Barber unchallenged for supervisor as five vie for a pair of board seats: 2 Dems, 2 from GOP, and 1 from WFP

Peter Barber

Peter Barber

GUILDERLAND — Five political newcomers are actively vying for two seats on the Guilderland Town Board. At the same time, the incumbent supervisor, Democrat Peter Barber, is unchallenged as he seeks a fourth two-year term.

The town board race for November looks very different than it did in June during the first-ever Democratic primary. This spring, Christine Napierski and Kevin McDonald ran together against the two candidates chosen by the Democratic Committee: Amanda Beedle and incumbent Councilman Paul Pastore.

The central issue was development — McDonald and his neighbors had brought a suit to stop Pyramid’s development of a massive apartment complex near their Westmere neighborhood and also to build a Costco, projects Beedle had approved as a planning board member.

Pastore had voted with the majority of the town board to appeal a decision that had halted the projects. A higher court overturned that decision, in part based on Barber’s arguments, so the projects can proceed.

 

 

Democratic primary voters gave the party a split ticket — Napierski and Beedle. No longer adversaries, the pair are now campaigning together.

Pastore and Beedle both have the Conservative line on the Nov. 2 ballot while McDonald and Napierski retain the Working Families line. Pastore said he is not actively campaigning but McDonald is — now pitted against his former running mate, Napierski.

Meanwhile, the Guilderland GOP is backing two candidates: Brian Sheridan and Amanda Knasel. The two candidates both work in the same office — Schoolhouse Road Pediatrics in Guilderland. Sheridan is a pediatrician and Knasel is the pediatric quality project manager.

Douglas Breakell, who chairs the Guilderland Republican Committee, said earlier that he has been a committee member since the town board was all Republican.

Over the last few decades, Guilderland’s enrollment, typical of suburban areas, has shifted toward the Democrats. Not quite half of Guilderland’s roughly 23,000 registered voters are enrolled as Democrats while about a quarter are enrolled as Republicans and more than a quarter are not enrolled or belong to small parties.

The GOP is not fielding candidates for other offices but is putting its energies into the town board race, Breakell said.

The other town posts on the Nov. 2 ballot are incumbent Lynne Buchanan, who is running unopposed for town clerk on the Democratic and Conservative lines and incumbent town Justice Denise Randall, who is running unopposed on the Democratic, Conservative, and Working Families lines.

“The Democratic Party is a big-tent party ...,” said Barber at a candidates’ forum hosted by The Enterprise on Saturday. “It’s a diverse party with a lot of independent views but we all have a common goal … to always improve the quality of life for town residents.”

He cited the town taking over the Western Turnpike ambulance system three years ago “on a wing and a prayer” and said that today it is considered to be the best ambulance system in the area. Barber credited all town departments for serving residents in the midst of a global pandemic.

Sheridan said it is his job as a pediatrician to work with parents who come to him to solve problems. “That’s exactly what I feel I can bring to the town,” he said.

Sheridan also said, “We cannot and should not tolerate things like lawsuits and fighting in the newspapers ... We have to be more constructive.” He said getting information out to people early is key. Businesses and residents will be hesitant to move to Guilderland if internal problems are not solved, he said.

His running mate, Knasel, said transparency is her “number-one focus.”

She also said, “A town can only be as strong as its community. We are at an unrest in our community right now. We have got to bring the community together. We have got to bridge the divide .... We need to make sure that everyone is heard …. In 2021, we should be using technology … to reach out to our residents.”

Beedle said that conflict creates opportunity for constructive conversations and that she and Napierski are bridging the gap and listening to residents as they campaign together.

“I have a very big heart and am willing to listen to any and all sides,” said Beedle. She worked for the town at a lower level and “wants to work much higher for people,” she said, and is grateful for the “life-changing” opportunity.

Napierski described herself as “a proud Guilderlander” and said, “Guilderland gave to me one of the best childhoods that anyone could have and I want to preserve that for future generations.” Residents are concerned about the rapid pace of development and the negative impacts on their quality of life, she said.

Although she makes a “great team” with Beedle, Napierski said, “That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop listening and fighting for the residents of this town.”

Napierski, a lawyer, also said that she got involved in town politics several years ago after the Democratic Committee that had chosen her to be town judge did not back her in the election. She said she advocated changing the caucus system to the primary “because I cared about what was going on in my town.”

“I’m seeking your vote to put you back in charge ...,” said McDonald. “I’m your independent voice,” he said, citing 22 years in municipal service and 20 years as a union leader. 

Wishing his opponents luck, he called this the “largest election going on in this town’s history with six candidates running for two seats.” 

