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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 10, 2008

Plans dead?
Possible moratorium for big-box buildings

By David S. Lewis

NEW SCOTLAND – Plans for a big-box mall in this still-rural town may have to wait.

After hearing the concerns of many New Scotland residents last night, the town board voted unanimously to hold a public hearing May 7 on a moratorium that would halt all commercial development in town.

In a session punctuated with catcalls and boos, residents voiced concerns over an application being made before the moratorium went into effect and about the impact on local business and town character.

Town board member Richard Reilly said, if the moratorium passes, it would not be possible for the Sphere Group to proceed with development during the moratorium, which would also halt pending applications; this was affirmed by the town lawyer, L. Michael Mackey, and the town supervisor, Thomas Dolin.

“Considering we’ve been trying to fix our zoning laws for years, what level of confidence do we have that a fixed moratorium of six months will be enough?’ asked Gary Bates of Voorheesville.

The moratorium is in reaction to the proposed development of the old Bender melon farm, at the intersection of routes 85 and 85A.  If passed, it would allow town officials time to review the commercial zoning laws and decide whether they are adequate.

The current zoning laws do not limit the kind of development that could take place there, making the 179-acre farm worth considerably more than its assessed value of $734,700.  The asking price was reported earlier this year to be around $4 million, according to Platform Realty, the Realtor brokering the deal.  The property is presently accessible by just two roads and has no municipal sewer or water. 

Town officials were approached individually in February by representatives of the Sphere Group, the Syracuse-area developer purchasing the property. Although Sphere co-founder Gregory Widrick told The Enterprise that the visits were for “information gathering purposes,” several town officials were shown a rough sketch of a potential development on the property. Widrick said, “It wasn’t even a sketch; it was a feasibility plan.” He said it was just to see whether that was a type of development permissible

The sale was set to close last Monday. According to Widrick, it has not.  He said that there are “title issues” on which he could not elaborate for unspecified legal reasons, but indicated that the title issues concerned the railroad track that cuts across the northeast corner of the property; Widrick said that the track cuts about 45 acres off the corner of the property.  He said that the delayed sale has nothing to do with the proposed moratorium.

Widrick acknowledged that there were two tenants already “committed” to the project, provided that the Sphere Group could work out the permitting and other requirements.  He also acknowledged that this is the real reason Sphere is encouraging the town to forego a moratorium at this time. Widrick would not reveal the identity of the “tenants” already signed on, but he did say that there would have to be a box or “anchor store.”

“Anchor stores,” said Widrick, “are what make the more desirable developments such as a ‘walk-able town center’ section of the development sustainable.

“Otherwise there wouldn’t be enough revenue to support the rest of it,” said Widrick.

Sphere Group architect Chris Santoli echoed that sentiment.

“You can’t have Easter Sunday without Good Friday,” he said, referencing the inevitability of a big-box store being included as part of the development.

Santoli graduated from Princeton and has worked on developments such as the Louisiana Boardwalk, the Jersey Gardens Mall, and the Time Warner Center in New York City.  Like Widrick, Santoli has worked for the Pyramid Group, the developer that built Crossgates Mall in Guilderland.  He described the style of development he wanted to design for the Bender site as a “stand-alone,” which would feature one or two big-box stores and a “town center” with smaller shops and such attractions as a movie theater and a performing-arts center. 

Around 200 residents attended last night’s meeting; the town has about 10,000 residents. But Widrick said that “in a town of 4,500 residents”, neither the 200 people last night nor the nearly 300 residents at the March 26 special meeting, were representative of the town’s wishes as a whole but rather of the “small number of people opposed to any development at all.”           

Robert H. Feller, a Bond, Schoeneck & King attorney who specializes in environmental law and is representing the Sphere Group, encouraged the town and board not to pursue a moratorium now because it would “shut down the whole process.”  He suggested that it was too early for a moratorium, and that it would prematurely close down lines of communication.

“A moratorium means that the planning board is not going to grant permits or sit down with us to do studies for road work or character surveys,” he said.  “We’ve been looking beyond the four corners of this zoning law to something that would be a win-win for everyone.”

Seat Opening on Voorheesville School Board

By David S. Lewis

VOORHEESVILLE – A 10-year veteran of the school board is stepping down.

Thomas McKenna announced that he would not be running for re-election at the Voorheesville board’s regular meeting on Monday. 

People interested in running for the seat may pick up a petition from the district office, located in the Voorheesville middle school.  Applicants must solicit 25 signatures for inclusion on the ballot; completed petitions should be turned back into the district office by Monday, April 21.  The school district election is on May 20.

 “I planned 10 years ago to run for one [five year] term, and because no one else was running I decided to do another five years,” said McKenna, who spoke to The Enterprise on Wednesday.

  McKenna, who ran unopposed for both of the terms he served, said that people considering running for the board should be aware of the amount of time it take to do a good job.

