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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 31, 2009

2009 in review: Voorheesville
Village anticipates development as environmental stewardship is promoted

By Philippa Stasiuk

VOORHEESVILLE —This past year, the village remained committed to expansion and the ensuing income from selling water to developers. One of the oldest properties in town is now slated for development, as is one of the few remaining open spaces in Voorheesville.

At the same time, environmental stewardship gained prominence as rain gardens and biochar were promoted by the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Voorheesville, and as the village banned smoking in its parks and joined the county’s Stormwater Coalition.

While the economic recession kept the village budget tight, it didn’t stop two new hair salons from starting in Voorheesville.

Voorhees House will see neighbors

The property where the man for whom the village is named built his grand home is slated for development.

Glenn Hebert, superintendent of Voorheesville’s building department, told the village board in September that Troy Miller is planning a major subdivision for the historic Voorhees House property on Prospect Street.

The owner, Harold Veeder, is dividing the 16-acre parcel into six lots and is in contract to sell five of them to Miller. While Veeder will maintain ownership of his Victorian house, Miller says that he plans to build single-family three- to four-bedroom homes on the other five lots, breaking ground for building this spring.

Alonzo B. Voorhees, an Albany lawyer, built the house in 1867 on a five-acre property overlooking the junction of Prospect and Main streets. Through two later land buys, he amassed a total of 16 acres. Although Voorhees lived in the village for only four years before returning to Albany, the village was named for him after he successfully convinced the postmaster general in 1868 that the train stop in New Scotland needed a post office.

Cluster housing comes to the village

Quail Run will be the name for the cluster-style housing development to be built on the 23-acre parcel of land now vacant on Maple Avenue. The development will entail nine double-unit buildings on a single street for a total of 18 new housing units that will be connected to the village’s sewer system.

In a cluster development, houses are grouped together on a portion of the available land, while a significant amount of the site is protected open space. According to Jerry Gordinier, who helped design the development prior to retiring from the building department, 70 percent of the property will be designated as “forever wild” and will be eventually turned over to the care of the village.

Designs for the property also include both a retention pond and a rain garden. The retention pond will be built to hold and filter water before it flows downhill to the Vly Creek. The rain garden will be created to capture water runoff from roofs and driveways in order to stop pollutants in the water from reaching the Vly Creek.

Environmental stewards

The Quail Run rain garden is not the only one in the area. The Cornell Cooperative Extension off Route 85A, built a 250-square-foot rain garden at the end of its sloping drive to serve as a model, inspiring others to create rain gardens.

Rain gardens are a form of bioretention being adopted on a national scale by those with green and black thumbs alike whereby a garden is built to capture water runoff from roofs and roads to stop pollutants in the water from reaching America’s waterways.

“Water runoff rarely goes through filtration plants,” says horticulturalist Sue Pezzolla with the cooperative extension. “In Albany County, polluted water goes straight into the Hudson River. And it’s a lost opportunity that the water is going somewhere else instead of seeping into the ground and recharging our own aquifers.”

Pezzolla said that the extension also helped the town of Guilderland install a rain garden last summer near Tawasentha Park, where it is being used to catch water runoff from the parking lot.

The cooperative extension also hosted activist David Yarrow in August, who gave a demonstration on another green initiative; biochar, which is basically charcoal made from organic material.

“When you add charcoal to the soil, it changes the soil dramatically,” said Yarrow. “The soil becomes nutrient dense. The charcoal absorbs water and nutrients and, with this kind of fully fertile soil, you can grow food that has complete nutrition.”

But, in addition to improving soil and subsequently food, Yarrow explained that biochar has another quality that is tantalizing scientists: It is carbon negative. In contrast to fossil fuels, which add carbon to the air, biochar retains a substantial portion of the carbon in the soil where it stays for potentially thousands of years. The result is less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. With such prospects, scientists and businesses are in a race to find out if biochar could be applied to reducing carbon emissions on a large scale and how to go about it. 

Joseph Slezak, the Albany County field manager for soil and water conservation, attended Yarrow’s lecture in Voorheesville and spoke about its local applications.

“It’s something that anybody that lives outside a suburban area, the Hilltowns mostly, as long as people can burn outdoors, they can create biochar and put it in their home gardens, he said. “If they can cooperate with other neighbors, they can do it on a larger scale and use it for agriculture fields. There’s potential.”

Cornell Cooperative Extension was not the only organization pushing to educate locals about environmental initiatives. Voorheesville became one of 15 members of the Stormwater Coalition of Albany County  — a series of towns and villages banding together to formally become stewards of the local waters.

Voorheesville, like other local municipalities, can now enforce laws like throwing cigarette butts on the ground with fines, although Gordinier, the stormwater officer for Voorheesville, said that educating the public was more important than levying fines. “The responsibility of enforcing legislation to protect potable water belongs to us all,” he said.

