Update on Land Conservation Struggles in Our Region

By Grace Nichols

Save the Pine Bush is overjoyed that the NYS Supreme Court heard our plea for land protection for over 46 acres of Pine Bush threatened by Pyramid Development Corporation. As we prepared to file our Article 78 lawsuit, a coalition of neighbors to the land along with a local business filed suit with Attorney James Bacon on a selection of arguments against the development. Then, Judge Peter A. Lynch issued a 77 page decision which upheld not only those specific causes of action but also a range of environmental laws and policies that were ignored by the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process.

The Town of Guilderland must respect a prior policy passed geared to reduce the climate impact in the area (a transit oriented district designation); the lead agency must consider alternative proposals which would result in reduced impact to the ecosystem and surrounding communities; they must arrange for good species surveys when the developer submits faulty or insufficient ones; they must involve the NYSDEC in the evaluation of lands so close to the breeding grounds of a federally endangered butterfly, and part of an extent ecosystem which supports a wide diversity of threatened wildlife; and the lead agency must not violate SEQRA by beginning the clearing of land under review but not approved for development. It is very important to environmental groups statewide that these principles be upheld. Save the Pine Bush submitted copious scientific evidence into the record which was heard by the courts. So this win which upheld the rights of the community also upheld the rights of nature. The proposed development is completely halted, and our lawsuit, filed in November 2020, will preserve our appeal rights should the decision be overturned.

One additional result of the decision is that other land conservation struggles have been heartened by the ability of a coalition to win in court against the largest mall owner in the Northeastern United States and the local politicians controlled by their economic might. I wanted to tell you about two of these terrific groups that we support.

Friends of the Mahicantuck:

Nestled along the shores of the Hudson River known in prior times as the Mahicantuck is a ten acre stretch of land which includes a slate cliff overlooking the shoreline and the river. It is beautiful land which supports wildlife which thrives near the water and provides greenspace to North Troy just north of the Troy-Waterford Bridge. The land is owned by the Golub Corporation which is entertaining a plan by the developer Kevin Vandenburgh to erect 240 units of housing in 6 three story apartment buildings. They are requesting a rezoning of the area to accommodate the plan. Save the Pine Bush has signed in support of the work of a scrappy coalition of community groups, indigenous spokespeople, environmental groups and allies to urge the Troy City Council to turn down this plan and preserve the site. Indeed, a riverside area that has never been developed is of great benefit to the health of the river. Additionally, this land has well-documented artifacts of Native American settlement dating back before 1500 CE which should be protected for its cultural and historical significance to First Nations. Save the Pine Bush volunteers attended the December 2020 meeting of the Troy Planning Board and urged them to make a negative recommendation regarding the rezoning to the Troy Common Council. You can learn more about Friends of the Mahicantuck: http://www.friendsofthemahicantuck.org/

Save Onteora Lake and
Wild Bluestone Forest:

Much further from home but of importance to the region is a grassroots struggle to save an area of the historic Bluestone Wild Forest from proposed development by a cement and steel plant. After the group introduced the public to the research showing the historical and cultural value of the site to Algonquin peoples. On the land are large stones oriented to point towards the sky delineating events on the calendar. These stone monuments erected by pre-Columbian peoples for worship which the indigenous community call “stone prayers” should be preserved as sacred sites. The forest is also a gorgeous watershed which contains the rich history of bluestone mining which was a basis of the establishment of Kingston. The NYS Historical Preservation Office has now revoked its approval for the development plans. The conservation group was also delighted when the Open Space Institute arranged for purchase of the 208 acres of land adjacent to the proposed development site.

The next step for this multifaceted preservation effort is a Town of Kingston public hearing February 1st, 7pm for Introductory Local Law No. 1 of 2021. The law would establish minimum requirements for meeting attendance and the training of Planning Board members. Much like the decision Save the Pine Bush is celebrating, adopting this law would have implications for defining good state environmental quality review. To keep up with their progress please visit http://www.saveonteoralake.org.

Published in February/March 2021
Save the Pine Bush Newsletter