Is There a 'Y' in Guilderland?
Guest Article By Jamie and Mary Malcolm
While Save the Pine Bush (SPB) is hard at work preserving any remaining Pine Bush in the Town of Guilderland, a series of projects including a new YMCA facility, are threatening to take protected land from the Preserve for the mere purposes of aligning driveways and easing traffic congestion. To propose further development in this area as a means to solve traffic problems is ludicrous but not surprising. The Guilderland Town, Planning, and Zoning Boards have historically shown a lack of understanding towards the importance of preserving the environment or maintaining the rural and agricultural nature of the town. Crossgates Mall is the obvious example of this ineptitude, but, the ever present custom home/development is more frequent and telling. However, the taking of the Pine Bush for any purpose sets us on a slippery slope indeed! It allows a dangerous precedence to begin where the taking of previously protected land can be "looked into" for any purpose sufficiently financed. SPB is categorically opposing this move in Guilderland on this basic and sound principle.
Because the proposed YMCA is south of Western Avenue, it is not technically within the boundaries of the Pine Bush as defined by the Pine Bush Management Commission. Though not in the paper boundaries (Western Avenue is the southern boundary of the Pine Bush), the proposed YMCA site is clearly Pine Bush ecosystem. However, the major issue of the YMCA and its companion developments have to do with the taking of land north of Western Avenue that is currently in the Preserve to line up a traffic signal to help with traffic. For this, 20 precious acres of Preserve would be destroyed.
Some background and history of this small area is required given the number of players involved and the heavy development proposed in the last year. Geographically speaking, there are four landmarks that are central to the project and they are listed below. For further reference, we would suggest a look at a Guilderland town map or Albany County map. We also give informative and pleasant walks of the area free of charge to all SPB members! More on that later.
· Guilderland Elementary School (GES), is located on the north side of Route 20 and is just west of the 20 Mall. It adjoins the Prospect Hill Cemetery and there are numerous acres of Pine Bush located behind the school. Entrance to the GES is now controlled by a single traffic light. There are no other traffic lights in the immediate area except for those located at Route 155 and Route 20 to the east and Willow Street and Route 20 to the west.
· The Guilderland Public Library, is located on the south side of Route 20 and is just west of the GES. Just behind the library is SPARC, an addiction recovery center, and Mercy Care, a living center for the elderly. Additional land exists in this general area and this is where Columbia Development Corporation (Columbia) proposes to build Rosewood Estates, an assisted care facility. Small residential homes border the area on Route 20 and open space/forests exists to the south.
· Fairwood Apartments, owned by Tri City Rentals, is also located on the same side of Route 20 as the library and the apartments are accessed via Winding Brook Drive. The apartments were originally constructed in the 1970's and then were supplemented by additional units in the 1980's. The parcel is currently zoned for 100 additional apartment units. Approximately half way down Winding Brook Drive, on the left side, is the proposed location of the YMCA. Winding Brook Drive and the surrounding land provide much needed habitat for the flora and fauna that have been uprooted due to construction of custom homes and apartments. Winding Brook also serves as an ideal place for a quiet walk with natural scenery and a serene atmosphere.
· A 57-acre parcel owned by B&L Enterprises, abuts the proposed YMCA facility, Route 20 to the north, and the Campus Club/Chancellor Drive Estates on the southeast side. This area is predominated by pine trees, sand dunes, and a hilly terrain. It is by all accounts genuine Pine Bush that has been separated from the Preserve by Routes 20 and 155. Due to its isolation, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission does not feel it warrants protection status of any kind.
To facilitate and shorten the description and history of the area, the following bulleted events are presented below.
· In 1994, the owners of Tri City Rentals deeded four acres of land on Winding Brook Drive to the Town of Guilderland as forever green/open space. This was a requirement for adding 100 apartment units to Fairwood. In 1995, the owners donated an additional four acres of land, bordering the previously deeded land, to the Town of Guilderland. Concurrently, the Guilderland Community Center and the Capital District YMCA combined and formed the Guilderland YMCA. A $5 million, 55,000 square foot, state of the art facility, designed for a membership of 10,000 was proposed and public meetings were held at the town library. The public was generally pleased with the conceptual layout but little detail concerning traffic mitigation, environmental impacts, or impacts to adjacent property owners was publicly discussed.
· True to form, the Guilderland Conservation Advisory Council (GCAC) and the Town Planning Board performed site visits and neither entity found any cause for objection to the YMCA project. Some mention was made of a potential drainage problem and the presence of wetlands, but this did not slow the project. The YMCA facility was originally designed to occupy approximately 8 acres, however, the original design would result in 40 percent coverage of the site. This would have exceeded the 30 percent lot coverage allowed by town law. Since the NYSDOT would only allow one traffic light, Winding Brook Drive would have to be straightened such that it would intersect with the GES. This would entail moving the traffic light to the east. B&L Enterprises decided to donate an additional three acres to facilitate these needs including funds for traffic mitigation measures if the remaining 54 acres were to be rezoned general business. This appeal went before the Town Board in late December of last year and was rejected after opposition by local residents. This left the YMCA project in limbo.
· The Town Board requested that a steering committee be formed in an attempt to find a new location for the YMCA. Six sites were reviewed by the committee and the YMCA and were found to be unacceptable. The location and rationale for rejection were never publicly revealed. In spring of this year, the YMCA began another battle for the Winding Brook Drive site by pairing with Columbia. Traffic would be directed through the library entrance on Route 20 and not via Winding Brook. This would require the GES entrance to proceed west through protected Pine Bush and south to Route 20 in order to line up properly. Therein lies the problem.
Too much hard work by SPB has been put into preserving these areas. The developers of the Six Mile Water Works as well as Mayor Jennings found out what happens to those who wish to even discuss the idea of opening the Pine Bush. We hope for a similar outcome in this instance, however it cannot be counted on. Mr. Jim Carr, Chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals, the lead agency for this project has stated "the Pine Bush issues are not insurmountable". Rumors of a two-for-one land swap involving the GES and the Preserve Commission have been heard. The projects, either singly or as a whole, in our opinion constitute a furthering of urban/suburban sprawl, with it all of the associated warts. Further worsening the traffic on Route 20, destroying Pine Bush and open space, negatively impacting existing residential property owners, and the list goes on.
We hope it means something to you too and ask for your support. This could be in the form of a donation to SPB, which would be used in the event litigation is required, participating in the political process in the Town of Guilderland by attending the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on August 20, or by joining us on our August 16 walk so you can see first hand the hidden beauty of the area and the potential damage that could be inflicted if the projects were to be approved.
Printed Aug/Sept 97