by Lynne Jackson
Forty-five years ago, Save the Pine Bush came into being. On February 6, 1978, the Albany City Planning Board scheduled a public hearing on four developments in the Pine Bush: the Dunes, Pinehurst, Pine Circle, and a development by Charles Touhey. However, it snowed that day. It snowed so much that the offices of the New York State government were closed by the governor and stayed closed the next day.
Just because the entire city was shut down due to the weather, the City still held its public hearing on these four proposed developments. Even with six inches of snow filling the main roads, the City still held the hearing.
There was so much snow that the next day. I cross-country skied to work from my apartment to downtown Albany.
Despite the terrible weather, about 20 environmentalists attended the hearing in addition to the developers. Dick Patrick, the City Planner, presided. The developers spoke for one-and-one-half hours. Dick Patrick said, “The weather’s getting kind of bad out, so since the developers had 1 1/2 hours, you can have 1 1/2 hours.” A few people spoke in favor of preservation, and then Dick Patrick adjourned the hearing to meet the next day in a private bank board room (we were not invited).
We were outraged. We started meeting in each others homes and at the library, talking about what we were going to do. The City of Albany was run by one of the oldest political machines in the country, second only to Mayor Daly’s Chicago political machine. Mayor Corning had a strangle-hold on the City; preservation of the Pine Bush seemed impossible.
Looking back on all of this now, I believe it was because of the rigid, immobile Albany Political Machine that caused us to form Save the Pine Bush. If the City had been more reasonable, or even pretended to listen to what we had to say, perhaps we would have accepted some sort of compromise in those early days. But, the City would not even acknowledge that we existed, much less had an important issue that needed to be addressed.
The group that came together because of the meeting on February 6, 1978 decided the only way to stop these developments was to sue the City over the approvals. We formed Friends of the Pine Bush (later, we changed the name to Save the Pine Bush) and found our first lawyer, the late Victor A. Lord.
Victor Lord went to bat for us and we won. What did we win? We won another hearing!
The City held another public hearing in July of that year. No snow, but over 200 people showed up to speak against the developments. So many people attended that the City had to schedule yet another hearing so that everyone had a chance to speak.
It was not a big surprise to us when the City again approved the developments. I mean, why should they listen to the citizens who wanted to save this small ecosystem?
From those early days, Save the Pine Bush, went on to file dozens of lawsuits to stop developments. Our lawsuits set precedents for the State Environmental Quality Review Act. Our lawsuits resulted in the creation of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission. Our lawsuits forced the Commission to write a real plan to protect the Pine Bush. Now it has been 45 years of litigation. It is time — way past time — to persuade our government to buy all of the remaining privately-owned land in the Pine Bush ecosystem and protect it as forever wild.