First meeting: Nine Guilderlanders creating blueprint for town

Tawasentha Park.

GUILDERLAND — Over the course of about 90 minutes on Monday, the nine members of Guilderland’s Comprehensive Plan Update Committee received a broad outline about how the next 16 months would play out.

Guilderland began to update its two-decade-old plan just before the pandemic, but decided not to proceed until now because public participation is at the core of the process. 

The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 7 p.m.

A draft plan should take 10 months to prepare, according to a schedule presented to the update committee. 

The public will be able to participate in the update process by way of an online community survey, in-person meetings that will take place every two months, and at to-be-determined pop-up activities in the community. 

It should take 16 months to prepare the final plan and three months for the town board to adopt it, according to the schedule presented to the committee. 

Jaclyn Hakes, who is director of planning for MJ Engineering, the town’s chosen consultant to oversee the comprehensive plan update, ran the Nov. 7 meeting. 

Hakes told the committee the comprehensive plan is guided by the state’s Town Law.

“Your comprehensive plan is your blueprint,” she said. It’s a blueprint for the future of the community. “It is intentionally broad in nature and comprehensive in that it evaluates a number of topics community-wide.”

The plan evaluates the current state of the town, Hakes said, and “looks at what your future state will be,” which will be based on public consensus. 

Hakes also sought to make clear what a comprehensive plan is not.

“A comprehensive plan is not zoning,” she said.

However, Town Law states any land-use regulations must be in accordance with the comprehensive plan. “So they are intricately linked,” Hakes said of the comprehensive plan and zoning.

The plan is not parcel specific, nor is the update process an appropriate venue to address projects already before one of the town’s boards, she said. “This is looking into the future.”


The committee

At the start of the meeting Hakes asked each of the committee members — four women and three men — to briefly introduce themselves. Additional information on each member has been taken from the committee’s biographical page on the town website: 

— James Abbruzzese

Abbruzzese is a lifelong Guilderland resident and described himself as the “agricultural portion on [the] committee.” He and his brothers co-own Altamont Orchards and the Orchard Creek Golf Course.

He holds a degree in agricultural science from Cornell University, and served for 20 years on the Farm Service Agency’s Albany County Committee, several as chairman. Abbruzzese said his brother, Joseph, was on the 2001 comprehensive plan committee;

— Dominic Rigosu

Originally from Albany, Rigosu moved to Guilderland in 2003. Eight years later, he moved his architectural firm into town, he said.

For four years, he volunteered for the Guilderland YMCA’s building committee. He was an adjunct professor at Hudson Valley Community College for 10 years. And most recently, he served on the Albany County Planning Board for 13 years, seven as chairman. 

Last October, Rigosu was unceremoniously given the boot from the county planning board by Andrew Joyce, chairman of the county legislature. Though no explanation was offered for the dismissal of Rigosu and Enzo Sofia from their volunteer positions, Sofia at the time surmised the reason had been “political”;

— Tara Cristalli

Cristalli has lived in Guilderland for 14 years. She works in human resources for the New York State Department of Health; 

— Richard Brustman

Brustman is a civil engineer. 

He worked for the New York State Department of Transportation, where he was in charge of statewide planning. 

Brustman also “managed the state’s accident surveillance system, set safety project standards, and conducted traffic safety research. And planned local and regional networks, conducted project benefit-costing, and was the principal author of the Statewide Master Transportation Plan update,” according to his biography on the town website;

— Caitlin Ferrante

Ferrante and her husband have lived in Guilderland for the past seven years. A College of Saint Rose graduate, she currently works for the Sierra Club of New York and is a member of Guilderland’s Conservation Advisory Council;

— Cody Betton

Betton is a 2009 Guilderland High School graduate. He received a degree in health and human services from the University of Buffalo in 2013. He currently works as a commercial underwriter for Travelers Insurance. He and his wife have two sons;

— Lisa Hart

Hart has been a Guilderland resident since 1988. Having first lived on the north Bethlehem side of town, she now resides in Westmere. 

“In 1995, Lisa went back to school and graduated from HVCC after taking courses to become a medical transcriptionist, which she did for 12 years.  Lisa left the medical transcription field to become a legal transcriptionist,” according to her town biography. 

Hart and her husband, Tom, along with three other complainants, unsuccessfully sued to stop what was then Pyramid’s 222-unit Rapp Road apartment and townhome development, which will be located right behind Westmere Terrace, the Harts’ neighborhood. 

Hart’s town biography states she and her husband “have become more active in the community because they are interested in the direction the town is going and hoping to be part of that process. This is the reason why Lisa applied to work on the Comprehensive Plan Committee. Lisa is hoping that by working with others from the town, they can come up with a plan that will be positive for all who live and work in Guilderland”;

— Stephen Wilson

Wilson moved to Guilderland in 1966 to co-found the University at Albany’s Department of Geography and Planning, and participated in the founding of Empire State College. He co-founded and later chaired Guilderland’s Conservation Advisory Committee.

Wilson was also on the 2001 comprehensive plan committee, as a member of the environmental and open spaces subcommittee; and

— Elizabeth Lott

Lott is currently a member of the town’s zoning board of appeals. 

She grew up in Westmere, attended Guilderland schools, and has lived in Guilderland Hamlet, on Nott Road, and now lives on Lydius Street. She recently retired after a 25-year career at the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board.


The meeting

The committee then participated in an interactive exercise to generate preliminary ideas about some of the challenges with which Guilderland is dealing or will soon face.

Betton brought up balance.

“How do we balance the development and growth for our community, without giving up some of the things that we cherish?” he asked. He brought up an earlier point about maintaining the town’s more rural aspects, while “ensuring that you get the same amount of environmental protection that we have currently, and to expand on that.”

Brustman hit on Guilderland’s demographics.

He said, “Demographics drives a lot of things a community is going to need,” using housing as an example. The town’s population is aging, he noted, and said of elderly residents, “They have different needs, including the nature of housing.”

Brustman said he thought the town would continue to grow if the region grows, “so we’re either going to have more density or more spread out. It’s our choice.”

“Demographics may dictate less spread out,” he said. 

There are now 55-and-over communities popping up over town.

Abbruzzese said the lack of water and sewer in the western part of town continues to be a problem. “I think the last master plan tried to tackle this issue years ago,” said Abbruzzese, noting there had been an expansion along Route 158 from Rotterdam. 

Wilson said it was extremely important to include as many viewpoints as possible as the committee develops the plan.  He suggested “we encourage those voices be brought forward within the context of what we’re trying to do.”

When asked what opportunities or assets the town had to build on, the outdoors was a common theme. 

Abbruzzese said Guilderland has a “great parks system,” while Wilson said the town has a “tremendous amount of undeveloped open space.”

During the public-comment portion of the meeting, Chuck Klaer asked if the nine neighborhood plans would be receiving updates as part of the comprehensive plan’s update.

Town Planner Ken Kovalchik explained that one of the primary recommendations of the 2001 comprehensive plan was for Guilderland to develop more neighborhood-specific plans.

“So I think the comment that [Klaer] was making is, ‘Are we going to go down that same road again? Is this master plan update, comp plan update that’s being worked on now, is that going to be all encompassing?’ You know, we don’t know what the recommendation of this committee will be to do a similar process, again,” he said of neighborhood-specific plans.


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