As the gateway to the Pine Bush, the Discovery Center introduces
people to everything that makes the Preserve rare and adventurous
with hands-on and interactive exhibits.
The Discovery Center is in the former State Employees Federal
Credit Union building (SEFCU). SEFCU is a credit union, a financial
institution (or bank) owned by its members.
What won’t be answered in the Discovery Center is why
the building looks like a bank and the essential role average
citizens played in preservation of the Pine Bush. Since the
Discovery Center won’t be answering the question, we
at Save the Pine Bush will provide the answer as a public
In the late 1980’s, Save the Pine Bush
learned that the State Employees Federal Credit Union (SEFCU)
wanted to build in the center of the Pine Bush on Route 155.
Our lawyer, Lewis B. Oliver, Jr., filed suit on our behalf.
While the suit was in court, SEFCU built their credit union
(or bank building) on Route 155.
We won the court case. Judge Robert Williams
ruled in Save the Pine Bush’s favor citing the fact that
the Generic Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the
City of Albany failed to take a hard look at the minimum acreage
required to ensure the survival of the Karner Blue butterfly
and the Pine Bush ecology. SEFCU never received zoning approval
for its office building located on Route 155 and is to this
day, a non-conforming use since its construction in 1989. As
of today, the land is still zoned residential.
One of Save the Pine Bush’s members who
regularly attended the monthly lasagna dinners, was also a
SEFCU member. At SEFCU meetings, he asked about our lawsuit
and was told not to worry. Then, he would attend our meetings
only to discover that we were winning.
After our win, our members would ask about bringing a lawsuit
to have the SEFCU building torn down, since obviously it was
built illegally. People were so angry at the construction of
the building that some sent Save the Pine Bush donations asking
to have the building torn down. Talk of Save the Pine Bush
suing to tear the building down reached SEFCU. One day, Rezsin
Adams and Lynne Jackson were invited to speak with SEFUC officials
at a fancy law office in downtown Albany. The officials said
that they would give Save the Pine Bush some of their land
(less than an acre) if Save the Pine Bush would agree not to
file a suit to tear SEFCU down. Rezsin and Lynne said no.
A few years went by. In the legislation that
created the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission, a provision
was made to allow the creation of a “museum” or “discovery
center.” The original proposed location for this discovery
center was on King’s Road, on land already under control
of the Commission. On this site was a historic farmhouse.
Members of Save the Pine Bush argued that the historic farmhouse
should be preserved and used for the Discovery Center. The
Commission did not agree, and the farmhouse was bulldozed.
Sometime after the historic farmhouse was destroyed, SEFCU
wanted to expand their credit union facility. However, SEFCU
had a problem. SEFCU could not sell their building on Route
155, because no one was going to pay millions of dollars for
an office building that was zoned residential. SEFCU would
have a very hard time going to the City of Albany and asking
for an expansion, because such a request would open a whole
can of worms, including questions about why the building was
built in the first place.
The solution? SEFCU went to the State of New York and a land
trade was worked out. NYS would give SEFCU land it owned north
of the Harriman Office Campus in exchange for the credit union
building and surrounding land. NYS would then give the SEFCU
site over to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission for its
This story of citizen advocacy and litigation is not going
to be told at the Discovery Center. The only reason the Discovery
Center is located in the former SEFCU building is because Save
the Pine Bush sued the City of Albany over approving the construction
of SEFCU in the Pine Bush and won. If Save the Pine Bush had
not brought this suit, the Discovery Center would probably
have been built on Kings Road on the site of the historic farmhouse.
This is an important example of citizens rising up against
the government and using the courts to have environmental laws
Save the Pine Bush believes that it is extremely
important to tell this story of citizen advocacy. There would
be no Pine Bush left today if it were not for Save the Pine
lawsuits. What better place to educate people about the power
of citizens than at the Discovery Center? And what a great
story, a rag-tag bunch of people fighting the powerful government
and institutions to save a unique ecosystem. Perhaps that is
why this story will not be told at the Discovery Center — citizens
fighting for justice are a powerful force that threatens governments
and people in power; it is just better to erase that type of
history so people don’t get ideas.