In New Scotland, 3 Dem incumbents face 3 GOP newcomers

NEW SCOTLAND — For the first time in a long time, the New Scotland Republican Party is running a fairly complete slate for fall elections. 

Incumbent Democrats are facing Republican opposition for supervisor, two seats on the town board, and town clerk. New Scotland’s Democratic town judge, Robert Johnson, and its highway superintendent, Ken Guyer, won’t face GOP opposition in November. 

Republican Erik Grissell is running to unseat Supervisor Douglas LaGrange, who has never faced opposition in his three runs for office. Incumbent town board Democrats Adam Greenberg and Dan Leinung face off against Charissa Mayer and Peter Drao. 

Lisa Williams, who was appointed town clerk in December of last year when Diane Deschenes retired in the middle of her term, will face Republican Lori Dollard. (Williams’s and Dollard’s interviews will run in next week’s edition.)

In an Oct. 16 forum put on by The Enterprise, candidates were asked their views on development, traffic, transparency, the Hilton barn, and about governing and their vision for New Scotland.  A recording of the forum is available online at The Enterprise’s website or its YouTube Page.

The Republicans, who outside of a judge’s race in 2015 can’t really claim a town board or supervisor’s seat win since 2009, and even then that’s not really the case — LaGrange appeared on the both the GOP and Democratic lines that year, garnering 544 Republican votes and 1,499 votes from Democrats.

Part of the GOP’s unwillingness to put up slates in recent elections has to do with the shift in enrollment, which in New Scotland, similar to other suburban towns, has gone from heavily Republican a half-century ago to skewing Democratic. 

But the town’s Republican Party now seems to have come up with what candidates think is a winning formula to break its dry spell: Sounding like Democrats; not sounding like the national GOP or even acknowledging its existence or the candidates’ interactions with it or its apparatchiks; and using the phrase “microbusiness.”

“It sounds like a lot of us are on the same page here,” Leinung said after being the fourth person to respond to a question about development, two of the first three being Republicans. 

New Scotland has not been immune to the toxic national political climate seeping into the local body politic, chiefly at Voorheesville School Board meetings. 

But viewers of the candidate forum will be pleasantly surprised at the civility shown by the members of both parties, even when the Republicans were being called out by the Democrats for inconsistencies between their stances in the forum and what was being said on people’s doorsteps and even in the editorial pages of this week’s Enterprise.

Readers and viewers may also be surprised to know that Mayer, a fairly prominent local anti-mask advocate who has spoken at Voorheesville school meetings against mask requirements and appeared nationally on Fox News a number of times, also believes in climate change. 

 

Development

Leinung, a lawyer seeking his second term, noted New Scotland’s growth in the latest federal census, illustrating the town’s desirability.

With the adoption of the comprehensive plan, Leinung said the board was able to promote growth in New Scotland’s already-developed areas, in the town’s hamlet areas and near Voorheesville — areas that already have infrastructure in place. 

The comprehensive plan gives the planning and zoning boards a guide to “what should be coming in and out of the town,” he said.

Drao, who worked for state Senate Republicans for two decades and is making his first run for town office, pointed out there are nine water districts in New Scotland, so no residential or commercial customer problems are exactly alike.

Before even being able to move forward with infrastructure fixes, Drao said, it’s important to get “the right players into the room” and find out what their water issues and concerns are. 

Drao conceded the comprehensive plan wasn’t “terrible,” but said the town needed to do a better job capitalizing on commercial- and industrial-zoned areas, which would bring in more small and microbusinesses to shore up New Scotland’s tax base. So, as the town is taking the land off its tax rolls to conserve and preserve it for open space, it’s offsetting those losses elsewhere. 

Drao also said the town needs to meet the standard of affordable housing that’s laid out in the comprehensive plan. 

Greenberg, a property manager and farmer who is seeking a third term, said the town board shouldn’t be in the business of restraining development on a single parcel; what the board should do is put in place the proper planning and zoning to guide development in a “way that we want.”

He said zoning has been set up that works for everyone; the town board had been proactive in that regard, passing the comprehensive plan in 2018 as well as hamlet zoning that same year. 

The board was balancing development and preservation of open space, Greenberg said. 

Grissell, who worked in procurement and acquisition management, also known as the supply chain, for 35 years, making his first run for town office, said the town shouldn’t have big developments in the areas of town that take away from New Scotland’s natural beauty, but said he believes there are areas of town that could be developed, if done so correctly.

Grissell also said there was a problem with water in Kensington Woods but, when Greenberg corrected him, Grissell said he was only going off of what was stated to him.

