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

 

Save the Pine Bush Sues City

Back in Court with Charlie Touhey

by Tim Kostoroski

Save the Pine Bush filed suit on September 3rd in New York State Supreme Court over the City of Albany Common Council's approval of the Pine East Office Complex, located at 300 Washington Avenue Extension in the Albany Pine Bush.. This all too familiar development, (135,000 sq. foot complex with 400 car parking lot), proposed by local developer Charles Touhey, was approved back in May by a 12 to 3 vote, despite the objections of nearby residents and Save the Pine Bush.

In the lawsuit, Save the Pine Bush contends that the Albany Common Council violated the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) when it approved the re-zoning of 300 Washington Avenue Extension from residential to commercial. First, the Albany Common Council, in making its SEQRA findings, relied on information concerning important environmental concerns which was not subjected to public comment during the SEQRA public comment period. These environmental concerns included the number of fire-manageable Pine Bush lands dedicated to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, and impacts to traffic generated by the development of the Pine East Office Park. By considering information after the close of the public comment period, and relying on that information in its findings, the Albany Common Council violated SEQRA.

In addition, the lawsuit also argues that the Albany Common Council failed to take a "hard look" at the cumulative impacts of potential approvals of other pending development projects in the Pine Bush. Each project cannot be treated as if it were in a vacuum. Instead, it must be determined whether or not the sum of all potential projects would negatively impact the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission's ability to assemble sufficient acreage in a configuration which would ensure ecological viability and survival of the Pine Bush ecology, as well as the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly. The courts have mandated a "hard look" at cumulative environmental impacts upon the Albany Pine Bush Preserve in previous SPB lawsuits.

Thus begins another chapter in this never ending tale of one man's environmental indifference, vs. a community trying to preserve an endangered ecosystem, and their quality of life. Beginning back in 1989, when Charles Touhey bought the property, the land was zoned residential,but he had bigger plans. The Albany Common Council approved his zoning change request, and it looked like construction was inevitable. However, Save the Pine Bush sued the City of Albany over this illegal approval, and won a major case both on the Supreme Court and Appellate Division levels. The courts stated that the City must determine the size and shape of the Preserve before it could approve any more developments in the Pine Bush. One would think this would deter both Developer and Common Council from attempting another illegal zoning change. However, the lure of the almighty dollar is apparently too hard to resist for some.

This case will be a great test of the previous court rulings which have been so very important for the survival of the Pine Bush. One can only hope that the courts will have the wisdom to uphold the law which the People of New York State passed to ensure that we pass along this State's environmental assets to the next generation.

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


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