Current board has addressed communication, environmental sustainability

To the Editor:

I would like to thank the residents of the village of Altamont for listening and learning about Trustee Michelle Ganance and myself over the past few weeks. I appreciate this election’s opportunity for accountability in our service to the village, and am grateful for the publishers of this paper for giving us this “Letters” forum to openly discuss issues facing the village.

That being said, there are some things that have been repeated multiple times that I can no longer let go unanswered. I feel some of the claims made in recent letters have been inaccurate or misleading.

Trustee Ganance and I are not interested in turning “every square inch of our village over to developers” and we didn’t make our decision on rezoning carelessly. After reviewing all the feedback about the request and with much consideration, we voted to allow a property owner to rezone its property.

This property is next to, and across the street from, commercial businesses. I wonder: If the owner of 107-109 Helderberg Ave. instead wanted to open an antique shop in its building would so many people feel so strongly against rezoning it?

Separately, if anyone in the village wants to demolish a building on his or her own property, it isn’t up to the village board to stop them from doing so. That’s not how our government works; we were not asked to approve demolition or construction. Our vote was to rezone the property so that conversations about renovation, demolition, and construction could start.

The concerns about the overall project (design, site layout, lights, traffic, trees, stormwater, parking, building size, etc.) are all rightfully the domain of the specially trained citizens that serve on our planning board. They are also, in my opinion, extremely important.

Any new development on that site must fit in aesthetically with the village. But I believe that this is possible to accomplish because I see other new development (Altamont Corners and the State Employees’ Credit Union, known as SEFCU) that does fit in.

The only way it can happen, though, is if both sides are willing to work for it. If Stewart’s won’t adjust its proposal to the village’s requests (via the planning board) then the project dies, but hey: At least we (the village) gave it a chance.

The Village Comprehensive Plan is a long document. It is twice as long as the United States Constitution — even after including the amendments (the parts where lawmakers fixed issues in the original document.) The plan is a good one, but sometimes inconsistent or open to interpretation depending on which part you focus on.

There is no section that forbids Stewart’s from expanding. There are sections that list issues with the village (“lack of Village grocery store” or “unattractiveness of some businesses”) and opportunities for the future (“extend the business district” or “improvements to anchor locations”). In fact, there is a whole goal for “sufficient diversity in retail, service and commercial business to meet the needs of Village residents and daily commuters from the Hilltowns.”

Balancing the dichotomy of economic development and preservation of our built environment is difficult, and disagreement is natural. Having such sharp discord in our community can be unsettling, but it is also extremely beneficial in that it engages citizens in local decision-making. It is good to hear from so many new voices, but it is impossible to agree with both sides of an issue.

I can certainly understand and respect the passion and fervor some community members have expressed in response to the rezone vote, as I approached the Guilderland Board of Education with the same gusto when Altamont Elementary School was on the chopping block, slated to be closed.

But in the last few days before the election, let’s discuss and debate the issues without making it personal. A wise man once told us that Altamont is great because we can disagree without being disagreeable.

If readers move beyond the opinion pages, they would find Mr. [Sean] Mulkerrin’s excellent piece on the four candidates from a few weeks ago. There you’ll find we have more in common with each other than not.

For example, a communication service that is sent directly to residents who sign up is indeed creative problem-solving. We launched the village’s Nixle service last year which gives email and text-message emergency alerts to residents who sign up. We currently have 245 phone numbers and 155 emails in our list.

At our budget meeting on March 12, I’ll be requesting funds so we can upgrade our account beyond emergency alerts to include a list specifically for board agendas and minutes, and one specifically for community events. This way, residents can receive as much, or as little, communication as they want.

Finally, environmental sustainability, stormwater management, and preserving the tributaries that run through the village are of utmost importance. That’s why in 2016 the board adopted laws to protect our municipal separate storm-sewer system (MS4).

We’re participating in a multi-community purchasing program to convert our street lights to LEDs [light-emitting diodes], we’ve installed an electric-vehicle charging station at the library parking lot, and signed on as participants to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s Clean Energy Communities grant program.

I don’t mean to minimize these topics — they are indeed important. However, your current village board has tackled them and with your vote on March 19 to put “Altamont First,” we’ll keep working to make Altamont the outstanding, thriving, progressive community we all deserve.

Nicholas Fahrenkopf

Trustee, Village of Altamont

Candidate, Altamont First Line

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