Guilderland Town Supervisor Peter Barber was “cautiously optimistic” as he delivered his State of the Town address this morning.
Speaking to New York state lawmakers and local officials during a town forum at Crossgates Mall’s Skyloft lounge, Barber, a Democrat in office since 2015, spoke largely of things to come in the Albany suburb. At the top of the list is the 158,000-square-foot Costco store Crossgrates’ owner Pyramid Companies proposed last fall.
The prospect of the first Costco in the Capital Region has drawn its fair share of excitement and criticism, but Barber landed on excitement Tuesday – for both the warehouse store and a host of other plans by Pyramid, including a hotel and five apartment buildings for lots surrounding the mall and nearby Rapp Road as the commercial stretch continues developing.
“The creation of a Transit-Oriented District was one of the prime recommendations that was adopted a couple years ago, and that encouraged, basically, the exact type of development we have here – the hotel, Costco, and apartments – because you’re taking advantage of an underutilized ring road, and also of direct access to the CDTA and the [Adirondack] Northway," says Barber.
Criticism of the plans has largely centered on their potential impact on the Pine Bush Preserve, one of the few remaining inland pine barrens left on the planet that is home to the endangered Karner Blue butterfly. One aspect of the Pyramid proposals – a raised ceiling for Crossgates’ Regal Cinemas to accommodate a new IMAX screen – was recently dropped due to concerns that the building’s new height would cast a shadow over nearby “Butterfly Hill.” Barber says a Draft Environmental Impact Statement submitted by Pyramid for the developments last month will be discussed at a March 11th Planning Committee meeting.
Activists have also used the plans to highlight concerns over rising traffic in the area, but Barber says he is confident that the town can work around it.
“Right now, [during] rush hour in the town of Guilderland, most traffic is going to be on Route 20. A parallel road is the ring road at Crossgates, which is a four-lane road with blinking yellow lights during the rush hour that is underutilized," Barber explains. "Also the Costco itself — [the] store does not open until 10 o’clock, so it’s not going to add anything to the a.m. rush hour.”
What else is coming to Guilderland? Barber applauds a new $250,000 ambulance for Guilderland EMS as one of the town’s best investments in 2019, and announced that the town is joining Albany, Schenectady, Bethlehem and other Capital Region municipalities in exploring Community Choice Aggregation, which would give residents the option to switch to renewable energy as a power source.
He also reminded residents that the Old State Road Bridge over the Thruway will be closed for seven months once the state starts to replace the structure on March 23. For residents of McKownville, some more uplifting news: Barber expects the community’s 15-year stormwater project to wrap this year.
“Historically, houses / basements have flooded due to rising water tables. To address those concerns, the town engaged an engineer, and ultimately raised almost $5 million to basically put a whole new stormwater system in there," says Barber. "So people can now send their stormwater directly into the stormwater system instead of just dumping it out into the lawn in a recirculation where you just continue to get flooded basements.”
As for Guilderland Central School District, Superintendent Marie Wiles says administrators are exploring ideas of their own. Citing studies that find early classes can disturb teenagers’ sleep cycles, Wiles says the high school’s 7:30 a.m. first bell is beginning to look concerning.
“We have a pretty interesting plan that we’re trying to work out the kinks with transportation, that would move our high school start time to 8:15 [a.m.]," says Wiles. "Along with one of our elementary buildings, [which] would [also] move to 8:15.”
Barber says the school district is growing increasingly diverse, with 58 languages spoken across its seven buildings. He says the town’s population is getting older, too, and hopes to bring more affordable housing to the community’s elderly. The changing population comes as communities across the country prepare for the Census. Barber urges residents to take part in Count Day April 1st.
“We live on sales tax, and sales tax is based upon population. It’s not point of sale – so whether the sale takes place here at Crossgates or at [nearby] Colonie Center, we get the same percentage," Barber explains. "[Point of sale] is very important for property taxes and whatnot, but the bottom line is that the population is very important for the town’s share of the county sales tax.”
The town of Guilderland has over 35,000 residents, and includes parts of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve and the University at Albany. You can hear the entire State of the Town address below.