SCHENECTADY: Volunteers for Save the Pine Bush
(SPB) were invited by the New York State Department of Transportation
(DOT) to participate
in a charette regarding eliminating the at-grade crossings at
Morris and Cordell Roads in Colonie. The stated goal of the charette
to come up with ideas to allow safe passage of high-speed trains
through the Pine Bush by eliminating the dangerous at-grade crossings.
Volunteers for SPB were told over and over that DOT had no
pre-conceived notions about how this would be accomplished.
Many times through
the long and intense charette, participants were told that
their ideas mattered and that DOT had no plan in mind.
SPB volunteers question whether DOT had plans to build a
certain road all along, and that the charette was simply a
to give a large land owner a road through his property at tax
Could this be corporate welfare for Pine Bush landowners?
A charette is a series of intense meetings over the space
of a number of days where all of the various interested people
are brought together to discuss solutions to a particular problem.
The problem to be addressed was eliminating the at-grade crossings
at Morris and Cordell Roads in order to allow high-speed trains
on the railroad track running through the Pine Bush. For this
charette, residents of the area, business owners, Town of Colonie
and advocacy groups (such as The Nature Conservancy, FORCE,
bicycle advocacy organizations, a rail passenger group and
SPB) were brought
DOT staff pursued SPB and called several times to make sure
representatives of SPB attended the charette. The charette
took place over five
days. Four SPB volunteers spent a total of about 20 hours attending
meetings of the charette, including the advocacy group meeting
on Friday afternoon, the Friday evening general presentation,
the Saturday afternoon work groups and the Monday evening ending
We invested a significant amount of our time and actively participated
in all discussions.
We were very excited to be included. We believed DOT when
they told us they had no pre-conceived ideas for a solution.
were naive enough to believe that DOT might have a charette
solution was not a new road! What were we thinking?!
The first charette meeting we attended was the advocacy focus
group where the question was asked, does the Town of Colonie
preserve its Pine Bush or develop it? This is the most important
question to be answered. SPB believes that most people who
attended the charette would say that they would prefer the
Pine Bush to
be preserved, than to have more development. No additional
development means no additional traffic, benefiting the neighbors,
as preserving this globally-rare ecosystem.
There are many issues to be addresses. The Pine Bush ecosystem
in this area is a very important, and it is a connector to
the Woodlawn Preserve in Schenectady. If Woodlawn is to be
area must be preserved also. Besides Pine Bush issues, the
area is mostly zoned industrial, which causes a lot of traffic
Several of the industries in this area use enormous tracker-trailers
to move supplies in and out. The only way for these huge trucks
to get to a highway is to drive through narrow residential
streets to the north to Central Avenue.
SPB’s solution would eliminate the tracker-trailer traffic
in the residential areas, preserve the Pine Bush, and eliminate
the at-grade crossings. SPB proposes that instead of building
a road, DOT should buy out the businesses or do land-trades
with the business owners (eliminating the tracker-trailer traffic)
make a bicycle/hiker emergency vehicle overpass on Cordell
No more development should be allowed in this area. SPB volunteers
believe this is a creative and realistic solution to this problem.
Because this area has no easy access to highways, it should
not be zoned industrial. Moving the businesses to more appropriate
locations, and then adding this land to the Preserve may be
expensive in the long-run than building a road.
At the Saturday afternoon session of the charette, participants
sat in small groups around tables and drew out ideas for solutions
to the problem. Representatives from different groups were
at each table; for example, each table had an environmentalist
tables had a resident. Only one business representative attended.
Most of the solutions did not involve creating a new road.
No one spoke about building more businesses, or creating more
By now, representatives of SPB were quite optimistic about
the outcome — solving the problem without building a new road
in the Pine Bush. We were in for quite a shock at the last meeting
on Monday evening, when DOT presented a proposal for two by-pass
roads, and one round-about. The bone thrown to SPB was the Cordell
Road overpass closed to cars but open to pedestrians, bicyclists
and emergency vehicles — as if that did anything towards
preserving the Pine Bush!
