Crossgates Wants to Build a Hotel in the Pine Bush

by Lynne Jackson

ALBANY: On Thursday, August 26, the Zoning Committee of the Albany Common Council held a scoping hearing on the proposed 124-Unit Residence Inn in the Pine Bush. This hotel would be built next to the Karner Blue butterfly hill, which is the only large site of Karner Blues south of the Thruway.

Last year, when Pyramid Crossgates first proposed this Residence Inn, Save the Pine Bush asked the Council to require a Scoping Hearing, which is a hearing on what topics the developer must include in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. This is first time the Albany Common Council (as far as we know) has required a scoping hearing on a project in the Pine Bush.

Comments on the Draft Scoping document can be made in writing until September 7, and can be sent to Richard Nicholson, Historic Preservation Planner, City of Albany Department of Development & Planning, 21 Lodge Street, Albany, NY 12207.

Here are some of the comments made by Save the Pine Bush at the hearing:

First, the Common Council must consider that this land was illegally cleared, in violation of the SPDES permit (#4-0130-00007/2002, issued on 7/6/94) given to Pyramid Crossgates. This permit applies to Crossgates Mall, the Karner Blue Hill Preserve, and adjacent properties owned in whole or part or under control of Pyramid Crossgates.

What good are environmental laws that protect endangered species and habit, if municipalities do not enforce them? Pyramid Crossgates, from the day they illegally bulldozed this property in 1998 until today are in violation of their permit. The City of Albany should not allow Pyramid Crossgates to get away with this and should require Pyramid Crossgates to put back the site to its original state, prior to completing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Residence Inn.

We feel that this is a reasonable request. The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission proved that a parking lot can be turned into Karner Blue butterfly habitat when a parking lot was ripped up on Apollo Drive, and the Commission planted native Pine Bush species of plants. The butterflies returned to the site.

Because the site of the proposed Residence Inn is adjacent to the largest site of Karner Blue south of the Thruway, restoration of the site would most likely be successful, and Karner Blues would re-inhabit the area.

The Albany Pine Bush is a jewel that the City of Albany should protect and nurture. The New York State legislature has recognized the importance of the Pine Bush when it passed ECL Article 46 to create the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission.

The Federal Government recognized the importance of the Karner Blue Butterfly when it listed the butterfly as an endangered species in 1992. In September, 2003, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife adopted a Recovery Plan for the Karner Blue.

The following are topics which Save the Pine Bush believes should be included in the scoping document and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for this proposed project. The topics are listed along with the sections delineated in the Draft Scoping Checklist:

A) Geology, Topography, and Slope: The Pine Bush is not only defined by the plants and animals that make their home in the Pine Bush, it is also defined by the geology of sand dunes. Because the applicant bulldozed the property, they should be required to restore the original sand dunes on the land, and then assess the environmental impact of their project on the site.

B) Water Resources: The Pine Bush is on top of a principal aquifer. A principal aquifer is one that has enough volume and flow to be used as a municipal water supply. The Pine Bush Formation (as the aquifer under the Pine Bush is called) was designated a principal aquifer by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in 1986 in accordance with regulations written to comply with the Clean Water Act.

The applicant should be required to analyze the impact of this proposed Residence Inn on the principal aquifer. The final proposal would put asphalt and buildings on a substantial section of the property and the applicant should analyze how this will affect groundwater absorption and the aquifer. Also the applicant should analyze how oil, salt and other pollutants from the parking lot and building roof will pollute the aquifer.

C) Transportation and Traffic: This proposed Residence Inn will employ people who make the minimum wage. As this location is primarily accessible by automobile, the applicant should be required to make an analysis of this fact. The applicant should include the following:

1) As this site will primarily be accessible only by car, the applicant should analyze how much it costs to buy and maintain a car and explain how a minimum-wage employee of the Residence Inn will be able to afford this vehicle. The question that needs to be answered is: Will this Residence Inn impoverish its low-wage employees because of the fact it is only accessible by car? Because of the requirement for a car, will low-wage employees need assistance from the County or the State for Medicaid, subsidized housing, food stamps or other services?

2) There is very limited bus service on Washington Avenue Extension. The applicant should identify how low-wage employees or people without cars will access the site at the times needed to go to work, as many employees will not work 9 to 5. In addition, the applicant should assess how long it takes to get from the places where people live to the Residence Inn.

3) The applicant needs to assess the safety of people who may take transit, walk or ride a bicycle to the Residence Inn. If a bus lets someone off on the north side of Washington Avenue, it is extremely dangerous to cross Washington Avenue, especially at night, in the rain, or in the winter-time. There have been a number of pedestrian and bicycle deaths this summer in the Capital District. The applicant needs to assess the safety of people who attempt to get to the site on foot or by bicycle.

4) The American Lung Association gave Albany County an "F" in 2004 for ozone-related air pollution. One of the major sources of low-level ozone pollution is from cars. The applicant should explain how building another car-based facility on the edge of the City will impact the air pollution.

D) Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecology: The applicant should address how the irreversible loss of nearly 4 acres of Pine Bush habitat will impact the ability of the Pine Bush to survive. The applicant should address other state threatened species and species of concern which live or lived at the site.

E) Pine Bush: The applicant should perform a detailed analysis of the cumulative impact on this project on the Pine Bush. This analysis should include how this project will enhance the survival of the Karner Blue.

The scoping document should also include the following categories of impacts:

Economic Impacts: The applicant should clearly state whether they intend to apply for a 485(b) tax break.

Air Pollution: The applicant should look at the cumulative impact of adding more cars to the road, and this impact on air pollution.