Just one competitive race in New Scotland

Craig A. Shufelt

NEW SCOTLAND — Only one Republican is running in this Democrat-dominated town. Craig Shufelt is making his second run for town board.

He is facing incumbent Adam Greenberg and planning board member Daniel Leinung.

As the once-rural town faces increased development pressure, the three board candidates as well as Supervisor Douglas LaGrange — unopposed for the second election in a row — shared their varied views on planning, housing affordability, the tax levy limit, infrastructure, and maintaining rural character.  

In New Scotland, 38 percent of registered voters are Democrats (2,432); 24 percent are Republicans (1,575); and 27 percent (1,743) are not affiliated with a party. The rest of registered voters are enrolled in small parties: 382 with the Independence Party; 211 Conservatives; 18 are registered with the Green Party; 16 with the Working Families Party; and six are Libertarians, according to 2017 figures from the Albany County Board of Elections.

Town Council

Incumbent Democrat Adam Greenberg, 49, appears on the Democratic and Independence Party lines. He won his seat in November 2015, after being appointed to the board that July. Greenberg, a Dartmouth graduate, is a farmer, property manager, and previously chaired the town’s zoning board of appeals. He is a lifelong town resident, who, along with his wife, Kate Cohen, have three children.

Republican Craig A. Shufelt  is running for town board for the second time, he will appear on the Republican line. In 2015, he lost to Greenberg by 54 votes. Shufelt, 45, is a Voorheesville graduate who studied graphic design at Sage College of Albany and Rochester Institute of Technology. His company, Shufelt Group, LLC., is a marketing, development, and branding firm. He is also a member of the New Salem Volunteer Fire Department.

Daniel Leinung, 33, will appear on the Democrat and Independence Party lines, is associate counsel at the New York State Senate, focusing on health, substance abuse, and mental health policy; he previously worked for the New York State Attorney General’s Office in the Environmental Protection Bureau. Originally from Kinderhook, Leinung attended Hamilton College and Albany Law School. He and his wife, Kellie, moved to New Scotland in 2013. The couple has one child.

The Albany Board of Elections had not certified the Conservative line at the time of publishing.

The 2017 annual salary for council members is $8,915.20.

 

Douglas LaGrange

 

Daniel Leinung

 

Adam Greenberg

 

Democrat Douglas LaGrange is running unopposed for town supervisor on the Democratic, Conservative, and Independence Party lines. He won his first election two years ago, following the retirement of Thomas Dolin. LaGrange, who recently sold his cows from his family farm, previously served as deputy supervisor, and previously served as a member of the planning board.

The 2017 annual salary for supervisor is $60,026.95.

Planning

As development, both residential and commercial, pushes into New Scotland, the town has been faced with how to deal with it. To do so, New Scotland is updating its comprehensive land-use plan and concurrently, is updating its plan for the hamlet of New Scotland.

LaGrange describes the comprehensive plan like the Declaration of Independence; it sets the tone, in a general way, of what’s expected of the town from its residents. But it’s the zoning code, like the Constitution, that’s important. Because it takes that tone or vision and inscribes it into law.  

For LaGrange, the comprehensive plan is about growth and clarity.

He says, “I think, if it’s just my opinion, it would be to better direct new areas of growth, if we even choose to have any more — you’re always going to have some [growth], it’s not like we’re going to close the door.

“But at the same time, I think, the plan will reflect a better, proactive plan for the town rather than be reactive to whatever comes along. I think that would be the main component that I’d like to see.”

He says a new comprehensive plan “will help the developers to know what the rules are before they start, too. Unfortunately, he says, there was some ambiguity at the time when Sphere Development wanted to build a Target-anchored, and so it seized on the opportunity.

“What they were using for their right to do it [build a store] was what other people said ‘that would suggest, no you can’t do this.’ Those kind of subjective things have to be a little more clearer, and, of course, reflected in the zoning code,” LaGrange says.

Sphere representatives said at the time that New Scotland’s zoning was like a beacon for them.

