A year of growth and stability
Enterprise file photo — Anne Hayden Harwood
Community rally: Beverly Bardequez reads through a book containing the history of her family and the Guilderland neighborhood in which they lived for more than 80 years. Bardequez organized her neighbors to petition to get the Rapp Road community designated as a not-for-profit after a nearby senior living community bought a plot of land and considered expanding into the area.
GUILDERLAND – The Democrats swept the elections in November after an aggressive campaign season that involved negativity and accusations from both parties.
The race between the incumbent Democratic supervisor, Kenneth Runion, a lawyer, and Republican Mark Grimm, a former town board member and media consultant, was closer than expected, with Runion emerging as the winner by a margin of less than 600 votes. Runion will be serving his eighth two-year term.
The rest of the Democratic candidates — incumbent council members Paul Pastore and Patricia Slavick; incumbent town Justice Denise Randall; new town justice, Richard Sherwood; new town clerk, Jean Cataldo; and new receiver of taxes, Lynne Buchanan — swept their races.
The race for town justice was particularly contentious, with four candidates vying for three seats. It was the first time there was a second open seat for town judge, after the Guilderland Town Board voted to create a third judge’s post at the organizational meeting in January 2013. The decision to add another town justice was made in direct response to a study showing that the Guilderland Town Court was the third-busiest in Albany County.
Stephen DeNigris, a Democrat, who switched parties to run for judge on the Republican line, asserted that the court was so crowded because the current judges, Randall and John Bailey, were working only four days per month, and lacked efficiency. He also said they didn’t deserve the pay and benefits they receive.
DeNigris said that, if elected, he would take time away from his private practice to spend extra hours holding court sessions, and that he would turn down the full-time benefits offered.
Sherwood, at Democratic headquarters the night of the election, said he was disgusted by the implications, and said he blamed the leadership of the party.
“Shame on the leadership for, at best, allowing it, and at worst, promoting it,” said Sherwood.
Randall, according to Guilderland Democratic Party Chairman David Bosworth, never mentioned the names of her opponents in a negative manner. She stated that her approach was to “keep my head down and do my job.”
It wasn’t just the race for judge that involved negativity — one week before the election, the Republicans accused the Democrats of refusing to debate, and both parties made accusations about the other’s campaign contributions.
A candidates’ forum, arranged by The League of Women Voters of Albany County, was canceled at the last minute, after Democrats did not respond to invitations sent out a month before.
Runion said he had barely even been aware of the proposed debate, because invitations were sent through e-mail, and he hadn’t been contacted personally.
The chairman of the Guilderland Republican Committee, Matthew Nelligan, said he believed the Democrats had purposely avoided responding to the invitation until the last minute, when they knew it would be too late to reschedule.
“They have a history of refusing to debate,” said Nelligan.
Grimm agreed with his party chairman.
“It is a shame that the candidates were unwilling to debate,” Grimm said. “We would have been able to shed light on the transparency issues and lay out our ideas for fixing them.”
Nelligan also alleged that Runion had received a campaign contribution from Crossgates Mall in exchange for the supervisor’s silence on a zoning issue between a Westmere neighborhood and the mall in 2011.
Runion responded that he hadn’t even known that the mall had made a campaign contribution, since he does not receive donation checks directly, and, he said, the implication that he received the contribution for not taking action on the matter did not make sense, since he did, in fact, intervene.
Runion also said he did not think Grimm should have accepted contributions from two members of the Michaels Group, a home-building and developing company, which received approval to build a townhouse development for seniors in Guilderland — Mill Hill — while Grimm was on the town board.
There was also a $5,000 contribution made by Verizon to the Guilderland Republican Committee, which was put into a housekeeping fund, and Runion said the only connection between the committee and Verizon that he was aware of was Grimm’s push to bring Fios, a cable and Internet service owned by Verizon, into the town.
“That’s a real reach,” responded Nelligan.
“I don’t get any special-interest money,” said Grimm. “I’m not in a position of power.”
In the end, Runion said he felt the Democrats ran a positive campaign, and he said he wanted to thank the voters for their support.
“They’ve supported me for supervisor on eight separate occasions, and we plan to continue to move the town forward and represent them to the best of our ability,” Runion said.
Grimm, for his part, was disappointed.
“I really felt like I was going to win,” he said.
Nelligan said he thought that, despite the losses, the Republicans were making progress in town.
“You can count on the Republican Party to be involved in public issues going forward,” he said.
2013 saw four long-standing town employees retire.
William West, the superintendent of the town’s Water and Wastewater, retired in January, after 30 years in a job he called “very rewarding.”
West started working for the town in 1977, when he was in college, doing part-time work during his summer breaks. After graduating from college, he moved back to Guilderland, got married, and took a full-time job as the deputy superintendent in the Water and Wastewater Department in April of 1982.
The job as superintendent, he said, involved day-to-day operation, dealing with development and growth, and planning for the future.
