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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 30, 2007

Still a spot open on Lady Blackbirds’ bench

By Rachel Dutil

VOORHEESVILLE – The Lady Blackbirds are looking for a leader.

Dennis McCormick has declined his appointment as coach of the Voorheesville girls’ varsity basketball team.

He declined the job in "a very nice letter" that the district received last week, said Superintendent Linda Langevin. "It was for personal reasons," she said.

McCormick, a physical education teacher at Voorheesville Elementary School who coached the girls’ junior varsity team for eight years, was appointed to the position by the school board at its Aug. 13 meeting after a lengthy public comment period.

Rumors had been surfacing around town about who the board would appoint to fill the post that was vacated when Coach John McClement resigned in June after he was approved to coach Albany High School’s varsity boys’ basketball team.

Many people believed that the board was going to appoint Robert Baron, violating the regulations of the state’s commissioner of education. The district’s athletic director, Joseph Sapienza, had recommended that the board appoint Baron, a former school board president who is not a certified teacher.

According to the state’s regulations, "A person who does not hold a current New York State teaching certificate may be employed as a temporary coach only if there are no certified teachers available with experience and qualifications to coach the team."

The open position has been posted on the district’s website since last Friday, and has also been posted internally, and advertised in local papers, Sapienza said yesterday.

Applications will be accepted through the athletic director’s office, he said.

The process leading up to the school board’s appointment of McCormick was heavily criticized. The large room in the high school where the Aug. 13 meeting was held was teeming with district residents and teachers.

Kathy Fiero, president of the Voorheesville Teachers’ Association, had "severe concerns" with the process, and expressed them to the board.

She explained that, after hearing that the board intended to appoint Baron, she informed Langevin and some board members of the commissioner’s regulations. [See two earlier articles on the issue at www.altamontenterprise.com under "archives" for Aug. 2 and Aug. 16 in 2007.]

"My issue is with the process," Fiero told The Enterprise following the school board meeting. "They seem to feel that they can make exceptions," she said.

The process this time, Langevin said, "is going to be more inclusive."

The screening and interview committee will be a "more comprehensive committee," said Sapienza. It will include Sapienza, Principal Mark Diefendorf, Associate Principal Michael Paolino, as well as another coach from the district, who has not yet been selected, Sapienza said.

Sapienza has "gotten the word out to the sports community," said Langevin. "We’re hoping we’ll have applicants," she added.

As of yesterday afternoon, Sapienza said that he had not yet received any applications. The two remaining applicants would have to "reapply in essence," he said.

Baron said this week that he is still interested in the job.

Sapienza said that he is hoping to have a recommendation to Langevin by the Sept. 10 school-board meeting.

Senior-housing law would let Carrow build duplexes in commercial zone

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – A proposed law for senior housing would allow development in all zones in town, including the commercial district along Route 85, where developer Charles Carrow has proposed 15 duplexes behind a medical building that he built.

Robert Baron, husband of Councilwoman Deborah Baron, is a business associate of Carrow. Baron would act as the project contractor for the development if the plans are approved, he told The Enterprise.

The 6.9-acre site has the potential for both town sewer and water, unlike much of the town of New Scotland.

The town board could split along party lines over the bill. Democrat Richard Reilly drafted the law, and supports it. Democrat Peg Neri could not be reached for comment this week, but has fairly consistently voted with the Democrats in the past. Supervisor Ed Clark and Douglas LaGrange, both Republicans, don’t support the law in its present form.

The deciding vote, then, would be cast by Democrat Deborah Baron, but she has said she will recuse herself because of the conflict of interest with her husband’s role in Carrow’s business.

She informed Supervisor Ed Clark and all the board members of "a possible conflict of interest" in a letter dated Aug. 3, 2006.

"Anything to do with Charlie Carrow, I would recuse myself," Mrs. Baron told The Enterprise this week. She will speak only on behalf of the seniors about the proposal, she said.

At a public hearing on the proposed law before the board’s Aug. 8 meeting, Mrs. Baron, was asked by town resident Katy O’Rourke what kind of feedback she had received from seniors.

Mrs. Baron said that the seniors are interested in it, because "they’re interested in the community." She said that she didn’t anticipate any of them selling their homes "for this sort of real estate."

This week, Mrs. Baron told The Enterprise that she had spoken to some seniors in the village, some of who said that they are "very interested" and will be watching as the proposal progresses. Some other seniors, she said, are interested, but want to check out the price range.

All in all, she said, "They are curious."