“Some weeks it’s an hour; other weeks require eight to 10 hours.  It takes a lot of time, and you need to prep for each meeting thoroughly,“ he said.

McKenna said he believes the ideal candidate would be someone with a child in the district and some time available during the day for meetings when necessary.  Candidates should be open-minded and willing to volunteer their time for the district.

            One accomplishment he is proud of from his tenure on the board is the Voorheesville School and Community Foundation.  The foundation recently donated $1,250 to the fifth-grade Odyssey of the Mind team, which qualified March 29 for the World Finals but did not have the funds for registration fees or transportation; the foundation also agreed to match an additional amount up to $1,250 of money raised by the team.

“Every year we are in the top three or four for the 10 years I have been on the board according to the Capital District Business Review,” he said.  “One year we got first place.”

McKenna said that part of his campaign platform was adopting school uniforms.

“One regret I have is that, while I was running, I was a proponent of school uniforms.  That’s something that fell on deaf ears for a number of people,” said McKenna.  “It was never picked up by enough people to warrant board action.  There wasn’t enough interest in it.”

The Enterprise asked whether the controversial events surrounding the landslide defeat of board President Joe Pofit in 2006 factored into his decision not to run for a third term.  Pofit had received widespread criticism for the way the board handled the state comptroller’s findings of misappropriated funds.  Pofit and McKenna were both on the board when it approved salary increases for then-Superintendent Alan McCartney to compensate for unused sick time; the district claimed in a lawsuit it was deceived by McCartney into granting the increase.  The Albany County District Attorney later concluded that the school district’s “weak internal controls” are what likely led to the problems. 

“There have been many controversies over my 10 years, and we have gotten through all of them,” said McKenna.  “They all involved personnel issues for the most part, and they were all resolved, thanks to dedicated board members who put their time into it.

“Yes, the board learned a lesson, to keep better track of finances.  And because of that, we’ve set up some committees to review all of our financial data, and we’ve hired some people to oversee the process money is spent and taken in by the board,” he said.  “Every single check is verified by the committee and the internal auditor now as a result of that incident.”

McKenna said that, although he has been on the board for a long time, he has a lot of respect for the one member that has been on the board longer, C. James Coffin, who is currently on his third term. 

“I salute Jim Coffin,” said McKenna.  “By the time he is next up for election, he will have been on the board for 15 years.”

According to Dorothea Pfleiderer, secretary to the superintendent, candidates must have been a resident of the district for at least one year, may not reside with another member of the board, and may not simultaneously hold another incompatible public office. 

In addition to electing McKenna’s replacement on May 20, voters will decide on:

—    A $22 million budget for the 2008-09 school year;

—    Spending $189,000 for one 60-passenger and two 28-passenger buses;

—    Shortening board members’ terms from five to four years; and

—    Transferring $95,000 from the general fund to pay debt accrued by the school lunch program over the last five years.

The ‘Forgotten War’ is remembered in New Scotland

By David S. Lewis

NEW SCOTLAND — The Korean Conflict, which raged from 1950 to 1953, is known in China as the War to Resist America and Aid Korea.  In South Korea, it is known as the Fatherland Liberation War. 

Since the United States Congress never declared war on North Korea, the conflict is technically considered a “police action.”  Many Americans know it as “The Forgotten War”; many other Americans know little or nothing of it at all.

One American who knows a lot about it is Robert Hume, who served in the Navy at the time of the conflict. He helped put an exhibit together at the New Scotland museum and told The Enterprise of some interesting propaganda techniques used by the North Koreans.

“The locals,” he said, “were putting dog bones in boxes and sending them to soldiers’ homes with notes saying, ‘These are the remains of your son.’”

Lloyd Wayne Allen of Feura Bush served in Korea in the Marine Corps; he operated a water-cooled .30 machine gun.  He remembered well his assistant, a gunner named Isa Smith.

“He was a Native American, and he was a big guy,” he said.  “He played football, I remember…He could take that thing apart blindfolded and put it back together.  He was killed, over there….”

What lessons can be learned by remembering the Korean Conflict?  “I’ve forgotten why in hell we even went in there,” answered Allen.

“Where is all of our manufacturing?  It’s gone,” he said.  “We are the influence China is using by virtue of our imports.  I think our country is on a downward spiral; we’ve lost an awful lot of power by shipping entire factories overseas,” he said.

Allen noted that many people don’t know that the Chinese were involved in the conflict.  Chairman Mao Zedong sent the People’s Volunteer Army into Korea on Oct. 8, 1950.

“We were killing Chinese Communist soldiers along with North Korean soldiers.  Most people don’t know that,” said Allen.  “It was trench warfare, fixed position, machine guns every 30 yards, infantry with recoilless rifles and mortars behind the lines.”

