Albany Common Council Denies
Dunes Residents Chance to be Heard
by Lynne Jackson
July 1, 1996, Albany City Hall, was the place where the Common Council refused to listen to 25 or so angry Dunes residents who wanted the opportunity to speak. Charlie Touhey wants to build an office complex in their backyard, and no one wanted their opinion.
A public hearing on this proposed office complex had been held in April, 1995 so the Common Council felt that it had fulfilled its legal obligation to allow public input and therefore cancelled the July 1 hearing.
To figure out what is going on, it is important to look at the chain of events that lead to this fiasco.
Dunes Residents Not Invited
On May 15, the Common Council Zoning Committee met to discuss the re-zoning of 300 Washington Ave. Ext. (view map). No residents of the Dunes attended, and it is unlikely any residents of the Dunes were even notified that this meeting was scheduled. Charlie Touhey, the developer of this site, made impassioned pleas about re-zoning his land from residential to commercial, saying that this has been such a long process. I explained that in March, 1992, Judge Cobb ruled that the City of Albany was wrong when it approved the re-zoning for Charlie Touhey's 12-acre Pine East Office development proposal from residential to commercial Pine Bush. Judge Cobb clearly stated that before the City could approve any more developments in the Pine Bush, that a 2,000 acre fire-manageable preserve must be determined.
The Zoning Committee voted to pass the re-zoning out of committee for a full vote by the Common Council.
In the minutes of this meeting, it was noted that though no residents were present, that Charlie Touhey and his engineer, Daniel Hershberg has spoken with nearby Dunes residents and that they approved the development.
Next, a public hearing on the re-zoning of 300 Washington Ave. Ext. was announced for Monday, July 1 in the Albany City Record. As no residents were notified of the Zoning Committee meeting where this issue was discussed, volunteers from Save the Pine Bush passed out leaflets on Friday, June 28, letting residents know about this hearing.
Strange, over that weekend, Nicolas Coluccio, the alderman for the Dunes, passed out flyers of his own inviting Dunes residents to a public hearing he was having on Tuesday, July 9. Note that this public hearing was not held during a Common Council meeting and though Common Council members were invited, they were not required to attend.
To the extent of my knowledge, as Mr. Coluccio has never used flyers to notify Dunes residents of up-coming hearings before, the timing of his flyer seemed pretty unusual to me. Perhaps, I speculate, Mr. Coluccio found out about the SPB leaflets announcing the hearing and realized that he was going to have a lot of angry residents on his hands that Monday, unless he had an alternative. So, he quickly setup another hearing.
On Monday, July 1, I called City Hall just to confirm that there was to be a hearing that night. The bored, impatient person who answered my call assured me that the hearing on the re-zoning was scheduled that evening.
I arrived at 7:15 that evening at the Common Council Chambers, to discover 25 Dunes residents wanting to speak and that the hearing had been cancelled! The Common Council was considering whether or not to vote on the re-zoning that evening, with Nicholas Coluccio arguing not to bring the re-zoning to a vote and with Tom Nitido arguing to bring a vote.
I entered the chambers, and and asked the Common Council President, Robert Van Amburgh, why there was no hearing. I was told it was cancelled. In all of the time I have worked on Pine Bush issues, I have never seen the Common Council cancel a hearing. Cut off hearings, yes, but not cancel one.
Save the Pine Bush Not Invited
When Mr. Coluccio responded to my questions in front of the Common Council, he made it clear that though there would be a hearing on July 9, that only residents were invited, not anyone else (like me or other members of Save the Pine Bush).
July 9 Public Hearing - Coluccio Promises to Act
On July 9, the Dunes residents again marched down to City Hall to be heard. Nicholas Coluccio along with two other members of the Common Council attended. Dunes residents detailed the problems with destroying this beautiful Pine Bush land and how 400 more cars would further increase the traffic problems they currently endure.
At one point in the hearing, a Dunes resident challenged Mr. Coluccio to do something about this re-zoning legislation Mr. Coluccio had himself introduced to the Common Council. Mr. Coluccio responded that he would have the ordinance to re-zone this land withdrawn.
