Don Reeb steps down as head of M’ville Improvement Association

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Don Reeb and Ellen Manning meet at his house to talk over some ideas. Reeb, at left, has stepped down after 15 years as president of the McKownville Improvement Association, and Manning will take on the leadership role. It’s easy for the two of them to meet: They are next-door neighbors.

GUILDERLAND — Don Reeb of Norwood Street has been the president of the McKownville Improvement Association for the last 15 years, but stepped down Thursday night to be replaced by his next-door neighbor, Ellen Manning, a retired state employee.

“Well, I’m old,” said Reeb. “I’m 83 years old. That counts for something. And 15 years is a long time.”

Reeb will remain a member of the association’s board. He will finish out Laura Barry’s unexpired three-year term; Barry will become the organization’s secretary.

A professor emeritus of economics at the University at Albany, Reeb came to the area in 1965 — his second job after receiving his doctorate in 1963 from Syracuse University; he had started out at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He and his wife, Beverly Reeb, whom he met when both were students at Syracuse, first lived in a one-bedroom apartment on Buckingham Pond in Albany. They moved to McKownville in 1969, when their first child was on the way.

Reeb came to Albany as a professor of economics — or political economy, as it was called at the time; several years later, he was also named director of the new urban studies program. He taught at UAlbany for 34 years, retiring in 1999.

Reeb’s family today consists of his wife, two daughters, and four grandchildren. The Reebs’ daughters live in the Capital Region; one is a lawyer and the other a clinical psychologist in private practice.

Manning, who was born in Albany, has lived in McKownville for almost two decades.

She is a retired state employee; she worked with the Office of General Services doing appraisal work and other duties related to real property.

She loves the neighborhood, she said.

Manning has been a member of the board of the McKownville Improvement Association for several years.

She doesn’t plan to make “any huge changes,” Manning said, to the way that Reeb did things, she said.

The major concern going forward, as she sees it, “is to keep this little neighborhood residential” despite everything going on around the neighborhood — “with the university, and SUNY Poly, and commercial interests along Western Avenue and going down towards Albany.”

Changes over time

Reeb has seen many changes to the area in almost half a century. The biggest, he said, is Guilderland’s shift from Republican to Democratic control, which he says was “partly the result of the huge fight” starting in the late 1970s against the proposals to first build and then expand Crossgates Mall within the Pine Bush Preserve.

The organization that led the fight against the construction of the mall was, Reeb said, Concerned Citizens Against Crossgates. The McKownville Improvement Association was a very strong supporter of that group’s efforts, Reeb said. He was active in both groups.

It was during that period, Reeb said, that Democrats first got elected to the town board.

The final permits for the construction of Crossgates Mall were issued in 1981, amid several legal challenges from the Concerned Citizens and the McKownville Improvement Association, including an effort to protect the McKownville Reservoir — just downstream from the proposed mall site — from stormwater runoff from the mall’s parking lot.

“Crossgates got built, the Democrats got much more involved, and in the 1990s town control swung over to the Democrats,” Reeb said.

During the late 1990s, Pyramid met with great opposition from residents, and was unable to get permission from the town to expand Crossgates Mall to more than twice its original size.

“I look at it as, part of the effect of the Stop Crossgates movement was to realign the town from majority-Republican to majority-Democrat,” said Reeb. He noted that Ken Runion, who was then the Republican mayor of Altamont but became the Democratic supervisor of Guilderland in 2000, first came to the attention of the Guilderland Democratic Committee when he drafted a local law designed to help stymie Crossgates’s further expansion.

Runion told The Enterprise at the time, “I support any proposal that will, once and for all, stop the further expansion of Crossgates Mall.”


The location where Crossgates now stands was a lake, Reeb said, that stretched from Stuyvesant Plaza to Rapp Road. The lake fed the McKownville Reservoir, he said, noting that the reservoir was, for many years, the source of water for the homes in McKownville.

There was a riding stable where the defunct gas station now stands near the entrance to Crossgates, and “they would ride horses around the lake,” he said.

There was “almost no separation between the lake and the reservoir,” he said, “until they put in the Northway and the Thruway, with culverts underneath them to permit the stormwater to drain from Crossgates into what is left of the reservoir.”

He added, “I have no doubt that the disappearance of the lake and increased flooding problems in the town of Guilderland are intimately related.”

The area has always had a very high water table, and there was sometimes flooding in McKownville basements, Reeb said, but the flooding at the corner of Western Avenue and Fuller Road was “more rare” before Crossgates was built, Reeb said.

It’s hard to pinpoint how much of the problems result from the disappearance of the lake and the increased runoff from Crossgates, Reeb said, since there has been a lot of other development in the area, including expansion of the University at Albany and the construction of SUNY Poly.


Reeb believes that the rebuilding of the ring road — which is being planned by the Capital District Transportation Authority — will alleviate some of the flooding.

CDTA’s plan calls for relocating the ring road around Crossgates, and adding roundabouts at the end of the English couplet, the mall’s entrance and exit on Western Avenue, and on the ring road at the entrance to and exit from the Northway. It also calls for building a new transit center at the mall and for a new express bus line to and from downtown Albany.

Pyramid has asked for Westmere’s Lehner Road to be moved, to accommodate a proposed hotel on Western Avenue; the hotel would be located just to the west of the mall’s main entrance and exit, in land that is now a ravine. The relocated Lehner Road would lead straight to the CDTA’s new bus transit center.

The retention ponds at Crossgates, Reeb believes, were originally “poorly planned and poorly designed,” and rebuilding of the ring road will allow for better stormwater management. He hopes that the rebuild will cause the flooding problem to “lessen if not disappear.”

Reeb’s proudest accomplishment as president of the organization over 15 years has been to see residents become more interested in the area. “I think people are much more invested in McKownville as a neighborhood,” he said.


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