The proposal is for a floating zone, which, if passed, would allow senior housing to be considered in any zone in town. Current zoning only allows senior housing to be built in residential zones.

Carrow told The Enterprise this week that he feels the town has done "an excellent job" on the proposed law. "There are loyal, dedicated, hard-working people on the town board," Carrow said.

Building inspector Paul Cantlin said that allegations that Carrow had helped to write the law are untrue; Carrow supplied sample laws from other towns, he said.

Robert Baron, who has worked in construction since the 1970s, said the project "is a good use for the town." It will add property values to the tax rolls, but won’t contribute children to the school district, he said. "It’s a very minor impact to the town," he said, adding that seniors don’t typically travel on the roadways during high traffic times. This type of housing, he said, "increases the tax base without burdening the town’s resources," said Baron.

Although Carrow wouldn’t comment on any specifics of his development plans this week, he said the project is "community-friendly." He said that he would be happy to review his plans with The Enterprise if the board passes the law at its meeting in two weeks.

Carrow lives between Altamont and Voorheesville, and said that there is a huge need for senior housing in the area, and, "the need is continuing to grow.

"We want to do something that will fit into the community," said Carrow, "I’m not going to build junk over there," he added.

The proposed law is "not just a knee-jerk reaction," Carrow said. "The town has been working on this for a long time. They’ve researched this pretty hard," he said.

"Development can be a very positive thing, if done in the right way," said Carrow, who, because of his experience, considers himself a "professional" at senior housing. He had formerly worked for Omni. "I’m hopeful we can show the community some activity that is desperately needed," Carrow said.

Critics of the proposed law say the need for senior housing is not the issue; everyone agrees on that. Citizens Edie Abrams and Katy O’Rourke, who spoke at the public hearing on Aug. 8, each wrote letters to The Enterprise editor this week.

Abrams stresses problems with the vagueness of the bill and asserts it doesn’t actually serve the elderly. She urges a more in-depth look.

O’Rourke outlines her views on how placing senior housing in a commercial zone would erode the tax base. She also believes the law is illegal since she thinks it was drafted to allow a particular project. She intimates in her letter that she will sue the town if the law is passed.

The town board will hold a public hearing beginning at 6 p.m. on Sept. 12, prior to their regular board meeting.

"55 is not old"

The proposed law — which was drafted primarily by Reilly, with the help of planning-board Chairman Robert Stapf and Cantlin — identifies a senior as an individual who is 55 years of age or older.

"I have reservations about calling it senior housing," said Supervisor Clark.

"Fifty-five is not old," said Clark this week. "I’m 70, and there’s a big difference between 55 and 70" This doesn’t have any standards to accommodate those differences," he said.

In the proposed law, applications for developments on parcels less than 25 acres would be submitted to the planning board. The town board can decide to "assume primary authority" on the application but must do so within 45 days of receiving notice of the application from the planning board. If the town board does not meet this time requirement, the application will be considered by the planning board.

"At this point, I have some severe reservations about the 25-acre rule, the absence of any standards for accommodating seniors," Clark said.

LaGrange echoed Clark this week. He said he wants more specifics that address needs of seniors in the ordinance, and also wants to hear from experts to make a more-informed decision. "I don’t think we want wiggle room when it comes to our seniors," LaGrange said, adding that he feels that all applications, regardless of the parcel size, should be heard by the town board, with planning board input.

"I don’t think we should be in such a hurry, now that we’ve started moving on it," Clark said. "There seems to be a great rush to get it done. I feel it’s being done primarily to accommodate Mr. Carrow’s development," Clark concluded.

Reilly was criticized at the August public hearing for drafting a document that Abrams and O’Rourke felt was too vague, and needed more standards specific to the needs of seniors.

Abrams also sent her suggestions in writing to all members of the town board.

"I tend to think that they’re not appropriate at this time," Reilly said of Abrams’s suggestions.

"I disagree with the suggestion that the law is vague," Reilly told The Enterprise. "We’ve drafted something that is flexible. We can’t predict all the applications that could possibly come before the town," he said.

Giving the planning board the flexibility to handle the entire spectrum of applications that come before it, is a good thing, Reilly said.

"Ultimately, the need is senior housing, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that," Reilly said.

"This town board is afraid to make any decisions about anything," O’Rourke told The Enterprise. "Rather than piss a few people off and make the wrong decision, they’d rather make no decision, and I don’t think that shows very good leadership," she said.

