ALBANY: The State Employees Federal Credit Union (SEFCU) building and surrounding land, located in the center of the Pine Bush on Route 155, was traded for state-owned land at the Harrimon State Office Campus.

In the late 1980s, Save the Pine Bush sued over the zoning approval given to SEFCU and won. Judge Robert Williams ruled in Save the Pine Bush’s favor citing the fact that the Generic Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the City of Albany failed to take a hard look at the minimum acreage required to ensure the survival of the Karner Blue butterfly and the Pine Bush ecology. SEFCU has never received zoning approval for its office building located on Route 155 and is a non-conforming use since its construction in 1989. The State’s acquisition of this land is a victory for Save the Pine Bush.

The SEFCU building will be re-used and made over into the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission’s Discovery Center. Members of Save the Pine Bush objected to the Commission’s original plan of building its Discovery Center on KingÕs Road, on land designated as full protection (in violation of the Commission’s own guidelines). Though Save the Pine Bush would have preferred that the SEFCU building not have been built, it is appropriate to re-use this prominent landmark as the Discovery Center.

This is the third time a government entity has purchased already developed land in the Pine Bush to use for Preserve purposes. The other two examples are the Apollo Drive go-cart facility (which Save the Pine Bush brought suit over), purchased by the Nature Conservancy and now being restored to Pine Bush, and the Fox Run Mobile Home Park, purchased by the City and proposed to be restored to Pine Bush.

Save the Pine Bush believes the reason this land trade took place was because of our successful lawsuit 13 years ago. SEFCU was in a bind; the credit union needed to expand the building, but as the land was not zoned for a commercial office space, it is unlikely SEFCU could get the necessary permission from the City of Albany. And, it would have been very difficult for SEFCU to sell the building, as the land was not zoned properly. SEFCU’s chief operating officer, Michael J. Castellana, put it quite quite clearly: "We had a choice, between expanding on the vacant land or looking for an alternative. This alternative allowed us to achieve our financial goals, and environmental goals … and avoid conflict."

Printed in the February/March 2002 Newsletter

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