by Lynne Jackson
Charlie Touhey, whose proposed office complex at 300 Washington Ave. Ext. was voted down by the Common Council last summer, is proposing yet another development for his 12-acre site in the Pine Bush. There is a twist to this one, though.
Usually, developers never want the neighbors to know what they are doing. In all my years of working for Pine Bush preservation, not a single developer ever voluntarily notified the neighbors about a proposed project. This time was different.
Last summer, Mr. Touhey said that if he didn’t get his office complex, he would build low-income housing. The residents of the Dunes housing development took that as a threat, as houses with significantly lower value would lower the value of their houses.
The residents of the Dunes, working with Save the Pine Bush, had a tremendous victory last summer when they lobbied the Common Council to vote down the office complex, and the Common Council did.
A few weeks ago, Mr. Touhey placed in each mailbox of each resident of the Dunes a notice of a public hearing on Thursday, November 14. This notice stated “Charles Touhey is planning to construct Affordable Housing for first time homebuyers on his 12 acres on Pitch Pine Road. The houses will start at $65,000. Buyers must be renters [sic] who would like to own their first house . . . Please attend this meeting as this project affects your neighborhood.”
Now, the interesting thing about this flyer was that under the announcement was a beautiful, color diagram of the old office complex proposal. This color diagram was in different shades of green and had a pocket park, sidewalk, bus shelter on it and flowing lines that showed all the green space. A lovely drawing. Under that diagram was
an ugly black and white line drawing of the “New Proposal” with little tiny houses on square lots and “Limits of Tree Clearing” marked out. Hmmmm.
Why, if Mr. Touhey were really interested in building affordable housing, would he include the old proposal for an office complex on his announcement for his new housing project? Could it be that he wanted the residents to say, “Oh, no! I would much rather have an office complex than live next to such tacky houses! Please give us back the office complex!”
However, the residents of the Dunes saw through Mr. Touhey’s plan, and attended the public hearing. More than 30 residents showed up at the hearing before the Planning Board.
Nick Coluccio, the alderman for the Dunes, attended and spoke against the housing development. A special note about Mr. Coluccio: his father had died that morning. When I went up to him to express my condolences, I expressed my disbelief at his coming to a hearing at a time like this. Mr. Coluccio told me that his constituents needed him
and he was there. I think that Mr. Coluccio should be recognized for his dedication to public service, above and beyond the call of duty.
Early on in the public hearing, residents of the Dunes pointed out that they saw through Mr. Touhey’s proposal, and that Mr. Touhey just wanted to threaten Dunes residents to accept the office complex. Residents pointed out that the Environmental Bond Act had just passed, and that money should be made available to buy land for preservation.
Sarah Curry-Cobb, the 4th Ward Alderwoman, and one of her constituents attended the hearing to speak about how the affordable housing Mr. Touhey had built in their neighborhood was falling apart. Ms. Curry-Cobb said that Mr. Touhey should not be allowed to build anywhere in the City until he fixes the houses he built in her ward.
At the hearing, Mr. Touhey pointed out that he has owned the land since 1988. Since that time his office complex proposals have been defeated in court by Save the Pine Bush and by the Common Council last summer. His “Affordable Housing” proposal is obviously a sham. His land is important, valuable Pine Bush. Save the Pine Bush calls on Charlie Touhey to do the right thing: Sell the land to the Nature Conservancy and leave it be forever wild.
Printed December, 1996,/January, 1997