Save the Pine Bush Joins with
Residents of the Dunes to Win Big

Charlie Touhey Cannot Build His Office Buildings

by Lynne Jackson

August 5, 1996 will go down as a day of victory for the Pine Bush. The Albany Common Council voted 12-3 not to re-zone 300 Washington Avenue Extension to commercial, stopping Charlie Touhey from constructing an office complex on the site.

The fight to save this 12-acre parcel of land from destruction started in 1991, when Save the Pine Bush successfully sued the City of Albany over its re-zoning approval. Judge Cobb, ruling for Save the Pine Bush, stated that the City could not approve this development because there were not 2,000 fire-manageable acres of Pine Bush set aside in the preserve. The next higher court, the Appellate Division, upheld this ruling.

Though a relatively small site at 12 acres in size, this site is important because it is connected to the 80-acre parcel on the corner of Route 155 and Washington Avenue Extension, which the State purchased for preserve in 1994. Also, young pitch pine trees are found here and it is restorable to the Pine Bush ecosystem.

Charlie Touhey came back last year asking again for his re-zoning. The Common Council held a hearing in April, 1995 about the re-zoning issue, which many residents of the Dunes housing development (located adjacent to this property) attended. Though the hearing was a year and a half ago, it was not until this past May that the Common Council was asked to consider the re-zoning for a vote.
At a meeting in May, the Zoning Committee was asked to review the project. No residents of the Dunes was notified of the meeting, which concerned Carol Wallace, chair of the Zoning Committee, very much. Over her objections, the Zoning Committee voted to allow the full Common Council to vote on the issue.

A hearing before the Common Council was scheduled for July 1. Members of Save the Pine Bush invited residents of the Dunes to a meeting, and then, with their help, passed out flyers announcing the hearing and urging everyone to speak out against the project. When more than 25 residents of the Dunes went to City Hall that night to speak at the hearing, they were told the hearing was cancelled and were not allowed to speak. The reason given for the cancellation was that the one required hearing on the project was held in April, 1995, and that everyone had had a chance to speak at that time and no more hearings were needed. This explanation sounded ridiculus to the Dunes residents upset at the prospect of having an office complex as a new neighbor.

The next week, Nicholas Coluccio, the alderman for the Dunes, scheduled another hearing for the residents. Though many residents attended, only three of the fifteen Common Council members came.

During the ensuing weeks, flurries of leaflets were written and passed out by Dunes residents, urging them to contact all the aldermen and explain their opposition to the re-zoning. Residents and members of Save the Pine Bush attended the Common Council meetings, often signing up to speak during the 1/2 hour public comment period at the beginning of the meeting.

The phone calls and letters paid off! The Common Council defeated the re-zoning, thus not allowing Charlie Touhey to build two office buildings in the Pine Bush.
Of course, Charlie Touhey could propose to build residences on the property. However, he would still need to go through the environmental review at the Planning Board level and Save the Pine Bush is going to keep a close watch on any proposals that may be made for this land.

This is the first time the Common Council of the City of Albany has denied a re-zoning in the Pine Bush in more than twenty years. This victory was a long time coming!

Printed August, 1996


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