LaGrange says the zoning code needs to be cleaned up. “It’s antiquated, and in a lot of situations, we find it hasn’t adapted with the times, and, obviously, the only way it’s adapted to the times is if the town board does it,” he said.  

He says zoning-code deficiencies get exposed because of a single issue, like with the flashing and digital signs. The code was written before the technology was prevalent, so it’s subjective. In definitions alone, there needs a lot of clarification, he says.

Leinung says, “The biggest issue facing the town, right now, is the development pressure being put on the town.”

He says, “Yes, we do need some development, especially, some more commercial, mixed-use residential development in the town.” Leinung says the way to do that is to “cluster development closer to where it’s already happening.”

With the comprehensive plan, he says, it will keep development in areas where there is already development.

Greenberg says, “I would say my major focus is planning and zoning in the town, so that we end up with a town that retains its character. Most of us have chosen to live here because of that character … That can be lost if you allow the town to become overwhelmed with development or sprawl.”

Planning “has been kind of randomly done by developers only to benefit developers, that is what we have seen in the past,” says Greenberg. This is a point Leinung also made.

Greenberg says he’s been working to update the comprehensive plan and zoning laws, so that the town board can be more proactive in how development occurs in town.

He says, “I want to see a walkable community. I want to see a community where taxpayers aren’t subsidizing developers.” He uses an example on Hilton Road to make his point.aren’t subsidizing developers.” He uses an example on Hilton Road to make his point.

He says Hilton Road was basically destroyed by all the trucks coming in and out to build the development there. Now the town is paying to repave a road that was largely destroyed by construction traffic. He says, when that development was approved, it should have been made clear that the developer would be responsible for those types of costs associated with development.

Shufelt says, “My vision is a walkable, workable community space, which engages bike trails with business, it engages the mom-and-pop farm stands with new developments.”

He wants to incentivize development, and points to the developments in town with more costly homes. He, too, says going forward, there should be more of an effort to get more from developers.

For the New Scotland hamlet, Shufelt says, “My personal idea, and it’s kind of where the plan is to take something like a Stuyvesant Plaza, and intermix that with the Crossings in Colonie, it has a pond, and bike paths, and there’s a little pavilion — a sort of town center. It allows mom-and-pop stores to come in, and allows for some light development.”

Housing affordability

New Scotland is a desirable place to live. It is only 12 miles from Albany and is in a good school district. As new, more expensive, housing is added to the current stock, how can the town ensure affordability for current and future residents?

Part of creating affordable homes is having mixed-use residential development, says Leinung. “If you just have two-acre zoning, and just have single-family homes that cost $500,000 or $600,000 pop up — it’s not what we are looking for here”

He points out that hamlet plan allows for multi-family housing, not apartments, but more townhouses, which should be more affordable. He also says that there is current housing stock  that is affordable, and says that there are some homes that are under $200,000.

Leinung says that there does not need to be an explicit zoning code that calls on developers to make a certain number of their homes affordable in new developments.

He says, “I think it’s very difficult, because you don’t want to put too many restrictions on a developer without knowing what the economic outlook is for that developer. If you do that, then all of a sudden, maybe, nothing can come in because it’s not economically feasible for them do that.”

He does concede that there needs to be some sort of mechanism involved to push developers to provide a varying array of housing options, for varying levels of incomes. But he says, “I’m not sure that a strict zoning law that specifies what that is — what that percentage should be — is the right way to go.”

Leinung says it might be better if there were a zoning guideline (not a code) that had affordability as a goal of the planning and town boards in approving a development.

Greenberg says, “I see affordability as a huge issue, it absolutely played into the New Scotland hamlet rezoning and the comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan will have a whole section on affordability.”

Greenberg says there are “creative ways” to get affordable housing in town. As an example of a plan, he says if a developer wants to put up 170 homes, the board says, ‘We’ll sign off, but could you cluster a certain area  — a certain number  —  and make them affordable homes?” Greenberg says that’s what they are trying to do with hamlet plan, where the mixed-use may allow for more affordable homes.