Throughout his time with the town of Guilderland, West said he had overseen two water and sewer expansions, and thought planning for growth was fun.
“It can be kind of like watching your baby grow,” he said.
The most rewarding part of his job, though, was dealing with an emergency, he said, like a natural disaster.
The appreciation from residents after dealing with floods, electrical outages, and water-main breaks, was gratifying.
“I will miss dealing with and helping the public,” said West.
Donald Cropsey, who served as the town’s building inspector and zoning administrator for 30 years, retired in February.
Cropsey began working for the town in 1982, as the assistant building inspector. His family has a long history of involvement in the town. His grandfather had been the town’s first building inspector and zoning administrator, beginning in 1954, and his father was on the planning board and the town board in the 1960s.
As a building inspector, Cropsey said his job was to review plans submitted for building permit applications and to do periodic inspections, and as a zoning administrator, he enforced the zoning code and issued variances.
What he liked most about the job, he said, was helping people get through the process.
The biggest project he worked on was Crossgates Mall, which received its approval in 1981, one month before Cropsey started working for the town. It was interesting to see land development at that scale, right at the beginning of his career as a building inspector, he said.
Cropsey said he’d particularly miss his office staff.
“I’ve been working with them for a long time,” he said. “It’s going to be quite a change not to come to work and see them every day.”
Rosemary Centi, who served as the town clerk for 13 years, decided not to run for re-election, and to retire, instead.
“Nothing in particular sparked my decision to retire,” said Centi. “I just felt it was time.”
She described the town clerk as “the hub of a wheel” and said that nearly everything in the town comes and goes through the clerk’s office.
Her favorite parts of the job were the everyday meet-and-greets with members of the community, as well as the group of women with which she worked.
“I think my biggest accomplishment is that I’ve carried myself with dignity and represented the people of Guilderland the way this office should represent them,” said Centi. “I’m really proud of myself, and my deputy, for continuing to educate ourselves throughout the years; we didn’t just stagnate.”
Cynthia Wadach, the town’s coordinator of Senior Services for 12 years, retired in October.
She said she loved the job, which involves arranging free transportation, provides information on programs, and holds a weekly luncheon, exercise program, and game of bridge.
When Wadach first started the job, the department consisted of three full-time employees and one part-time employee, but, for financial reasons, it had to be reduced to herself and one part-time person. Wadach said that, without skipping a beat, the department was able to streamline, and still provide the same services, and she was proud of that.
“My very favorite part of the job was talking to the seniors and learning about them,” said Wadach. “It made me feel good that I could help someone, and they were truly thankful.”
Though she loved the job, and made lifelong friends through it, she said she was ready to retire, but plans to volunteer, particularly with Community Caregivers, as she strongly believes in its mission to help the elderly and ailing remain in their homes.
The Guilderland Fire Department held a public vote in August for a $3.9 million bond for a renovation and expansion project.
The 15-year bond was approved by a vote of 45 to 32, and will cost residents within the boundaries of the district an estimated 28 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation; a homeowner with a median-priced home of $246,500 would pay $69.93 per year, for 15 years, for a total of $1,049.
The firehouse — at 2302 Western Ave. — is outdated and too small to meet the community’s needs, making the project — which will add a decontamination room, extra parking, two additional bays, and extra office and storage space — necessary, according to David Messercola, a chairman of the board of Fire Commissioners.
A resident of the district, Linda Chaffee, challenged the vote and wanted it declared “null and void” because, she asserted, the district did not comply with Article 11 under the Consolidated Laws of the State of New York, which states that a fire district secretary must provide notice of an upcoming hearing or election, and that such notice must be posted to the town website at least 15 days prior to the election.
Chaffee wrote a letter to Messercola, Supervisor Kenneth Runion, and Rosemary Centi, the town clerk, quoting the law, and stating that the district did not post a notice to the town website prior to each of the three public hearings leading up to the vote.
Centi said she had not received notices about the public hearings, but had a received a notice about the vote, which she posted to the website.
The Board of Fire Commissioners, in October, decided that the district had complied enough with the state law that a court would not uphold a challenge to the bond vote.
“It was a minor infraction,” said Messercola, at the time, “and we are moving forward.”
“Any time you ask the community to spend additional tax money, there are always some that will not be in favor,” he said. “The majority did favor it, so we’re very happy.”
Crossgates Mall sought approval for an expansion, from the town’s planning and zoning boards, at the end of 2013.
The mall, which had its public hearings continued until 2014, is looking to amend its special-use permit to add a 20,000-square-foot, two-story addition, with a total of 2,100 square feet of leaseable, space to the 1.3 million square feet of retail space it already has.
It would be the fifth amendment to the mall’s site plan since it was built in 1984.
Two restaurants, on the bottom floor, and two entertainment venues, on the top floor, are the proposed tenants for the new space, although the companies have not been named.
