Guilderland is undergoing severe growing pains, vision for the future is lacking

To the Editor:
Of late, several publications in The Enterprise have followed a common theme that should be on the mind of everyone in the town of Guilderland: Construction is out of control in the absence of a clear vision for the future.

This reality was first presented in a couple of well written opinions published in The Enterprise back in 2018. In addition, the recent incredibly well articulated column by Bruce Dearstyne [“Guilderland is at a tipping point and needs a vision to shape its future,” The Altamont Enterprise, Nov. 10, 2022] should be required reading, and re-reading by every resident of the town.

Historian Dearstyne’s researched and referenced commentary cites examples and asks probing questions that we should all pay attention to and ponder. Follow-up letters that have subsequently appeared complement the theme that the apt moniker for the town is really “Builderland.” We’ve had a hodgepodge of building and signage that not only does not serve the needs of the town, but adds to the growing unsightliness and congestion loathed by so many inhabitants.

It is rather fitting that historian Dearstyne’s column uses a photograph of the construction on the former Hiawatha Golf Course as an example of his commentary. This project has been fraught from the beginning with controversy.

So much so that a grassroots group of residents was formed in 2018 in opposition to it and, although they did not prevail, the organization, which ultimately became known as the Guilderland Coalition for Responsible Growth, continues as a town-wide watchdog today.

In the first place, the project’s approval violated sections of the 2000 Comprehensive Plan which expressly stated that the Guilderland Hamlet “maintain and expand public and private open spaces in the central hamlet. Continue to reach out to property owners interested in conservation, including the Hiawatha Trails Golf Course …”, and “work with landowner [of the golf course] to maintain as recreational.” It did not say that a sliver of the golf course should be maintained as recreational.

The Hamlet Plan further recommends “Maintain and formalize a green infrastructure network … includes resources such as Tawasentha Park, Gade Farms, Nott Road Park, Hiawatha Golf Course, Western Turnpike Golf Course … and the Pine Bush Preserve.” Again, it did not say a segment of the golf course, or a segment of the other resources.

This project continues to fly under the radar. The approval was for a three-story project with “the tallest point of the buildings … the four-story portion at the rear ….” Anyone driving down Route 155 and observing the construction underway will see the four stories sticking up right in the front.

Is this a repeat of the hotel construction in Coxsackie where the height approval by the town was ignored by the developer and no one in the town planning department was looking? Who knew that the Hiawatha project has been taken over by a developer other than the one receiving the original approvals? 

Who knew that these new developers are planning a “community kitchen” for the occupants? How does the inclusion of food service square with this project being built in a residential zone as an independent living facility which should not provide, arrange, or coordinate on-site home-care services? Or, does anyone care?

Runaway development is not confined to Guilderland proper. Letters in The Enterprise have pointed out unbecoming development in Altamont and another seeking approval in Guilderland Center. [Altamont is a village and Guilderland Center is a hamlet, both within the town of Guilderland.]

Perhaps we should be thankful for existence of tight money in that other proposals either approved or under consideration in Guilderland have either been withdrawn or abandoned such as for development on Route 155 across from the post office and potentially encroaching on the pine barrens land, and two projects proposed along Winding Brook Road that would turn the cul-de-sac roadway and its intersection with Western Avenue into another bottleneck. All of these proposals would have removed acres of trees.

Ask anyone in Guilderland what their greatest concern is and they will say, traffic. Yet, development along Western Avenue seemingly gains approval unabated.

What forethought went into creating a Transit-Oriented Development District at Crossgates Mall? It has led only to explosive proposed development by the failing Pyramid Corporation that will add no real benefit to the livability of the town of Guilderland.

Crossgates continues to be essentially an entity separate in identity from the rest of the town and as such should contain all of the traffic to be generated by apartments and the Costco proposals to within the confines of the ring road and not be allowed any additional access to Western Avenue least the intersection of Rapp and Johnston roads with Western Avenue become as congested as Route 155 and Western Avenue.

Although the recent construction of sidewalks is laudable, particularly for children in the vicinity of the Pine Bush Elementary School, construction along Western Avenue might be viewed as having been premature in that a study of Western Avenue traffic west of Route 155 is long overdue and keeping in mind that obtaining land for possible future widening should have been taken into consideration.

The town of Guilderland is undergoing severe growing pains and I agree that vision for the future is severely lacking. While at long last, the comprehensive plan is being revisited, recent experience does not give one great faith that it will be passionately adhered to; rather, there will indeed be continued means to circumvent the word and intent contained within it.

The solutions and recourses may rest in the observation, whether intended or not, of Dustin Reidy that near the end of this new year, there will be elections of town officers. As a native New Englander, I’ve long contended that partisan politics have no place at the town level. I would rather see candidates express and share their vision while finding ways to engage with all residents rather than simply display their names on blue and red signs.

It’s not the mantra of lower taxes and crime. Those are not prominent issues for the residents of Guilderland. It’s livability, a resultant of proper vision. With that in mind, I wish our townspeople a happy and visionary New Year.

Frank Casey


Editor’s note: Frank Casey, a 42-year resident of Guilderland, was a founder of the Guilderland Coalition for Responsible Growth. He is a member of the Town Traffic Safety Committee but notes that committee is not charged with providing advice to any boards on development proposals; rather, it responds to traffic-safety inquiries from residents. “These remarks are my own and in no way reflect my position on that committee,” Casey states.

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