Mayer, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in business administration, is making her first run for local office, and said she was concerned with keeping New Scotland small. 

And, while she’s not against development, she doesn’t want to see the town become like Clifton Park. She wants to preserve open space, and said the lack of municipal water has kept New Scotland from becoming a noisy suburb.

Mayer said she supports preservation, conservation, and small business, and that the three go hand-in-hand. 

“I will say you’re welcome,” LaGrange said, speaking last. Most of the things that the candidates had said they wanted to see with development in New Scotland were already done by the town board, he said. Prior to the adoption of the comprehensive plan, the rules were subjective, which were difficult for developers, said LaGrange, a retired farmer.

 

Pot shops

Asking a politician running for office at any level to answer a question with a “yes” or “no,” never ends up that way; however, eventually, the candidates came up with an answer as to whether New Scotland should allow marijuna dispensaries:

Grissell: Yes and No

Greenberg: Yes

Mayer: Opt-out

Leinung: Yes

Drao: Opt-out

LaGrange: Yes

 

Traffic

Greenberg said the town board deals with speed limits all the time in the sense that residents come in and ask that they be lowered. 

But he said there’s no New Scotland Police Department so the town relies on the Albany County Sheriff’s Office for patrols — it’s an issue better posed to the sheriff, Greenberg said. Asked why the board can’t ask the sheriff to do something about it, Greenberg said, it puts in requests all the time, but “we don’t control the sheriff.”

New Scotland has fewer than 10,000 residents and is considered a Class B Town by New York State, Greenberg noted, meaning it can’t set the speed limit on its own town roads — let alone county and state roads. 

Mayer said she takes safety seriously, and that the sheriff is “located in our town; there’s no excuse for it.” The sheriff’s office has a substation in Clarksville.

She said the town needs to chart an open relationship with the police. 

Mayer said she’s already called the sheriff and State Police over speeding issues in town and has had “candid discussions.” And she noted that the sheriff puts up signs to reinforce speed limits. 

Drao said Mayer covered a lot of what he wanted to say on traffic, but said what is needed is direct action: Citizens need to sign a petition and go directly to the sheriff and present him with it, and added that the State Police have jurisdiction within the town as well.  

Grissell said the state needs to be pushed to lower the speed limit on the town’s main thoroughfares, and the board needs to be engaged with the police on the issue. And he seemed to imply that the town dictate, through the planning board, to Albany County that it lower the speed limits on the roads that it owns. 

 Leinung said the town requests speed warning signs, which are then moved throughout the town, but admitted, “That only does so much.”

He said you have to look at the root cause of the issue, and went back to the town’s comprehensive plan. Leinung said, whenever a new development goes in, the developer is required to install traffic-calming measures.

On Altamont Road, which both Mayer and Drao had mentioned as an issue, LaGrange said he’s been working with the mayors of Altamont and Voorheesville, the supervisor of Guildlerland, and Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy to get the state Department of Transportation to change the speed limit. 

LaGrange said he’s asked six times to lower the speed on Hilton Road, which has recently added 169 homes and the rail trail. “I won’t get into their reasoning and how they decide on a speed limit, but your jaw would drop,” he said. 

LaGrange said he’s “constantly” texting with Sheriff Craig Apple when there’s a need for a patrol in a particular area. 

 

Hilton barn

Grissell said the residents of the town should tell the board what should be done with the historic barn.

“I was initially skeptical about the barn, to be honest with you,” Drao said. “But it’s here; we have it, [and] I’ve grown to become quite excited about the potential economic development opportunities that the barn presents.”

Drao said he would like to see a microbrewery or a distillery go in the barn. 

He said he didn’t like that an expensive slate roof was being put on the barn and preemptively tried to blunt criticism from his Democratic foes by stating the slate roof offered the barn authenticity.  

“I don’t even know where to start with this,” Greenberg said. When he’s out campaigning, Greenberg said, he’s heard the GOP is opposed to the barn. “So I’m surprised at all the support for it now.”

Greenberg said the barn was the first domino to fall, leading to other great things for the town. The barn, slated for demolition by a developer, was moved across Route 85A onto land donated by the Hilton family, followed by another resident who donated land, which led to the creation of Hilton Park. That, in turn, led to the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy wanting to and successfully preserving the former Bender melon farm, which has led to 160 acres of preserved park for New Scotland. 

Greenberg then pointed to Grissell’s comments about getting input from residents about what should be done with the barn and said that’d already been done. The board already asked for feedback from residents, Greenberg said, and “we’ve been following that feedback ever since.”

He said the slate roof along with extensive structural repairs cost $441,000.