Stay tuned! In our next newsletter, we will report on what happens at the upcoming July 15 Common Council meeting. We will see whether Mr. Coluccio will withdraw the ordiance to re-zone 300 Washington Ave. Ext. or not. Also, at that meeting, residents of the Dunes plan to speak to the Common Council during the public comment period. Speaking during the public comment period was suggested by President of the Common Council, Robert Van Amburgh when he spoke to the residents after the canceled hearing on July 1.
What Can Be Done to Help?
Call Nicoloas Coluccio and your alderman to express your opposition to the re-zoning of 300 Washington Ave. Ext. Mr. Coluccio's phone number is: 489-5925. To find out the phone number for your alderman, call City Hall at 434-5080.
Deep Background Information on the Re-Zoning Issue
As our readers know, the Pine Bush, located between Albany and Schenectady, is a beautiful, unique ecosystem which is home to many rare plants and animals. Originally, the Pine Bush extended over 56,000 acres from North Pearl Street in Albany, west to Schenectady. Now, there are only approximately 5800 acres of the Pine Bush ecosystem remaining, less than one-tenth of the original extent. Most of this land is in private hands and subject to destruction through development.
Of this 5800 acres of Pine Bush ecosystem remaining, only 2220* (about one-third) are currently in preserve and protected from development, owned by either The Nature Conservancy or the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Of these 2220 acres, only 1630** acres are manageable. The number of manageable acres is the key here; in order for the Pine Bush to survive, scientists have determined that at a very minimum, 2000 acres of manageable Pine Bush must be set aside in a preserve. To achieve this 2000-acre manageable preserve minimum, The Albany Pine Bush Commission states that 4520 total acres of Pine Bush must be set aside in a preserve.Ý The Commission is less than half way to achieving its goal of 4520 acres in preserve.
Specifics about the Office Development Proposal
In March, 1992, Judge Cobb ruled that the City of Albany was wrong when it approved the re-zoning for Charlie Touhey's 12-acre Pine East Office development proposal from residential to commercial Pine Bush. Judge Cobb clearly stated that before the City could approve any more developments in the Pine Bush, that a 2,000 acre fire-manageable preserve must be determined.
In December, 1992, the Appellate Division unanimously upheld Judge Cobb's ruling. The City did not appeal to the Court of Appeals, leaving the Appellate Division's ruling standing.
In April, 1995, Charlie Touhey again presented his proposal for re-zoning of the land for his office development. However, there are still not 2000 acres of manageable Pine Bush set aside in preserve. Nothing has changed since his proposal for re-zoning was overturned in 1992.
Charlie Touhey knew when he purchased this property in the 1980's that it was zoned residential. He also knew that it was in the Pine Bush and that many people are interested in having the Pine Bush preserved. The Constitution of the United States does not guarantee speculators such as Mr. Touhey a profit on their investment. Mr. Touhey took a risk when he purchased this Pine Bush land that was zoned for a different use than he wanted.
Charlie Touhey has stated many times, publicly and recorded in the Albany City Record, that he does not want to build houses on this land because he would not receive enough of a return on his investment.
Much is made of the fact that the Albany Pine Bush Management Commission has ranked this 12-acre parcel second from the bottom of the 52 properties that should be added to the preserve. However, Save the Pine Bush believes this ranking is politically motivated. The Touhey parcel received 17 points out of a possible 88 points which placed it number 51 in the list.
The key is how to rank this property based on the Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak Barrens Community (PPSO). Currently there are very few young pitch pine trees in the Pine Bush. Something is happening to the young pitch pines; studies are currently on-going. This site is unusual in that the young Pine Bush ecosystem, with young pitch pine and scrub oaks growing on this land. This parcel is naturally restoring itself to the Pine Bush ecosystem. This is one reason that Save the Pine Bush believes this property to be so important.
If this site were to be given the PPSO ranking Save the Pine Bush believes correct, that would add 16 points to the ranking. (This site received 4 points for PPSO, and 13 points for buffer).
The next criteria is linkage, how well this property links between already existing Pine Bush. The Commission gave this property a 0 ranking for linkage, Save the Pine Bush believes that number should be higher as this land is connected to the preserve on the corner of Washington Ave. Ext. and Route 155. The linkage should be ranked as least a 12, if not a 16, bringing the total score up to 41, which is well within the top 25 parcels that should be added to the preserve.
Printed July, 1996
Pine Bush Hike
Save the Pine Bush