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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 24, 2011

Town and mall officials meet with Crossgates neighbors

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — Residents of the neighborhood between Crossgates Mall and Route 20 are feeling cautiously optimistic after being granted a meeting with the town supervisor and mall management last week.

Neighbors living on Rielton and Tiernan courts and Gabriel and Lawton terraces became concerned when the Pyramid Companies, which owns the mall, began evicting tenants from houses on those roads toward the end of the summer, and boarded up some of the homes.

The company owns 14 properties in the neighborhood fronting the mall, Joesph Castaldo, Crossgates’ general manager, told The Enterprise earlier. Pyramid had bought the properties in 1998 when it planned to nearly double the size of Crossgates, but abandoned its plans in the wake of massive citizen protests.

When homeowners in the neighborhood started to see the empty houses boarded up and properties abandoned, they felt frustrated that they couldn’t find out why.

We’ve discovered that some of the houses required significant work, and, in the interest of safety, we opted to terminate the leases of the tenants that were in there…The houses are boarded up to keep them secure,” Castaldo told The Enterprise last month.

Homeowners were also unsatisfied with town officials not getting involved.

“It looks like holy hell here,” said Stephen Cadalso, who lives on Rielton Court, last month.

 A neighborhood meeting was held on Nov. 6, at the home of Gabriel Terrace resident Judith England.

“We got a dozen or so homeowners to share information about what we knew, or didn’t know, and to formulate a strategy to approach the situation,” said England. She said their top concern was about the safety of the unoccupied buildings.

The group of neighbors drafted a letter to send to Michael Shanley, a partner in the Pyramid Companies, detailing their concerns and asking that the vacant, boarded up houses be torn down and green space be maintained in their place. They also contacted supervisor Kenneth Runion, and asked to present the issue in front of the town board.

According to England, Runion responded that the group would not be scheduled to appear in front of the board, because the situation did not fall under town jurisdiction. Runion later scheduled a meeting between himself, the neighborhood residents, Shanley, and Castaldo, for Nov. 18.

Between notification of the meeting on Tuesday, and the actual meeting, on Thursday, England said there was a flurry of activity in the neighborhood as crews driving Crossgates trucks showed up to take the boards off of the houses that had been evicted and to clean up the lawns.

“Thursday morning, bright and early, they were like Energizer bunnies running around with leaf blowers and cleaning up debris,” said England.

She said she thought the meeting went well, overall, but she still had some concerns.

“I thought the meeting went very well; I think Pyramid was forthright in its answers and residents were forthright about what they felt should happen in the future,” Runion told The Enterprise this week. He said there were discussions about how Pyramid had already taken down boards and cleaned up the neighborhood.

“Yes, the boards are down and the neighborhood looks nicer, but everyone needs to understand that those things are not permanent solutions,” said England. The answers received at the meeting, she said, included Shanley’s assurance of no expansion plans for the mall; a promise to evaluate each of the evicted properties in order of condition, starting with the worst; a commitment not to demolish any structure without replacing it; and an agreement to be more accessible to members of the community in the event of future problems.

However, said England, Shanley did not commit to any time frame for beginning or completing the house inspections.

Shanley and Castaldo could not be reached this week for comment.

“We’d like some communication from Pyramid that they have already started the inspections,” said England. “The houses shouldn’t stand vacant while they decide what to do,” she added.

At the end of the meeting, Runion asked Shanley if he would commit to demolishing the two houses in the greatest state of deterioration, as a show of good faith to the residents.

“I drove through the neighborhood and looked at pictures, and there are two houses with trees growing up through the roofs and stucco falling off the sides,” said Runion. He suggested that those houses be demolished as soon as possible.

Shanley, according to England, would not take a stand, even when pressed, except to say that the “no demolition without rebuilding” would not apply to those two houses.

Runion said the town would continue to monitor the neighborhood periodically. He plans to send the town’s zoning enforcement officer, Rodger Stone, to the area every 30 days, and report back, so the town can contact Pyramid directly if there is maintenance work to be done.

“There is a concern there; it is a residential area and needs to be kept looking nice,” Runion said.

Although England said she and the other residents still have concerns, she wants to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

“I have to rely on the good intentions of the people of the Pyramid Companies, as well as the expressed support of the town, that it will do whatever it is in its realm to do,” said England.

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