by John Wolcott
Guilderland just enacted six-month moratorium on development in the western part of town. The Town of Colonie is considering a moratorium in certain segments of town. As both Guilderland and Colonie contain Pine Bush, one would have expected the Pine Bush to have been included in the moratoriums as both town supervisors are on the Pine Bush Commission, but the Pine Bush was left out. Colonie, at least, has some conscientious citizens and an environmentally responsible board member, Tom With, who pleaded that the Pine Bush be included in the Town’s moratorium, but so far, they were not listened to.
Moratoriums are only temporary and frequently ineffective unless some serious anti-sprawl measures can be put in place while the moratoriums are in place, They can be useful if lands can be purchased for conservation, where a little more time makes a difference.
Some hands of the state government are trying to aid communities in countering sprawl such as the Legislature and it’s pending 2% property transfer tax for land conservation. Then there’s the existing program of the Department of Agriculture for buying farm development rights. At the same time, we find that other State hands (namely the highwaymen of the Thruway Authority and the Department of Transportation) are steering in the opposite direction towards paving the way for more sprawl.
A perfect example of why this moratorium should have been applied to the Pine Bush is the newly proposed housing development, Woodfields, which, if built, would destroy approximately 100 acres of Pine Bush. This area contains the western most large sand dune in Guilderland, with a great hiking and skiing trail, and borders the Hungerkill. Also, it borders the woodlot portion of the DiCaprio farm. We hope that Guilderland Town Supervisor Ken Runion will fulfill his campaign promise to seek to allow no further development in Guilderland’s contiguous Pine Bush.
The truth of the matter is that suburban towns do not need more development they have too much already.
Most town leaders think they need more development to maintain and expand the tax base. With this thinking towns everywhere encourage build-out border to border, and welcome the mad lemming drive to mal-distribution of people, goods, services, and work places. When the Colonie Moratorium was first announced some representatives of the Colonie business community raised a howl saying: "Businesses will move to Schenectady and Troy that might locate in Colonie if we have this moratorium." Well! Isn’t that exactly what environmentalists want? Isn’t that what those of us concerned about dis-urbanization want?
It’s the cities that need development, or rather redevelopment and re-urbanization. Moratoriums followed by return to the status quo or by "reasonable compromise and balance" plans won’t work well enough, except for towns that have real electoral revolutions that thoroughly favor farms, green space, and unique areas. It’s the cities that need to be able to tap into the 2% property transfer plan, and any other new environmental revenue sources in order to buy land and development rights in nearby and bordering towns.
If a city can buy land in other municipalities in order to have clean, healthy, water supplies, why can’t cites buy land to promote a healthy, urban economy? The idea is to derive land protection revenue from sources that are related to sprawl. This should prompt more ideas, such as a State-wide land tax on gasoline and car sales. How about city land surcharges on non-resident parkers in garages and lots? The money is all out there for these purposes, and all that is needed, but its mainly going to waste so far.
In buying land, or development rights to block sprawl, the cities can defend themselves more effectively. In doing this, commercial, residential, and industrial site location choices will become more limited, and cities will begin to rise to a higher level of choice for these purposes again. There are more factors that go into revitalizing cities, but delimiting location choices can go a long way in helping the effort. If this is done aggressively, and on a serious scale, it can bypass, overcome, or fill in any shortfalls, of local town moratoriums and masterplans or the absence of them.