Seven acres of rare forest to be conserved

— From city of Albany mapping

About seven acres of “highly restorable pitch pine-scrub oak barrens” were donated recently to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission. The initial proposal was for 8.4 acres in the city of Albany, but issues arose. 

GUILDERLAND — Crossgates Mall's parent company has been on something of a hot streak as of late.

In March, the town of Guilderland and Pyramid Management Group laid to rest years of tax lawsuits filed by the mall in an attempt to dramatically lower its tax bill, which it ultimately did. The settlement saw Crossgates’ assessed value drop by 37 percent, from about $282 million pre-pandemic to a legally agreed-upon $177 million today.

Over the past four years, Pyramid has been named as a co-defendant with the town in five lawsuits filed by locals seeking to stop the company's development of a Costco Wholesale at the corner of Western Avenue and Rapp Road. 

Just last week, the fifth lawsuit — which had been filed by the same group that filed three of the first four — saw the justices of the state’s Third Appellate Division uphold the Guilderland Industrial Development Agency’s decision to condemn and hand over to Pyramid five discontinued town roads located on the planned Costco site. 

Barring another appeal or lawsuit, dismissal of the condemnation suit appears to be the final hurdle in a years-long ordeal to get a three-site development off the ground.


Property to be conveyed

Last week, prior to the appellate court’s decision, Pyramid’s good news was its announcement, agreed upon a half-decade ago, to convey approximately 7 acres of globally-rare pine barren to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission.

That was 1.4 acres less than originally agreed upon.

The acreage is located near the intersection of Pine Lane and Rapp Road in Albany, and backs up to the side of Crossgates containing Macy's, Regal Cinema, and Best Buy.

The company said in a June 3 release that the donation of 6.9 acres of Crossgates-owned land in the city of Albany and “located within the Full Protection Area 62, [as] identified in the 2010 Albany Pine Bush Management Plan. The full-protection designation, per the 2010 plan, means the ‘protection of undeveloped portions of designated areas in their entirety.’”

The release from Crossgates states that the 2010 Pine Bush Management Plan “identified Area 62 as a future addition to the preserve and was documented as supporting highly restorable pitch pine-scrub oak barrens and several rare wildlife species including the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly, NYS threatened Frosted Elfin Butterfly, Eastern Hognose Snake and several rare birds.”

Since the land was promised to the Pine Bush Commission as part of Pyramid’s July 2020 project sign-off, which had been a one-shot, all-in approval of the company’s proposed three-site development — over 200 apartments and townhomes; the 160,000-square-foot Costco; and now, a $55 million 120,000-square-foot regional cancer center — it had been a gift of 8.4 acres, not the 7 received.

In fact, there were 24 mentions of the 8.4-acre donation in the 200-page environmental review of the project. 

The initial 8.4-acre conveyance was spread across three city of Albany properties, two of which, 62 and 66 Rapp Road, are listed on the National Register as part of the Rapp Road Community Historic District.

The district grew out of the Great Migration, when about 6 million southern Blacks followed opportunity north, largely to the nation’s cities. The Rapp Road community, located partly in Guilderland and partly in the panhandle of Albany, was settled between about 1930 and 1960.

What makes Rapp Road rare is that about half of its current inhabitants are descendants of the neighborhood’s first two dozen families.

The two historic district parcels initially slated to be donated made up about 1.5 of the original 8.4-acre donation: 66 Rapp Road, a 0.6-acre property, was never built on, while the 1-acre 62 Rapp Road parcel once had a home; it was demolished in 1999.

The remaining lot, 140 Washington Avenue Extension, is 6.8 acres of trees located next to the Peregrine Senior Living facility, also on Washington Avenue Extension.

Guilderland’s town planner. Kenneth Kovalchik. told The Enterprise by email, “There are a couple reasons for the reduced acreage being conveyed. First, The Pine Bush Preserve Commission was not interested in having the acreage conveyed associated with the existing paved driveway on the west side of the senior living property. So the acreage was reduced

“Second,” Kovalchik wrote, “once Pyramid did the survey for the acreage to be conveyed to the Pine Bush, they realized there were buildings on the senior living property that were encroaching onto Pyramid owned lands.  It’s my understanding the senior living facility was not working with Pyramid to resolve the encroachment issues and the property had to have clean title in order to be conveyed to the Pine Bush. So the acreage was reduced.”

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