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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 22, 2010

Pine Bush plan calls for adding over 1,500 acres to preserve

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND —The Pine Bush Commission wants to increase the preserve’s land by 1,500 acres, according to the draft of its 2010 management plan. It also recommends designating thousands of acres to be “fully protected.”

Eight-hundred acres in Guilderland alone — the preserve also has land in Albany and Colonie — have been recommended for full protection in the plan; many of those parcels are privately owned. At a public hearing on April 14, Colonie residents expressed concern that parcels recommended for full protection would be devalued.

Currently, the Pine Bush Commission, which was founded by the state legislature to oversee preservation of the globally rare pine barrens, manages 3,100 acres, but it hopes to acquire enough land to make the preserve 4,600 acres.

The 500-page management plan, which, according to legislative mandate, must be updated every five years, describes full protection as “a recommendation that the undeveloped portion of an area be protected in its entirety. This recommendation is made in recognition of the fact that these areas often include multiple property owners and that various means of protection (e.g. purchase, management agreement, conservation easement) may be appropriate.”

The executive director of the Pine Bush Commission, Christopher Hawver, told The Enterprise that there is no evidence that property values would decrease at all. Every management plan the commission has drafted, since 1993, has included new recommendations for land protection, and there has been no documentation that any of the land has a lower value, Hawver said.

Areas in Guilderland recommended for full protection in the 2010 management plan include land between Route 155 and Route 20, between Curry Road and the Thruway, between Lydius Street and the Thruway, and on West Old State Road. Hundreds of acres more are recommended for partial protection, open space, or buffer zones.

According to the plan, protection and maintenance of those areas would help to protect and build the dwindling population of the endangered Karner blue butterfly. For the privately owned, developed land that is recommended for protection, the commission suggests collaborating with the land owners to plant native pine barrens vegetation.

Commission’s power

Colonie resident Suzanne Perry-Potts says that the Pine Bush Commission had conspired with the Colonie Town Board in 2007, when the town was drafting its comprehensive plan, to rezone certain parcels of land. She writes in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week that the commission asked the Colonie Town Board to rezone privately owned properties to make them nonconforming, so that they could be bought buy the commission for a low price.

The Pine Bush Commission is an advisory body, and has no power over municipalities, said Hawver. It was Colonie’s decision to change some of its zoning, he said.

“The commission works with all three municipalities to recommend the best ways to preserve land and promote economic development at the same time, but it’s the municipalities that make the decisions,” Hawver said. However, he said the commission had recommended less intensive zoning in certain areas of Colonie, and the town had based its rezoning on that recommendation.

Ulderic Boisvert, a member of the Colonie Town Board in 2007, when the comprehensive plan was adopted, said that town had worked with a paid consultant to find the best marriage of commercial and residential properties.

Perry-Potts has alleged that Boisevert conspired with the town board and the commission to have his land rezoned to increase its value. He said that theory holds no water.

“We just wanted to make commercial properties less intrusive to the Pine Bush. It would be an injustice to the preserve if that zoning were ever reversed back,” Boisevert said.

Kenneth Runion, Guilderland’s supervisor, said this week that Guilderland makes zoning choices independent of the commission.

“We never solicit Pine Bush Commission recommendations for zoning issues, and I’ve never seen the commission try to exert power over any community for zoning or development,” Runion said.

But, in her letter, Perry-Potts said the three municipalities were required to contact the commission each month to inform them of any projects or permits on the privately-owned, protected lands.

There is no requirement like that in place, according to Hawver. He said the management plan requests that the municipalities, and all other development authorities, send plans to the commission for review and recommendation if the project lies within the commission’s study area, but it is not required.

The plan reads, “If a landowner isn’t interested in considering the benefits of a sale or donation, project review recommendations will be made by the commission, in cooperation with the landowner and lead agency, before and during the review process.”

“We all work together and provide statistical data, so we can make sure development proceeds in a beneficial manner. We’re not required to follow their suggestions, but we would give them some weight,” Runion said.

Striking a balance

Woodsfield Estates, a development on 26 acres off of Lydius Street, is an example of a project that was approved by the town, despite the commission’s recommendation to preserve the land, as it was designated as a “full protection” area; it is a classic example of the pine barrens ecosystem. The 106 acres off of Lydius Street are privately owned, and the Pine Bush Commission had hoped to buy them, but was unable to come up with the funding.

As a compromise, the property owners will develop only 26 of the 106 acres; the remaining 80 acres were donated to the town, and the town dedicated the acreage to the commission for management.

“We felt that was striking a good balance. Instead of paying an exorbitant cost for 106 acres, 80 acres are being preserved for free,” said Stephen Feeney, chairman of the planning board, last November. Hawver said he thought the Guilderland Planning Board had always been sensitive to the commission’s concerns at the time that Woodsfield Estates was approved.

“Although we’d like to see this property protected in full, the owner has property rights. So now we have to balance the two issues,” said Hawver, about the development.

“The Pine Bush Commission has no authority to a put a full stop to a project,” Runion said. 

In addition to recommendations for protecting new land, the general plan includes a fire-management plan, an invasive species-management plan, a recovery plan for the Karner blue, a viability assessment for the pitch pine scrub oak barrens, and an education and outreach plan.

The overall mission of the 2010 management plan is to assure the long-term future of the Albany Pine Bush, Hawver said.

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