New law requires abandoned properties to be maintained

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Maintenance required: Property owners or banks are required by local law to provide the town with a $5,000 bond to be used for upkeep on abandoned buildings and lots, like this old pharmacy and former gas station, on Carman Road.

GUILDERLAND — The town board passed a new local law on Tuesday that will require accountability from the owners of vacant buildings in town.

The law, according to Supervisor Kenneth Runion, is “intended to address both commercial and residential buildings that have fallen into a state of disrepair.”

It requires either the landowner or the bank to register with the town and post a $5,000 bond to be used for the maintenance of structures on the property. It also requires the property owner to hold a minimum of $150,000 of liability insurance.

Runion said the intent of the law is to motivate property owners to privately maintain their properties or aggressively market them so they don’t have to deal with the costs associated with upkeep or registration.

There are similar laws in many other cities and towns, requiring registration, but very few require owners to post a bond.

Springfield, Massachusetts and Poughkeepsie enacted the bond postage, and the law was challenged and found constitutional in both places, said Runion.

John Haluska, a resident of Lone Pine Road and the town’s self-designated “expert on derelict buildings,” spoke at the public hearing on Tuesday and said it was “really exciting to get this information.”

He suggested that the town require a $5,000 bond for each structure on an abandoned property, but the town attorney, James Melita, said that was a “gray area.”

Melita said that the property owners will be required to replenish the $5,000 bond as it gets used.

Martin Hildebrand asked the board what would happen to properties that were vacant only for a short time, such as after a sale, but before the new owners move in.

Melita said the definition of abandonment includes “overgrown vegetation and walkways” and those things would not occur over a short time period.

Overgrown vegetation, like the brush and branches surrounding the Rustic Barn, on Western Turnpike, is one of the criteria for declaring a property abandoned under Guilderland’s new local law. The Enterprise— Michael Koff


“If there is no evidence of vacancy, that wouldn’t trigger the registration,” said Runion. “What triggers it is outright abandonment of responsibility.”

Steve Campbell, who lives on Parkwood Street in McKownville, where there has been an abandoned home for one-and-a-half years, said he had personally been mowing the house’s lawn, plowing its driveway, and providing electricity for a sump pump when its basement flooded.

He said three different management companies had taken responsibility for the house over that time period, and he had approached them when he saw them on the property to ask them to help with the upkeep.

“They didn’t like working with me until I threatened to involve the town,” said Campbell. “We do need to have the town involvement upfront.”

Melita said the law will be retroactive, meaning even buildings that have been abandoned for years will be subject to the registration, not just buildings that become vacant in the future.

On the list of abandoned properties already are the Governors Inn on Western Avenue, the Nedco Pharmacy on Carman Road, a rustic barn on Western Turnpike, and a handful of homes in McKownville.

Burned out and abandoned: The Governor’s Inn and Suites on Western Avenue, once an upscale hotel that degenerated over the years into a rent-by-the-hour or extended stay motel, has damage to the patched-up right side, caused by a fire in 2010. The Enterprise — Michael Koff


Runion said residents who take note of abandoned buildings, whether commercial or residential, should call the town of Guilderland’s building department to report them.

Under the law, property owners will have 11 days from the time they are contacted by the town to register.

Fastrac gets green light

One abandoned building, the former Marine Midland Bank, at the corner of routes 20 and 146, will not need to be added to the registry, as it is set to be removed by Tri-Way Services.

The town board, also on Tuesday, conditionally rezoned the property at 2444 Western Ave. so that Fastrac can build a gas station and convenience store there.

Tri-Way Services has been appearing in front of the town board, asking for a rezone from “local business” to “general business” for more than a year, originally proposing a Cumberland Farms for the site.

The town board continually put off making a decision on the rezone, most recently in December, because of a lack of commitment to cleaning up the adjacent property, where the abandoned bank stands.

It had denied the rezone before that, in June, because of concerns with traffic, including the driveway for entering and exiting the station being too close to the intersection of Western Avenue and Route 146, and congestion created by left-hand turns from Western Avenue into the parking lot.

The planning board, in November, recommended the rezone, but wrote a condition into the recommendation that a traffic evaluation would need to be conducted by the state’s Department of Transportation two years after construction was finished on the project, and Tri-Way Services would be required to make changes if any negative traffic implications had occurred.

Jan Weston, the town’s planner, also wrote in a memorandum that it was her opinion that, for “general business” zoning to work on the site, both properties owned by the applicant should be rezoned and used for the proposed purpose.

She stated that the vacant lot had been an eyesore for more than a decade, and the applicant had done nothing to address the issue.

Stephanie Bitter, a representative for Cumberland Farms, said, in December, that using both parcels was not “fiscally achievable.”

Cumberland Farms has since withdrawn its proposal, and Fastrac presented a new proposal that will use both parcels.

“The two parcels will be merged into one and the entire site will be used,” said Charles Carrow, who was representing Tri-Way Services at Tuesday’s meeting. “The bank building will be removed.”

Fastrac will be a gas station and a convenience store, similar to Cumberland Farms, but its proposal does include some slight differences, which Carrow said should make the project more appealing to the town.

The entrance and exit to Western Avenue was moved east; the gas pumps were also moved east, so there is a greater site distance between the thoroughfare and the pumps; the underground storage tanks were moved to the rear of the property; and the building was moved forward for a bigger rear setback.

Haluska, who had spoken at the public hearing in December and said, “To approve the application without consideration of the existence of the bank building is unacceptable,” spoke again at Tuesday’s hearing and said, “This could really work.”

Runion suggested the town board approve the rezone from “local business” to “general business” with the conditions that the two parcels be merged into one, and the derelict building be removed within 30 days of the issuance of the permit; the applicant complies with the state Department of Transportation’s suggestions from 2014, or a subsequent review, with a possible evaluation after two years; any proposed buildings are consistent with the Guilderland Neighborhood Hamlet Plan; and the applicant complies with all conditions proposed by the zoning board of appeals.

The town board voted unanimously in favor of approving the conditional rezone.

“I was probably the least in favor of the previous plan,” said Runion. “But, the applicant has moved forward and listened to the concerns the board had.”

More Guilderland News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.