McDonald concluded, “I remain committed to being your voice for the town board. Listening is one thing and following through is a secondary commitment that I’m going to make because we need to have everyone sitting at the table. The stakeholders are the people of this town.”

The candidates gave their views on each of these four issues: environment, political divisiveness, law enforcement, and planning and development.

 

Environment

“I believe climate change is real and we need to get to work on finding solutions to stop it ….,” said Napierski. “The number-one big thing we have to do is make Guilderland easier to get around without a car. We need to have bike lanes, sidewalks, public transportation.”

Napierski described herself as a big proponent of local shopping and also said that the town’s sign code needs to be updated; the businesses in town need clarity on what will be allowed. She’s not a fan of electronic moving signs, and says they are confusing for drivers. She advocates reusing properties that have already been developed instead of clearcutting more trees, and building greener buildings that use less energy.

Knasel supports efficient use of energy and said Guilderland’s sign code needs to be updated. She supports sidewalks and bike paths and would like to see tree-planting become “a community engagement project.”

Beedle said electric chargers can cost anywhere from $750 to $5,000 to install and that it takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours to charge a car. “We could build this into our code,” she said of having large places required to have EV stations.

She referenced “range anxiety” for people who drive electric cars and urged making Guilderland more accessible to those drivers.

Guilderland needs to have more in place to preserve wetlands and other parts of the town’s diverse ecosystem, Beedle said. Moving, flashing signs are a distraction to drivers, she said, noting she is “night blind.”

McDonald wants building codes that favor the environment for new development, repurposed development, and municipal parking.

The city of Albany is now doing a fleetwide study to find out where hybrid or electric vehicles can be integrated to reduce its carbon footprint and expenditures on gas, McDonald said, suggesting Guilderland could do the same. He also said that electric signs can be a hazard and pose a quality-of-life issue for residents.

Sheridan’s office at Schoolhouse Road Pediatrics put in solar panels and charging stations when the office was expanded. “We need to make it clear to the businesses coming into town that that is one of our goals as a community … Businesses coming into this town are hesitant to do so because we set regulations and rules for them like this without getting them this information ahead of time,” he said.

Sheridan called that “unfair” and said, if elected, he’d see the information was out early.

The former Master Cleaners is  “unsightly” and “environmentally unsafe,” said Sheridan, adding, “Why we’ve allowed it to sit like it is for years is frankly ridiculous.” He noted accidents that he and Knasel had witnessed near there, at the intersection of Route 20 and Foundry Road and said that the town should work with the state to fix up that area and also make it safer for traffic.

Sheridan’s office did not change its sign too drastically, he said, for fear of having to go through town boards. He also said it is unfair to allow government buildings to have electronic signs but not businesses.

Barber has had the full support of the League of Conservation Voters every time he has run for office, he said. “The town has been a leader when it comes to environmental response. We were just awarded a conservation easement program by the state of New York.” That program allows large property owners to get tax breaks for leaving their land undeveloped.

Guilderland, Barber said, was a founding member of the Community Choice Aggregation program, pending before the Public Service Commission, which will then allow town residents to convert to an all-green source of power with a 10-percent savings on electric production; implementation of the program has been delayed by pandemic.

The town is buying 603 lights from National Grid, converting them to light-emitting diodes (LED) for savings, Barber said.

“We have a solar facility that’s going to go in at our transfer station on the landfill,” Barber said, which he called a perfect location; it will provide energy back to the town.

The town has 700 acres of open space, with 200 acres added in the past three year, Barber said, noting the town worked with University at Albany graduate students for a plan on connecting those spaces.

On Master Cleaners, Barber said that this week, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation received an application for a brownfield designation for the site; the project would cost over $3 million. “DEC is taking the lead on that and I’m hoping we see some progress in the not-too-distant future,” Barber said.

 

Harmony

All of the candidates said that Joe Biden is the duly elected president of the United States.

Sheridan added, “I can’t wait for the next election to try to get him out of the presidency and that’s the way we do it; that’s the way voting works.” He added that Guilderland residents are concerned with local issues and said, “This divisiveness is just trumped up by people to cause trouble.”

Knasel said one of the main reasons she is running for office is that she wants to be a “voice for the families in the community.” She believes there is too much partisan division in Guilderland now. “I don’t want to lose that community feel,” she said.

Her ultimate goal, Knasel said, is to have a community place for residents to come together. The focus, she said, should be on the future to “build Guilderland stronger.”