A pivotal battle in the Korean conflict took place at the Chosin Reservoir in which United Nations forces, grossly outnumbered by the Chinese Communists, had to fight their way out of a geographical trap.  The warriors involved in the conflict are often called “The Chosin Few.”

“The winter was coming, and it got cold and the reservoir froze over, and 200,000 Chinese Communists came across the reservoir on the ice,” said Allen, who remembered the ferocity of the fighting.  He spoke also of the differences between that style of warfare and the kind U.S. troops in Iraq face today.

“In Korea, we fought a uniformed enemy, the Chinese Communists, and the North Koreans, but now we don’t know who the enemy is.  I don’t see where this is going to end,” said Allen, who loaned the museum several artifacts and photos.  He said that he was pleased the museum was putting on the exhibit.

“I think it is something that should be remembered,” he said.

Voorheesville resident Bill Lloyd fought in Korea as well.  Lloyd received the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, a medal for soldiers and officers who fought as part of a unit no larger than a regiment.  The medal is intended to acknowledge the disproportionately increased likelihood of those soldiers being killed in the line of duty due to the smaller size of their units.  Lloyd spoke modestly of his experience.

“It was kind of a contest every month to see who would get it.  If we had a mortar round, or an artillery round, or even a rifle shot come at us, someone would be on the sound-powered telephone, reporting it back to the CP [command post], reporting that it had come in, because it meant we got an extra $50 worth of combat pay for that month.

“I remember being called in to the sergeant’s office, and he said, ‘Go see the commanding officer.’  And so I went in and said, ‘Yes sir?’  And he handed it to me and said, ‘There’s your badge.’  That was it.”

Lloyd said that he couldn’t remember whether he got the badge on his second or his third day in Korea.

“I just thank God I got out with a whole skin.  I got one shrapnel wound, and I was bleeding like a stuck hog,” said Lloyd. “They put me in for a Purple Heart, and I agreed as long as they promised not to telegraph my wife.”

When he got back to the States, Lloyd found a job reading meters in the Capital District for $42 a week; he was laid off less than a year after returning from Korea.  He eventually settled in Voorheesville with his wife, Marilyn.

History on display

The exhibit, sponsored by the New Scotland Historical Association, is being curated by Marion Parmenter.  The display is to honor local veterans of the war and to educate the public on this often-overlooked period of American history, she said.

An “honor roll” with the names and photos of many local veterans will be on display; Parmenter said that there are some veterans missing from the list and she hopes that visitors will bring in the names and photos of veterans the historical society was not able to collect.  Last year, the museum hosted a popular exhibit on the World Wars, which continues in the museum.

Medals and photos loaned to the museum by local Korean War veterans will all be displayed, as well as artifacts such as combat rations and North Korean propaganda leaflets, uniforms, and rifles, including American Springfield M-1s and Mosin-Nagant semi-automatic rifles, made and supplied to the Chinese by the Soviets.  Soviet MiG 15 fighters, which were technologically sophisticated and highly maneuverable for that period, frequently engaged with and shot down American fighters and bombers, although American forces eventually gained air superiority over Korea. 

“The U.S. and Russia were consistently stalemating each other,” said Robert Parmenter, town historian for New Scotland; a retired history teacher, he is married to Marion Parmenter.  The Korean Conflict marked the first time the United Nations’ military clout was put to the test; over 17 U.N. countries participated in the action, including England, Canada, New Zealand, Turkey, Greece, and the Netherlands, said Robert Parmenter

Parmenter taught history in Voorheesville for over 32 years; he said that curricula on the Korean conflict were “limited.”

“You get about 10 minutes to teach on the Korean War,” he said.  “There’s much more time spent on World War II and Vietnam.”  He also said that history curricula tend to focus more on current history.

Hume pointed out the irony of that curricular neglect.

“We’re still in Korea, to this day.  We’re operating under a truce, but we have troops at the 38th parallel,” said Hume, referencing the line of latitude that originally marked the boundary between North Korea and South Korea; that boundary was established after the Second World War.  Allied forces seized Korea from the Japanese, who controlled it until 1945, when the war ended.  The Soviets took control of the northern half and the U.S.-occupied the south; the two halves demarcated at the 38th Parallel.

The Korean conflict marked the first and fiercest occasion in which two opposing superpowers used another country’s civil struggles to engage each other indirectly; the tactic was used in many subsequent Cold War contests, notably in countries such as Cuba, Chile, and Vietnam.

“It was a time,” said Hume, “when the Cold War got pretty warm.”


The exhibit will open on Saturday, April 12, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Wyman Osterhout Community Center in New Salem.  From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the museum will be open and re-enactors dressed in authentic costumes will be on hand; a military half-track truck owned by Jim Pollard and a 1951 Jeep on loan from New Scotland resident Timothy Albright will also be displayed.  Admission will be free and the public is invited.

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