Stephen Feeney, chairman of the Guilderland Planning Board, said the rendering of the expansion was “more like a sketch of the whole mall” than a detailed plan of the proposed addition, and was concerned with the changes to the parking lot.
The mall would call the addition a “bump-out” and, according to the site plan, there would be no increase in “impervious surface,” so drainage would not be a problem; no changes to access points; and all the utilities necessary are already in place.
The original plan was to re-stripe the parking lot to make it more efficient, but Feeney expressed concerns with the long, one-way straight-aways possibly promoting high speeds.
In response to Feeney’s concerns, Michael Shanley, a partner in the Pyramid Companies, which owns the mall, said the decision was made the leave the parking as it is now.
The chairman of the town’s zoning board, Peter Barber, said he wanted to talk to Feeney to get clarification about what he envisioned for the parking lot.
“The shopping center’s survival depends on being current and fresh,” said Robert Sweeney, a representative from the firm Whiteman, Osterman, and Hanna, during his presentation to the boards.
One expansion that is uncertain is the Daughters of Sarah Senior Community into the Rapp Road neighborhood off of Washington Avenue Extension.
Beverly Bardequez, a resident who has been watching her community be slowly chipped away by modern development, was prepared to rally to protect what’s left of it, after the Daughters of Sarah bought a piece of property, including a house, built by one of the first pastors of the community’s church.
Rapp Road, which is partly in the town of Guilderland and partly in the panhandle of Albany, was settled by a group of black sharecroppers from Shubuta, Miss., when they migrated north during the Great Depression.
The faith-based community was initially made up of 28 families, and nine of those families’ descendants still remain.
Bardequez is the third generation of her family to live on Rapp Road, in one of the original houses, with her daughter and grandson, fourth and fifth generations of the original settlers.
Desperate to preserve the foundations of her heritage, she mobilized her neighbors, and they began the process of formally organizing and becoming a not-for-profit. The Rapp Road community has already been recognized as a New York State Historic District and was placed on the National and Historic Registry in 2002.
Daughters of Sarah, which is located behind the Rapp Road community, has been buying pieces of property to the south of the neighborhood over the past several years, and the property with the house on it was the first one it purchased directly in the community.
Susan Holland, the executive director of the Historic Albany Foundation, acted as a mediator between the Daughters of Sarah and the Rapp Road community.
“The fact is that the parcel of land was on the market a few years ago, and Daughters of Sarah decided, in the interest of building buffers, and for what might come in the future, to buy it,” said Mark Koblenz, chief executive officer of Daughters of Sarah.
Nothing had been definitively decided in terms of what Daughters of Sarah would use the property for, he said, in March.
“We definitely understand the history that the community comes from,” said Koblenz. “Our interest is to find a way to work with the community to meet their goals and our goals.”
Bardequez is hopeful that, in the future, any land that goes on the market will be purchased by people within the Rapp Road community, or even by the community as a whole.
Koblenz said Daughters of Sarah would continue to meet with both Holland and residents of Rapp Road, and indicated that, “Nothing is going to happen while we are discussing things with people; we are not moving ahead with plans.”
“We are fighting tooth and nail to let them know we are here and we’re not going anywhere,” said Bardequez. “We have a stake in our community.”
The Army Corps of Engineers wrapped up work on a $3.3 million cap-and-cover project of an old Army landfill in September.
The land, in Guilderland Center, now owned by the Northeastern Industrial Park, was set up as a depot in 1941 to serve as a storage center for the military during World War II. The Army, typical of the time, diverted the Black Creek into two halves, and sent waste into the creek and buried it on site. The Black Creek feeds the Watervliet Reservoir, Guilderland’s major source of drinking water. Some of the debris left by the Army is hazardous.
Two of the nine areas of concern classified by the Army — AOC 1 and AOC 7 — at the landfill, located south of Route 146 and approximately one-quarter mile southeast of Guilderland Center, required remedial action, due to levels of volatile organic compounds, in water, slightly above safety standards.
The Army Corps had been testing water from monitoring wells in the area for more than a decade, and finally received the federal funding for the cap-and-cover project through a grant from the Formerly Used Defense Site Program.
The cap, which was installed in August, consists of several layers, including a sub-base, a gas vent, drainage layers, a two-foot rubberized barrier, and several inches of soil. The cap is to prevent water, from precipitation, from soaking into the contaminated soil and into a groundwater plume.
Several feet of soil were placed on the remaining acres in the area, to minimize animal and human contact with the potentially contaminated soil; the land was graded to provide proper drainage.
Three monitoring wells were also installed to be used for long-term groundwater monitoring.
Ted Ausfeld, a long-time member of the Restoration Advisory Board, said he was very pleased with the work done at the former landfill. It was a project he had been pushing for over a decade.
“We will be tied to that site for at least the next five years — it’s in our contract,” said Gregory Goepfert, the project manager for the Corps of Engineers. “We usually stay involved with monitoring our sites for 30 or more years.”