Developer Takes Preserve to Build Water Lines

Save the Pine Bush Sues the
Albany Pine Bush Management Commission & Others

Save the Pine Bush filed suit on December 15 against the Albany Pine Bush Management Commission, the Town of Guilderland, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the City of Albany for allowing a developer to build water lines in the Pine Bush Preserve, land which has been dedicated to the Commission as forever wild and owned by the taxpayers of the State of New York. Lewis B Oliver, Jr. filed suit on behalf of Save the Pine Bush in New York State Supreme Court.

"Forever wild, means forever wild," said Lynne Jackson, secretary of Save the Pine Bush. "It does not mean 'forever wild until some developer can come along and make lots of money by taking it and using it for his own personal gain.' "

At issue is that Edward J. Pigliavento, Jr. had the water lines for his as-yet-to-be built housing subdivision constructed inside the Pine Bush Preserve.. His subdivision, called Tera Court, is located north of Willow Street in the Town of Guilderland. He had the water lines installed south of Willow Street. The State of New York owns all of the land from the centerline of Willow Street south and has dedicated this land to the Pine Bush Preserve.

The New York State Constitution provides that land can be removed from the Preserve if two successive Legislatures vote for removing the land from Preserve. The Legislature has not voted on allowing this land to be removed from the Preserve. Mr. Pigliavento simply took the land - he did not pay for it and the Legislature did not approve its removal from the preserve.

Also at issue in the suit, is that the Town of Guilderland approved a water district extension for this subdivision - in the City of Albany. The boundary for the City of Albany extends to the northern boundary of the right-of-way of Willow Street. The Town approved a water district extension to the centerline of Willow Street. Mr. Pigliavento had his water lines constructed south of Willow Street, outside the water district extension, outside of the Town of Guilderland, and in the City of Albany. It is illegal for a town to approve a water district in a city.

"What is at stake here is the integrity of the governmental process," said Lewis B. Oliver, Jr., attorney for Save the Pine Bush. "The Town Board and the Town Engineer knew that the pipes were being laid in the City and in the Preserve. They knew that the pipes were laid outside Guilderland's jurisdiction. The City knew and the Commission knew. Being near the boundary is not an excuse. We don't think the Town, the City, DEC or the Commission should wink at this."

In addition, the Town of Guilderland totally ignored the State Environmental Quality Review Act Law (SEQRA) in approving this water district. The Pine Bush Commission rated the 13 acre Pigliavento land as ninth most important out of 52 parcels it ranked for possible inclusion in the Preserve. It rated the land as "full protection," which means that the Commission feels it is very important to protect this site from development. The subdivision is totally surrounded on two sides by preserve, it is a beautiful piece of Pine Bush, located at one of the entrances to the Pine Bush Preserve. However, despite the importance of the parcel of land, the Town of Guilderland did not require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be prepared prior to its adopting the Water District Extension.

The suit raises serious issues.

First, a person cannot simply take public land and use it for his own purposes and the Town cannot approve water lines to be built in the Preserve. The developer Mr. Pigliavento did not ask permission of New York State or of the Albany Pine Bush Management Commission if he could use Preserve land for his water lines. He did not pay for the land. He did not compensate the taxpayers for the land. He took the land. This is no small taking of land. The water lines are approximately 30 feet at the greatest into the Preserve, parallel to the border. They run parallel to the border for about 450 feet.

The Albany Pine Bush Management Commission is charged with managing the Pine Bush Preserve. What type of management are they doing if they allow the Preserve to be eaten away by developers? It is essential that the integrity of the Preserve be protected. We cannot allow private developers to take land out of the Preserve without regard for the law.

People often complain about the destruction of the rain forest in South America, of the killing of elephants, gorillas, lions and other exotic species in lands half-way around the world. Our Pine Bush is a jewel, a beautiful place that is just as exotic to people who live elsewhere as their ecosystems are to us. But, here, in the Capital District, we have spent 20 years in court battling to preserve the Pine Bush. How can we begin to address the problems of ecosystem destruction in other parts of the world when we are having such difficulty saving our own small Pine Bush?. we cannot believe that after all of this time, all of the court battles we have had, that the Town of Guilderland, the Commission, DEC and the City still ignore the law and allow some developer to just go into the Preserve and take land. What is the matter with our government officials? When are they going to learn that the Pine Bush is important and that all of the remaining Pine Bush should be protected as forever wild?

John Wolcott, a volunteer and one of the founders of Save the Pine Bush, discovered the problem with the development last summer. He wrote to then Guilderland Town Supervisor Bill Alyward and all of the members of the Albany Common Council about the problems. He talked to the Town of Guilderland engineer, and explained the problem to the Guilderland Town Board. John spent many hours trying to get some government officials to listen. No government official wrote back to John. And the ones he spoke to dismissed his concerns. The only recourse Save the Pine Bush had was the court.

Save the Pine Bush would like to extend thanks to the many people who helped out with this lawsuit including John Wolcott for his meticulous work and many hours spent researching deeds, locating maps, and photographing the site; to Russell Ziemba, to Sandra Camp, and especially to the many Save the Pine Bush members who live near the site who agreed to join with SPB as individual plaintiffs. Thanks also to the many other people who helped us gather the information we needed to bring this court case to preserve the integrity of the Pine Bush Preserve.

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Read about our next Willow Street lawsuit

See Photographs of the Water Pipes Being Removed!!!


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