water will flood," one man said.

June Kline, a former town employee and resident of Ashford Drive, spoke out against the re-zone. She said she held nothing personally against Quadrini, who she said had built her home, but that his proposal was not in -line with the neighborhood.

She added that Quadrini should have appeared at the meeting.

"If he doesn't have the courtesy to hear us, the board shouldn't have the courtesy to hear his request," Kline said at the meeting. "I think you should make him start the process all over again. My time is just as valuable."

The board agreed with the residents and all voted to deny the application.

Other business

In other business, the town board unanimously:

- Granted the request of the owners of 7296 Guilderland Ave. to hook into the Rotterdam municipal water supply. The applicants, who live on the town line, are closer to Rotterdam's water supply than to Guilderland's water supply;

Runion said the application was before Guilderland Town Board so it "would have the ability to levy it on their taxes if they don't pay their water bill."

- Authorized an agreement with Princetown for out-of-district users to the town's west-end water lines;

- Authorized a lease agreement for golf cart rentals at the town-owned Western Turnpike Golf Course. "I walk, I don't ride the golf carts, but I'm in favor," Councilman Pastore joked before voting in favor of the agreement; and

- Authorized the supervisor to sign collector's warrants for the Guilderland Water District.

Shabbos House gets approval to expand to 8,500 square feet

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND - After years of waiting and planning and revising, the Rubins were given permits to build a bigger Shabbos House in McKownville by a unanimous vote of the town's zoning board last Wednesday.

Rabbi Mendel Rubin and his wife, Raizy Rubin, were granted a parking variance and a special-use permit, and were given a building permit for the construction of a 8,500-square-foot structure.

The couple was represented by Hershberg & Hershberg, consulting engineers and land planners. Dan Hershberg told The Enterprise yesterday that construction should begin next spring.

The Rubin's original plans for a 10,000-square-foot project were scaled down amid criticism from neighbors who thought the house would be too big.

Shabbos House serves as a Jewish synagogue and community center on Fuller Road where the rabbi, his wife, and their five children also live. It was founded in 1976 and provides religious services, traditional food, and a support network for the nearby University at Albany's Jewish community.

Guilderland's zoning board administrator and chief building inspector, Donald Cropsey, said that full approval was given to the project.

The parking variance states that "five to six parking spaces will be available on site and that 30 parking spaces will be provided by the University at Albany," Cropsey said. The major stipulation, which was the primary hold-up for the project for the past three years, was a private water-retention system.

The water system will be built and maintained by the owners of the property and it will be inspected annually by the town, said Cropsey. The system will hold water runoff inside of a catch basin and "re-percolate" the water back into the ground over time, he said.

Originally, the applicants asked Albany County if the facility could hook into the municipal system. Because of an already over-extended runoff system and re-occurring flooding problems in the Stuyvesant Plaza area, the county denied access to Shabbos House.

The applicants then asked the University at Albany if they could hook into its system, but were also denied. After revising its plans, Shabbos House applicants re-applied to use the county's system, but were again denied.

Plans were then made to create a private system, which was accepted by both Albany County and the town of Guilderland. Cropsey said that the town-designated engineer, Boswell Engineering, reviewed the Shabbos House plans and said they satisfied its requirements.

The unanimous votes last week included alternate Thomas Remmert replacing James Sumner who was absent.

Varied views

Neighbors appeared divided on the issue of expanding the Shabbos House.

The McKownville Neighborhood Improvement Association was also split. The association's president, Donald Reeb, spoke in opposition to the plan and wrote to the Enterprise editor on the matter, as did others in the association who were for the expansion.

Reeb argued that the size of the proposed building would make the project out of synch with the rest of the neighborhood and said increased water runoff would exacerbate flooding in the area.

The area, including Stuyvesant Plaza itself, was developed on top of several small ponds. Flooding has been an issue over the years and Western Avenue in front of the plaza is frequently closed after heavy rainfall. The only pond left after years of development is behind the plaza which was recently transformed into the McKownville Park.

Assemblyman John McEneny, who represents the area, has been vocal in his attempts to get state and county grants to rectify the flooding problems.

Reeb said he welcomed the idea of a Jewish synagogue in the community, but felt there were other unused sites close by "that would be more appropriate" for a project of its size. The association president also said he was concerned that, if Shabbos House ever became defunct, the building would be too large for use as a residential property.

Zoning Board Chairman Peter Barber said that Reeb again spoke against the project at Wednesday's board meeting, but that other neighborhood association members spoke in favor of it. Rabbi Rubin himself also spoke at the meeting, asking for the variances to be granted, Barber said.

One of the neighbors directly across from Shabbos House spoke in favor of the project at Wednesday's meeting, Cropsey said.

"It was definitely mixed. Over 30 people made comments about the project and it was almost 50-50 pro or against," Barber told The Enterprise. "As the project progressed, there seemed to be more people in favor of it."

When the variances were approved last Wednesday people attending the meeting applauded the approval.

Barber added that construction will be overseen by Boswell Engineering, which approved of the building plans. Barber said he did not think that parking would be a problem, even with the increased square footage, because there have never been complaints by residents or police about parking at Shabbos House.

"It's an Orthodox facility, so we knew people would be walking to it," Barber said on Tuesday. "It serves, for the most part, the students of the university."