“Christine and I went through something earlier this year that absolutely addresses the divisiveness in the town,” said Beedle. “I was an endorsed candidate for Guilderland Town Board and Christine primaried …. We are now working together as slate mates to bring the town back together. We have differences of opinion but there’s a lot that we agree on.”

They both agree on the need for a town center, something like The Crossings in Colonie, each of them said.

People have seen splits locally and nationally, Beedle said, and everyone has to do their part “to bring things back together.”

Productive conversations are needed even in the face of differing views, said McDonald. “Being inclusive is 100 percent the most important thing,” he said.

He applauds the village center in Altamont and would like to see something similar in the town.

“I don’t think in town we’re as divided as we make it out to be,” said Sheridan. Town board members, he said, need to reach out to the people before something comes up.

He said, unlike other town boards, Guilderland “sits back and waits” for issues to come to it. Having the town board reach out first, he said, would stop divisiveness, and prevent lawsuits.

He called for updating the town’s master plan and said he and his running mate had campaigned for a town center.

Barber said, in his nearly six years as supervisor, he has been transparent, citing the town’s website, and opportunities to be heard at meetings despite the pandemic. He also named the daily email he has sent out to residents since March 2020, updating them on the latest COVID-19 data locally and from the county and state.

The town center has been an issue, Barber said, “for quite some time,” and the logical place for it would be near the library and YMCA. He also said the town encourages use of playgrounds and, during the pandemic, has kept all parks open.

Barber cited state funds the town secured to upgrade the playground at Abele Park, in McKownville, and said options are being considered “for more diverse sports.” He credited the parks staff for its work.

“I’m the perfect candidate to bring divisiveness to an end,” said Napierski, citing her primary win. “Since I won, we’ve been working together,” she said of herself and Beedle.

“I was on the outside three years ago ..,” Napierski said. “But I’m proud to say that many of the people who were working against me three years ago are now part of my campaign.” She also said, “I’m not afraid to talk to people and I believe in civility.” 

Napierski also advocated holding virtual meetings to get residents involved.

 

Police

The Guilderland Police Department was praised by all the candidates.

Beedle said she and Napierski had heard issues about traffic problems and car break-ins in Guilderland neighborhoods and called for more patrols. She said that “creating a symbiotic relationship between the community and the police department builds trust.”

Beedle also said, “We can’t defund a police department that right now, currently, is trying to do its best to continue to grow.”

Guilderland, she said, has always strived to be an open and diverse community and she thinks Guilderland would open its arms to Afghan refugees.

McDonald likes the mental-illness partnerships that came out of the police-reform package. He considers police part of the town’s infrastructure and wants to make sure the staffing keeps up with growth in Guilderland.

He also noted that officers can’t be everywhere and encouraged residents to take part in the Neighborhood Watch program recently launched by the Guilderland Police. Another “major issue” that McDonald says needs to be addressed is cars passing stopped school buses.

Guilderland Police, Sheridan said, have to spend much of their time dealing with traffic accidents and he named two sites — the Carman Road-Western Avenue circuit and the Farnsworth Middle School area — that should be fixed, freeing up officers for police work.

Sheridan said he supports refugees coming to town and has been asked by the city of Albany to be a pediatrician for refugees when they come in. “I think having illegal immigrants is a different story,” he said.

He also said, “We should not defund the police in any way, shape, or form … We should support them more.”

Barber, who served on the state-required police-reform committee in town, pointed to “significant improvements” on an already excellent force. Adding medics and emergency medical technicians to calls decriminalizes activities, he said.

“A lot of problems that occur in our society” Barber said, “are not criminal in nature; people have mental-health issues.” He called dispatchers the unsung heroes, assessing what is needed from a call.

Barber said that Guilderland police started using body and car cameras more than five years ago; the first purchase was approved in September 2017. “It protects our officers and allays any concerns about police action and whatnot,” Barber said.

Barber noted a Neighborhood Watch organizational meeting was held in Guilderland Town Hall two weeks ago in light of rising complaints of break-ins.

Napierski said, when she was briefly town justice, she was impressed with the professionalism of Guilderland’s police officers. She praised the police-reform plan, singling out the new mental-health component. She noted that Guilderland Police already had de-escalation training.

“I don’t like that term ‘illegals.’ They’re human beings,” said Napierski. Immigration matters are handled at a state and local level she said, and are not a local concern.

“Guilderland is getting more and more diverse … and we welcome everyone in Guilderland, regardless of your nationality or ethnicity. Everyone should be welcome here,” she said.

As for break-ins, Napierski would like to see more nighttime patrols and advocated looking to see if more officers could be hired.