Cigarette butts, along with dog feces and yard fertilizer, have all been connected with pollution and the death of aquatic life in the Hudson River, into which most of the area’s stormwater drains.

Not only is there a ban on tossing cigarette butts, but smoking is not allowed in Voorheesville’s parks. In January, after hearing a presentation about second-hand smoke, the board passed its first resolution of the year, banning smoking in Jim Nichols Park, Hotaling Park, and all other village-owned and maintained parkland.

The resolution was passed after the board heard a presentation the month before from Jeanie Orr, a representative of the Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition. Orr’s presentation described second-hand smoke as being just as dangerous outside as it is indoors; she said that being upwind from a smoker outdoors does not eliminate chemicals from the air that cigarettes contain.

In making its parks smoke-free, Voorheesville joined over 40 municipalities in New York State, including the towns of Niskayuna, Rotterdam, and Scotia in Schenectady County.

Village governance critiqued by citizen

In March, the mayor and the board of trustees defended their longtime practice of dividing the monthly board meeting between an informal pre-meeting (described as a “workshop” on the village website) at 6 p.m. downstairs in Village Hall and a formal meeting in the village courtroom upstairs at 7 p.m.

“A workshop is set up to deal with specific issues, not to conduct routine business of the board, which seems to be conducted here,” said village resident Steve Schreiber.

None of the members of the board agreed with him. Trustee William Hotaling responded, “This is the way the board has been doing it for 20 to 30 years.”

Schreiber also chastised the board for not responding to his previous complaint, made over a year ago, that the village post both meeting minutes and agendas on the its website, and that the website be updated to show exactly when board meetings are held.

“We have two good models: Altamont and Guilderland,” said Schreiber. “I know you come in good faith but this process needs to be improved. It would make us all informed about what’s going on.”

As of late December, the website still posted neither minutes nor agendas, and says that the next meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 7p.m., with no mention of the pre-meeting workshop at 6 p.m.

Linda Pasquali, village clerk, said last week that the village has hired a new webmaster who is in the process of updating the website. “We’re planning to have agendas and minutes and up-to-date information on there,” said Pasquali, who did not know when the project would be complete.

Tight budget makes new fire truck unlikely

As county sales-tax revenues declined and interest rates fell, Voorheesville budgeted $1.9 million for 2009-1010, just a few thousand dollars more than the previous year. The tax rate rose to $1.05 per $1,000 of assessed value, reflecting a raise of 3 percent.

Trustee David Cardona commented that predicting how much village revenues would be down made the budget process complicated. “We know so many things will be down: bank interest, mortgage taxes, and sales taxes,” said Cardona, “By how much? It’s difficult to gauge. Predicting conservatively was our greatest challenge.”

The board also spent a considerable amount of time at the monthly meetings debating whether or not to purchase a new fire truck for the village’s fire department.

In order to avoid costs associated with stricter 2010 diesel emission standards, Frank Papa, the fire chief, wanted the village to buy a new fire truck two years earlier than the standard 25-year benchmark.

At Papa’s urging, the board heard presentations by a fire-truck manufacturer about factors driving the $300,000-plus cost of fire trucks, as well as how villages without ready cash could finance them.

While the board’s reception to the idea of a new truck was at first lukewarm, it cooled in the last months of the year as the trustees and mayor began early preparations for next year’s budget deliberations. At the November board meeting, the board discussed how unlikely the purchase of a new fire truck would be, in light of the fact that, according to Trustee Cardona, next year’s county sales tax revenues for the village could drop by over $120,000.

Cutting-edge businesses start in midst of slump

The economic recession didn’t stop two new businesses from starting in Voorheesville.

The village welcomed two hair salons in 2009: Purity, which is just a few doors down from the new barbershop, The Men’s Room, and Switch, in the Hannaford shopping center next to Key Bank on Maple Road.

Amanda Quinn, the owner of Switch, credited her grandfather, with the decisions that led to her opening the doors of her new business in January.

“If you ever have the opportunity to grow during a depression, do so,” Quinn says, recalling her Grandpa Ben’s advice. “You’ll be giving back to society and your community and, when we come out of the depression, you’ll be above all else.”

Amanda Scalzo, the owner of Purity, cited an unmovable faith in her clients for the decision of opening her new business in Voorheesville.

“I don’t know why but I feel like it was a secure decision,” she says. “Ninety-eight percent of my clients are women. They won’t eat dinner in order to get their hair done.”

Scalzo’s faith in her clients is so solid that, when she decided to leave Studio 85 in New Scotland, she was thrilled to find a place to rent on Main Street in Voorheesville, where she says the majority of her clients live.

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