The slate roof was “well worth the value,” Greenberg said, because the first one lasted 130 years. 

Mayer claimed, “None of us candidates are opposed to the barn.”

She said that she and her sons frequently use the rail trail to bike. 

She supported the business for the barn that were mentioned by Drao and which had already reached out to the town. 

A certified grant writer, Mayer said she would like to see a not-for-profit take over the renovations and leasing operations of the barn, so there are no “kind of conflicts there.”

LaGrange said he’d been a part of saving the barn since the beginning and that it’d been a grassroots effort. 

The barn was saved without using “direct town residents tax money — that was the promise we made,” LaGrange said. “Now is there tax money that came through grants from the state? Certainly, yeah, of course there is.”

But, LaGrange said, New Scotland sends so much money to the state and rarely receives any of it back in any sort of substantial way. “This was an opportunity to get a lot of that back,” he said. 

LaGrange said a restaurant and distillery had already approached the town about being tenants in the barn. 

Leinung said the barn and its surrounding park are the perfect opportunity to attract small and microbusinesses to the area, and that the town-owned property allows small-business owners an opportunity to lease a space when they may not otherwise be able to.

He said he’s interested in having a community gathering point. 

Leinung said the barn is “100 percent” a worthwhile investment.

Governing, vision, and transparency 

Grissell said the town needs to give small businesses “the package” so they can navigate the town boards easily. And, if there are regulations that can be taken away to make that easier, he said, “That’s what we need to do.”

Grissell went on, “We’re going to be an ambassador for the microbusinesses.”

A microbusiness has between one and nine employees, has less than $250,000 in annual sales, and took less than $50,000 to start. 

Greenberg said he thinks New Scotland is among the most transparent towns “he knows of.” He said anyone is allowed to come to a board meeting and speak on any issue they way, whether it’s on the agenda or not.  He also said people can sign up on the town’s website to receive information from “almost any department or any board in town.”

Mayer wants to keep New Scotland small. 

She wants to focus on preservation, conservation, and small business. “To me,” she said, “they go hand-in-hand.” Connecting the town’s hamlets by walkway is one way to achieve part of that goal, she said.

Mayer said she believes in climate change, and supports organic farming and open spaces. She said the current town board has put up a firewall for small businesses looking to get started in town. 

She’d like to collaborate with the village board, Mayer said.

Leinung said the town board found out toward the start of the pandemic when board meetings went virtual that more residents would watch them than would attend in person. So there was money put in last year’s budget for video equipment to livestream meetings when the boards return to in-person meetings. 

As for goals, Leinung wants to do more to prevent climate change. Leinung’s first resolution as a board member was to make New Scotland a Climate Smart Community. That has led to the installation of an electric-vehicle charging station at Town Hall and the creation of a unified solar permit that has “really streamlined” the solar development process in town, he said.

Leinung also said he wants to continue to be a good financial steward for the town, using as an example the board dropping the town-wide residents’ tax rate for next year to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, down from $1.52 per $1,000 this year. 

The board initially proposed a tax rate of $1.55 per $1,000 for 2022.

Drao wants to focus on small business.

He said he and his fellow Republicans had been talking to small-business owners since April and the “common theme” has been that the current town government is a barrier to entry.

He said he wants to streamline the special-use permit process, and “reduce the administrative drag of government” to make New Scotland more attractive for locally-owned businesses to open up shop in town.  

LaGrange said transparency has been a goal of his for the 10 years he was on the town board and the six years he’s been supervisor. 

He pointed to the expanded notification process for zoning changes as one example. 

There are over 100 businesses in New Scotland, LaGrange said. 

“The notion that we don’t allow for small businesses — you know, there’s been this perception out there, and I’ve had developers tell me, as I said earlier, if you tell us what [you] want, we’ll come,” said LaGrange. 

The town laid out what it was looking for from developers, said LaGrange, pointing to the Grove at Maple Point, the development between Stonewell Plaza and Fred the Butcher, as a success story — the project was approved before the town’s comprehensive plan was adopted. 

And, LaGrange said, the developer felt so confident about New Scotland that he purchased the 20 acres of the former Bender melon farm the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy had set aside to pay for the purchase of the entire property.  

More New Scotland News

  • New Scotland moved the century-old barn across Route 85A in 2016. 

  • Sullivan’s book quotes the Enterprise’s Voorheesville correspondent: “A new fad is taking place in this village. For instance, if a person happens to indulge too much in a certain drink and gets in a comatose condition, some of the ‘smart ones’ applies a mixture of oil and lampblack to their physiognomy.” Sullivan likens this to tarring and feathering on the streets of Voorheesville.

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