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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 19, 2009
Woodsfield Estates underway
By Anne Hayden
GUILDERLAND Development has begun on 26 acres off of East Lydius street, on land that is considered part of the pine barrens ecosystem. The land, which will be turned into a housing development called Woodsfield Estates, is privately owned, but members of Save the Pine Bush say it needs to be preserved.
Lynne Jackson, a founding member of the watchdog group that advocates for preservation of the delicate ecosystem, the habitat for some federally endangered species, went to a number of the early hearings for Woodsfield Estates, and voiced her opposition.
Woodsfield Estates will consist of 46 houses, and is in the western section of the pine bush, along the Hungerkill, near DiCaprio Park and the Lone Pine 7 development. The planning board gave the project final approval in May 2008, after nearly six years of consideration. The town board approved the utilities, roads, sewer, and water infrastructure on Tuesday. The approved plan is to build on 26 of the 106 acres and leave the rest undeveloped.
“The land they are building on is the most classic pine barrens ecosystem,” said Jackson. But the land is not part of the Pine Bush Preserve; rather, it is privately owned, and being developed by Traditional Builders. Christopher Hawver, the executive director of the Pine Bush Commission, which oversees the publicly-owned preserve, said the land was appraised for the commission, which hoped to buy it. The land was appraised at a value lower than what the owner wanted for it, said Hawver, and the commission could not afford to purchase the roughly 106 acres.
According to Hawver, there are approximately 1,600 acres of privately owned property in Guilderland that are part of the pine barrens ecosystem, but not managed by the Pine Bush Commission.
Hawver explained that, in order to purchase land, the commission first has an appraisal done at full-market value, and then must determine a funding source. Often, the commission will get a loan from The Nature Conservancy, or the state will purchase the land directly, with funds from its Environmental Protection Fund.
The last few years have been rough for funding, Hawver said, because of the depressed economy. He said the Environmental Protection Fund was annually funded for $22 million, but Governor Paterson is looking to reduce that number by $10 million in the coming year.
“Although we’d like to see this property protected in full, the owner has property rights. So now we have to balance the two issues,” said Hawver.
Guilderland’s recently formed Zoning Review Committee, chaired by Bruce Sherwin, is charged with looking over the decades-old zoning code, and making recommendations for changes that will benefit the town. Sherwin said environmental issues are one of the “big picture” items that the committee hopes to examine. The Zoning Review Committee has subcommittees, and one of those is the Environmental Review Committee.
“Either the Environmental Review Committee, or an off-shoot of that committee, will be facing the bigger issues, which will have bigger impacts, and that will take some time,” said Sherwin. The committee is still in the process of going over the zoning code definitions, and so the larger issues are set aside for the future.
Asked if the committee might consider more stringent zoning for the 1,600 acres of pine barrens in Guilderland, Sherwin said, “The committee can take a stance and make suggestions, but the final decision will be up to the supervisor and the town board.” One of Sherwin’s hypothetical suggestions would be to allow developers to meet with the community in a forum, in order to let residents share their environmental concerns with specific developments in specific areas.
Chairman of the Guilderland Planning Board, Stephen Feeney, said that, as a compromise, the property owners will only develop 26 of the 106 acres, and donate the remaining 80 acres to the town.
“We felt that was striking a good balance,” said Feeney. “Instead of paying an exorbitant cost for 106 acres, 80 acres are being preserved for free.” Feeney said the town will dedicate the 80 acres to the Pine Bush Commission for management.
Jackson, however, said the donation of acreage is not a true compromise. The land being donated is not developable, due to large ravines, she said. The land Traditional Builders is actually building on contains the scrub oak that is the natural habitat for federally protected species, such as the Karner blue butterfly, according to Jackson.
“The planning board has an inability to understand why the Pine Bush should be preserved. Town government does not care about preserving the Pine Bush,” Jackson said.
“I understand why Save the Pine Bush is upset, but I can’t just take away a person’s property rights,” said Feeney.
Hawver said that, in his opinion, the Guilderland Planning Board has always been sensitive to the Pine Bush Commission’s concerns.
“As with any development proposed in our study area, the planning board sent us plans for Woodsfield Estates for our review, comments, and suggestions,” said Hawver. He said the situation was not ideal, but, in general, he thought there was a good outcome for the pine bush.
Feeney said he thought that, overall, the project would provide several benefits to the community. The adjoining Lone Pine 7 subdivision contains 35 acres of protected land, and that subdivision adjoins DiCaprio Park, which is largely soccer fields. There are plans to organize trails that will connect the neighborhoods, parks, and the pine bush, said Hawver.
“I think we did the best we could to balance the interests. I don’t know how much further we can really push,” said Feeney.
But Jackson thinks the planning board should push harder.