Guilderland has a blind spot toward Altamont

To the Editor:

Last week’s Enterprise contained letters about the council candidates who are running in the Guilderland Democratic primary on June 22. Each letter writer extolled both merits and shortcomings of the four candidates. The election season is upon us!

I have observed over the years that Guilderland politicians vie heavily for Altamont’s support during election time and view its voting block as a significant determinant of success. You will probably have visits to your door, and read many pleas for your vote by each candidate over the coming months.

You may have your own concerns, and you should certainly discuss them with the candidates, but do not forget to ask the candidates to address their positions on Altamont-related topics.

I raise this because I have watched with concern how the policy-making bodies of the town sometimes do not appreciate the important role Altamont plays in the town’s affairs. 

As the mayor of the village of Altamont from 2005 to 2017, and a 37-year resident, I measure how effectively the municipalities work together to support areas of mutual interest. To me, it is a very symbiotic relationship.

Village residents pay town and library taxes. The village is partially circumscribed by town-maintained roads and both have common interests in promoting each other’s economic and cultural success.

It is not unusual for a village to be enclosed within the larger area of a town. Voorheesville, Coeymans, and Lake George come to mind. It is imperative that such closely connected municipalities work together to support their mutual common interests.

The village of Altamont is a prominent part of the town because of its unique position in the town’s history. The Altamont Fair, our summer concerts, Victorian Holidays, village-wide yard sales, Altamont’s library gala, the community elementary school, the beautiful Victorian houses, the Helderberg escarpment above the village, our “Museum in the Streets” walking trail, and our unique rural character are but a few of the attributes and features that contribute to Guilderland’s prominence among the county’s municipalities.

Unfortunately, what you would wish was a cross-supportive relationship is often a tendency for Guilderland  officials to be attentive to the needs of the other parts of the town, where most of its population resides.

Prior to the current administration, two recent supervisors, Bill Aylward and Ken Runion, were village residents. During the ’70s and ’80s, the town was run very capably by Altamont resident Carl J. Walters who served successfully as supervisor for 16 years until 1982, and for whom the Carl J. Walters Tawasentha Park is named.

Today, however, no one on the town board’s policy bodies is from the Altamont area, save for an Altamont resident recently appointed to the Guilderland Planning Board. I believe this general lack of representation has contributed to a kind of blind spot toward this area of the town.

In my opinion, this myopic view was very apparent in the town’s zoning and planning decisions regarding placing a solar array next to the Orchard Creek Golf Course. The project would have seriously affected the iconic view shed of the Helderberg escarpment and impacted an important business in our area.

Only after determined opposition to this proposal, spearheaded by Altamont residents, did the town change the regulations regarding viewshed situations like this one. As a result of our community raising concern, the town supervisor did implement a change in the law regarding placement of solar projects within the viewscapes of significant areas of the town.

Our newly elected local county representative worked to incorporate significant changes in the county law regarding such projects. In my opinion, these changes were positively impacted by the group of residents from Altamont and its surroundings.

Recently, the Draft Guilderland Bicycle and Pedestrian Connectivity Study, the purpose of which is to plan and implement a series of interconnected on or off-road trails to make a more walkable community, was discussed at a forum of the Capital District Conservation Roundtable on March 30, 2021.

This new Guilderland Pathways plan makes recommendations on linking walking rails, bike routes, and sidewalks to parks and green spaces. It claims that trails can amplify the importance of historical sites in the town, and recommends retrofitting Route 146 to connect cyclists and land hikers to these sites. 

The plan says this would “create an educational component and identity for the town.” The plan will be used to support the town’s applications for grants for sidewalks, bicycle paths, and park improvements.  

I do applaud this initiative, which will interconnect existing trails to provide a diverse means to travel between town and other destinations.

Although the plan did mention the Bozenkill Preserve, a Mohawk-Hudson trail just outside of Altamont, the plan gave little consideration to Altamont’s village parks; its trail system in Bozenkill-Crupe Park; the village’s “Museum in the Streets” trail, which is part of the state’s Hudson Greenway’s system of trails; and the Gun Club and Bozenkill town roads, which have no sidewalks, circumvent the village, and are the responsibility of the town.

The town supervisor has assured me that these connections will be included in the plan before the final draft is completed. However, this gets me back to why I am writing this letter.

Until our elected representatives consistently work to build a broad perspective of the interconnections of the entire town, including the village of Altamont, decisions regarding the equitable distribution of resources will be negatively affected.

Consideration of  Altamont's geography, and its parks and walking trails, should be seriously taken into account when the town makes decisions for grant applications, sidewalk initiatives, and fair and equitable decisions allocating resources.

Directing questions to the candidates about their understanding and support for projects that affect this area of the town should be an important aspect of your decision-making. It is important to remind policy makers that we have concerns about this area of the town that affect both us and the larger Guilderland community.

You are an important component in getting candidates elected to the Guilderland Town Board. We need board members with a strong view on the importance of each municipality working together. Make sure you make your influence and importance as a resident of this part of the town are known to them.

The Guilderland Democratic Party Primary election is on June 22.  Early voting is June 12 to 20.

James M. Gaughan


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