Greenberg was asked if he would support a town law that says, if you are building a new development in New Scotland, then the developer would have to provide a certain amount number of affordable new homes.

He said, “No, I wouldn’t make it that strict, necessarily. I would have to see the language.” He went on, “Stuff works better when the town and the developer work together, I think it works less well when the town is dictating to both landowners and developers exactly what they can and can’t do.”

LaGrange asks, “What do you mean by affordable housing?” He points to areas in Voorheesville and Salem Hills, and he says, “It’s a great neighborhood, and they have a nice park there … some people would suggest those are what you’d consider affordable houses.”

He points out that developers have created different priced homes. He says, “In the Kensington Woods development, as you’re turning up Hilton from 85A, the left side, where more houses have been built, so far, are starting at a lower cost than the right side. The right side of Hilton road is going to be a little bit higher-priced homes, a little bit bigger lot sizes.”

He says the homes on the left side of the road will start in the $400,000 range, but further back on the left side, there will be duplexes, “but I don’t know what they are going to go for.” (Steve Masullo, the builder of Kensington Woods, told The Enterprise that there would be townhouses, and that their price would start in the upper $300,000s.)

LaGrange says, “In my opinion, they’ve kind of done something to maybe help that situation out a little bit.”

LaGrange also points to the New Scotland hamlet zone as an opportunity for affordability. He says the buildings will have commercial space downstairs and residential upstairs, which offsets the cost a little. But stresses that New Scotland has affordable homes: “Quite frankly, this town is full of what you might call affordable homes, that vary from low-income areas to high-income areas.

“The focus of the conversation has been on what is being built right now — high-end homes.

“I go back to hundreds of home in Salem Hills … and Scotch Pine, and then in Clarksville, Feura Bush, and Unionville. We have a lot of areas that have moderately — if not below that — priced homes. Just because these high-priced developments are what’s going in, doesn’t mean that’s all that’s available in town.”

LaGrange would not want to see an explicit code that calls for setting aside a certain number of homes for affordable housing in new developments.

Shufelt says the town should take an active role in maintaining affordability in new developments, and is the only candidate who supports an explicit law saying that new developments should set aside homes.

“When it comes to affordable housing, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t encourage developers from a residential development aspect to… put in properties that are affordable. Because that’s the town of New Scotland, we’re not Loudonville, we’re not Brooklyn,” he says.

Shufelt says, “I would be in favor of creative residential development that takes into consideration different price points.” Pressed for details, he said, “As dictated by the town.”

He says, “What you have is higher-end development coming in. You have people, who didn’t grow up here, moving in and they are changing the town, whether we want them to or not.”

Tax cap

By state law, property taxes levied by local governments and school districts must not exceed 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Does staying under a levy limit  mean the town is sacrificing services or maintenance?

Greenberg says the point of the law is to make it difficult to go above a 2-percent tax increase. “There are positive things about that; it forces fiscal responsibility … The flipside of that is, it’s very difficult to take on kind of larger project that the town might face.

“For instance, if we want to develop a new water district with a new water source, we don’t have the funding to do that with a 2-percent tax cap,” he said, adding, “As a board member, that’s one of the things you’re always weighing, the benefit to the town versus the cost to the town.”

LaGrange says, “To a small degree, possibly,” the cap inhibits the town. “I think the cap is good for one reason, and that is introspection — to really look into ‘how do we do this to properly accomplish what we want to do and still be responsive to the tax cap, which is responsive to the taxpayer?’”

LaGrange says the town already does this, but the cap helps keep focus. “But there are times when, like for instance the New Salem water district, it gave us less opportunity in our budget to do other things,” he says.

“It’s not a bad thing, by any means, but unfortunately, in my opinion, there’s a lot places, namely school districts, that I’ve seen them exercise the supermajority without any qualms,” he says of voting to go over the limit.

Shufelt says, “I feel we’ve put ourselves into this situation. A tax cap, while useful, there should be creative ways around it to be able to allow special-use development.” Shufelt admits he is not familiar with the legality of the tax cap.