Also, DOT stated in the summary of its proposal that one
of the recommendations was for “future land use opportunities,” which
SPB can only interpret as meaning development opportunities.
No one mentioned this at any time during the charette and SPB
have no idea where this recommendation came from.
DOT’s proposal was so different from anything we heard during
the meetings that we felt we must have attended a different charette.
We were appalled, especially since the charette supposedly represented
a “consensus”. We did not want to be seen as agreeing
to this destructive proposal.
The Big Question
After the charette, a little bird told John Wolcott that
the Town of Colonie owned the land where the DOT proposed the
by-pass. John discovered that a strip of land which happens
to be the perfect width for a road, had been given to the Town
Colonie by Nemith and Vinciguerra in 2001. This strip of land
follows the basic course of the proposed road laid out by DOT
in its flyer
summarizing the charette. And, Nemith and Vinciguerra retained
title to the land on both sides of this strip of land.
This begs the question: Did DOT know before the charette
that the Town was given this land? Was it a coincidence that
road follows this land? And, the most important question of
all: Is this proposed road truly a solution to the traffic
is it a way for Nemith and Vinciguerra to get a road built
through their land at tax payer expense so they can develop
it? Why else
would Nemith and Vinciguerra simply give this land to the Town?
On June 11, Town of Colonie Supervisor, Mary Brizzell, graciously
gave SPB the opportunity to speak to the Colonie Town Board
to address our concerns about the charette. At that meeting,
the Town Board of our big hopes for the charette, the time
we invested, and how appalled we were at the outcome. We gave
the Board Members
a detailed letter explaining our concerns in detail. To our
great surprise, the Colonie Spotlight newspaper printed the
The Next Meeting with DOT
A few weeks after the charette, a representative of DOT contacted
SPB and asked to meet with us again. Three SPB members met
with four DOT staff on June 28. The meeting was recorded by
reporter. The DOT staff graciously agreed to meet with SPB
staff after hours.
George Hodges, who is the project manager for DOT Region
One, explained the objectives of this project: public safety,
healthy environment and healthy businesses.
Mr. Hodges explained the DOT proposal this way: The Morris
Road by-pass will be built with “critter crossings” and
underpasses for toads and amphibians to pass under. He emphasized
that this would be a controlled access road, and that no development
would be allowed on either side of the road. We did not ask,
nor did Mr. Hodges address, the issue that the Town had been
the road by the developer Nemith. Could Nemith possibly have
given the Town the land for the road without expecting compensation
the form of development?
The Curry Road Connector is proposed to go along the Niagara-Mohawk
Right-of-Way (ROW). Again, there would be tunnels and culverts
to allow for critter crossings. (DOT staff seem to have no
concept of how important the powerline ROWs are to the survival
Karner Blue.) This road would also be controlled access and
no development would be allowed on the adjacent land. Perhaps
most surprising proposal mentioned was that DOT is thinking
of closing roads. This is how Mr. Hodges explained this astonishing
concept: an empire zone could be created near Exit 25 of the
Over the span of 20 years or more, businesses through land
swaps or acquisition, could be relocated out of the Pine Bush.
businesses leave, pieces of the various (unspecified) roads
would no longer be needed and could be torn up.
SPB volunteers asked why a road had to be constructed in
order to eventually allow roads be removed. To SPB volunteers,
seems like a lot of money could be saved, if the roads were
in the first place. No coherent answer was given to this question.
Building roads in the Pine Bush would further destroy the
ecosystem, not only destroying the land that is actually paved,
further fragmenting the ecosystem. Karner Blues are often
on Niagrara-Mohawk ROWs; building a road on the ROW may significantly
damage the ability of the butterfly to survive. The Pine
Bush is a globally rare ecosystem. Why is DOT even contemplating
Mr. Hodges invited representatives of SPB to be on the Steering
Committee for the project which SPB volunteers stated
that they would be glad to be on the Steering Committee. The
for public participation in the project will be a public
meeting in September where the Steering Committee will