On the website, www.shabboshouse.com, where donations to cover building costs may be made, Rabbi Rubin has made several entries after getting zoning board approval.

"Yes, it is finally true! After years and years, the new, bigger and better Shabbos House Jewish Student Center has been approved by the town of Guilderland Zoning Board of Appeals!" Rubin wrote. "We'll be meeting with our architect and engineers and plans for the new building will be going forward very soon."

Other business

In other business, the zoning board unanimously:

- Granted a 14-foot front-yard setback variance to Martin Capullo to construct a single-family home on a corner lot at 37 Jean Place. A front-yard setback is required along each street side on corner lots;

- Approved David Fusco for two special-use permits to transform 1,750 square feet of retail space on 3770 Carman Rd. into a nail salon and a card and gift shop inside of Carman Plaza;

- Tabled the request of Steven Elsbree on behalf of Clearwire US, LLC, to place three equipment cabinets and telecommunication antennas on the rooftops and bases of existing structures at 4 Tower Place, 37 Willey St., and 3045 Lone Pine Rd;

- Granted a 6-foot front-yard setback variance to Karen Neil to construct a single-story kitchen addition to her home at 14 Morningside Dr. A front-yard setback is required along each street side on corner lots;

- Denied a temporary banner for Jiffy Lube on 2067 Western Ave.;

- Approved a sign variance for The Pottery Place at Stuyvesant Plaza; and

- Approved sign variances for Sign Pro at its 2337 Western Ave. and Stuyvesant Plaza locations.

GCSD voters pass $27M building renovation project

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND - School district voters here gave a resounding yes on Tuesday to a $27 million building renovation project.

Sixty percent of the 1,771 voters approved a project that will renovate the five elementary schools, improve safety and technology district-wide, and build a new district office. The referendum passed by solid margins in all five elementary-school polling places.

School-board members who had gathered in the Guilderland Elementary School gym after the polls closed applauded and cheered as the results were announced just before 10 p.m. All nine board members had backed the $26.97 million proposal.

"We're thrilled," said the outgoing superintendent, Gregory Aidala; he is retiring this week after seven years of leading the district.

"Absolutely," chimed in John McGuire, the district's new superintendent, who put in his first full day on Tuesday, visiting district schools.

"We just want to thank the community for their support," said Aidala. "There was a low turnout but solid support," he said.

"This is very consistent with what I see as the support of this community for education," said McGuire. "This not only protects the district's investment but continues to maintain an environment conducive to learning."

Aidala nudged his successor and quipped, "It makes sure John gets a new office."

Aidala had said earlier that he saw the current project as "Phase Three of a 15-year project to address facility needs." The high school was renovated in 1997 in a $24 million project; the middle school was expanded and upgraded in 2002 for $20 million; and the bulk of the current project - $17.4 million - is to upgrade the five elementary schools.

The schools in Altamont and Westmere are the oldest, built in 1953, followed by Guilderland Elementary in 1956, Lynnwood in 1966, and Pine Bush in 1994. Upgrades will range from parking lot improvements to roof replacement.

The next largest chunk - $5.7 million - will be used to improve technology and safety.

"The technology emphasis is good for the district," Aidala said on Tuesday night. "We've always done technology as an annual budget expense"What better time to do this than when you've got the walls opened up"" he asked of installing cabling.

About $3.9 million will be spent on relocating the district's administrative offices from an old golf clubhouse near the middle school to Guilderland High School, and also constructing 10 new classrooms to make up for the displaced space.

Voters on Tuesday marked paper ballots, placing them in locked wooden boxes because, Aidala explained, voting machines are impounded for 30 days after the Nov. 6 municipal elections. Fourteen ballots were blank or disqualified.

A facilities committee, working with Collins & Scoville Architects, studied needs for months, paring down plans from $38 million. The renovations are slated for completion by the fall of 2010.

To pay for the project, $2 million will come from the district's fund balance; $750,000 will come from a capital reserve fund set up this year; and $1.78 million will come from state EXCEL (Expanding our Children's Education and Learning) Aid.

The district plans to borrow the remaining $22.4 million - at 4.75 percent interest over 15 years - with state building aid reimbursing 60 percent of that.

That leaves $9.4 million for local taxpayers to shoulder, which the district estimates at 16 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The average home in Guilderland is assessed at $180,000, for which the tax increase would be $29 a year for the $27 million project, the district estimates.

After the results were announced Tuesday night, school board President Richard Weisz said, "We thank the public. We think they understood you have to maintain the infrastructure or you pay more in the long run. We appreciate their support."

Library gets $20K grant to pay architect for train-station renovation

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT - The old train station is 20,000 steps closer to becoming a library.

On Tuesday, the Altamont Free Library announced that it was awarded $20,000 from The New York State Council on the Arts, a grant that it applied for in September, said Librarian Judith Wines.

In the roughly $1 million project, this $20,000 is earmarked for architectural expenses, Wines said. The total cost for architecture is expected to be between $40,000 and $50,000, she said.

In its effort to preserve the historic train station, built in 1897, the library is working with Janet Null of Argus Architecture and Preservation, according to Wines.

So far, she said, roughly $200,000 has been raised for the project, which will move the library from the basement of Key Bank to the other side of the village green, to its permanent home in the train station.

Getting a grant like this gives the library a "sense of forward momentum," Wines said. "We're excited."

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