“Our taxes are high enough,” he says, but adds, “The town has been very fair with the tax cap.”

He says, “It’s the school tax that is really the big concern.”

“Raising taxes is never the answer; there are probably more creative ways to pay for things, rather than to raise taxes to pay for them,” he says. When asked how he would get more creative, he used the Hilton Barn as an example of obtaining grants, but admits it’s rare.

Grants for infrastructure projects are rare; instead, the state has a Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which “provides interest-free or low-interest rate financing for wastewater and water quality improvement projects to municipalities throughout New York State.”

Shufelt says, “This all comes back to planning, if you’re planning for things five, 10, 20 years from now — which is difficult to do — you can manage the problems that are placed on the town by the tax cap.”

Leinung has a concern about not being able to raise taxes for maintenance or capital projects

He says, “That is the concern … it ties the hands of the municipality, a little bit, but at the same time it puts pressure on the town to focus spending on those important infrastructure issues. It’s kind of why the shared-services plan has been getting so much attention,” he says of the state’s required shared-service plans for each county. “We want to try and save money, as much as possible,” says Leinung.  

“In one respect the tax cap put more pressure on towns, and the county, to get the shared-services plan, because we need that extra room under the cap,” Leinung said.

He says the town isn’t struggling; there are reserve funds New Scotland can tap. “From what I’ve seen, there hasn’t been a neglect of infrastructure … Part of that is that the tax base in New Scotland is growing.” He says that’s the double-edged sword of development, the town sees more revenues, but there are now more residents seeking services.

Infrastructure

As more development takes place, more water and sewer lines will be needed to service that new development. How should New Scotland add those lines? Who pays?

Shufelt says, “It should be enough on the town’s radar to assist when and where we can for the benefit our town’s residents’ future.”

Shufelt says the town should be involved in investing in infrastructure.

“I think we can’t not invest in our future. I think the upfront costs will pay back tenfold in our future. The piecemeal portion of trying to piece together where sewer is, here or there, or spacing that out ad hoc — you’re going to end up with a mess of spaghetti at some point in time that is going to come back and bite us,” he says.  

Asked how infrastructure gets paid for, Shufelt said that it would depend on the project.

He points to the New Salem water district, where the residents who were going to use the water were the only ones who paid for the new lines. “It was the town, residents, and property owners that came together to solve that one,” he said.

Water for that district came from a reservoir the town of Bethlehem owns in New Scotland; Bethlehem pipes the water through New Salem to its own town residents.

LaGrange says, if the town were to take on infrastructure, like running water and sewer lines, then the area of town where the lines ran to would be a “benefit district.” Only residents in that area of the new lines would benefit from their use, so the entire town shouldn’t have to pay for new service lines that they will see no benefit from.

“Generally, in our situation, as developers come in and want to do a project, it gives us the opportunity to move a little closer to interconnection with other [water and sewer] districts,” he says.

Leinung says a more involved planning board has been able to put some infrastructure costs back on the developer.  

“One of the things that has happened in the past, years ago, for the planning board, there were things that developers do, that wasn’t always put into the approvals for some of the developments,” he said.  

He says the current planning board has been more concerned with this. This happened with a couple of developments in the area, telling the developers they could build only a certain number of houses until the stormwater system is completed, or until roads are paved, or lighting is put it in, he said.

“The town shouldn’t be spending its own money doing that [paying for infrastructure]. I think that you have to work with the developers to do that,” Leinung says.

Greenberg says it’s not as simple as New Scotland saying, “Yes, we want to invest in infrastructure,” because the town gets water from other municipalities, like Bethlehem and Voorheesville.

Greenberg says any development in New Scotland that is in another municipality’s water district would require approval from that municipality, which is difficult.

Greenberg also says the tax cap makes it difficult to take on new infrastructure projects. He points to the New Salem water district. He said that residents in that district pay the bond on the project, but the cost of the project still counts against the town’s cap.

