Planning board accepts FEIS for Pyramid’s Guilderland projects

The Enterprise — Michael Koff 

Save the Pine Bush protesters encouraged Guilderland Planning Board members as they entered Wednesday’s meeting to vote on Pyramid Management Group’s projects, with chants of, “Only you can save the Pine Bush.” Upon leaving Town Hall after the vote, board members were escorted by the police and met with jeers of, “Shame on you,” “Disgraceful,” and “Your children and grandchildren will not thank you.” 

GUILDERLAND — With protesters outside of Guilderland Town Hall heard in the background of the live stream, the planning board determined Pyramid’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for its Rapp Road and Western Avenue projects to be satisfactory in its “scope, content, and substance,” and unanimously accepted the document as complete.  

Once filed, the board has 30 calendar days — which it can extend further, if needed — to issue a findings statement. In the parlance of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, if the planning board were to issue a “positive findings statement,” the project would be approved. 

As planning board members entered the meeting, Save the Pine Bush protesters encouraged them with chants of, “Only you can save the Pine Bush.” Upon leaving Town Hall after the vote, board members were escorted by the police and met with jeers of, “Shame on you,” “Disgraceful,” and “Your children and grandchildren will not thank you.”

About 15 protesters were outside the town hall, which Save the Pine Bush organizer Lynne Jackson said was to oppose “massive development of a Costco, apartments, and offices.”

The resolution adopting the EIS read in part that, “as a result of the comments both from involved agencies and the public, the additional information in the analysis are consistent with the examination of issues contained in the DEIS and do not result in any new or different significant adverse environmental impact.” 

Jackson disagreed with the findings of the Environmental Impact Statement. Her not-for-profit group, founded in 1978, has successfully delayed or prevented construction of many developments in the Pine Bush, which is now widely recognized as a globally rare pine barrens.

Jackson told The Enterprise on Wednesday that the EIS had been “extremely inadequate,” and that there are environmental issues that have not been addressed; and the quality of the review had also been less than ideal. 

The animal survey was subpar, she said, “They went to great lengths to say there were no long-eared bats there, but there’s something like four species of bats on those properties.” Fireflies and common garter snakes were also not listed and they were found on the sites, she claimed, her “citizen science team” had “gone out and found” them.

The group’s biggest concern was that Pyramid is building in the Pine Bush ecosystem, and “they shouldn’t be allowed to do that.” The state has spent millions of dollars to help preserve the Pine Bush, she said, and this land should be added as well; Crossgates has already paved over acres of the ecosystem. 

Yes, Jackson acknowledges, it’s Pyramid’s land, but she said it’s the larger unique ecosystem that’s at risk. The Pine Bush is rare in that there are very few inland pine barrens, she said, “Some people say that the Pine Bush is the best example of an inland pine barren ecosystem in the world.” The Pine Bush needs to be protected because its acreage is a fraction of what it once was.

And there are also issues with protecting the aquifer and traffic problems. 

And “perhaps,” she said, “someone hasn’t noticed that we’re in the middle of a pandemic.” The origin of which may be far from Guilderland but the cause was the interaction between humans and wild animals, she said. 

What happens when ecosystems are paved over is that “we can encourage these diseases,” Jackson said, because it forces a lot more unnatural human-wild animal interactions.

The EIS examined three sites within the Transit-Oriented Development District:

— The first site is a 19-acre plot of land at Rapp and Gipp roads where 222 apartments or townhouses are proposed to be built; the DEIS leaves the door open for another 90 apartments on Site 1.

Site 1 will need planning board site-plan and lot-line adjustment/subdivision approval, according to the FEIS — however, “the application is consistent with the criteria and may request a waiver pursuant to §247-8(H) of the Town Code”;

— Site 2 is 16 acres of land located at the intersection of Crossgates Mall Road and Western Avenue for which Pyramid proposes to build a 160,000-square-foot Costco, a membership-only warehouse club, that would offer gasoline service and 700 parking spots

Site 2 will need a zoning board special-use permit, and planning board lot line adjustment/subdivision approval, the FEIS says — however, “the application is consistent with the criteria and may request a waiver pursuant to §247-8(H) of the Town Code”

Both sites will also need additional state and federal Army Corps of Engineers approvals as well, per the FEIS; and

— Between Site 2 and the Hilton Hotel built by Pyramid in 2019, is the 11.3-acre Site 3. There are no current development plans for land; however, Pyramid did include in its DEIS a zoning-compliant conceptual plan for a Transit Oriented Development District that could include 115,000 square feet of retail, 50,000 square feet for office space, and 48 apartments. 

With the approval of the EIS, it means that Pyramid does have to complete a State Environmental Quality Review Act application for each new project within the area, as long as development remains within the approved parameters. ​

More Guilderland News

  • In a Jan. 25 memo to the town board, Jacqueline Coons, Guilderland’s chief building and zoning inspector, wrote that, in allowing single-family or two-family dwellings to be occupied on a transient basis, “It seems appropriate that the use be regulated differently than commercial hotel/motel occupancies as it is a less intense use and as such could be compatible with locations that may not be zoned a commercial district.”

  • The 20-student Farnsworth team created He Hika, a city located on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, which uses hydropower, biomass, geothermal, and hydrogen as energy sources. Able to spend only $100, the students built their model of recycled materials.

  • “Guilderland is one of those schools that was historically not fully funded,” said Andrew Van Alstyne, displaying a chart that showed over the last decade Guilderland was underfunded by $4 million to $5 million each year — a gap that decreased with the phase-in until Guilderland was fully funded with $25 million in Foundation Aid this year.

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