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Albany Residents To Rally At Tonight's Common Council Meeting

A group of Albany residents who say they are frustrated with development in the city are planning to rally at tonight's Common Council meeting.

Some members of various neighborhood associations opposed to new apartment projects in the city of Albany have banded together under the moniker "Stop The Stories."

They're alarmed at the rate new apartments are being built or proposed: several planned for New Scotland Avenue, one under construction on Ontario Street, land being cleared on Colvin Avenue.

10th ward Common Councilor Owusu Anane represents the Pine Hills Neighborhood.   "I am not opposed to development. However, there are a number of people in my ward who are concerned about large developments and the tax breaks that are being offered to subsidize those developments. There needs to be a dialogue regarding these projects and that's something that I look forward to hearing."

Neighbors are demanding a moratorium on building, and they plan to bring their concerns to city hall tonight.

Catina Mazodones is with the Melrose Neighborhood Association. She says the sewer system is at capacity, unable to support new development.   "The Melrose neighborhood has experienced multiple sewage overflows throughout the year. The latest one, the latest big one, was July 5th of last year. We had, my survey, was 55 homes with at least 2 feet of raw sewage in the basement, including mine."

She now keeps a HazMat suit in her closet.

Mazodones says she's all for lawful development, but wants the city to follow environmental regulations set forth by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. She alleges a lack of transparency and blames…. "...the planning department. They knew our phone numbers. And when I called in they said, frankly, and I won't tell you who said it, but 'your voice didn't matter'."

Ninth ward Councilor Judy Doesschate  represents parts of New Scotland Avenue.    "The problem with what is going on in the city right now with regard to development is not the development, but the fact that there is overdevelopment that the city and the planning board and the BZA are routinely exceeding what was just approved in our rezone project that would satisfy the entire community and the Common Council. We were told that there would be no need for variances once we made the changes, and yet variances are being routinely granted. In addition, certain provisions of the code are being completely ignored. One of them being that there's a requirement that all new developments have 30 percent vegetation on the site and that simply has not been existing in what has been seen approved by the planning board and the planning department. If there was this thirty percent vegetation requirement, it would help the city with its combined sewer overflows and the storm water runoff and it would also reduce the density of some of these projects which is exactly what a lot of people are concerned about."

15th ward Common Councilor Tom Hoey says the city should take a more sensible approach to development.  "Let's get our infrastructure in order before we start putting up buildings that we cannot support, by our roads or by our sewers. If you drive around the town you'll see the roads are in the worst shape that they've ever been in. And the sewers and the water lines? They're breaking all over town. You go up Hillcrest Avenue, there are three breaks right there in my ward. So I am concerned about the race and people think, well, when the development comes in we'll fix the infrastructure, and again, I come back to what do you do first? Do you get the infrastructure right first on the ground floor, or do you build up and then try to tunnel underneath and fix things?"

Department of Planning and Development Commissioner Chris Spencer insists development is good for the city, and will help grow the tax base:    "I think what you see is largely people who have just not seen growth in their neighborhoods and it's a shock if you live next to a something that always been a parking lot and suddenly a five-story building gets proposed it can be a little you know, alarming at first, but I think the growth is good, the city of Albany can support this kind of a growth. The city has 35,000 fewer people than it had in 1950.  We have the infrastructure that can support it. Every single project that goes through this process has to be reviewed by every department to make sure that we have adequate water, sewage, traffic, all those things, that the capacity is there we make sure that each department signs off before there's any approval and each one is reviewed by the Planning Board which is a duly appointed board that considers the entire unified sustainable development ordinance."

A spokesman for Mayor Kathy Sheehan notes that a pro-development group is also rallying at tonight’s Common Council meeting.  

Again, Doesschate:   "Contrary to what the administration some people are saying, these projects will not significantly reduce the tax burden on other taxpayers because of the level of tax abatement that is being allowed for most of these projects. As one example, the Playdium project, which is a $16 Million dollar project, which was granted a variance so it could be built up to 4 or 5 stories, and that will be three buildings with a hundred and eighty additional apartments and people to service in those apartments will only add $40,000 or less a year to the city's coffers for the next twelve years. If we had twenty of these projects that would still be less than a million dollars added to our $176 million budget. That's approximately a half a percent."

Doesschate suggests there may be a tax increase when the building concludes.

Activists are calling on anyone concerned to show up and sign up to speak at tonight's 6:30 start of the Common Council meeting. 

Reporter's Note:  An earlier post of this article included a picture of Temple Israel  captioned alluding to a statement by StopTheStories.org that development was planned at the site.    Temple Israel President Gary Ginsburg tells WAMC, “There are no current or short-term plans for Temple Israel to move from our home at 600 New Scotland Avenue. Any reports or rumors to the contrary are unfounded and false."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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