"Particularly in an election season, there’s a tendency to avoid making decisions," Reilly said. "I think there’s a danger there, with a refusal to act" We should move to avoid that," he said.

"This is simply the best proposal — the best one for us at this time," Reilly said.

Spot zoning"

O’Rourke told The Enterprise that, in her mind, "there is no question" the law was drafted to suit the needs of Carrow, which is illegal.

"Why would they put the town in a position to be sued"" O’Rourke asked. She termed it "spot zoning."

The town’s attorney, L. Michael Mackey, said that, since the law applies to the entire town, "it is really the opposite of spot zoning" Nothing could be further from spot zoning," he said.

"If it was anything we thought resembled it, we wouldn’t have done it," Cantlin said of spot zoning.

When asked if the project was created solely to meet the needs of Carrow, Cantlin said, "It kind of seems that way, but that wasn’t the intent" I’m not saying that the Carrow site didn’t help expedite it, but it was not necessarily for that project."

Reilly said that Carrow’s proposal "brought to the forefront" the need for this type of law. "Particular applications will highlight for us things we need to work on," he said.

An example of that, he said, is the proposal that came before the town’s zoning and planning boards a few months ago for a variance allowing the temporary installation of a windmill on Henry Digeser’s Copeland Hill Road property.

"Town law simply didn’t provide for what he was trying to do," Reilly said, adding that adjustments will be made to allow for alternative energy sources.

Reilly has been working on changes to the town’s zoning since the town enacted a moratorium on large-scale development in the Northeast Quadrant nearly a year ago. The town will also hold a public hearing on Sept. 12 on whether to extend the moratorium for another six months.

In response to an allegation that Carrow helped to draft the senior-housing document, Reilly said that he had "no conversations whatsoever" with Carrow before bringing the document before the town board.

Last August, Carrow requested that the town adopt a senior overlay zone, and provided copies of ordinances from other towns to all five New Scotland town board members, Reilly said. "We didn’t think they were appropriate."

This is something the town has been working on for an entire year, Reilly said.

"If this is how we treat our favored applicants, I’d hate to be an applicant that isn’t favored," he said.

"This sort of whisper campaign tends to shed more heat than light on the discussion, and doesn’t move the town forward," Reilly added of the talk around town implying that the law was drafted to allow Carrow’s project to move forward.

"All this law allows is to put this use in the town," Cantlin explained. All applications would still go through the same process with town and planning board approval, though the town board can sign over applications to the planning board if they wish, Cantlin said.

"There would be public input all the way through," he added.

"One voice"

Abrams and O’Rourke were both members of the Residents’ Planning Advisory Committee (RPAC), which surveyed all town residents about their ideas and met with groups of citizens in different parts of town to develop a vision for the Route 85 and 85A corridor.

In O’Rourke’s letter, she says, "Since RPAC, there hasn’t been an independent committee that wasn’t controlled by Bob Stapf et al and literally nothing that isn’t top secret has been accomplished for the last couple of years."

In response, Stapf told The Enterprise, "I’m one vote on the planning board. I’m one voice, that’s all I am" I’m not controlling things. We have very capable people on both boards."

Stapf said that, in the drafting of the proposed law, he was "just a small piece of the puzzle."

He put together some material after researching various ordinances, he said. Reilly took the information and later came back with a proposed ordinance that he gave to the planning board for review and comments, Stapf said.

The planning board reviewed it and forwarded it on to the town board with some minor comments, he said.

"Right now, the town does not have any provisions for senior housing," he said. "Times change and things come about," said Stapf.

Regarding Carrow’s proposal, Stapf said, "I will not say that it didn’t influence us, but it was not written for his purposes."

With senior housing, said Stapf, it is important to look at the proximity to bus lines, grocery facilities, restaurants, and other services. The nearly seven-acre parcel behind Carrow’s medical building "seemed to sort of fit the mold," he said.

George Amedore had proposed a large complex across Route 85 from the medical office building but literally walked out of a town meeting in frustration at what he saw as changing planning requirements.

"It’s nice to have a commercial zone, but you need to build there," Stapf said this week. "You need rooftops to get commercial" and that’s what we’re lacking," he said.

"The area Mr. Carrow is looking at is a good use for the property. I think it would inspire other developers to come in and build in that corridor," Stapf said.

"I’m in favor of it. I think it’s a good thing for the town," said Stapf of Carrow’s proposal.

"This ordinance is a reasonable ordinance, and allows for flexibility with different developers," he concluded.

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