He says, “It’s only feasible in certain areas, and under certain conditions, to extend water — and sewer works largely the same way.”

Maintaining character

Farming in New Scotland is central to its rural character. How does the town keep those characteristics that have drawn so many to New Scotland?

Greenberg says, you find balance. “You use tools, like cluster zoning, to preserve open space but still allow a landowner or developer to get a similar number of residents or building footprint in that area.”

Leinung says those two things aren’t at odds with each other, and that “we can still support farmers and support farmland, and at the same time encourage development in other areas.” He says, “Keep major development in the areas that already have a fair amount of development in them.’aren’t at odds with each other, and that “we can still support farmers and support farmland, and at the same time encourage development in other areas.” He says, “Keep major development in the areas that already have a fair amount of development in them.’

LaGrange says, “It’s extremely important … I’ve never seen anybody campaign and say, ‘We need to get rid of our rural character.’ It’s always been, ‘We need to maintain our rural character.’ But nothing was ever done, and one of the ways to maintain rural character is to allow our farms to operate without any unnecessary encumbrances,” which is why the town passed a right-to-farm law.

He also points out the economics of farming and its importance to the town. He says,“What one dairy cow supports in the community for jobs is interesting, some of the studies they’ve done,” show, “you have the person hauling feed to the farm, you have the person selling the parts at the machinery store, the clerk in the grocery store. You follow that link from farm to consumer, there is a tremendous amount of people that are taking part in either servicing that farm or getting the product to the shelf.”

Shufelt says people come back to the farming issue because of the big-box store controversy at the old Bender Melon farm.

“When you say we’re losing farms, or want to maintain our farms, you have to look at the whole town. There’s farms throughout our whole town, you have Stanton’s, Tommell’s, and Meadowbrook. Those farms aren’t going anywhere,” he says.

He says, “It’s not about farmers versus developers, it’s about how do we make our town a better place to live, work, and visit.”

Other issues

For Shufelt, he says the board needs “coherence” and needs to be “working together.”

He says, “I was at the last [town board] meeting,” and quoted LaGrange, who said, “The boards are very independent of each other.”

“That’s a big issue and unless, and until, the boards work together and we as a town come together, we’re going to be spinning our wheels,” Shufelt says. “Our biggest issue is working together.”

He also points to small business as an issue. He says, “We [the town] make it very difficult to encourage small business.”

“Things like Joe [Salvino] at Track 32, he spent a million-plus, completely uplifting that original building, which was Pixie’s, and we’re giving him a hassle over the sign. That shouldn’t be that way. Clearly he’s not going to make his sign Las Vegas, and clearly it’s zoned in the right area for that business,” he says.

Greenberg says obtaining high-speed internet for all residents is an issue for him.

He says, “Spectrum and Verizon underserve, especially, our rural areas.” But he concedes, “That’s a difficult issue to tackle on a town level; we have to do what we can.”

“We have our franchise agreement with Spectrum end next year; we’ll be renegotiating that, and trying to convince Verizon to extend their FIOS service” he says of fiber optic services.

Leinung says the “heroin epidemic, especially, is hitting the rural and suburban communities, like New Scotland, pretty hard.”

It’s been happening for a while, but there is finally a focus on treatment and prevention, he says

Leinung says there’s not much that can be done at the town level, but we need to keep talking about it. “It’s very easy to just turn a blind eye and ignore it, until it happens to someone who you know,” he says, “We really have to keep the awareness up.”

At the state level, he says more money has been put into the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

The general election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

 

More New Scotland News

  • Some members of the New Scotland Zoning Board expressed skepticism with the planning board’s appeal of what constitutes a flashing sign. A public hearing is to be held before any other decisions can be made about whether to allow the applicants to install their digital signs.

  • The town board was alerted by the county that sales-tax revenue, a significant portion of New Scotland’s budget, may be at risk, due to competition from the internet and nearby counties that are seeing their own retail-shopping center development.

  • With official voting results in, Democrats Adam Greenberg and Daniel Leinung will be on the Conservative Party line for the fall election.