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UPDATE: Shenendehowa Voters Reject Land Sale

Lucas Willard
Signs for and against the land sale along Route 146 in Clifton Park

UPDATE 4/4/17 11:37 p.m.: The Shenendehowa district reported Tuesday night that voters rejected the sale 5,442 to 2,323. The original story from earlier Tuesday remains posted below. 

Residents of the Shenendehowa School District in Clifton Park are voting today on a controversial land sale that would shift 34 acres to a developer. The developer in question has pledged to donate half the land to the Town of Clifton Park. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports the referendum was brought by petition.

In December the Shenendehowa Board of Education voted to accept a proposal by developer BBL, LLC to purchase 34 wooded acres owned by the district.

At the time, school board president Robert Pressly defended the roughly $2 million bid and the developer’s pledge to donate half the land to the town, recognizing the desire for a park on the property. 

“And what we have here financially, and in terms of this compromise, where at least more than half of it does get retained for what people are asking for, that is being met with this. It’s not perfect, but it is something that is effective and we think will enhance our education for students,” said Pressly.

The district sought to sell the land after it was determined that building a third school on the site was too costly. Additionally, the district is hoping to use money from the sale to one day purchase land in the Town of Halfmoon to build a new school, if the growing population trend in Southern Saratoga County continues.

But as soon as the board voted to accept the bid, Susan Burton with the group Friends of Clifton Park Open Space vowed to fight the decision.

“Although the school board has now spoken, we will take this result to force the public referendum on the matter pursuant to New York state education law section 1804,” said Barton.

The Open Space group wants to see the entire parcel preserved for a town central park.

The group gathered its petition signatures and in January the board voted to set a referendum for today.

Along Route 146 in Clifton Park, signs for and against the proposal were posted on the roadside.

Outside the Gowana Middle School gymnasium, where the vote was being held, Marie Leonardo was heading in to vote against the sale.

“We just don’t need any more Shoprites here or grocery stores or strip malls. We just need some trees and a place to hang out,” said Leonardo.

Grocery chain Shoprite has expressed interest in the property, but whether they move in, of course, depends on the vote. Clifton Park and the surrounding area has seen a boom in commercial development over the last several years.

Mike Fitzgerald was also against the deal.

“I went to Shen for all my high school career. I’m a local resident. I own a business locally as well. It’s very important that we keep Clifton Park the size that it is. We don’t need more development here.”

BBL’s Marc Goldstein thinks the arguments against the sale are frustrating.

“I don’t think it’s up to a group of people to decide which businesses come to town. We have several restaurants. Do you want to pick and choose which ones you want and which ones you don’t want? That’s not a fair statement,” said Goldstein.

Goldstein added that the 55,000 square foot building BBL is looking at “pales in comparison” to the roughly 2.8 million square feet of commercial space in Clifton Park and Halfmoon.

If voters approve the sale and the Town of Clifton Park does not take the acres from BBL, Goldstein said the company will look for a non-profit that would take the land for purposes of preservation.

“If we were unable to find someone like that then we would give the land back to the school district form them to hold in perpetuity and we would put deed restrictions on it that it could never be developed. And in that regard, again, it would be open to public use forever,” said Goldstein.

Organizing for a yes vote is the group Committee for Shen’s Future. Supporter Lisa Willard (no relation to the reporter) says a deal like this won’t come around again.

“A no vote means that this property goes back to the school district and nothing is precluding the school district for putting it back out there to bid. And the next offer that comes may not be as good as what we have on the table now,” said Willard.

Polls are open until 9 p.m.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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