Officers spend too much time on traffic control, Napierski said, and called for a traffic light by Farnsworth Middle School so officers wouldn’t need to direct traffic there.

On refugees, Knasel said that Guilderland is a welcoming community. On police, she wants to make sure they have all the training they need as well as the most up-to-date equipment and “all the proper tools” to do their job.

The intersection of Western Avenue with Foundry Road and Willow Street concerns her. She has seen accidents there and believes, if the intersection were made safer, officers would have more time for other police matters.

 

Planning and development

“We’re seeing an explosion of growth in town,” said McDonald, noting most of the growth is coming from apartment complexes. Most of the residents he has talked to are concerned about that, he said.

McDonald himself was one of the Westmere residents who filed a suit that temporarily halted Pyramid’s plan to build a 222-unit residential complex very near his neighborhood; a higher court overturned the decision, paving the way for the apartment complex as well as a Costco to be built.

McDonald said of residents, “They want to make sure that we are following town code, we are not trumping the issues with PUDs [planned unit developments] or spot zoning to fulfill these developers’ requests.”

He said a lot of residents feel intimidated and it’s up to public officials to make sure residents’ voices are heard. 

McDonald said that the town spends time and money fighting Pyramid, one of the biggest corporations in town, “to pay their fair share of taxes, which is not fair to anyone who owns a home and pays taxes in this town.”

He wants to see that businesses and apartment complexes pay their fair share and are not taking away from services in town. “All this development is increasing our need for infrastructure improvements,” McDonald said.

There’s a “large cry” from residents for affordable housing, said McDonald. “Market rate is something that I couldn’t afford,” he said. Developers could be asked to include affordable units in their plans, he said.

“When it comes to planning and development,” Sheridan said, “the biggest issue is town residents are not getting information quick enough …. It leads to lawsuits. It leads to articles in the newspaper.”

Businesses who want to come to the Capital District won’t come to Guilderland, he said, when they read articles in the newspapers … saying the residents and businesses are not getting along. They’re going to turn away … and then we’re not going to grow.”

Sheridan said, “We’re a town working backward when it comes to development.” It’s the town’s responsibility to manage the traffic on Route 20, he said; the onus shouldn’t be on businesses.

The 20-year-old comprehensive plan, Sheridan said, needs to be updated so that businesses and residents know where the town stands.

In March of 2020, the town announced it would re-do the comprehensive plan, Barber said, but the pandemic sidelined that.

The comprehensive plan was adopted in 2002, he noted, but went on, “That mother document envisioned a series of neighborhood studies the last of which was completed just several years ago.”

In developing an updated master plan, Barber said, “I want participation; we’re going to take it on the road, get to different parts of the town.” The town may wait until January for the newly elected people to be involved, he said.

He also said that the town couldn’t be any more supportive of small businesses than it already is. Almost all the small businesses in Guilderland are owned by town residents, Barber said. 

“We post everything we get, regarding applications on our website ….,” said Barber. “We want people to be heard.”

“Voting for me, the residents will get an advocate ….,” Napierski said of updating the town’s comprehensive plan. “I want to include every single resident who wants to have input into this plan.”

For meetings about proposed projects, Napierski would like to see a longer time frame for notices than is required by law. She urged residents to get involved in watchdog groups like the Guilderland Coalition. 

She also advocated for “resident comment” buttons on every page, for each board, on the town’s website. 

Finally, Napierski said that the little Cape Cod home she grew up in on Mercer Street is out of reach for most middle-class families now. “We need to find places for more moderate housing,” she said. She advocated tapping into federal programs for affordable housing, and said that developers should be sent the message to include affordable housing.

Knasel said that it could be intimidating for some residents to come to a town board meeting and said meetings should be made more accessible. She said she is “in full support of responsible growth for Guilderland.”

She went on, “We have to revisit our master plan. We have to look at what does our town look like now and what are we wanting our ultimate goal to be for the future.”

Knasel added, “We also have to be good stewards of the environment.” 

Also, while Guilderland is and should be welcoming, Knasel said, consideration must be given, with growth, that too much stress isn’t put on the school district.

“I absolutely support truly affordable housing,” said Beedle. “As a single mom who had to resettle her life after some devastating circumstances … I needed to find a place that I felt safe and comfortable to raise my two boys on a poverty-level income.” Her family thrived, she said, in Altamont, a Guilderland village.

With new apartment complexes, she suggested, a certain number could be allocated for affordable housing.

Beedle advocates shopping locally first, as she does, to support small businesses. 

She favors Guilderland growing slowly at the pace that it has. “It’s Smart Growth,” she said.

 

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