Guilderland adopts six-month moratorium on large residential projects

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

David Messercola, left, who headed the committee of fire chiefs that worked “in lockstep” on getting the new training tower, talks to the town and county officials who gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 16. On May 21, the Guilderland town Board agreed to a land swap with the Northeastern Industrial Park. The million-dollar training tower for firefighters is being built on a roughly five-acre property that the town leases from the park. Once the swap is complete, the town will own the land on which the tower stands.

GUILDERLAND — A moratorium on large residential projects was adopted unanimously by the town board here on Tuesday.

Robyn Gray, who heads the Guilderland Coalition for Responsible Growth, has pushed for the moratorium since November while Supervisor Peter Barber consistently said it should be passed when the committee updating Guilderland’s two-decades-old comprehensive plan had finished its work.

The consultants hired by the town gave the committee an overview of the preliminary draft on May 14.

Before the town board voted on the moratorium on May 21, Barber highlighted two changes to the original bill.

One is that any extension of the six-month moratorium will be made at the “sole discretion” of the town board.

The other is that the March 14 date, which Barber said was put in as a “placeholder” when the law was drafted, will be replaced with the date that the local law is filed with the Secretary of State.

Barber surmised that the moratorium will then start “probably either from Friday or Monday.”

He noted that the town’s planner, Kenneth Kovalchik, said that, as of Tuesday afternoon “there have been no applications that would be subject to a moratorium.”

To encourage affordable housing and also to protect the town’s water quality and quantify, the law says, there is a six-month moratorium on subdivisions of five or more lots, apartment complexes of 25 or more units, and residential care facilities of 50 or more units.

The bulk of the short town board meeting on May 21 was spent with a back-and-forth between Gray and collectively the town attorney and several board members over the release to the public of the preliminary draft that MJ Engineering had presented to the committee updating the comprehensive plan.

Gray, who is a member of the Coalition for Open Government’s Capital region advisory council, had raised the same concern at the committee’s meeting on May 14, which The Enterprise covered extensively.

Gray told the town board on May 21 that, since a planning board member is now on the committee, it is considered a special board, which is a public body that has to conform to the state’s Open Meetings Law.

“We treat it as a special board, regardless of who’s sitting on the board,” responded James Melita, the town’s attorney.

Barber noted that “the plan update process requires two public hearings, one by the committee itself and then by this board.”

Melita countered Gray’s assertion by saying, “A special board is not required to produce or disclose an interagency document.”

But Kristin O’Neill, the assistant director of the Committee on Open Government, told The Enterprise last week that Melita’s argument doesn’t hold water, and that’s due in part to the update committee no longer being subject to Open Meetings Law only in the eyes of the town, but subject to New York’s sunshine law in the eyes of the state, because it now meets the statute’s definitional criteria.

And with the preliminary draft of the update plan, O’Neill said the committee waived its ability to use the inter-agency or intra-agency argument by discussing the draft during an open meeting.

O’Neill said the entire point of the provision she cited is to allow the public to follow along with the public body as it discusses the document. 

And if the argument is made that the preliminary draft plan is not considered a proposed resolution, law, rule, regulation, or policy, O’Neill expanding on her earlier point, said, “It’s still an agency record that would be available under FOIL because they’re discussing the content of it during an open meeting and by discussing the content of it during an open meeting, they’re really sort of waiving their ability to characterize it as [intra-agency or inter-agency] sort of goes out the window.”

At the May 21 meeting, Deputy Supervisor Christine Napierski asked Gray if she could share the opinions she was citing, to which Gray agreed.

“Always willing to be educated,” said Barber.


Fire tower

The town board agreed to a property swap with the Northeastern Industrial Park. A million-dollar training tower for firefighters is being built on a roughly five-acre property that the town leases from the park. Once the swap is complete, the town will own the land on which the tower stands.

“In exchange we are giving up land that was used by the water department years ago,” Barber said of the roughly six-acre vacant parcel, adding that land no longer serves any purpose for the town.

He also said that the transaction “is going to be held up a little bit because there are a dozen-plus mortgages that the industrial park needs to release.”

The board gave permission to “tweak” the agreement as needed.

The reason to “keep it moving,” said Barber, is because the transfer of town property is subject to a permissive referendum. While he called the likelihood of that “close to nil” a 30-day waiting period is required.


Other business

In other business at it May 21 meeting, the Guilderland Town Board:

— Heard thanks from Ted Neumann for town board members participating in Altamont’s Memorial Day parade;

— Added the positions of Director of Golf, Golf Professional, and Superintendent of the Transfer Station to the “Flex-Time Policy for Exempt Employees.”

The Guilderland Employee Handbook says, “Those employees who are required by their job to work beyond the normal workday or workweek, shall be eligible to receive flex time calculated at a rate equal to one hour earned for every one hour spent attending to such requirements.”

“Whatever excess time they work during the summer, they’ll get off in the winter …,” said Barber. “It’s quirky rules for seasonal professionals … people who work long hours in the summer and take the winters off”;

— Waived the building fee for roof repair at 317 Church Road, which suffered wind damage; and

— Heard Barber’s call to vote for the proposition on the May 21 ballot to allow the town to buy the 1860 Cobblestone Schoolhouse in Guilderland Center from the school district for $10,000.

The proposition passed with 86 percent of the vote.

“Once the town takes title to the Cobblestone Schoolhouse, we’ll turn it over to our town historian to do what she thinks is appropriate in terms of use and whatnot,” said Barber.

He said that short-term a multi-use trail will be built on the schoolhouse property so that Guilderland Center residents no longer need to drive to Keenholts Park; they can walk.

More Guilderland News

  • The legal decision is the fifth in four years to uphold the town’s approval process of what was initially a three-site development proposal from Pyramid for over 200 apartments and townhomes; a 160,000-square-foot warehouse-price club; and only recently, a $55 million 120,000-square-foot regional cancer center. 

  • “This legislation levels the playing field for hotels and motels by collecting sales and occupancy tax on short-term rentals, addressing an estimated $550 million in lost local revenue over the past five years,” said the bill’s sponsors.

  • The May 17 petition filed by Cuyler Court residents William and Colleen Anders claims that, in July 2023, the town’s use of heavy equipment to access “stormwater or water management facilities” caused damage to their driveway and yard, which when combined with Guilderland’s “negligence and failure to maintain certain components” of those facilities, led to “significant flooding” of the Anders’ basement six months later. 

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