Save the Pine Bush, You can fight City Hall and win!

 

Michael Breslin Speaks

by Ehren Evans

Albany County Executive Breslin spoke at August's lasagna dinner. It was an exciting opportunity for members of Save the Pine Bush to learn more about county government and the county executive. Mr. Breslin said his stint as county executive is the best job he ever had. He set up a program where parking places could be turned in for free bus passes and if you didn't have a parking space, you'd get a bus pass for half price. The county donated eight acres to the Preserve. He initiated a pesticide reduction program on county property, now they try everything else before using pesticides. He said it was amazing how you could get rid of a pest if you knew where they were coming from.

As county executive he has tried to focus on public transit. He grew up on Morris Street in Albany. When he was younger the bus services were much better and he could visit his ailing Grandmother in Rensselaer. By using the buses, she was able to get around and continue to live in her own home until she died. That's much less common now because of the deterioration of the transit system.

Providing health, mental health and social services is the biggest function of Albany county government. The county government also manages the Pepsi Arena. Mr. Breslin believes that, by creating jobs and by improving the connectivity of jobs and homes for people, the county won't have to support them.

He stated over and over again that the county plays very little part in development - that land-use decisions are made at the town, village and city levels. He has taken a part in promoting mass transit in Albany County, but development is up to the municipalities and outside the purview and authority of the county. The county has a preserve at Ann Lee Pond but otherwise they are uninvolved in parks and recreation. PCB's in the Hudson is between the feds, the state and GE. As far as regional planning goes, the county has no authority to coerce municipalities but the county can act as a facilitator by bringing representatives from many municipalities together to discuss regional planning issues. The county is involved in such voluntary regional planning over the Albany Airport and over the Hudson River waterfront. He said the county was actively getting the municipalities to act together to preserve and improve the Corning Preserve.

They are working on brownfields redevelopment - cleaning up the pollution on old industrial sites so they can be used for new industry or commerce. The county is cleaning up the Boopsie property on New Scotland Avenue, a former gas station, to the tune of $160,000. They are also cleaning up an old coal depot on South Pearl near Second Avenue. Mr. Breslin is very excited about this project because it's an industrial zone surrounded by residential and that's the kind of development that reduces sprawl.

The dinner was also exciting for Mr. Breslin, who came away with many new ideas, insights and observations by members of Save the Pine Bush. For instance, the county forecloses on properties with delinquent taxes and properties seized by police from traffickers of illicit drugs. One member asked why properties on Morton Avenue are auctioned off to slumlords who keep section 8 tenants. The tenants don't usually stay in these slums for more than three months and who can blame them! There is no insulation on many of these properties and the county foots heating bills as high as $3,000 a month for these poor section 8 tenants living in slums auctioned off by the county for a song! Mr. Breslin said the county makes sure they meet minimum standards and the city may require additional standards. The member replied they should raise their standards, the buildings should be free of lead paint and have handrails and insulation. Mr. Breslin said he'd look into it. The member also wanted to know why they weren't sold to Habitat for Humanity or some or to some other organization to provide low-cost home ownership. Owner-occupied properties are kept in much better shape than rented properties, why isn't the county promoting home-ownership? Mr. Breslin surprised everyone by pointing out that the county had sold some foreclosed properties to the Urban League for low-cost home ownership. Such activities, though, clearly need to be expanded and Mr. Breslin said he'd look into it.

Another member pointed out the value of small parcels that kids can use as playgrounds to play some basketball or street hockey. Without such small close-by parcels of public space, the kids will play in the street or in abandoned buildings and that's dangerous. This member suggested lots be set aside as small parks to provide play area for kids, especially empty lots or condemned buildings that need to be bulldozed anyway.

One member pointed out the county passed a law in 1976 for a plan calling for the county to acquire and run preserve land. Other counties have significant preserve land. Albany County only has Ann Lee pond. The plan called for the county to acquire the High Point Area, the part of the Helderburgs overlooking Altamont. Mr. Breslin said that the county has been focusing on putting delinquent properties into the hands of the Nature Conservancy, the state and the Open Space Institute and that the hill towns are not under severe development pressure because the roads are so bad and they tend to get cut off in winter. However, he was not aware of this 1976 law and wanted to look into it.

Another member wanted to know why the county wasn't involved in tree planting, especially on county roads. Mr. Breslin said that was up to the municipalities. The member responded that her municipality wasn't planting trees anymore because they were afraid of getting sued if one fell over.

Lastly, there was discussion on the Albany County Planning Board which seems always to approve development, no matter how ill-conceived. Mr. Breslin explained that the Albany county planning board does not assess the merits of developments but only how those developments would affect county property or adjoining municipalities. Most development does not abut county property or other municipalities so must be approved by the county planning board no matter how bad an idea it is. But then questions were raised about developments that DO adversely impact other municipalities like the gas station at the corner of New Karner Road. Those also seem to get approved. Mr. Breslin pointed out that he would investigate but the county planning board is appointed by the county legislature.

Another member pointed out the value of sidewalks and bus lanes. Mr. Breslin concurred, remembering people at former jobs who walked to work.

All in all, it was a very productive night, with members of Save the Pine Bush learning about the roles and projects of the county and Mr. Breslin getting new ideas and new directions from members.

published October/November 1999 Newsletter
Last Updated 10/11/99


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