[Return to Home Page] [Subscriptions] [Newsstands] [Contact Us] [Archives]

Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 19, 2006

Seize the day and plan for the future

The time is ripe for a regional master plan.

From the Helderberg highlands to the valley below, in all of the towns we cover, there is talk of planning.

On New Year’s Day, in setting goals for the town in 2006, the Berne supervisor, Kevin Crosier, said he would work on preserving the town’s rich, natural resources and on keeping its rural way of life.

Earlier that morning, in neighboring Knox, Councilman Nicholas Viscio, in looking to the year ahead, urged the town to consider a comprehensive planning review.

In Rensselaerville, the newly-elected supervisor, Jost Nickelsberg, told us he is looking for community involvement as a building moratorium goes into effect so the town can develop a comprehensive plan for its future.

In Westerlo, the town board discussed implementing a moratorium on developments. While board members agreed on the importance of preserving the town’s rural heritage, there were differences on whether stopgap zoning changes should be made right away or whether the town should embark instead on a longer process to create a master plan.

Below the escarpment, in the shadow of the rural towns on the Hill, suburban Guilderland has completed a master plan, which took two years to create, and is now considering individual areas of town to incorporate each into the plan in a meaningful way.

The village of Altamont, located in Guilderland at the base of the Helderbergs, now has a building moratorium and has hired a planner to help guide its comprehensive plan.

Neighboring New Scotland, a once-rural town feeling development pressure, has just formed a master-plan committee.

We urge representatives from each of these municipalities to form a group that can coordinate the planning efforts of the region.

The groundwork for such an effort was set out in 2002 in the Helderberg Escarpment Planning Guide. A committee made up of volunteers from towns on the escarpment and below it did in-depth research on the area — its geology, soils, hydrology, plants, animals, agriculture, aesthetics, recreation, historic and cultural resources, and its existing land-use controls and development.

The guide was edited by Daniel Driscoll, an engineer from Knox, and Lindsay Childs, a mathematician from Guilderland. Both men have years of local planning experience.

The highly readable guide is not meant "to frustrate growth," its authors write. Rather, it is "to assist municipal boards, landowners and developers to appreciate the unique character of the escarpment area and to understand better how to design growth which will be respectful to that uniqueness."

The guide, it was hoped, would stimulate intermunicipal cooperation, providing a common framework for planning.

"The communities in the region are interdependent — one on another — for the wise stewardship of this magnificent resource," says the guide. "What one community does can help or hinder adjacent communities in their efforts to assure that future generations will be able to enjoy the Helderbergs as much as we do."

In the four years since the guide was published, the need for municipal cooperation has become more urgent.

About a year ago, the Open Space Institute released a report documenting sprawl in the Capital Region. When suburbia sprawls across open space and farmland, wildlife and wetlands are lost; the quality and supply of drinking water decreases; traffic congestion, air pollution, and energy consumption all increase; and so do local taxes.

In short, the quality of life diminishes, not just for us, but for future generations as well.

The Open Space Institute places the blame for sprawl on municipalities, chalking it up to poor planning.

In April, we covered a session where supervisors from Guilderland, New Scotland, Berne, Bethlehem, and Colonie shared planning ideas and their goals for smart growth. Despite the towns’ differences, many of the supervisors’ comments were the same — that planning is difficult, but key to protecting the future of Albany County.

There was some discussion of the towns’ need to work together, but no mechanism is in place to do so.

In May, David Rusk, one of America’s leading experts on urban development, issued a report that blamed antiquated state laws for the increasing economic disparity between cities and suburbs in upstate New York. The laws, he said, spread power over 1,546 cities, towns, and villages without unified regional planning.

We’ve written before of the need for an overarching organization that will allow municipalities to plan together for a healthy future. If the state legislature doesn’t have the foresight or gumption to create such regional planning organizations, local municipalities must form their own commissions to do so.

With all the towns in our coverage area — the very area studied in depth in the Helderberg Escarpment Planning Guide — on the brink of or in the midst of making plans for their own future, we urge them to seize the day. We urge them to form a group that will work together to come up with a regional plan.

Our villages and towns face issues that are inter-related. When it comes to planning, though, they are completely unrelated and, at times, are even unaware of each other’s problems and approaches.

If we work together, we can seize the day and plan for a better tomorrow.

Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

[Return to Home Page]